Billiard Room Brawl: A Minnesota True Crime Story

Leonard Day, Jr was an entitled young man born into a life of luxury. He spent his large inheritance with reckless abandon. He didn't have a care in the world. No one could have predicted that his life would be snuffed out one fall night in a dark billiard room.

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Leonard Day, Jr was an entitled young man born into a life of luxury. He spent his large inheritance with reckless abandon. He didn’t have a care in the world. No one could have predicted that his life would be snuffed out one fall night in a dark billiard room.

An empire is built

It was the 1840s, and the US Government was hard at work cutting predatory deals with the Ojibwe and Dakota people to obtain land in present day Minnesota. By 1849, most of the Indigenous population had been relegated to small reservations. So when Minnesota became an official territory white settlers started to arrive in droves. (1)

Leonard Day, Sr was one of those white settlers. He moved with his wife and adult children to Minnesota in 1853 and immediately “engaged in the lumber business” and became a “self-made man”.

Over the next 20 years, Leonard Sr and his sons were able to grow their lumber business — Leonard Day & Sons — into a multi-million dollar empire. (2)

Needless to say, life was going incredibly well for the Day family. Then tragedy hit when in the winter of 1873, Leonard Sr’s wife of over 40 years died of pneumonia. (3)

But he bounced back quickly. Less than a year later, at the age of 63 he married 21 year old Laura Robinson. She was the daughter of a fellow lumber tycoon. The couple had one son, Leonard Jr born in 1875. (4) (5)

Silver Spoon

Leonard Day, Jr.

Leonard Day Jr, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. By the time he was born, his father was one of the richest men in Minneapolis. He grew up in a lavish mansion surrounded by servants who catered to his every want and need. (5) (6)

From the time he was three years old he and his family wintered in sunny California, Louisiana and Europe. (7) (8) (9) When he and his family weren’t out of town Leonard Jr spent his days playing sports and became an accomplished tennis player. (10) (11)

On February 19, 1886, Leonard Sr was getting ready for bed when he suffered a stroke and died. Leonard Jr was just 11 years old and he and his mother were the primary heirs of his large fortune. (12) (2)

Even before his father’s death, Leonard didn’t have a care in the world. And that didn’t change after he died. Since Leonard Sr had founded his company with his older sons, Leonard Jr was never expected to take over the family business. He was free to do what he wanted, when he wanted.

And that’s exactly what he did, throughout his teen years and early 20s, he spent money with reckless abandon, partying and drinking heavily. Every night he had a different woman on his arm.

He was said to be obnoxious when drunk which sometimes rubbed people the wrong way. But anyone who met him described him as overall harmless. (13) (14)

Trust fund kid with a job

Frank Hamilton

Similar to Leonard, Frank Hamilton was a trust fund kid. His grandfather was a distinguished doctor who died when Frank was 11 years old. He left Frank and the rest of his grandchildren a considerable amount of money. (15)

However, Frank wasn’t allowed to spend his inheritance as carelessly as Leonard. Instead, his uncle was in charge of giving him a “small allowance” each month. Not nearly enough to live on. So he needed to find work to sustain himself.

He tried his hand at various jobs but found little success. He finally landed on journalism. Since writing and putting words together had always come easy to him, it was a natural fit.

As a young man, Frank developed tuberculosis. He moved to Colorado for treatment which consisted of horseback riding and drinking a large amount of whisky each day. As a result, he developed an addiction to alcohol.

While in Colorado, Frank met a recent divorcee ten years older than him, Ella Bouvier Peterson. Frank fell in love immediately but because of the age difference Ella had her reservations. Nevertheless, the two became engaged to be married in 1899.

Feeling better and needing work, Frank moved to Minneapolis that same year. He worked as a reporter for the Minneapolis Times to cover sports. (16)

While in Minneapolis he met a local artist, Pauline Kruger. Sparks immediately flew between the two. (18) (20)

Frank however was still very much in love with Ella. So he started splitting his time between Minneapolis with Pauline and Colorado with Ella. But in October of 1900, Ella developed tuberculosis and passed away.

After Ella’s death, Frank moved back to Minneapolis full time. (17)

The West Hotel

The West Hotel (c. 1905)

Throughout the 1860s and 1870s Minneapolis experienced a boom in the white population. Thanks in part to the early settlers like Leonard Sr and his sons.

By the 1880s, it was becoming a go to destination for business people. In hopes of making Minneapolis even more of a destination spot, its first luxury hotel was built in 1884.

The West Hotel was known for its oversized, ornate lobby — the biggest in the country. The lobby featured a large skylight, a grand staircase and was decorated with marble, mahogany woodwork and onyx features.

The hotel also boasted 407 guest rooms, a large dining hall, a billiard room and 140 baths all filled with the “finest furnishings”. (20) (21)

It was the definition of high class. Celebrities and high profile politicians like Mark Twain and Winston Churchill were notable guests not to mention all of Minnesota’s most elite. (22)

At the time, it was very common for the uber wealthy to live in hotels in the city while keeping a house outstate. And in 1887, Leonard and his mom Laura moved into the West Hotel while also keeping a house in affluent Edina. (23) (24)

Unsavory Rumor

Throughout the fall of 1900, Leonard had developed a friendship with Carrie Slagle, the daughter of a prominent local doctor. One day they were chatting when she told him she’d heard an unsavory rumor about him. Leonard was incensed. It was a rumor he didn’t want his friends to hear about, especially not his female friends. (25) (26)

After asking around he found out that it was Frank Hamilton who had started the rumor. He’d never heard of the guy and couldn’t understand why he was starting rumors about him. He vowed to track him down and demand an explanation. (16)

“For tomorrow we die”

November 24, 1900 was a typical Saturday night on the town for Leonard. He and a group of friends spent the evening seeing a show where they drank heavily. Then afterwards they went to the Barge’s wine room for more drinks. There they met up with a couple of friends, Grace Townsend and Beryl Gooding.

As their food was being served, Grace proposed a toast, “Let’s eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.” Leonard corrected her telling her the toast was actually, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we do die.” (27)

Around midnight, Leonard made his way home to the West Hotel. But he wasn’t ready to end his night of fun just yet. He wandered into the billiard room where Charles Force and Fred George were finishing up a game of pool. It was well past midnight at this point and the two men were ready to call it a night. But Leonard insisted they play one more game with him. (28)

Meanwhile, Frank and a group of friends had met up at a local bar down the street. The group consisted of Ray Evans, Ralph Gary, and Guy Canfield. They played several games of dice for drinks then decided to move on to the West Hotel where Ray had been living. The men drank heavily throughout the night. (16)

“You’re the man I’ve been looking for”

As the two began to argue and exchange insults a shoving match broke out between Ray and Charles.

Leonard and his friends were finishing up their game of pool when Frank and his friends entered the room. When Leonard saw Frank he exclaimed, “you’re the man I’ve been looking for.” He wanted to know if it was Frank who had told his friend, Carrie, that he had a sexually transmitted disease. Frank said it was, in fact, him who told her.

Which STD Leonard supposedly had or even why Frank suggested it, is unclear. (28)

As the two began to argue and exchange insults a shoving match broke out between Ray and Charles. Ray had thought he heard Charles insult him and demanded answers. Fred separated the two of them and demanded that they both sit down and leave each other alone.

With the two men calmed down, Fred turned around and saw Frank and Leonard wrestling on the floor. He rushed over to them and pulled Frank off of Leonard.

Once they’d both gotten back to their feet, Leonard told Frank he didn’t want to fight him. The way Leonard saw it, Frank was drunk and he was sober. He didn’t think it would be a fair fight. Leonard told him to come back to him when he was sober and then they could settle it. The two men shook hands.

With everything calmed down, Guy quickly took Frank out of the room and everyone figured that was the end of it.

But in the other part of the room, Ray still had unfinished business with Charles. He just couldn’t let Charles’ disrespect go unpunished. So, he got up and charged at Charles. Charles saw him coming, side stepped him and pushed him hard causing him to fall back into a chair and hit his head on the wall resulting in a deep gash. (29)

Final Scuffle

Fred once again separated the two men and a hotel employee escorted Ray out of the room.

During the ruckus caused by Ray and Charles, Frank came back into the room and he and Leonard began arguing again.

The argument quickly turned physical and the two wrestled on the floor for a bit before Fred separated them once again. As he was telling them that the hotel wasn’t the proper place for a fight, he felt a weird sensation on his hand. He looked down and saw he’d been badly cut. (28)

As Fred left to clean up his wound, Leonard staggered back against a pool table. He too had been badly cut and had blood gushing from his neck.

Everyone, including Frank, rushed to his side as he fell to the floor. Someone called for a doctor, but in the meantime, they didn’t know what to do. As Leonard slowly began to lose consciousness, someone tried to give him a glass of brandy to help him come to.

Meanwhile, Frank removed Leonard’s shoes and began rubbing his feet. While others rubbed his hands and removed his shirt. Someone even poured hot water on his feet. (30)

As the doctor examined Leonard, Frank and a few other men knelt by his side and prayed.

But there was nothing the doctor was able to do to save him. His carotid artery had been severed. Leonard died before the doctor even arrived. He was just 25 years old. (31)

A hotel employee who had seen parts of the scuffles between Frank and Leonard, ordered Frank to sit down and stay there until police could arrive.

After the police took all of the men’s statements, Frank was promptly arrested. (32)

Laid to rest

As the Day family held a private service in a parlor room of the West Hotel, mourners and curious onlookers filled the hotel lobby with the hopes of catching at least a glimpse of Leonard’s casket. (33)

Leonard was laid to rest next to his father at Lakewood Cemetery. (34)

The Trial

Leonard’s death caused a buzz in Minneapolis. He was popular, uber rich and the son of a local pioneer. People couldn’t believe his young life had ended in such a violent way.

There was also a noticeable sympathy for Frank too. Though he was new to Minneapolis, his work as a journalist helped him make a lot of friends pretty quickly. Few people had anything bad to say about him and couldn’t believe he was capable of murder. (35)

The prosecution had an upward battle to prove Frank’s guilt. The proof they had against him was circumstantial at best.

Not a single person in the billiard room that night saw him with a knife. In fact, no one even saw Leonard get stabbed at all. There was also no definitive proof that the knife that was found near Leonard’s body was Frank’s. It could have belonged to any one of the many men in the room that night.

The defense argued that no one in that room was a reliable witness. They had all spent the night drinking and their testimony couldn’t be trusted. (36)

Frank, for his part, claimed to have been hit in the head with a pool stick and didn’t remember a single thing between his first fight with Leonard and him kneeling next to his lifeless body. (16)

In the end, the jury found him guilty of first degree manslaughter. (37) He was sentenced to seven years in prison. (38)

Aftermath

Almost immediately following the trial, members of the jury expressed regret in convicting Frank. They even sent a letter to The Board of Pardons asking them to pardon him. Why they voted to convict him in the first place is unclear. (39) (40)

Leonard’s mother, Laura, on the other hand was sure of his guilt. For years she fought for Frank to stay in prison. Every time his case came before the board of pardons she argued that justice hadn’t been served yet. (41)

A few years into his sentence, Frank’s health took a turn for the worse so the Board of Pardons commuted his sentence to five years from the original seven. A year later, he was released on good behavior. He served three and a half years of his original seven year sentence. (42) (43)

Through everything, his girlfriend, Pauline Kruger always believed in his innocence and visited him in prison often. Shortly after his release, the couple moved to California where the two were married. (44)

Frank had always been marred by poor health. And just after Christmas in 1906 he fell ill and passed away at the age of 32. (45)

Immediately following her only child’s death, Laura was in a state of shock and barely left her room at the West Hotel. To help her cope, her doctors and family urged her to get out of town for a while and travel to the east coast. (46)

Throughout her life her family was always by her side to try and fill the void left after Leonard’s death. She spent her later years traveling all over the country with her nieces. She died in 1935 at the age of 82. (47) (48)

Parking lot where the West Hotel once stood

The West Hotel made headlines again when in 1906 — after claiming to be “absolutely fireproof” — it caught fire and killed 11 people including a firefighter trying to help a woman down a ladder. (49) (50) (51)

Leonard’s mom, Laura, was still living at the West Hotel at the time of the fire. Her and her maid were found unconscious in their room by two firemen and brought down to safety. (52)

The hotel quickly fell out of favor. However it did manage to stay open for several more decades. But with increased competition and the city’s changing demographic it began to lose money. The West Hotel closed its doors in April of 1940 and was demolished shortly after. A parking lot currently stands in its place. (53)

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TL;DR

Two men fight after one man accuses the other of having an STD. One of the men ends up dead.

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