a close up of a shovel handle with chopped wood as the backdrop

Farmhouse Murder Pt. 1: A Minnesota True Crime Story

When Katherine McCart left her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May 1907, her daughters asked her to write to them letting them know she got to Maple Plain, Minnesota safely. Katherine's reply was sinister, saying she didn't expect to see them again. So, when Katherine didn't arrive back in Minneapolis, her family assumed the worst.

When Katherine McCart left her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May 1907, her daughters asked her to write to them letting them know she got to Maple Plain, Minnesota safely. Katherine’s reply was sinister, saying she didn’t expect to see them again. So, when Katherine didn’t arrive back in Minneapolis, her family assumed the worst.

Maple Plain, Minnesota

The Clasen, Kadelbachs and McCarts all immigrated to the United States with the hopes of creating something successful they could pass on to their kids.

All three families eventually found themselves in Medina Township, Minnesota, where the Clasens and Kadelbachs found success in berry farming. (1)

The Clasens were a family of nine headed by German immigrants, Jacob and Katrina. The couple had two girls, Lizzie born in 1859 and Katherine born nine years later in 1868. The entire family was incredibly close, but being the only girls among five brothers, Lizzie and Katherine always had a special bond. (2) (3)

George Kadelbach was the oldest of five children. Like the Clasens, his parents immigrated to Medina Township from Germany. Tragedy struck the family when George was nine years old, when his mother died. The family bond quickly deteriorated and George left home at a young age and found work in the horse business. (4)

Herbert McCart was the son of Thomas and Mary born in 1866. He had two younger siblings, a sister and a brother. Thomas, a veterinary surgeon, made a majority of his wealth breeding race horses. He split the family’s time between the farm in Maple Plain and a house in Minneapolis which was about 20 miles away. (5)

Make it Rich

Over the years, George Kadelbach and Mathias Clasen developed a close friendship. And in about 1882, with the combination of youthful optimism and the pressures of making something of themselves like their immigrant parents before them, the two decided to go out West to California “to grow up with the country and make it rich”.

However, it didn’t take long for arguments between the two to arise. Whether it was a clash of personalities, the failure to make it rich quickly or something else, we’ll never know. But it all came to a head and George decided he had enough and was going home to Minnesota. He figured he could make money just as easily there.

George returned to Minnesota without Mathias and with no word as to where he was. The family never heard from Mathias again. (4)

Around this same time, Lizzie began spending time with a neighbor 25 years older than her named Isaac Christlieb. Isaac and his wife, Susan, had recently been divorced. The two hit it off and the couple was married sometime in the late 1870s or early 1880s. They had two sons, Alexander born in 1882 and Benjamin born in 1885. (6)

Married Life

George Kadlebach

In 1888, a mutual friend, neighbor and close friend of Lizzie and Isaac, introduced Herbert to Katherine. (7) The two hit it off and were married shortly after on November 5th. (8)

The marriage soured almost immediately with Katherine asking for a divorce. According to Herbert, she had wanted to marry a man named Billie Charlton. He was more than happy to oblige, but not knowing how to get a divorce, they went to the postmaster. When the postmaster told them he couldn’t grant them a divorce, they decided to stay married. (9)

After returning home and not finding any luck “making it rich”, George moved around throughout Minnesota and Montana doing odd jobs. Hearing that Lizzie, his old friend, was looking for farm hands, he made his way back to the Maple Plain area. There he was welcomed as part of the Cristlieb family. (7)

Lizzie and George’s friendship quickly grew into something more. Lizzie eventually left her husband, Isaac. In 1894, he filed for divorce, citing desertion. (10) Not long after the divorce was finalized, Lizzie gave birth to a son, Albert. About two weeks later, Lizzie and George were married. (8)

By all accounts, George and Lizzie had a normal and happy marriage. The new family welcomed a baby girl, Clara, in 1897 (11) and settled down on a farm in Long Lake, Minnesota where they followed the town’s tradition of growing and selling berries. (12)

Lizzie and Katherine were always incredibly close and lived within a couple of miles of each other. George and Herbert got along as well and George and Lizzie hosted her sister and her husband at their farm often. (13)

Though the two husbands got along, Katherine and George couldn’t relate. The two were very head strong and hot-headed. It wasn’t uncommon for the two of them to argue about anything and everything. (14)

California Dreaming

Through the years, Lizzie and her first husband Isaac had stayed close. Around 1900, their sons moved to California to help their dad clear his land and start an orange grove. Once her older sons had moved to California, Lizzie, George and their two children, started spending a lot of time in the area as well. Lizzie would often spend winters in California and summers in Minnesota.

Seeing the potential profit to be gained coupled with the milder climate, the Clasen brothers and Herbert started spending a lot of time there as well. (15) (16)

Katherine wants a divorce…again

Katherine McCart

George and Lizzie’s life was blooming. Katherine and Herbert’s on the other hand, was not. Though Katherine had given birth to two daughters, May in 1889 (17) and Louise in 1892 (18), their marriage continued to deteriorate.

At some point in the early 1900s, Herbert claimed Katherine had been suffering from “hysteria” and was to undergo an operation. She was terrified she wouldn’t survive. He said she begged him to transfer some of his valuable family land to her so she would have something to leave her daughters when she was gone. Herbert agreed to transfer the land then promptly left to spend some time in California. (19)

Katherine survived her operation and in 1905, she sued Herbert for divorce. But unlike the first time, he wasn’t going to let her go without a fight. Things had changed since that first time. Now, she had something Herbert wanted, a very valuable portion of his family’s land. He worried if she was granted a divorce he would never get it back.

The divorce proceedings were sensational with both sides throwing nasty accusations at each other. Katherine alleged he had confessed to committing “unforgivable crimes” against their 15 year old daughter, May. After his confession to her, he begged her for forgiveness and then threatened to kill her and the girls if they ever told anyone.

Herbert fervently denied the allegations. He in turn alleged Katherine had inappropriate relationships with prominent men in the Maple Plain area. Pointing to her wanting to marry Billy Charlton early in their marriage as evidence of her infidelity. (20)

May was even called to testify. When asked why her father left the state after transferring his land to her mother she had a simple answer: a prominent fortune teller living in Minneapolis who went by the name of King Solomon had told Herbert he was in danger. King Solomon predicted that Katherine would kill him. May claimed Herbert — out of fear — left for California to get away from Katherine.

But nobody in the courtroom that day believed her, the idea of someone uprooting their life because of something a fortune teller said was ridiculous. She was all but laughed off the stand. (21)

However, what they didn’t know was that Herbert was heavily involved in the Minnetonka Spiritualist Association which believed in communication with the Spirit World and psychic mediums among other things. (38)

The judge ultimately ruled against Katherine saying there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Herbert was ever abusive towards her or either of the children. He said if there was abuse, Katherine condoned it, probably even encouraged it.

He also made note that he didn’t think she seemed like the type of person who told the truth. And he felt that May’s testimony was coached and couldn’t be believed. In the end, Herbert was able to convince the judge that he was more credible than Katherine.

The divorce was not granted. Katherine and her two girls moved to Minneapolis while she rented out her farm in Maple Plain. The family never lived together again. (22)

Katherine leaves the farm

Kadelbach Farmhouse (Photo from the W.H.C.P.A. Collection)

In early 1907, the Kadelbach family was on one of their regular trips to California. In March, George made his way back to Minnesota while Lizzie and her children remained in California to take care of her ex-husband who had been battling an illness. In May, Lizzie asked Katherine to keep house for her until she could come back. (23) (24)

According to George, on the evening of Friday, May 24, she told him she was going to go visit her own farm that was about two miles away. She needed to discuss something with the man who was renting her farm, Henry Nash. George expected her to be back that same evening. (25)

But she never returned.

In fact, she never made it to her farm to talk to Henry Nash. He hadn’t seen her at all that Friday night. (26)

When her brother, Henry Clasen, hadn’t heard from her at all the next day, he went to George’s farm to check on her. (27)

George told him that she had planned to leave on Saturday, the 25th and suggested that maybe she had gone back to Minneapolis. Then, without skipping a beat, he complained to Henry about how hot-headed Katherine was and mentioned the day before, they had had an argument over a shipment of butter. (28)

Henry went up to Katherine’s room and found that she hadn’t brought any of her clothes with her. Leading him to believe something was wrong. He enlisted his brother, Peter and some neighbors to search for her. (27)

The next day — while the search for Katherine continued — George offered to lend Henry a bit of his land for Henry to grow potatoes on. He figured they could fill in the old well and plant a potato patch over it. Henry declined saying he didn’t think the pay off from the crops would be worth the effort of filling in a 25 foot well. (29)

A few days after Katherine left, Herbert paid a visit to George. The two chatted for a bit about nothing in particular. Herbert — even though he hadn’t had much contact with his wife since the divorce suit — knew she had been keeping house on her sister’s farm. Even so, her name never came up in their conversation. (30)

Where’s Katherine?

Katherine’s daughters were expecting her to be back in Minneapolis on June 1. When she didn’t show up, May went to Maple Plain to check on her mother. Henry and Peter had still been searching for her and now with the confirmation that she hadn’t gone back to Minneapolis they feared the worst. They figured she either had died accidently or she had committed suicide. At this point, George and the brothers went to the police.

George talked at length to both police and reporters. He was convinced she had committed suicide. He claimed she had once told him, “I’d be just as well off dead, no one cares for me — not even my daughters.”

However, on the day she was due back in Minneapolis, her daughter went to search for her. Plus, on the day she went missing, “she canned several jars of rhubarb for the girls”. Both indicating she had at least a decent relationship with both her daughters. Casting doubt onto the suicide theory.

When George’s suicide theory was cast aside, he mentioned he’d had problems with wolves on his property and on more than one occasion had to shoot them. He wondered if maybe she had wandered into the nearby marshlands into wolf territory and was attacked and devoured by wolves. This theory was not entertained. (31)

Aside from these theories, George was unable to provide any other clue about her whereabouts. The entire police force and town were baffled. (25)

The next day, George went into town and mortgaged his horses for $250. (32)

The Well

Henry and Peter Clasen stand above the well (1907)

On the afternoon of June 4th,10 days after Katherine had gone missing, her brother, Peter, invited George to his house for lunch. George was in a good mood and talked about Katherine’s disappearance but still claimed to have no idea about what could have happened to her.

Meanwhile, Henry got to thinking about when George asked him to fill in the well and grow potatoes. The more he thought about it the weirder the offer was. George had never offered to help him with his farm. In fact, Henry had always gotten the impression George had little to no desire to work at all. With these things in mind, Henry went to the well to investigate.

He found the well with several pieces of fresh sod packed over the opening. As he dug into the well, he found “cobblestones wedged in tight”. Knowing something was off, he decided to call the police and other farmers to help dig. (33)

As Henry and police dug deeper into the well, George left Peter’s house and went to neighboring farms to pay off two debts. He returned home only to find a group of people inspecting the well on his property. He quickly gathered a few necessities and snuck out through the woods. (35)

He made his way to nearby Delano where he ran into a friend, Dar Walker, who he knew from “his days in the horse business”. Then he went to a saloon where he was observed writing a letter. (36)

They Find Katherine

In the midst of darkness using flashlights, the first signs of Katherine’s body were found. Henry told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “something told me that I would find her and although they discouraged me I kept at it from early in the afternoon until 11 o’clock at night when I found her leg — think of it — and then they all knew I was right.”

In the early morning hours, they uncovered the rest of her body. With her they found a sheet, blanket and lastly George’s overcoat. As well as one of her shoes and a rubber boot.

After she was carefully hoisted out, her body was quickly examined. It was clear she had suffered several heavy blows to her head. This was no accident.

George Kadelbach was now the prime suspect.

Almost immediately after the body was discovered, police and reporters went to George’s house only to find he wasn’t there. (36)

It was around four in the morning at this point, but investigators decided to search the farmhouse for any clues. There they found the presumed murder weapon, a broken off pitchfork handle. It had been washed clean of any blood but still had — what looked like — Katherine’s hair stuck in the rough wood.

Aside from that, there was no blood, no sign of a struggle and nothing else to learn about the murder. And no clues to suggest where George might have gone. (37)

To be continued

What do you think will happen? Will George get away or will the police track him down? Let us know your predictions in the comment section. Then hop over to read part two!

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