Minneapolis, MN

The March 23, 1912 Brutal Murder of Twenty-Year-Old Alice Matthews

Matt Reicher
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Details of the Alice Matthews' MurderMinneapolis Morning Tribune, Pub. March 25, 1912

The murder of Alice Matthews on March 23, 1912 shocked Minneapolis. Only a few doors away from her home, Alice was attacked by a dark, threatening figure. While she fought valiantly, her neighbor's did not respond to her cries for help, and she was killed. Alice's case dominated the newspapers for a few weeks; however, her murder ended up being old news, and police failed to find her attacker.

Twenty-year-old Matthews worked as a flour packer at the Pillsbury Mill. She lived with her father, step-mother, two younger sisters, and half-brother at 3547 S. 20th Ave. in south Minneapolis. She was eager to spend time with her female friends after working hard all week. On this particular weekend, she met up with Ida Belfy and Minnie Morgan. They watched a show at the Isis Theatre and had dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant.

There was nothing unusual about any of this. Alice and younger sister Jennie often went out on the weekends and were always sure to let their father know about their plans. He worried about his girls and wanted to make sure they were safe. Alice told her father that she planned to meet up with Belfy and Morgan for a show and then dinner. Then she would spend the night at Ms. Belfy's house so she would not have to go home alone on the streetcar.

While the girls were at the show, the plan changed. Instead of spending the night with her friend, Alice decided to go home. Following the show and dinner, Alice boarded the Cedar streetcar heading south. It was 11:06 pm.

After the streetcar stopped at Cedar and 34th Street, Alice stepped out to continue walking. She didn't have too far to go. About a half block from her home, she was attacked by an unknown assailant. Her cries for help went unanswered. Alice fought bravely, but was left to die alone in the street. Her clothes were torn, and her neck was scratched and bruised. Also, Alice's lips were swollen, likely due to being struck in the face.

Her neighbors reported hearing her cries of "please let me go" between 11:30 and 11:45 pm. Mrs. H.C. Thomas, who lived two doors down from the Matthews family, said that the yells had awakened her. Although she looked out her bedroom window, she didn't see anything and assumed it was just neighborhood kids playing. Mrs. J. Larsen and her son Verner, who lived down the block, walked out onto their porch to investigate, but they couldn't see anything. Larsen then sent Verner next door to call the police.

After being alerted by Verner, Mrs. G.W. Tibbetts and her daughter Eva went outside to investigate. About 100 feet from the body, it moved. They ran back into the house and contacted the Sixth Precinct station, which dispatched an officer. Tibbets reported that a motorcycle patrolman arrived at 35th Street and 20th Avenue "after a time.". The location was about half a block away from the crime scene. He wasn’t wearing a police uniform, so the callers were afraid to flag him down.

After standing around awhile, to officer rode away.

They continued to hear faint movements from the unknown person lying on the ground. So, at 12:30 am, Mrs. Tibbetts call the police again, this time telling them that it was likely no more than a drunken man near the street but that they should come and get him. She gave her address and said that she’d have a light on. The officer on the other end of the line said that they’d send someone on horseback, but after waiting for a little more than an hour longer, the caller and her daughter put the light out and went to bed.

The body of Alice Matthews was discovered the next morning by Eva Tibbetts around 7:00 am. She immediately ran to grab her mother to notify the Matthews Family. The victim died clutching onto a broken hat pin. Jennie Matthews reported brushing against the body around 1 am as she neared home. Her first assumption was that it was a drunk who had passed out and she fled. After entering her house, she didn't bother to say anything. By that time, Alice was likely dead, but Jennie's guilt over not helping her sister devastated her.

Mrs. Tibbetts called the police for the third time. This time, they had no trouble locating the crime scene. The police concluded the hatpin near Alice's dead body was probably used to ward off her attacker, so they canvassed the neighborhood looking for a man with scratches on his hands and face. They also talked to streetcar conductors and anyone else who rode at the same time as Alice.

While the investigation was ongoing, a coroner at the University of Minnesota hospital performed an autopsy and ruled the case a homicide. Alice was likely a victim of sexual assault and then strangled to death.

It was called the most brutal crime in the history of the city by the newspapers. The mayor publicly criticized the police response, so the pressure was on to find the killer and bring them to justice. Local fear overwhelmed the authorities as calls came in from all corners about strange men in the area. There was no solid information, and the police had no leads. The Governor, Mayor, and Minneapolis City Council each offered $500 rewards for information leading to the murderer's arrest.

Unfortunately, the killer was never found. The police arrested multiple suspects at different times during their investigation, but none of them panned out. One man confessed — four separate times over three years — but the authorities decided that he was insane and suffering from monomania, an unhealthy obsession with the crime. He was eventually committed to an asylum in Rochester, MN.

Two days after the death of Alice Matthews, law enforcement was alerted to a possible suicide of an unknown man with the initials “LEE” on his shirt. With nothing to go on, the police tried to find a link between him and Ms. Matthews but were unsuccessful.

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Picture taken at Alice Matthews' funeralThe Minneapolis morning tribune. Pub. Date March 28, 1912

Alice Matthews was buried at Layman’s Cemetery in Minneapolis on March 27, 1912, in a ceremony attended by more than one thousand people. The eight pallbearers were all her female friends. Police scanned the crowd, looking for any suspicious acting person that may have committed the crime, but didn’t find anyone worth pursuing.

The vicious death of a young girl in the prime of her life, and an unknown killer-at-large, remained headline news in the city for the next few weeks. On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank, pushing Alice Matthews off the front page. Minneapolitans, both out of fear and want to help her find justice, continued to talk of Alice’s death, but the search for her attacker eventually grew cold.

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A recent view of the approximate location of Alice Matthews' death at 3541 20th Ave SGoogle Maps

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Historical researcher and content creator for the Minnesota Then Beer and Brewing History Museum.

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