The Shocking 1912 Murder of Twenty-Year-Old Alice Matthews

Matt Reicher

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Photo of Jennie and her sister Alice MatthewsLynn Blewett/Star Tribune
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - The March 23, 1912, death of Alice Matthews shocked the city of Minneapolis. Attacked by a dark, brooding figure only a couple of doors from her home, she did everything possible to try to save her own life. Matthews fought bravely, but her cries for help went unheeded. Her case dominated local papers for a few weeks. However, the story eventually became old news, and her attacker was never found.

Hard-working and likable, the twenty-year-old Matthews was a flour packer at the Pillsbury Mill. She lived at 3547 S. 20th Ave in south Minneapolis with her father, stepmother, half-brother, and two younger sisters. On weekends, Matthews looked forward to going out with her friends. That weekend, she was meeting up with Ida Belfy and Minnie Morgan.

Nothing about this was out of the ordinary. Matthews and her younger sister Jennie often went out on the weekend but always shared plans with their father. He was a worrier and wanted to know they'd be safe. That weekend, Matthews told him she would meet up with Belfy and Morgan for a show at the Isis Theatre and then have dinner. She planned to spend the night at Ms. Belfy's so she wouldn't have to ride the streetcar home alone late at night.

For unknown reasons, the plan changed while the three were at the show. Matthews went home instead of staying at her friend's house. After the show ended and the three had dinner, she boarded the southbound Cedar streetcar en route home.

It was 11:06 PM.

The streetcar stopped at Cedar and 34th Street, and Matthews got off to walk the rest of the way. Less than a half block from home, an unknown assailant attacked her. She screamed for help, but her cries went unanswered. Matthews fought bravely but was eventually strangled and left to die alone near the street. Her clothes were tattered, her neck was scratched and bruised, and her lips were swollen—likely from being struck in the face.

Neighbors reported hearing cries of "please let me go" between 11:30 and 11:45 PM. Mrs. H.C. Thomas, who lived two doors from the Matthews family, said the yells awakened her. Unfortunately, she didn't see anything when she looked out her bedroom window and assumed it was neighborhood kids playing. Mrs. J. Larsen and her son Verner, who lived down the block, walked onto their front porch to investigate but couldn't see anything in the dark. Larsen sent Verner next door to the Tibbetts household to call the police.

Alerted by Verner, Mrs. G.W. Tibbetts and her daughter Eva rushed outside to investigate. When they were about one hundred feet from the unknown body, it moved. The two ran back into their house and contacted the Sixth Precinct station. A dispatcher said they'd send an officer. Tibbetts later reported a motorcycle patrolman arrived "after a time" at 35th Street and 20th Ave—about half a block from the crime scene. He wasn't wearing a uniform, so the Tibbetts were afraid to flag him down.

After standing around a while, the officer rode away.

They continued to hear faint movements from the person lying on the ground. At 12:30 AM, Mrs. Tibbetts called the police again. She told them it was probably a drunk passed out near the street, but they should come and get him. Tibbetts gave her address and said she'd leave a light on. The dispatcher said they'd send someone on horseback, but after waiting more than an hour, Mrs. Tibbetts and her daughter put the light out and went to bed.

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Alice Matthews, Her Father, Her Sister, and the Scene of the TragedyMinneapolis Morning Tribune

Eva Tibbetts discovered the lifeless body of Alice Matthews at around 7:00 AM. She immediately grabbed her mother to notify the Matthews family. Jennie Matthews reported brushing against the body around 1:00 AM as she neared home. Jennie assumed it was a passed-out drunk and ran away. Once inside the safety of her home, she didn't bother saying anything.

The guilt of that decision likely devastated Jennie.

Mrs. Tibbets called the police again. This time, they had no issues finding the crime scene. While investigating, the police found a hatpin near Matthews' body and decided it was likely used to try to ward off her attacker. They canvassed the neighborhood looking for a man with scratches on his hands and face. Police also talked to the streetcar conductors and anyone else who rode at the same time Matthews did.

Local newspapers deemed the crime the most brutal in city history. The mayor chastised the police response, so the pressure was high to both find the killer and bring him to justice. Fear overwhelmed the authorities as calls came from every corner of the city from frightened citizens reporting strange men in the area. None of the information panned out, and the police lacked solid leads. To help the investigation, the governor, mayor, and Minneapolis City Council each offered a $500 reward for information leading to the murderer's capture.

Unfortunately, he was never found. The police arrested many suspects during their investigation, but none panned out. One man confessed four times over three years, but authorities decided he suffered from monomania—an unhealthy obsession with the crime. He was committed to an asylum in Rochester, MN.

On March 27, 1912, Matthews was buried at Layman's Cemetery in Minneapolis. Over one thousand people attended the ceremony. Police scanned the crowd, looking for suspicious acting people, but didn't notice anyone worth pursuing.

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Detectives who watched crowds at funeralTed Force/Tribune Staff Photographer

Losing a young lady 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 Matthews off the front page. Minneapolitans, both out of their fear and wanting to help her find justice, continued talking about Alice Matthews, but over time the search for her attacker grew cold.

Sources

  • "Alice E. Matthews." Find a Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/159907360/alice-e_-matthews.
  • “The 1912 Alice Matthews Murder : MOST NOTORIOUS.” MOST NOTORIOUS. Last modified October 8, 2020. https://www.mostnotorious.com/2020/10/08/the-1912-alice-matthews-murder/.
  • Brown, Curt. “Flour Packer’s Brutal 1912 Minneapolis Murder Still Unsolved.” Star Tribune. Last modified October 17, 2020. https://www.startribune.com/flour-packer-s-brutal-1912-minneapolis-murder-still-unsolved/572783822/.
  • The Minneapolis Morning Tribune. “Clues in Tragedy Fail Detectives After Assailant.” March 28, 1912, 1. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn83016772/1912-03-28/ed-1/seq-1.
  • The Minneapolis Morning Tribune. “Girl Loses Life in Brave Battle to Save Honor.” March 25, 1912, 1. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn83016772/1912-03-25/ed-1/seq-1.
  • The Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Girl Friends Are Pallbearers at the Funeral of Miss Alice Matthews ..." March 28, 1912, 1.

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