Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Family History Writing Challenge * A Murderer *

This is day 20 of The Family History Writing Challenge and today's story is about my 1st cousin 4X removed.  He grew up in Frankon, Indiana, to a good family.  This was my great great great grandfather's brother's son.  This story made the New York Times. 

My cousin, Perry Manis, was one of fifteen children.  What was different about Perry?  The other children were all just normal, law abiding people.  What happened to Perry?

Perry had been a preacher of the gospel.  Perry had never really committed any crime.  He had been married and was the father of two children.  He liked to visit prostitutes.

Perry had become friends with a lady named Susan Nelson, and had been a visitor of her home several times.

On September 7, 1883, Susan Nelson, told people that she was going to Kansas City, Missouri, where her son was ill and she would not be returning to Anderson.  She withdrew funds from the bank, and hired a man to take her trunk to the train depot.  She got on the evening train heading west.

In the month of October, a man was hunting in the woods southwest of Terre Haute.  His dog was running ahead, and came back carrying something in his mouth.  On further inspection, that man saw that it was a skull.  He looked around the area and found more human bones.  He was uncertain, but he thought someone had been murdered.  

He came back to the area the next morning with some friends to continue searching.  They found pieces of a woman's clothing, and then, the remainder of her body.  They went to find the coroner.  The coroner found she had no identification and she had $.83 in her pocket.  Her skull had been crushed by a heavy blow and there were signs of a struggle.  The coroner determined that the body had been there for about four or five weeks.  He had no idea who she might be, but he was certain she had been murdered.

The people in the area keep searching, someone needed to find out who this woman was.  Finally, something was found.  There was an insurance policy, torn in two, laying in some tall grass.  It was readable.  It was made out to Mrs. Susan Nelson of Anderson, Indiana.  It was a policy for her household goods.  Now, they had an idea who the body might be.  They began investigating.  An investigator went to Anderson.  

In Anderson, they soon found out that the body was definitely Susan Nelson.  In searching they home they came across some information.  There was a letter from her son postmarked from Brazil, Indiana, near Terre Haute.  Her son had been in some issues in the past.  They thought they had found their murderer.  They found him in Missouri and found that he had a reliable alibi.  They murderer was still at large.

Soon after Perry Manis was locked up in Anderson for associating with prostitutes.  During his jail time, something he said or did brought him under suspicion of murder.  Officials began checking into what he had been doing at the time Susan Nelson went missing.

He had left town about the same time as Mrs. Nelson and had returned about four or five weeks later.  He left without a trunk and returned with a trunk and a large sum of money.  A young man came forward with testimony that he had overheard Perry and Mrs. Nelson talk about going to Kansas City and opening a boarding hotel.  

Investigation in the Terre Haute area, found someone who had seen Perry and Mrs. Nelson at a boarding house.  He had hired a horse and buggy and the two of them left together.  Perry returned later by himself.  Perry was arrested and taken to Noblesville to be put in jail.  At Noblesville he tried to escape, but was re-captured and taken to Terre Haute for a murder trial.  Perry later admitted to the crime, but said he had accomplices who were never named.  

Mrs. Nelson was the sister of Frederick and Michael Bronnenberg, who had lived in Madison County all their lives.

Perry came from a well-to-do family who had never committed any crimes.  Perry had been a traveling minister and had been known to hang out with undesirable people and had some lewd habits, but he had never been suspected of any other crimes before he committed the murder.

What happened, did he just want the money Mrs Nelson carried or was there more to the story?  Perry died in prison a couple of years later.  

Printed in The New York Times, January 10, 1884.

Here is the article blown up so you can read it.


  1. Now that's an interesting find! Not exactly a criminal mastermind, was he? Why leave the insurance policy behind?

  2. Betty, there is always another part to the story. This one certainly opens up several questions. Hope you find out more of the rest of this story--and get to share it with us here!

  3. I have been reading through your posts but this caught my attention. I also wrote about a murder but in our case, it was my great grandfather who was murdered. We even know who did it but the man was never captured. It's amazing what we can find. Your Perry is an interesting character. Good job on the story telling too.

    1. I finally got time to go read your murder story. Fantastic story. Made me sad for Martha and the children. Very well written. I have been reading your things for a few days but hadn't had time to go backward.

      Thanks for reading my blog! I was shocked when I found out about Perry. One of the dad's at my son's school is a direct line descendant but I wasn't sure if he would like to hear the story. Maybe later I will tell him. I have known him casually for years. His last name is Manis. I asked him if he knew his ancestors and he went to check with his mother and came back with the names. Very small world!