Arlington, NE Arson Fire, May 1888









About 10 o'clock on Friday morning the HERALD received a dispatch from Arlington to the following effect:
At six this morning a large fire was seen at Mrs. Freeze's farm, one mile from Arlington;
it was the barn that burned. A party went out from town to look into facts and found seven
charred remains as follows: Fred Groteluschen, his wife, Mrs. Freeze, mother of Mrs.
Groteluschen, and three children and Fred's brother, Louis, all small. (SIC) One of the family
the daughter of the widow Freeze, is away on a visit, and with this exception the whole
family was found scattered in different parts of the barn among some fifteen head of cows
and horses.

Later reports verified the truth of the horrible affair, which hardly has a parallel in all the record of fatalities.

The HERALD sent a reporter to the scene of the horror, and the details were learned as here given.

Edward and William Smith, the nearest neighbors of the Groteluschen family, about five o'clock in the morning discovered smoke issuing from some of the buildings, which are surrounded by thick groves and willow Hedges hastened to the spot and were surprised that they could find none of the occupants of the place about. One of the Smiths ran to the house, and clear around the barn, but could not find anybody. The barn was full of smoke and flame when they arrived and they could not approach close or see anything inside, although the door of the alley through the barn was open, and the door of the horse stable was partly open. One of the brothers rode to Arlington, a little over a mile, and gave the alarm. A large number of people immediately gathered at the place, but nothing could be done except to save the adjacent buildings from taking fire. When the building had burned to the ground and the heat subsided so as to make approach possible, a search was made in the ruins, and the spectators were horrified to find the charred and blackened corpses of the entire family in the ruins. Fred Groteluschen and two of the children, were found in the north stable, near a door which was shut. In the alley of the barn were found, about ten feet from the west door, the body of Louis Groteluschen, who is the hired man referred to in the earlier reports. The remains of Mrs. Fred Groteluschen were found near the end of the alley farthest from the door, and the body of the little babe was found close to her. A horse lay between her and the wall, and his neck rested across her breast. There was another horse in the alley between Mrs. G. and the others, as there was no doorway from the horse stable large enough to admit a horse, the animals must have gotten out of the stable, and becoming frightened, ran into the alley door for safety. All of the bodies of the human victims were found lying upon their backs.

Three other horses were cremated in the stable, and another one, which ran out of the partly open door just after the Smith's got there, was so badly burned that it was killed to end its misery. Altogether, six head of horses and about fifteen cows, calves, and colts perished.

A theory that the horrible affair was caused by foul play was at first advanced, but after careful investigation this conclusion is scarcely warranted. From the position of everything in the house, it is thought that the older persons had eaten their breakfast, and the table was set for the little ones. Food was cooking upon the stove. A part of the beds had been made.

The most reasonable theory is that one of the men accidentally set the hay in the loft of the barn on fire, either by ashes out of his pipe or by a lantern, while feeding the horses early in the morning, and did not discover it at the time. Then it smouldered and increased until it was fairly under way, and that after the men had eaten their breakfast and went out to hitch up their teams and commence work, they discovered the smoke. The all of them probably made heroic efforts to save the stock, and the older children, frightened by the commotion, followed their parents. The babe, from the position it was found, must have been in its mother's arms. When all were in the barn, the flames suddenly burst through from above, enveloping everyone in the fiery furnace.

There are three other children of the family- two married daughters, one of whom lives in Kansas and the other at Ainsworth, of this state, where the other daughter, aged about eighteen, went to visit her about a week ago.

Coroner Pierce was summoned from Blair, and with Sheriff Schneider and attorney W. H. Farnsworth, arrived about noon. A coroner's jury was impaneled and considerable evidence taken. After a thorough investigation, a verdict was rendered, that the deceased came to their death by being burned in the barn, and that the cause of the fire is unknown.


From THE FREMONT (NE.) Weekly HERALD, May 10, 1888-





Arlington, NEB., May 8.
Correspondence of The Herald.

Interest in the late tragedy is still intense here, and little else is talked of but the developments discovered in the last examination of the bodies before burial, and which seem to be borne out by the appearance of such particles of the clothing of Mrs. Fred Groteluschen as were not entirely burned. While this theory of wholesale murder seems difficult to account for on any reasonable pretext of motive, as well as the unaccountable presence of the entire family in the barn at the time the murders must have been committed, if at all, yet it appears almost equally inexplicable how the entire family, old and young, should have been in the barn, for the purpose of rescuing the stock or otherwise, and be suffocated altogether, some of them almost at the door, and the woman having the baby of eighteen months in her arms. On the former theory, of a wholesale crime having been committed, it is all at once mystifying how they all came to be in the barn, after the chores had been done and they had all apparently set down to breakfast, as though called out suddenly on the alarm of fire; and on the other hand, while a knife and an axe were found in the ruins, the latter was found under the woman who throat is claimed to have the appearance of having been cut, and the knife near the body of the man. From the fact that the horse appeared to have fallen upon the woman with the child, the presence of the knife and the axe could easily be accounted for by all their rushing in to cut loose the horses, and in the excitement the children following them. All these mystifying theories and circumstances are talked over and considered in every light, and it was this agitation which on Monday resulted in the developments made as to the condition of the bodies and other circumstances.

Closer examination showed that the coroner's jury were not well handled at the inquest over the 7 dead bodies. There seems to have been too much excitement generally and not enough executive ability at the head of the jury. It is now thought that there is no question but that Mrs. Groteluschen's throat had been cut, and the unfolding of some of the garments on her breast reveals profuse clots of blood, some quite fresh in appearance, seemingly there prior to the fire and undoubtedly from a cut and not from burning. In digging down through the partially burnt hay, traces are found of quite a considerable pool of blood. Just how it happens that this was not discovered before seems to be due to the negligence of the acting coroner. The bodies were afterworlds examined in the caskets, and Dr. Hadley gave it as his opinion that the abrasion of the throat skin is more serious than at first thought, and by pushing back the head it showed quite a deep cut.

Your reporter examined very carefully the clothes that contain the clots of blood,and finds no way to account for the profuseness except that the throat was cut and possibly other wounds about the head. By this lady was found the axe, it will be remembered. It now comes to light that by Fred Groteluschen was found the blade of a short butcher knife, and near the entrance of the barn was found a pair of shears. A singular fact is that all of the dead, except Louis, were found on their backs; Louis was face down, so that his face was not as badly burned as the others, and his initials on shirt front in thread were not destroyed.

It is claimed that Miss Emma, who was away from home at the time of the fire has said, "Louis did all of this." No reporter has yet been able to interview her and nothing further has been learned of what she thinks of the matter.

The theory of accidental trapping advanced still has many supporters, yet the theory of murder is more strongly supported than ever before, and that Louis, Fred's brother, did the work, set fire to the barn, then went to the house, got the children, placed them murdered as they were found, and was then caught in the fire, and though he wrapped blankets around him and tried to get out, he was strangled by the blaze of his own murderous hand. Remains of the blankets were found about him.


From THE FREMONT (NE.) WEEKLY HERALD, about May 17, 1888-





Following the line of suspicion intimidated in the HERALD Sunday morning, a closer investigation was made on Monday of the surroundings of the Arlington tragedy, with the view of getting more light on the peculiar circumstances attending that horrible affair. The remains of Mrs. Fred Groteluschen were examined, and the examination is said to show quite conclusively that the throat had been cut, and the clothing about the neck bears evidence, as near as could be judged from the portion not wholly burned, of the existence of clots of blood that cannot be accounted for by the theory of suffixation and burning alone. From this evidence- it so far it seemed to be conclusive to those seeing it- the conclusion could hardly be avoided that there was foul play of the blackest character back of the awful tragedy. These developments of course excited the utmost consternation, and the demand for further investigation was at once apparent.

The daughter Emma came down from Ainsworth on Saturday- the neighbor Schmidt, who was the first to give the alarm, and who was supposed to be her lover, going up after her. She was not informed of the horrible calamity until nearing Fremont, and the effect was most heartrending. The other sister also arrived from Kansas, and the seven-fold funeral was held at 1 o'clock Monday afternoon.

The HERALD received word late last night from Mr. Staples, giving the latest developments of the case.

While there is certainly much excitement over this new phase of affairs, the absence of any sufficient motive and the seeming impossibility of concealing all trace of the crime, or of accounting for the finding of all the bodies in the barn, without evidence of any struggle, would seem to require strong circumstantial evidence that one or more of the victims had died from violence, and we will await more full details before arriving at that conclusion.


From THE ARLINGTON (NE.) CITIZEN, date unknown-


One of the most vivid memories of his childhood was the tragic barn fire on the Frese farm 1 1/2 miles northeast of Arlington in 1888 in which seven people were cremated. The fire occurred shortly before six o'clock in the morning and the supposition was that a lamp or ashes from a pipe had started the fire while the family was doing chores and they were trapped inside. However, the sheriff and acting coroner, H. D. Schneider, attested, "That the dead bodies of Louise Frese, Fred Groteluschen, Louis Groteluschen, Ida Groteluschen, Willie Groteluschen, Rosa Groteluschen, and Mathilda Groteluschen were supposed to have come to their death by unlawful means..."

Emil Just, son of Emma Frese, a member of the family who had escaped the fire because she was in Ainsworth visiting a sister, told why the family was convinced the fire was not an accident:
There were so many unanswered questions. The table was set for breakfast as Mrs. Frese usually stayed in the kitchen with the baby and prepared the meals while the others did the chores. She was found between two horses with the child between her arms. Why would she carry an 18-month old baby into a burning barn and try to lead out two frightened horses.