August 30, 1885: Body of convicted murderer John Waisenen’s exhumed

On this day in Duluth in 1885, convicted murderer John Waisenen’s body was exhumed from a cemetery on the county poor farm and brought to Duluth. Waisensen and John Norland, both Finnish immigrants, were accused of the brutal murder of Joseph Farley on November 27, 1884. Waisenen and Norland were working for Farley in a shanty belonging to the “Irish-Canadian” outside of Tower, Minnesota. They crushed Farely’s skull with a hardwood club, covered him in brush, and set the shanty and body aflame, hoping to hide the crime. They got away with $70 and a pocket watch. Norland maintained that he had not witnessed the murder, but said Waisenen had threatened him with death to maintain his silence. Waisenen admitted to striking the fatal blow, but claimed the entire crime was Norland’s idea. Norland—who had been convicted of murder in Finland and escaped captivity by faking his own death—hung himself with a blanket in his cell on April 9, 1885; it was his fourth attempt. Waisenen was convicted and hanged near the courthouse on August 28, 1885; it was the first hanging in Minnesota in seventeen years. Two days later, his body was exhumed for medical research by a Duluth physician. The Duluth Weekly Tribune said that “This is certainly about the best use to which this worthless carcass could be put.”

A sketch of John Waisenen made at the time of his trial. (Image: Zenith City Press)

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