The Murder of Carl Hoppmann

Carl Hoppmann (Image: Zenith City Press)

Two weeks before he died in December of 1915, 87-year-old Edward J. Hoppmann changed his will. Previously, it had stated his wife Christina would receive one-third of his estate and the remaining funds would go into a trust for his two adult children. Now, Hoppmann’s widow would get it all.

Perhaps this decision was caused by the Duluth family’s declining fortunes. After early success, Hoppmann’s forays into real estate had left him with $41,400, which in today’s dollars wouldn’t quite get him to millionaire status. His legacy, the Hoppmann Block, began as a beautiful architectural masterpiece, but it had become just another seedy hotel in the Bowery. (Read more about the notorious Hoppmann Block here.)

The elder Hoppmanns may have also decided that their two children—both now approaching middle age—were not demonstrably responsible enough to inherit. Their oldest, Theresa Olive Hoppmann, remained unmarried and lived at home in the family quarters behind the Hotel Brunswick. As her father became ill, he entrusted her with landlord duties.

Theresa fumbled the handoff, attempting to rent the Hotel Brunswick to notorious madam Jeanette Palmer, which resulted in scandal and a year during which the upper floors of the building remained dark. This fiasco didn’t change Theresa’s course, however. The next year she rented to another madam, Julia Wallace. By that time the elder Hoppmann was already dead and ensconced in a new marble crypt on Forest Hill Cemetery’s millionaire’s row.

Their youngest had turned out to be of questionable character as well. Carl Hoppmann, a portly blond and blue-eyed sports fan, had achieved moderate success as a dentist. But he had also earned a reputation around town as a bombastic bully and bounder. He repeatedly embarrassed the family with his reckless driving, careening pell-mell down Superior Street at a time when automobiles were rare and the streets were full of horses. This behavior got him ticketed by the police at least once, and in 1905 he managed to knock himself unconscious in a one-car accident at Thirteenth Avenue East and Superior Street.

Old Hoppmann’s will was disputed by one or both of the Hoppmann children, and resolved in private. Whatever the outcome, tragedy came to the two Hoppmann children within five years of their father’s death, leaving their mother to live out her remaining years alone.

Around the Corner

In 1918, Theresa Hoppmann died at age fifty, likely a victim of the 1918 flu epidemic, joining her father in the family crypt. Then on February 22, 1920, forty-three-year-old Carl Hoppmann was shot on the corner of Fourth Avenue West and Superior Street, just down the street from his dental office in the Phoenix Building. The sidewalks were full of theatergoers, but two of the six shots fired at Hoppmann met their mark, one going through the back of his head—tearing off “half the skull”—and the other grazing his chest. No one else was injured. The shooter was a Norwegian immigrant and barber named Casper M. Nelson, who was immediately apprehended and disarmed by some of the many bystanders. Hoppmann died eight hours later in the hospital.

At his indictment, Nelson claimed he acted in self-defense, alleging that Hoppmann harassed and threatened him. He said that the trouble between them began some years before, when Nelson courted Theresa Hoppmann.

A month later, Nelson’s trial began. The Duluth News Tribune especially noted the large number of women spectators who crowded the courtroom, making up fifty percent of the crowd and hanging around outside waiting for vacant seats. Nelson’s demeanor was described as showing “little interest in the progress of his case… staring straight ahead, his feet and hands occasionally moving in the nervous jerky fashion which marked his demeanor on the day after the shooting.”

Witnesses agreed that the night of the murder, Hoppmann and his friend Michael Fitzmaurice had dined together at Lanigan’s restaurant in the Bowery. Nelson had come in and silently sat at a table facing the two. When Hoppmann and Fitzmaurice left the restaurant, Nelson followed them soon after, noticeably transferring an object from an inside pants pocket to his coat pocket.

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Story by Heidi Bakk-Hansen. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Heidi Bakk-Hansen.