KILLS FAMILY OF 5 AND SELF
REV. B. J. MINORT OF TORRINGTON SHOOTS WIFE AND FOUR CHILDREN; ONE BOY LIVING
Torrington, Wyo., Nov. 15—A tragic record of involvement with the law which began with the shedding of human blood in Missouri 22 years ago and led through the penitentiary, the ministry, and public office was completed here early Sunday morning when Rev. B. J. Minort, supply pastor for the local Baptist church, police judge, and former Wyoming state commissioner of child and animal protection, killed his wife, four of their five children and himself. The murders took place at the Minort home. Probably several hours passed between the first murder and the suicide. Minort’s last act before he fired a bullet into his brain was to summon an undertaker by telephone.
The undertaker, W .B. Longwith, upon his arrival at the Minort cottage to ascertain why he had been called, saw through a glass door Minort lying on the kitchen floor, gasping in the throes of death. He summoned officers and invasion of the house revealed the horrible extent of the tragedy which had been enacted.
Three of the five rooms of the cottage contained corpses—the minister’s homicidal mania had destroyed every member of the family except the oldest son, John, who is attending college at Liberty, Mo. To this son Minot had addressed a pitiful letter relating the details of the slaying of the youth’s mother, sister, and brothers. The murderer also left four other letters written between the time of the murders and that of his suicide.
The children slain by Minort were: Vannie, age 4; David, age 7; Clarence, age 10; Herbert, age 15.
Minort’s desperate deed is believed to have been inspired by shame over his arrest a week previously at Bayard, Neb., where he had occupied a hotel room with a Torrington woman whom he had represented to be his wife, and his apprehension of the effect of the revelation of this escapade to his wife and family. He had previously been involved in alleged immoral association, and had been indicted under the Mann act. In his last letter to his eldest son he relates that his wife had said that “should any trouble ever arise in this family again” she would take her own life, and that he had slain her to preserve her from “spiritual torment” which would have resulted from self destruction on her part.
Minort left a letter “To the public”, in which he claimed that his involvement at Bayard with a Torrington woman had been the effect of a “frame up” and that it had been his intention to kill the three men whom he believed responsible, but had not had the opportunity to do so. He also left a letter addressed to these three men; a letter to Sheriff Collyer, telling the officer of the murders and giving him the address of John Minort; a letter to Rev. J. P. Jacobs, of Casper, and the beginning of a letter “To the Baptist Church.” Only the subscription of the latter was written. In the letter to his son he requested that the expense of burying the family in caskets be avoided—“Just dig a hole and put us all in to save the expense,” was the substance of the request. All the letters were written in pencil. They were found on the kitchen table beside which Minort’s body lay.
The killing of Mrs. Minort and the children, except possibly that of Herbert, took place at about 2 o’clock Sunday morning. That Minort may have given the family a sleeping potion with the intent that they should be stupefied when he attacked them, and that he set 2 a. m. as the hour for the crime, is surmised from several indications, including that an alarm clock was set for 2 a. m. At about 2 a. m. a woman residing two blocks from the Minort residence heard several shots, she believes five, one much louder than the others. She attached no tragic significance to the fact, inasmuch as there had been shooting on the streets earlier in the night. No other person, it seems, heard the fatal shots.
Mrs. Minort and the children, except Herbert, were shot as they lay in bed, and Herbert apparently as he was entering his mother’s room, possibly to investigate the shots which had ended her life and that of little Vannie. It is surmised that the mother and youngest three children had been drugged in preparation for the slaughter. One shot suffered for each victim of the tragedy except Vannie; two were required to kill her. Minort, in his letter to the eldest son, testifies that none suffered except Vannie—that death for the others was instantaneous.
Mrs. Minort was killed by the charge from a shotgun as she lay beside Vannie in the northeast bed room of the cottage. Vannie was killed with two bullets from a .22 caliber rifle. The others were slain with a .32-20 caliber revolver, Herbert as he was entering his mother’s room from the bath room adjoining it, David as he lay on a cot in the bath room, and Clarence in his bed in the northwest bed room. Minort shot himself with the revolver as he sat on a chair in the kitchen. The combined dining and living room was the only chamber of the house in which searchers were not confronted by a corpse. The shot that killed Mrs. Minort, it is surmised, was fired from this room.
The charge from the shotgun struck Mrs. Minort on the left side of the head. That side of the head was torn away and shot which had not touched her penetrated the pillow on which her head lay. The manner in which the shot had scattered indicates that the murderer was probably as far away as the living room and fired through the door between the two apartments. The shots from the .22 caliber rifle with which Vannie was killed were fired with the muzzle of the weapon so close to the child that she was powder burned. The bullet that caused her death entered the right temple.
Herbert was probably the third victim of his father’s determination to kill all the family within his reach. His body was found in the doorway between the bath room and his mother’s bed room, with the head and shoulders in the latter. He was shot from behind, the bullet entering just back of the right ear. The boy was dressed but his shoes were unlaced. Probably the last thing his eyes saw was the ghastly welter on the bed on which the bodies of his mother and sister lay.
Clarence was shot in the head, behind the right ear, and David in the head, just above the right ear. Neither, apparently, had stirred after he was shot as the bedding of neither bed was disarranged.
Approximately seven hours elapsed between the time the shots were heard by a neighbor and the receipt by W. B. Longwith, the undertaker, of Minort’s telephone message asking him to come to the Minort place. Minort shot himself immediately after talking to Longwith. During the seven hours between the beginning of the slaughter and its termination by the murderer’s self destruction, Minort is believed to have devoted himself to the composition of the letters which he left. The connected thought expressed in the letters establishes that he was remarkably calm. Possibly the composition of the letters occupied only minor portion of the time between the first slaying and the suicide and the remainder of the interim was spent by the murderer steeling himself for the final act of the tragedy—suicide. These are matters of surmise only.
Surmise is uncertain regarding when, and under just what circumstances, the oldest of the slain children was killed. It is not certain that the boy was in the house when the other murders took place, and it is possible that his return interrupted Minort just as he began the letter “To the Baptist Church” and hastened the suicide. The youth had been working in the country near town and it has not been ascertained whether he spent the night in the country or was with the family at home. He may have been in the country and come to town to attend church, arriving as his father was writing, and having been shot from behind by the latter as the boy was investigating why the family was not up, was stepping into his mother’s bed room. Possibly the father, knowing that the son would come to town to attend church, deliberately delayed suicide until he should have the opportunity to kill him also.
It was at 10 minutes to 9 o’clock Sunday morning that Longwith, the undertaker, received a telephone call from Minort, who requested him to come to the Minort house. Minort did not state why, Longwith and acquaintance, should go to the Minort place and the undertaker presumed that the minister desired to talk something over with him. “I’ll come over some time this morning,” said Longwith. “No, right away.” Minort retorted, and hung up. Longwith, wondering, went at once to the Minort home in the north part of town. He knocked at the front door, a side door, and the door of a kitchen vestibule without eliciting a response, then opened the vestibule door and knocked on the kitchen door, which has panels of glass. There still being no response, he peered through a glass panel and saw a revolver lying on the kitchen table. Looking more intently, he discerned Minort lying on the floor beside the table, beside an overturned chair. The minister was gasping and struggling feebly.
Longwith ran to the home of M. P. Benshoof, a friend, which is about 100 feet from the Minort house, and told Benshoof of what he had seen. The news was telephoned to Dr. J .P. Chaisson and the sheriff’s office. Longwith and Benshoof then went to the Minort house. As they arrived they were joined by Deputy Sheriff White. The three then entered through the kitchen door and found Minort dead. There was a bullet wound behind his right ear. A .32-30 caliber revolver lay on the table, beside a mirror which was propped against the wall. At Minort’s feet was an overturned chair. The indications were that Minort had placed the mirror on the table, seated himself in the chair, looked into the mirror as he selected the spot at which he should send a bullet crashing into his brain, and then fired. The revolver, released by his relaxing fingers, had fallen upon the table, while the dying man slumped to the floor.
Dr. Chaisson, arriving on the heels of Longwith, Benshoof and White, examined Minort and pronounced him dead. As he completed the examination Sheriff O. J. Collyer arrived. He led an examination through the house. The sheriff passed through the west bedroom without observing that it had been the scene of a tragedy. The body of Clarence, 10, lay in the bed, but there was nothing to appraise the sheriff in his hasty passage through the room that the child was dead. Passing into the bath room, Collyer encountered the body of Herbert, lying in the doorway leading into the east bedroom. Through the doorway the officer saw the bodies of Mrs. Minort and little Vannie upon the bed. Turing his eyes back into the bedroom, he saw the body of David on the cot on which the child had slept. Returning to the west bedroom, he ascertained that Clarence was dead—that the toll of the tragedy had been every person in the house.
Coroner J. M. Havely at once impanelled a jury consisting of Benshoof, C. E. McIntosh, and Ross Jones. The jury, after viewing the ghastly premises, reading the letters left by Minort and hearing the testimony of those who first entered the house after the tragedy, returned the following verdict:
“We, the jury, duly impanelled, and sworn to find the cause of the death of B. J. Minort and Mrs. B. J. Minort, Herbert Minort, son, Vannie Minort, daughter, David Minort, son, and Clarence Minort, son, do find that the wife and children were Killed by B. J. Minort and that thereafter B. J. Minort killed himself, all being killed on November 14th, 1926, at Torrington, Wyoming. We arrived at this verdict on what we found by investigation and letters left by B. J. Minort, where family were living on Lot 5, Block 1, Fifth Addition to Torrington, Wyoming.”
Minort’s letters revealed that he had been driven to the slaughter of his family because of apprehension regarding the effects of ascertainment by them of the escapade with a woman in which he had been involved at Bayard, Nebr., November 7. He undertook to exculpate himself from the blame for this escapade by asserting that it was a “frame up” to get him into trouble.
The facts of the Bayard affair appear to have been as follows: November 7th Minort started for a point in Nebraska, 48 miles from Torrington, where he was to officiate at a wedding. His automobile became disabled at Henry, Nebr., nine miles east of Torrington, and he arranged for repairs there. From Henry he went to Bayard, 54 miles distant, with a woman from Torrington, the trip being made in the woman’s car. Arriving at Bayard at about 4:30 p. m., the pair occupied a room at the Harrison rooming house, Minort registering as “Joe Lander and wife, Casper, Wyo.” C. H. Armstrong, formerly of Torrington, was stopping at the Harrison house, saw the man who registered as “Joe Lander” and remarked that he looked like Minort. This aroused suspicion which led to an investigation by the town marshal. The latter called Mrs. Minort on the telephone, then interrogated “Joe Lander”, with the result that the latter admitted that he was Minort. This was about 3 a. m. Monday. Minort, after admitting his identity, asserted that he had been the victim of a “frame up”, that he had been forced at the point of a gun at Bayard to get into the automobile with the woman and had been intimidated into registering with her as husband and wife and occupying a room with her. Their association, he asserted, had involved no immorality and he said he believed her to be an innocent party in the “frame up”. Testimony of the landlady of the Harrison house did not confirm this story and Minort was arraigned before Police Magistrate Twiford on the charge of disturbing the peace. He was fined $25 and costs of $15. He paid $24 in cash and gave a check for for $16 on the Eaton Grain company, of the Torrington elevator of which he was the manager. He left Bayard presumably for Torrington, with the woman for association with whom he had been arrested and penalized.
Minort’s letter “To the Public,” one of the five found on the table at which he shot himself, refers to the Bayard episode. It names four persons involved in the alleged “frame up”. With the exception of the names of these persons, which necessarily are deleted, it follows:
“To the Public. I answered an urgent call to perform at wedding 48 miles southeast. On the way my car gave me trouble. Met two cars east of Henry. When I reached Henry I decided to have car repaired to get a taxi over there.”
“Two men at the Front garage forced me to enter a car and was driven to Bayard under the same pressure, forced to register as man and wife.”
“Twice I tried to get away and twice gunmen were there.”
“The woman in the case seemed to be an unwilling instrument to it all. No immorality was indulged in. About 11 o’clock officers appeared and later left. About 1 o’clock they returned, called the time I believed them part of the game and suggested that I would plead guilty to disturbing the peace, I would be fined lightly and be allowed to return home.”
“Seemed the only way out so I agreed. It was agreed the matter would not be published until I could find out who was at the bottom of it all.”
“One of the men having a gun in sight was ———- who at one time worked in Torrington. He no doubt could shed light on it all.”
“I am sorry that this came out before I had time to sift it down.”
“All I have found was ——— furnished the brains and with the help of one ———- and ———- .”
“It was my intention to have these men dealt with but things happened too quick and I was waiting to spend Sunday (today) to bring them to justice.”
“I must again in the face of very death swear that the whole thing was a well prepared trap and frame; but thank God I am now beyond the powers of such hellish human fiends.”
The letter addressed to Sheriff Collyer tells of the slaying of Minort’s family and gives the sheriff the address of Minort’s oldest son, John, at Liberty, Mo.
A fourth letter is addressed to Everett Taylor, Charles Elquist, and Dick Armstrong, whom the writer appears to have regarded as connected with his misfortunes.
The fifth letter, that to the son, John, is a profoundly pathetic document:
“Dear Son: You have been a fine boy, you have a fine mother, no father could be prouder of a nicer family or a better son,” is the substance of the opening paragraph.
Minort then reveals to the son that he has killed Mrs. Minort and Clarence, Herbert, and Vannie and is about to take his own life. A discussion of Minort’s worldly possessions follows. He refers to $100 in cash and a set of “The Book of Knowledge” on which only one payment has been made and which must probably go back to the publisher. Reference is made to a box of shells at the office of the elevator of which Minort was manager and which, the writer says, will probably bring the son $20. The paragraph concludes a pathetic abjuration of which the following is the substance: “Son, don’t get any casket. Just dig a hole and put us all in it to save expense.”
Minort then returned to details of the tragedy which he had just perpetrated, relating in substance:
“Your mother died without suffering. Poor little Vannie seemed to suffer most of all as it took two shots to kill her. Herbert, Clarence, and David all died without any suffering at all.”
The letter then turns to discussion of Minort’s reason for his horrible deed. The minister relates to his son that “your mother and I” had talked “this” (presumably a reference to Minort’s indictment on a Mann Act charge in 1924) and says that Mrs. Minort had said that should trouble ever again arise in the family, she would kill herself. Minort expresses the opinion that he is sure Mrs. Minort would have approved his present course had she known of the “immoral charge” arising from the Bayard episode, and says in substance the he has saved her from the result of her having taken “spiritual torment” which would have been her own life. In substance the letter says:
“I killed her and the rest of them rather than have the shadow of the past upon them. Mother and children are in heaven and I suffer my own fate through the hands of destiny.”
Concluding the letter says in substance:
“Well, son, I must hasten, as the gun beckons to me and I must hurry before I lose my nerve.”
The letter is signed:
“Your loving father”
One paragraph of the letter remarks that the rest of the son’s life will be in his own hands,
“So do the best you can.”
Minort had been acting as police judge of Torrington for several months. Investigation of the records of the office Sunday revealed that the docket had been brought up to Saturday night, and that the minister had written his resignation of the office.
The record of involvement with law to which Minort wrote a grisly “finis” began in 1903 or 1904 in Missouri, at the town of Riverton. An aged recluse, reputed to have hoarded considerable wealth, was slain with an axe at his home near the mining camp. His hoard could not be found. Circumstantial evidence indicated that Minort was the slayer and he was charged with the crime, but because the evidence was wholly circumstantial, a verdict of only “murder in the second degree” was asked. The jury found Minort, who was a miner, guilty and he was sentenced to serve 10 years in the penitentiary. He was paroled after seven years. In the meanwhile he had improved his time in prison by intensive study of the Bible and religious thought and upon regaining his liberty he entered the ministry. He was given a Baptist pulpit at Alliance, Nebr., where he remained for several years, then went to Torrington as the minster of the Baptist church there. He was minister of the Torrington church when Governor William B. Ross, on July 22, 1924, appointed him state commissioner of child and animal welfare. He resigned this office November 8, 1924 after he had been accused of immoral conduct, the charge arising from association with two girls named O’Hearn, who had been arrested at Casper and thus brought to the attention of the state child and animal protection department. He was alleged to have transported one of the girls to Scottsbluff, Nebr., for immoral purposes, and a Nebraska grand jury brought an indictment for violation of the Mann Act against him. Released on bail, Minort returned to Torrington. Eventually the indictment was dismissed. After his return to Torrington he acted as supply pastor of the Baptist church there and was employed as manager of a grain elevator.
For a brief period after his resignation of the commissionership of child and animal protection, and while the Nebraska indictment was pending, Minort was connected with the Cheyenne police department, acting as a special officer detailed to supervision of the “chain gang.”
Minort made numerous friends during his residence here who were convicted that the charge resulting from his association with the O’Hearn sisters had been a “frame up”. A fund to finance his defense against this charge was raised locally.
Western Nebraska Observer (Kimball, NE) 18 Nov 1926