George A Thacher.

Why some men kill; or, Murder mysteries revealed online

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fessed he said to a reporter that after he got back to Louie
Schmidt's, near Helvetia, he wrote home that he saw in the pa-
pers that his mother committed the crime, and that he would
bet that letter was around their home now. As it happened
this was printed in a Portland newspaper, and the next day John
Sierks' father appeared in Salem with this letter but the father
said John meant "discovered" instead of "committed." Mr. Sierks
had corrected the letter to read "discovered."

John told in his confession of going from the neighborhood
of Hillsboro to Scappoose on the evening of Labor Day, 1911,
getting a revolver from Riley and Hassen's cabin in Schnitzer-
ville and killing Mrs. Wehrman and her child and then going
back to Hillsboro the same night. This seemed a difficult feat,
but two years later John's sister Lena explained that John was
at home on a visit for a couple of days just before they found
Mrs. Wehrman's dead body. He was at home at the time of
the murder but did not go and come as he said he did.

John said Mrs. Wehrman fired her revolver at him as he
went into the cabin. The sheriff testified at Mr. Pender's trial
that he found a .32 caliber bullet in the wall to the right of the
door. Mrs. Wehrman had a .32 caliber revolver.

John said he found a hatchet in the wood box and "chopped
and split her skull." The testimony of Mr. Wehrman was to
the effect that the hatchet was kept in the wood box.

John said he took off an undergarment from Mrs. Wehrman.
This was done by some one. John said he washed his hands in
the basin and padlocked the door on the outside. These things
were done according to the testimony.

John said he buried Mrs. Wehrman's revolver. This has not
been verified, but the revolver has disappeared.



The Wehrman Murder 53

After John's confession his father wrote him he had dis-
graced the family and that they wouUl go away. John wrote him
an answer without anyone's knowledge and said he was sorry
they had given him up, hut that he killed Mrs. Wehrman. Then
when his father arrived in Salem John repudiated his confession.

After John Sierks' confession was repudiated it was consid-
ered that John had a good alihi, as his employer. Louis Schmidt,
thought John was not away at the time of the murder. How-
ever, two citizens of Washington County told me that John was
in Holhrook and that he came from the direction of Scappoose
just at the time of the murder.

Following is a sworn statement:

I, L. Nitchman, being duly sworn, depose and say that I live
on my farm in Shady Brook School District, where I have Hved
about three years, and previous to this time I lived on my farm
in Mason Hill School District, in Washington County, and that
I was living there during the years of 1910 and 1911. I have
known John G. H. Sierks for about six years. He came to my
farm in Mason Hill about six years ago and asked for work,
and I gave him work slashing timber, and he boarded in my
family while working for us, and for several years he came to
me at intervals for work, and I gave him work for short periods,
and he lived in my family, so that I knew him well. He did fair
work by being looked after. John Sierks did some work for
me in the spring of 1911, and on leaving me I got him a job with
Louie Schmidt, whom I know. It is about six miles in a direct
line from my farm on Mason Hill to Louie Schmidt's, and John
came to see us twice, I am positive, and perhaps three times
while he was at work for Louie Schmidt.

1 remember that John Sierks came to our farm at just about
the time of the murder of Mrs. Wehrman, but whether it was
before or after I cannot say, and said that he came from Hol-
brook and had been in Scappoose. This was either on a Sunday
or a holiday, for I was not at work in the field on the farm at
the time. It was late in the afternoon when John came and he
sat with his head in his hands and cried and cried until my wife
was frightened and called me in from doing my chores. She
said John was in trouble and said among other things, "I am
so sorn>'." I told my wife that John was drunk. He was telling
how harsh his family was to him. John said that his watch was
broken, and that he had been in a fight, and I think that his
face was scratched.



54 Why Some Men Kill

In regard to the Wehrman murder, I think that John told us
about it before we saw the news in the papers. I remember his
saying something about its being lucky that he was not at home
or they would have blamed him for it.

After John left Louie Schmidt in the fall of 1911, he came to
my place for a short time and then he went to work for one of
my neighbors, a Mr. Dean.

It is impossible to remember exactly as to the dates of John's
visits, but I am positive that he did come to visit us while he
was at work for Louie Schmidt, and at about the time of the
murder he came and I thought he was drunk because he was
crying constantly, which was a thing he had never done before
while at my house, and said he came from Holbrook and had
been in a fight. It is my recollection that John slept in the barn
that night, but of this I cannot be positive. It is also mj'^ recollec-
tion that John told us about the murder before we saw it in the
papers. L. Nitchman.

December 2, 1915.

W. C. Hunt, a blacksmith of Holbrook at the time of the
Wehrman murder, had employed John Sierks, and John stopped
at his place in going and coming from Washington County. Mr.
Hunt says that just about the time of the murder of Mrs. Wehr-
man and her little boy, John Sierks came on foot from the direc-
tion of Scappoose with the bundle of blankets and stuff that he
usually carried when going back and forth, and stopped at Mr.
Hunt's for dinner, Mr. Hunt does not remember whether it was
Sunday or not, but he does remember that he was not at work
in his shop. He noticed that John's face had some fresh scratches
as if he had been through some briars, and he asked him, "Who
peeled j'^our face?" John replied that he had been in a fight with
a man in Dutch Canyon, and that he had his watch broken in
the fight."

Mrs. Hunt also remembered of John coming from Scappoose
on Labor Day, as she believes, and stopping for dinner on his
way to Mr. Nitchman's, John was scratched up and told of being
in a fight and of having his watch broken.

In May of 1916 three of John's former employers, L. Nitch-
man, W. C. Hunt and Walter Dean, visited John in the hospital.
John told them of dates he went to work for each one and spoke
of stopping at Mr. Hunt's for dinner on Labor Day, September
4, 1911, on his way back to Washington County from his home



The Wehrmaii Murder 55

near Scappoose, and of eating supper the same day at Nitch-
man's.

On the 23rd day of June, 191G, when I took Lena Sierks to
see her brother, the matter of John's memory was mentioned
and he gave the dates he went to work for his different employ-
ers and spoke of being in Scappoose at his father's on Sunday
and the following Monday, Labor Day, September 4, 1911, and
of stopping at Mr. Hunt's at Holbrook and at Mr. Nitchman's at
Mason Hill on September 4.

I asked Lena Sierks if it was true that John was at home at
the time he said he was and she replied that he was at home
a couple of days before they found the dead body of Mrs. Wehr-
man, and that he was also at home two weeks later.

John Sierks told us of being in a fight in Dutch Canyon
(where the Sierks and Wehrmans lived) and of getting badly
scratched up on the occasion of his visit on Sunday and Labor
Day, September 3 and 4, 1911.

I asked Lena Sierks if it was true and she said that John came
home with the side of his face badly scratched and also the back
of his neck scratched and she showed us where the scratches
were.

I made no allusion to the murder and that subject was not
discussed.

On July 15, 1916, at the Boys' and Girls' Aid Society in Port-
land, Mr. John F. Logan, with his stenographer, talked with Lena
Sierks, Mrs. Harriet H. Heller and I being present.

Lena Sierks said to us repeatedly that John was at home a
couple of days before they found Mrs. Wehrman's body and
also two weeks later.

This destroys the claim that John never left Louie Schmidt's
all summer to go home. It also establishes the 'fact beyond a
reasonable doubt that John Sierks was at his father's home about
half a mile from the Wehrman cabin on the day when Mrs.
Wehrman and her child were killed. The Sierks family con-
cealed this fact for several years, but the truth came out in 1916
when Lena Sierks left home and went to Portland to live. The
reasons for the concealment can be easily imagined.



Chapter VIII
THE HAIR FOUND IN MRS. WEHRMAN'S DEAD HANDS

When Mrs. Wehrman's body was examined by a physician
it was found that there was considerable foreign matter under
her finger nails. There was no microscopic examination made of
this foreign matter but it is assumed, and probably correctly,
that Mrs. Weshman endeavored to fight off the man who killed
her and that she scratched his face and head. Some brown hair
was also found clutched in her dead hands. There was one
brown hair found in one hand and a little tuft of brown hair
of a hghter color found in the other hand.

It was assumed, without any proof of course, that Mrs. Wehr-
man, after she had scratched the murderer's face and got the for-
eign matter under her finger nails, proceeded to pull a hair out
of her own head with one hand and then to pull several hairs
out of her child's head with the other hand just before she died.

Arthur Pender had black hair, while the hair found in Mrs.
Wehrman's hands was brown. Examination under the micro-
scope by Dr. J. Allen Gilbert gave the following results in the
matter of the hair:

The hair found in Mrs. Wehrman's hand looked very much
like the hair out of John Sierks' head. However, the hair cut
from Mr. Wehrman's head and from Mrs. Wehrman's head did
not differ in any noticeable fashion from the hair found in Mrs.
Wehrman's left hand, so the results of the examination were
entirely negative. They did not prove anything either way. The
hair found in Mrs. Wehrman's right hand, which was lighter in
color, appeared to be much like the hair of Mrs. Wehrman's
little boy.

Later I had the professor of biology at Reed College look at
these slides through his microscope, and he expressed the opinion
that the hair cut from Mrs. Wehrman's head was darker than
the hair found in her hand.

I was told that the only way to make a satisfactory test would
be to have two microscopes arranged with a reflection of glasses
so that one could look through the aperture for the eye and see
the two samples in the two microscopes at the same time. This
is called, I believe, a comparison microscope, but nothing of the
kind is to be found in Portland. It is impossible to look at one
sample of hair and change the shde and notice small differences.



The Wehrmon Murder 57

The net result of this examination of the hair simply proved
that the hair found in the dead woman's hands was not Mr.
Pender's. Beyond that the results were negative and neither
proved nor disproved that the hair was John Sierks'. It looked
like John Sierks' hair and that is all that can be said. As for
the fine hair of lighter color in Mrs. Wehrman's right hand, I
am informed by reliable witnesses that John Sierks allowed his
hair to grow long and that he had an unusual growth on his
neck. The latter fact I know to be true. When John Sierks
lived out of doors his hair bleached to a light color in the sun
of the summer, and it is possible that this fine hair of light
color was pulled from the neck of the man who shot her to
death, for the powder burns proved that the murderer was close
to her and held the revolver against her body.

The following curious information was volunteered by N. E.
Persinger, an intelligent young man in Washington County :

"I, N. E. Persinger, being sworn, depose and say that I live in
Shadybrook, Washington County, and that in September, 1911,
I lived at my father's place in Mason Hill, Washington County.
I knew John G. H. Sierks at the time he worked for L. Nitchman
and during the following two years. He used to come to our
house occasionally and I went out hunting with him on one occa-
sion and I became well acquainted with him.

Some days after the murder of Mrs. Wehrman and her little
boy at Scappoose early in September, 1911, John Sierks was
talking to me about the murder and said "Pender did it; I know
he did," and he cursed Pender and said he would get him for it.
About the time of this conversation John Sierks asked me if
hair would grow in again and took off his hat and showed me
a small spot on the top of his head where the hair had been
pulled out by the roots. He was quite anxious to know whether
the hair would grow again.

John Sierks wore his hair long on his neck and it was bleached
to a very much lighter color than the hair of his head.

John said he knew Mrs. Wehrman well.

N. E. Persinger."

The sworn statement of Frank Persinger agrees in the main
points with his brother's.

THE RECONSTRUCTED STORY

A simple way to analyze the various facts which have been
slowly discovered about John Sierks is to relate the main inci-



58 Why Some Men Kill

dents of his confession and examine the details and see if it will
be generally corroborated by independent testimony.

John Sierks, who has the mind of a boy of nine years plus
nearly 20 years' experience (Dr. De Busk of the University of
Oregon estimates John's mental age as nine), could not get along
at home nor could he go away from home and stay without fre-
quent visits. That is characteristic of weak-minded persons. He
was at work for Louie Schmidt near Helvetia on the United
Railways, but he had to visit home often. His sister Lena, now
that she is away from her father's influence, has said on two
occasions that John was at home a couple of days before they
found Mrs. Wehrman's body and also two weeks later.

John was attracted by Mrs. Wehrman and finding her alone
on Sunday (after her husband started for Portland), he made
improper proposals to her probably while he was under the in-
fluence of liquor, and she attempted to defend herself. She had
a .32 caliber revolver and John says she fired at him and the
bullet passed to his right as he entered the door. At Mr. Pender's
trial Sheriff Thompson testified that he dug a .32 bullet out of
the wall at the head of the bed. Examination shows that the
head of the bed stood against the wall to the right of the door
as you enter, so this detail is corroborated.

John had a .38 caliber revolver and advanced on Mrs. Wehr-
man and fired three shots into her body after a struggle with her
and emptied the other chambers into the head of the child, hold-
ing the revolver so close that all the wounds were badly powder-
burned.

During the struggle previous to John's shooting, Mrs. Wehr-
man scratched his face and neck and pulled his hair out in a
vain attempt to fight him off.

John, feeble-minded fashion, after he had shot the woman
to death, took the hatchet and broke in her skull so as to be
certain that he had done a good job. Then he took off her
drawers and placed them under her and assaulted her. He
told of this, and when he repudiated his confession he said he
saw about the drawers in the St. Helens Mist. The paper printed
no such detail.

The drawers were found under Mrs. Wehrman's body where
John said he placed them.

Then John washed his hands in the basin at the door, locked
the door with the padlock on the outside and threw away the
key.



The Wehrman Murder 59

Later Mrs. Sierks said she was much troubled at seeing Mrs.
Wehrman on the bed with her bare legs hanging over the edge
and her feet on the floor, while the door was padlocked on the
outside and blood had dripped to the ground from the cabin.

John went home and the family saw the evidence of the
struggle and the scratches on his face and neck as his sister
Lena has described. The family knew John from bitter experi-
ence — his homicidal tendencies when he was opposed and his
lustful inclinations. Of course they made inquiries and guessed
what had happened. However, they were in no way responsible
and they did not absolutely know. At the same time they could
not stay away from the cabin where there was blood on the
ground and a door locked on the outside and a woman across
a bed with legs uncovered, but they professed to believe that
the woman was asleep. Finally on Wednesday, as no one else^
had discovered the murder, Mrs. Sierks and Lena went to Scap-
poose and told Mr. Sierks that something must be done. They
did not tell anj^ of their neighbors though they met at least one
on their way to Scappoose.

Sometime previous to the murder, G. H. Sierks and John A.
Pender had a quarrel decidedly bitter on Sierks' part. He wanted
Mr. Pender to sign a road petition and Pender declined. On one
occasion Mr. Pender had a valuable bull dog belonging to his
brother-in-law, and he had the dog fastened near his tent house
at Schnitzerville. Sierks attempted to make friends with the
bull dog and though Pender warned him to leave the dog alone
he would not. The dog broke loose and bit G. H. Sierks, which
angered him greatly.

On a later occasion Mr. Sierks came to Pender's place and
had his son John Sierks with him. At that time Sierks threatened
to shoot Mr. Pender and actually pointed his gun at him, but
Mrs. Pender says she grabbed the gun barrel and threw it up.
She thought Mr. Sierks was temporarily insane. Sierks, however,
did shoot and kill the bull dog.



Chapter IX
JOHN SIERKS' LETTERS ABOUT THE MURDER

On Wednesday, September 6, the murder was discovered and
the indications were that it had been committed on the Sunday
previous, September 3, and this was printed in some of the news-
papers at the time.

Nobody knows who first suggested Mr. Pender's name in con-
nection with the murder, but the news of the murder came from
the Sierks family on Wednesday, September 6, and Mrs. Sierks
and Lena admitted their knowledge of the situation for one day
before they told of it. This is suggestive in view of what we
now know about John Sierks being at home on September 3 and
4. He started back to Washington County on Monday, Labor
Day, September 4, and stopped at Holbrook and ate dinner with
Mr. and Mrs. Hunt. He explained his scratched up condition
by saying he had been in a fight. He went on to Mason Hill in
the afternoon and stopped at Mr. Nitchman's, whom he often
worked for. He explained here also his scratches and told of
his broken watch and then frightened Mrs. Nitchman by break-
ing down and crying bitterly and exclaiming that he was so
sorry. Mrs. Nitchman called her husband and he assured her
that John was probably drunk. John slept that night in the barn
and left early for Schmidt's. This was on September 5, 1911.
On September 8, 1911, he writes the following letter to his father:

"September 8, 1911.
"My dear father:

Your letter to the 23rd (?) of September is received. I was
glad to hear from you. I have read a piece in the paper yes-
terday, the 7th of September, of Mrs. Wehrman and her little
boy Harold, our nearest neighbor got killed by a murderer.
They got shot and then hacked up with a hatchet. That was
an awful dirty trick whoever done it. I never thought a thing
like that would happen in our home. How is mamma and the
children getting along? Are they still alive? I will be out of
work in a few weeks and then I will pick up my clothes and
come home. I would be a damned fool if I would want to do
a thing like that to go and murder anyone of my folks; I would
rather have a bullet thru my head before I would do a thing
like that is, to go and be a murderer, liar and thief. Them things
won't go at all; that is lying, stealing and murder business. That



The Wehrman Murder 61

man who did that will be sure to find his grace, it don't make
any difference whoever it may be, he is not sure of his life. He
will be punished all of his life for that what he done today. The
10th of September, I read about him in another paper that he
had fired five shots; three shots were fired in Mrs. Wehrman
and two were fired in the little boy, Harold, and that they were
all found and mamma, her name was also in both papers that
she committed (Mr. Sierks says he ineant to write discovered)
the crime. That is too bad about that poor woman anyhow that
she had to lose her life on account of a misery. Everybody that
read about her say that he will find the way into the pen for
that, if the Sheriff finds him they say. If they put blood hounds
out he is sure they would soon find him. I hope that nothing
like that will happen at our home for I don't want to lose mamma
and the children. I have got trouble enough without that that
I have to bear that something has happened to mamma and the
children, are you? If I should happen to come and not find
you there, it will be all off with me.

Well I must close for this time for news are running short,
I remain,

Your loving and faithful son,

John G. H. Sierks.

R. R. 1 box 122, in care of J. S. Schmidtt.

Write as soon as possible again and will you please tell
mamma to write to me also."

The letter tells its ow^n story. The father preserved it and
over three years later when John confessed that he did kill Mrs.
Wehrman, G. H. Sierks went to Salem and took this letter to
prove that John was innocent.

However, John, who has unusual memory, got ahead of his
father and told a reporter of the Portland News about this letter
and what he said in it and the News printed what John said
about this letter before G. H. Sierks arrived in Salem.

The News account follows:

Portland News, Jan. 5, 1915.
(Interview with John Sierks.)
"After I went back to the farm, I read about this about four
or five days afterwards. Then I wrote my mother. I told her
that I had read in the papers that Daisy Wehrman and her boy
had been killed and that she had found the bodies. I accused
her of doing it. That was only a blind (here you could see a



62 Why Some Men Kill

look of cunning in his eyes) because I didn't want her to think
I did it. I bet that letter is in the house now.

"After I came home I heard my mother tell my sister that
she bet John did that."

It was at this time within a couple of weeks after the murder
that John consulted N. E. Persinger and his brother Frank as
to whether his hair would grow in where it had been pulled out.
He also talked of the murder and was violent in his denuncia-
tions of Pender as the murderer. Mr. Pender was not arrested
until the 15th of September.

We know from Lena Sierks, as well as John, that he visited
home again two weeks after the murder. That would be about
September 17. This was after John had left Louie Schmidt and
had gone to work for W. P. Dean. After the murder, according
to Hedinger who worked at Schmidt's, John talked a good deal
about the murder and wrote and received letters from home
about it, and became of no use on the farm, so Mr. Schmidt
let him go about September 11 or 12. On September 14 John
went to work for W. P. Dean as John volunteered from his
memory, and as W. P. Dean's account book shows. Mr. Dean
says that John was nervous about something and always wanted
to get the newspapers to read before anyone else in the family
saw them. Dean thought it was because the Wehrman's were
neighbors.

After John returned from his visit at Scappoose on or about
September 17, he wrote another letter to his father about the
murder and about his scratches and broken watch. He got these
scratches before September 4 as we know from John, from Lena,
from Mr. and Mrs. Hunt and from Mr. and Mrs. Nitchman, and
he got them when he was at home, but still after another visit
home he wrote home how it happened. Here is the letter:

"Hillsboro, Oregon, Sept. 24, 1911.
"My dear Father:

I write you a few lines and tell you that I am well yet and
hope the same of you. I read in a paper the other day about
the crime that happened down there in Scappoose. I read in the
paper yesterday that they thought that Mr. J. A. Pender might
be the murderer of this woman and her little son. It was an
awful dirty trick whoever done it. He ought to be hung up by
his ears for doing that. I wish they could find the right man
that done that. I would put in a word that they hang him up
for that murder business. I was figuring to come home the 30th



I



'



The Wchrinaii Murder 63

of October but I don't think I will for awhile now that I can get
plenty of work yet. I am done at J. L. Schmidt's and now I


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Online LibraryGeorge A ThacherWhy some men kill; or, Murder mysteries revealed → online text (page 6 of 13)