September 20, 2019 — Two murders happened on this date in 1920. The crime took place two miles from Armourdale, a tiny village that no longer exists.
The Turtle Mountain Star reported the story as follows: “Between one and two o’clock Monday afternoon, a report reached Rolla that the bodies of two murdered men were discovered near the Peter Johnson schoolhouse nine miles east of Rolla in Mount View Township, Towner County.
“The news spread rapidly and citizens from all directions hurried to the scene of the tragedy. During the afternoon hundreds of people viewed the remains of the victims of one of the most dastardly crimes ever committed in the northern part of the state.
“The bodies were first seen by Henry Carlson, a young man about eighteen years of age, who lives about half a mile from the school house. One body was lying a few rods north of the school house in a stubble field. He was lying face downward, his feet about two feet apart, his coat pulled up over his back and with one of his hip pockets turned inside out. His head showed signs of heavy blows with a blunt instrument and his hair was matted with blood. A few feet away there was a spot about three feet long and eight inches wide stained with blood.
“Two caps were lying about two rods away, one made of checkered cloth, and the other of green material. Near the caps was a leather holster and a few rods away an automobile hammer with the rounded head covered with blood.
“The other body was lying near the trail of a slightly traveled highway, about 200 yards north of the other body. The man was flat on his back, the back of the head showing wounds from a blunt instrument and his sweater having two bloodstains on the breast. He was neatly dressed. Both men were clean shaven and had recent haircuts and both wore tan shoes with English soles. The smaller man, lying near the schoolhouse had a small black moustache.”
From there, the article went on to describe fresh car tracks in the stubble, and a coroner’s jury was impaneled within hours. An autopsy revealed that both men were shot before being finished off with blows. The victims were strangers, but it was learned they had gotten haircuts, shaves and baths at a barbershop in Rolla the previous Saturday. They spent that night at the Munro Garage, sleeping in their car — an old Ford with an Iowa or Minnesota tag.
The victims were photographed at Bisbee then buried in the town cemetery. Sheriff Oakland found a young man, from the nearby town of Calvin, who recognized the men from their photo. He said that they — plus another man — had come from Iowa to work as harvesters. The last time he saw them, they were headed back home. Their names were Archie and Earl Fletcher. The third man, William Bass, was picked up at Minnewaukan when the car was spotted and a gun was found inside. The article read, “(Bass is a) tough character and claims to have committed the crimes in self defense, but from indications it looks as though the murder had been committed for the young men’s money, as it is stated that they had considerable in their possession.” A different report, from Rolla, speculated that Bass, whose real name was Sylvester Snyder, was after the victims’ car. Then, Snyder confessed and said the trouble was actually … over a woman.
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of N.D. and funding from the N.D. Humanities Council.