Back to the North Wood column: Neighbor confesses to murdering Stratford teen in 1907

10:25 AM, Mar. 17, 2014  |  Comments
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Editor's note: Part 3 of 4. The final part will publish April 1.

On Sunday, June 30, 1907, at around 6 p.m., 16-year-old Jennie Riehle had been raped, murdered and left in the woods just off a lonely wagon road, only a mile from her Stratford home.

Between the Wausau Daily Record and Marshfield Times, they gave all the horrific murder details.

After arresting and releasing two tramps, attention focused on the man who found the body - neighbor Rudolph Fulweiler.

First, there were parts of Fulweiler's story that did not gibe, and his haste to always pin blame on the two itinerants as soon as questioning became too hot, seemed a sign of guilt.

Detective Riemer of a prestigious firm in Milwaukee was brought in to pose as a surveyor and gain the confidence of Fulweiler, which paid off splendidly in terms of obtaining information for the arrest of Fulweiler on July 11. Once arraigned, he was held without bail for an ordered examination.

Incarceration made Fulweiler nervous and excited, and his stories became even more random. A July 16 preliminary hearing continued the case to July 26 to allow more information gathered. The Stevens Point Journal reported the district attorney was anxious to complete analysis of the bloodstains found on the shirt Fulweiler had been wearing the day of the murder.

On July 26, as Sheriff O'Connor was returning Fulweiler to jail, Fulweiler made an escape while the cell door was being opened. O'Connor had not deemed it necessary to handcuff Fulweiler, and the accused saw his chance to run, and he took it. He leaped from the porch of the building and darted across the jail grounds.

It was a chase of several blocks before O'Connor overtook Fulweiler and took him back to jail. Fulweiler said he had the whole thing planned, right down to hiding in the woods until he could head west and start a new life.

In Fulweiler's confession to Detective Wilson, he said he left his house after dinner and supposedly saw Jennie "fixing her skirt" at which time he called to her and frightened, she ran up the road and into the woods where she fell, and he then attacked her. He told of tying her with the rope and strangling her out of fear that someone would hear her screams.

Fulweiler said he thought perhaps she had just fainted, so he dragged her "down to the road" to throw water in her face to revive her, but when that did not work, he returned home, then went back with his gun and dog and "found" her after supper, walking the whole way in the ditch so as to hide his footprints.

Much of his detail was to put him in a better light, if possible, considering his horrendous crime, because even his time-line of seeing her at about 2:30 was far off.

Fulweiler further admitted having made advances to Jennie before and having been rebuffed. If this is true, it is unfortunate that she never reported this to her father, as her murder might have been prevented.

After his Aug. 5 confession, on Aug. 6, he requested to appear before Judge Silverthorn, and with his wife, three children and aged mother present, Fulweiler entered a guilty plea to the charge of murder of Jennie Riehle. Brayton Smith was his attorney.

Fulweiler was given a life sentence of hard labor at Waupun, the anniversary of Jennie's death to be served in solitary confinement. O'Connor escorted him to prison that day.

And so we come to the end of the Rudolph Fulweiler story - or do we? One thing I have learned with researching these columns is that there is often not just "the rest of the story," but much more to the story than even could be imagined.

Remember Detective Riemer from Milwuakee who was the one who broke open the case and secured the information needed for arrest and conviction, and how after Fulweiler's arrest he was off to collect more information? Is it possible that this was not Fulweiler's first murder? Was he a killer at heart? All I can say is be sure to come back for part four of this story.

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