Ogden, Trunk Murder Central, or “You Shipped Us What?”

OK, so it didn’t happen a lot, but Union Station did have  dead people show up in trunks, at least twice that I can find. We’ll look at the first one today, almost exactly 100 years after it happened.


Sunday, June 29, 1913’s morning Examiner


We don’t hear much about trunk murders any more. The main reason, I suspect, is that modern mass transit does not lend itself to trunks. Ever try to carve up your strangled lover and stuff her into an airplane carry-on? And nobody wants to pay extra charge because their dead boyfriend simply would not lay off the cheeseburgers and the suitcase is way over the weight limit.


Not to mention the X-ray scanner issue. TSA spoils everyone’s fun.


Trunks were more readily available in the early part of the last century.   Lots of folks used them to store clothes at home. They were easy to haul to the train station and load onto a baggage car. They came many convenient sizes. Steamer trunks, used for ocean travel, are about four  feet tall when you stand them on end and open to reveal drawers and a place to hang clothes, an instant bedroom set almost.


So if you had a body to get rid of, a trunk was an obvious place. Just push the stiff in, close the lid, call the freight office and send the deceased to somewhere obscure.


Like Ogden.


In June of 1913, a mere 100 years ago, Mrs. Minnie Ekman of Salt Lake City had a problem. She was broke and a single mom. Her third (or second? We are not sure) husband had left her and she was hoping to hook up with Charles Anderson, her first husband with whom she had reconciled after not seeing him for 14 years, and start a new life.


But there was this kid, her daughter, little Frances Williams, 10, child of her second boyfriend.


Mrs. Ekman had a confused domestic life. She’d married Anderson 14 years before but he left her. Somewhere around 10 years before she had a relationship with someone named George Williams, which is why her daughter had that last name.


And, finally, August Ekman, to whom she was married five years before, had dumped her three weeks before and moved to Kemmerer, Wyoming.


Minnie wrote a letter to Anderson asking to reconcile, but before he got to Salt Lake to discuss matters she, apparently, on Monday, June 23, took care of the child problem herself.


When Anderson got to Salt Lake on June 24, a Tuesday, he found her at her home, selling her furnishings. There was a trunk in the hallway. He said it didn’t look like a good enough trunk to take traveling, she said it was all she had. When he asked what had happened to her daughter, Mrs. Ekman said Frances was dead. Apparently Mr. Anderson neglected to ask how recently she had died.


The couple checked into separate hotels in Salt Lake City. On Wednesday they went back to her house which was being emptied by the furniture removers. They retrieved the trunk, and both checked into the same hotel room in Salt Lake, staying Wednesday and Thursday nights. The trunk was in their room


On Friday Anderson said he wanted to go to Ogden to look for work, so the couple caught the train, checked their larger luggage into the Union Station baggage room and rented a room at the Windsor Hotel, which still stands.


Saturday morning Minnie told Anderson she had changed her mind again and wanted to go back to Salt Lake City. Anderson went to Union Station, bought her a ticket, and went to the baggage room to have her luggage checked back to Salt Lake City.


While moving the trunk out onto the platform to be put on the train, the baggage handler, William Frost,  noticed hair poking from under the trunk’s lid. There was also a bad odor.


Frost pulled the trunk back into the baggage room and called Station Master John Shields. Police were called, the trunk forced open. There lay the nude body of Frances Williams, buried amid sheets and other clothes, her head cradled under a pillow the young girl had cross-stitched with the saying “My Rambling Rose.”


While police pondered the grizzly discovery at a local funeral home, Shields asked Williams for a description of the man who had checked the trunk. He then wandered into the waiting room, looked around, and saw the man, sitting with a woman, waiting for their train.


Shields called Yard Master R. H. Pierce, a burly man, for backup muscle. He approached the couple and, claiming to be trying to straighten out confusion over misplaced luggage, asked the woman if she had any baggage. The woman said she did, a trunk, and showed her baggage ticket. Shields checked and saw that it matched the one of the trunk with the body.


Armed with this evidence, Stationmaster Shields and Yard Master Pierce went back to the waiting room and confronted Ekman:


She admitted to the crime under his questioning — Wow, no Miranda warning!!! — and Shields took her into custody.


Ekman was taken back to Salt Lake City for trial, but never convicted. Instead, she was ruled insane and put in the state mental hospital.