Please quit shipping dead people to Union Station





One could be forgiven for thinking that Ogden’s Union Station was, in the past, a particularly brutal place.


I mean, what’s up with all the dead bodies in trunks? People were shipping them in.


As we saw in  a previous blog post (link) one showed up in 1913. That involved a mother who had killed her daughter in Salt Lake, shipped her to Ogden when she came to this city with her former husband, and then was discovered by train personnel who noticed hair poking out of the trunk and a bad odor.


One ought to be anyone’s ration, but in 1924 it happened again.


On the morning of March 15, 1924, baggage handlers at Union Station were moving a trunk from the UP train out of Denver to its designated connection on the  Southern Pacific. 


They noticed blood on the hinges of the trunk and called the depot security agent, who notified two Ogden City detectives.


They opened the trunk, “and the interior presented a ghastly sight. The blood stained body was found, the knees against the chin and tied tightly with twine. Rugs were wrapped around the head and body.”


It was the body of Mrs. Fred Janssen, wife of a former church janitor in Denver. The body was taken to Larkin Funeral home, located conveniently just up the street at 25th and Adams, where it still is today. There further examination was made.


“Several deep gashes, apparently cut with a sharp instrument, were found on the back of the head,” the evening “Standard” reported that same day. “The other wounds made by a blunt instrument, were also found upon the head. Three deep cuts were upon the forehead and the arms and breast were bruised.”


One clue was a linen handkerchief (men used those back then) containing the initial “F” that was found “thrust tightly into the woman’s throat.”


The trunk had been shipped to Weed, California, before being intercepted in Ogden. Officials wired to Denver for the shipping declarations and paperwork of the trunk.

Police in Denver started tracing the trunk’s history and discovered expressmen who had helped haul it to the station and checked it in. The man checking it in had given the name “John Smith,” but the expressmen said they picked the trunk up at an apartment owned by Fred Janssen. In the apartment police found blood on the carpet, and the hunt was on.


Janssen was captured two days later in Pueblo, Colorado, and told a story of hiring a Mexican to kill his wife, saying he feared she was about to try to kill him.


Police weren’t buying it, though, and questioned him for three hours in what sounds, from the newspaper account, like one of those “hot seat” interviews you see in old police movies. One suspect the Miranda warning was not employed, or even cared for.


As Tuesday’s story said, “at the end of the three hours Janssen in tears finally declared ‘ Yes, I have not been telling the truth. I killed my wife and placed her body in the trunk and shipped it to California.”


Janssen speculated that his wife was still alive when he put her body into the trunk, but Ogden medical officials “saw nothing to indicate the woman lived after she was placed in the trunk,” and said the blow to her head with a hammer was enough to kill her.


Here’s something that would never happen today: After his wife’s body was moved to Denver, the still-in-custody Janssen was taken to the funeral home to look at her body.


He’d been sitting in his jail cell saying “Don’t let them hang me, I  don’t want to die like that. If I’ve got to die for killing Bella, I wish they would let me kill myself.”


At the funeral home he admitted to killing her for her life insurance and savings. Then, the news story says, ‘the last threads of the mystery were gathered up last night after Janssen demonstrated over his wife’s casket how he had wielded the hammer over her last Thursday night in there home here while she knelt in prayer.”


“As the lid of Mrs. Janssen’s casket was slowly opened, he bag to sob. Then while police watched he showed them how he killed her.


“I hit her three–four times,” he said. ‘like this … ‘


He also bent down and kissed her, the news reports said. 


The stories in the Denver press said his attorney planned to plead insanity. 


Special thanks to Sally Tasker, who donated the above shown newspaper to the Union Station archive, and to Sock Monkying Around antique shop for its invaluable help.