The March 23, 1912 Murder of Alice Matthews

Attacked and strangled to death less than one hundred feet from her home

Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Pub. March 25, 1912

The March 23, 1912 murder of Alice Matthews shocked the city of Minneapolis. Attacked by a dark, brooding figure only a couple of doors away from the safety of her home, Alice did everything she could to save her life. She fought valiantly, but her cries for help were unheeded by her neighbors, and she was viciously killed. The grisly details of Alice’s case dominated the newspapers for a few weeks; however, her murder eventually became old news, and police never caught her attacker.

The Isis Theatre in downtown Minneapolis (via Cinema Treasures)

Hard-working and likable, the twenty-year-old Matthews was a flour packer at the Pillsbury Mill. She lived with her father, step-mother, two younger sisters, and half-brother at 3547 S. 20th Ave. in south Minneapolis. After working hard all week, Alice looked forward to spending some time out with female friends on the weekend. This particular weekend she met up with Ida Belfy and Minnie Morgan. The trio saw a show at the Isis Theatre and had dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant.

There was nothing out of the ordinary about any of this. Alice and younger sister Jennie often went out on the weekends and were always sure to let their father know about their plans. He worried about his girls and wanted to see that they were safe. Alice told her father that she planned to meet up with Belfy and Morgan for a show and then dinner. She’d then spend the night at Ms. Belfy’s so she wouldn’t have to ride the streetcar home alone so late at night.

The plan changed while the girls were at the show. Alice decided that she would go home instead of spending the night with her friend. After the show ended, and the three had finished dinner, Alice boarded the southbound Cedar streetcar en route for home. The time was 11:06 pm.

The streetcar stopped at Cedar and 34th Street, and Alice got off to walk the rest of the way. She didn’t have far to go. Less than a half block away from her home, an unknown assailant attacked her. She screamed out, but her cries for help went unanswered. Alice fought bravely but was eventually strangled and left to die alone near the street. Her clothes were in tatters, and her neck was scratched and bruised. Also, Alice’s lips were swollen — likely from being struck in the face.

Neighbors reported hearing her cries of “please let me go” between 11:30 and 11:45 pm. Mrs. H.C. Thomas, who lived two doors down from the Matthews family, said that the yells had awakened her. Unfortunately, she didn’t see anything when she looked onto the street through her bedroom window and assumed it was just neighborhood kids playing. Mrs. J. Larsen and her son Verner, who lived down the block, walked out onto their porch to investigate but couldn’t see anything in the dark. Larsen sent her son next door to the Tibbetts household to call the police.

Alerted by Verner, Mrs. G.W. Tibbetts and her daughter Eva first went outside to investigate. When they were about one hundred feet from the body, it moved. The two ran back into the house and contacted the Sixth Precinct station, who said they’d send an officer. Tibbets reported that a motorcycle patrolman arrived “after a time” at 35th Street and 20th Ave. This location was about half a block from the scene of the crime. He wasn’t wearing a police uniform, so the callers were afraid to flag him down. After standing around awhile, to officer rode away.

They continued to hear faint movements from the unknown person lying on the ground. So, at 12:30 am, Mrs. Tibbetts call the police again, this time telling them that it was likely no more than a drunken man near the street but that they should come and get him. She gave her address and said that she’d have a light on. The officer on the other end of the line said that they’d send someone on horseback, but after waiting for a little more than an hour longer, the caller and her daughter put the light out and went to bed.

Eva Tibbetts discovered the “disfigured and mutilated” body of Alice Matthews at around 7:00 am the next morning. She immediately ran to grab her mother to notify the Matthews Family. The victim died clutching onto a broken hat pin. Jennie Matthews reported brushing against the body around 1 am as she neared home. She assumed it was a passed-out drunk and hurried away out of fear. Once inside the safety of her house, she didn’t bother to say anything. Although Alice was likely dead by that time, the guilt of not helping her sister devastated Jennie.

Mrs. Tibbetts called the police a third time. This time they had no issues with finding the location of the crime scene. The police decided that the hatpin near Alice’s lifeless body was likely used to try and ward off her attacker, so they canvassed the neighborhood looking for a man that had scratches on his hands and face. They also talked to the streetcar conductors and anyone else they could find that rode at the same time Alice did.

While the investigation was ongoing, a coroner at the University of Minnesota hospital performed an autopsy and ruled the case a homicide. Alice was likely a victim of sexual assault and then strangled to death.

Newspapers christened the crime the most brutal in the city’s history. The mayor publicly chastised the police response, so the pressure was on to find the killer and bring them to justice. Local fear overwhelmed the authorities as calls came in from all corners about strange men in the area. None of the information panned out, and the police lacked any solid leads. To help, the Governor, Mayor, and Minneapolis City Council each offered a $500 reward for information leading to the murderer’s capture.

Unfortunately, the killer was never found. The police arrested multiple suspects at different times during their investigation, but none of them panned out. One man confessed — four separate times over three years — but the authorities decided that he was insane and suffering from monomania, an unhealthy obsession with the crime. He was eventually committed to an asylum in Rochester, MN.

Two days after the death of Alice Matthews, law enforcement was alerted to a possible suicide of an unknown man with the initials “LEE” on his shirt. With nothing to go on, the police tried to find a link between him and Ms. Matthews but were unsuccessful.

The Minneapolis morning tribune. Pub. Date March 28, 1912

Alice Matthews was buried at Layman’s Cemetery in Minneapolis on March 27, 1912, in a ceremony attended by more than one thousand people. The eight pallbearers were all her female friends. Police scanned the crowd, looking for any suspicious acting person that may have committed the crime, but didn’t find anyone worth pursuing.

The vicious death of a young girl in the prime of her life, and an unknown killer-at-large, remained headline news in the city for the next few weeks. On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank, pushing Alice Matthews off the front page. Minneapolitans, both out of fear and want to help her find justice, continued to talk of Alice’s death, but the search for her attacker eventually grew cold.

Alice Matthews killer was never found.

Star Tribune. Pub. Date October 18, 2020

Bibliography

“The 1912 Alice Matthews Murder : MOST NOTORIOUS.” MOST NOTORIOUS. Last modified October 8, 2020. https://www.mostnotorious.com/2020/10/08/the-1912-alice-matthews-murder/.

Brown, Curt. “Flour Packer’s Brutal 1912 Minneapolis Murder Still Unsolved.” Star Tribune. Last modified October 17, 2020. https://www.startribune.com/flour-packer-s-brutal-1912-minneapolis-murder-still-unsolved/572783822/.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune. “Clues in Tragedy Fail Detectives After Assailant.” March 28, 1912, 1. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn83016772/1912-03-28/ed-1/seq-1.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune. “Girl Loses Life in Brave Battle to Save Honor.” March 25, 1912, 1. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn83016772/1912-03-25/ed-1/seq-1.

Historical Researcher, Writer, and Content Creator.

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