Interesting who-done-it regarding the murder of little Annie Lemburger. Of course, you know for this story to be posted here at Dastardly Dads it must have something to do with her father, MARTIN LEMBERGER. But I won't say a word more.
Odd neighbour eyed in Little Annie’s disappearance
By Max Haines - North Island MidWeek
Published: August 17, 2009 1:00 PM
On the morning of Sept. 6, 1911, in Madison, Wisconsin, Mr. and Mrs. Martin Lemberger stared down at the vacant cot of their seven-year-old daughter, Annie.
The Lembergers had two other children, Alois, 9, and Martin, Jr. 6. Their home was small and Lemberger was not a wealthy man, so the initial dread of kidnapping for ransom was not considered.
The police studied the scene of the crime. Mrs. Lemberger stated that all doors and windows had been locked from the inside the night before, and all except the window by Annie’s cot were still locked the next morning.
The window beside the cot had a small triangular piece of the pane broken out. An immediate search for the missing child was conducted by the police. The day the extensive search took place Annie’s body was found in nearby Lake Manona.
An autopsy was performed on the child’s body and a wound was discovered behind her left ear. No water was in the lungs, indicating that the child was either unconscious or dead before being thrown into the lake. She had not been sexually interfered with in any way.
At this point the authorities were puzzled as to the motive for the killing. A week after the crime had been committed the police still had no concrete clues to pursue.
They routinely checked out all the known characters in Madison. One name kept coming up – John A. Johnson.
Johnson lived close by the Lemberger home, and from the day the little girl was reported missing he became conspicuous by being one of the very first to volunteer for the search party. Johnson’s character and mental capacity was suspect; he was a lazy, feeble-minded bum who hung around bars and let his wife support him.
At first Johnson stuck to his alibi for the night of the kidnapping. He claimed that he had gone to bed at 9 p.m. that night, and had not left his house until the next morning.
His wife corroborated his statement, saying she had stayed up with one of her daughters, who happened to be sick that night, and it would have been impossible for her husband to leave the house without her having seen him. Johnsons’ two daughters, Bertha and Selma, verified their mother’s story.
Despite the alibi Johnson was arrested and charged with murder. Detectives grilled him constantly in relays, and finally he broke down and confessed.
Johnson insisted the trial be held without delay, and that he be taken from the jail to the Waupun Penitentiary that same day. The authorities explained the seriousness of the course Johnson wanted them to follow, but he insisted and they complied.
Without delay Judge Donovan of the Municipal Court for Dade County sentenced Johnson to life in prison at hard labour and he was rushed away to serve his sentence. Months turned into years, and Johnson languished in prison, a broken and forgotten man.
Every so often he would write a letter to someone connected with his case, pleading he was innocent. No one paid any attention.
Ten years went by, and one day Johnson sent one of his pathetic letters to a former judge with the unlikely name of A.O. Stolen. Judge Stolen went to visit Johnson, studied the record, and was convinced of Johnson’s innocence.
Stolen put together a pardon application for Johnson, and pressure was put on the state to conduct a hearing into the application. When the hearing was granted on Sept. 27, 1921, A.O. Stolen appeared on behalf of Johnson. He brought out the fact that the hole in the window was too small to allow Johnson’s hand to get in to undo the lock.
Again, Johnson’s wife and daughters stated that he was home at the time the crime was committed.
Why had Johnson confessed? He told his story. Years before, he had witnessed a lynching where the victim was riddled with bullets, his body cut down and stabbed.
When questioning him the detectives found out about this fear and told him there was a mob outside just waiting to get at him. This preyed on his mind, and when they told him the one way to save his skin was to confess, he jumped at the chance.
All this evidence was convincing enough, but it is doubtful if it alone would gain a pardon for an already convicted man. Then a strange thing happened.
While the hearing was in progress Stolen received a phone call. It was from a Mrs. Mae Sorenson. She told Stolen she could tell him who killed Annie Lemberger if he could guarantee her protection from the murderer.
Stolen got the judge conducting the hearings out of bed and had him open his court in the middle of the night to take Mrs. Sorenson’s testimony. The following day she formally gave her evidence from a witness stand before a crowded courtroom.
She was a good friend of Mrs. Lemberger, and on the morning of Sept. 6, 1911, over 10 years before, she had gone to the Lemberger home to console her friend over the disappearance of Annie. She found Mrs. Lemberger in the kitchen burning a blood-soaked nightgown belonging to Annie.
On the day that Annie was buried Alois Lemberger went to Mrs. Sorenson and told her what had really happened to her that night in the kitchen of their home.
Annie got out of bed to get a drink of water. While in the kitchen her father asked her to give him a poker. Annie couldn’t find it, and in a drunken rage her father struck her behind the ear with a beer bottle.
As the child fell she hit her head against the kitchen stove and lay on the floor, unconscious.
Lemberger then carried her to her cot and later Annie’s mother found her dead.
The body was hidden in the basement, and the next night Lemberger disposed of it in the lake.
The Lembergers were called to the witness stand and hotly denied these accusations.
Martin Lemberger was arrested as he left the witness stand. He was charged with second-degree murder, and on Jan. 5, 1922, Lemberger’s preliminary hearing as held.
His lawyers were quick to point out that Wisconsin law provides that a charge of second-degree murder is outlawed after 10 years. The charge against Lemberger was reluctantly dropped and he was released that day.
Johnson’s sentence was commuted to expire immediately. On Feb. 17, 1922, after serving over 10 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, he was released.