Head Injury: A Reason to Kill? (The Andreessen story continues)

In my research into the Andreessen murders, I have found very little mention of the event aside from newspaper reports. However, a few months ago, I did stumble upon one book that mentioned the event in two brief paragraphs:

“Another farmer, Nanno Andressen, had fallen from a windmill ten years before 1932, leaving him unconscious for several days. That incident led to some sort of mysterious trauma, or perhaps the cause became ever-mounting financial difficulties, remaining the only reasons his brother could possibly offer to explain why Andressen killed his family and himself one winter day in 1932 . Andressen stormed into the kitchen that icy cold morning and shot his wife, her sister, and his two children as they ate breakfast before chores, and then he proceeded to drive to nearby Stout, leaving a message at a local garage: “Call at Nanno Andressen’s place and you will find five dead bodys [ sic ]. Everyone is dead.” 42

Ossian, Lisa L.. Depression Dilemmas of Rural Iowa, 1929-1933. Columbia, MO, USA: University of Missouri, 2012. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 23 February 2015. Copyright © 2012. University of Missouri. All rights reserved.

What’s interesting about that passage is that it alludes to a head injury the elder Andreessen sustained. Upon my review of local newspapers at the time (which, incidentally, go into amazingly specific detail of the lives of the local residents), I found only a brief mention of Andreesen’s fall and the resulting injury. However, I did not see any reference to this injury as a suggested reason for Andreessen’s violent behavior that day during my review of Iowa newspapers. Ossian’s note is the first mention of this as far as I can find. The footnote reveals the source for that information as the Des Moines Register, November 11, 1929, 1 which I will need to look into. My interview with my grandmother did not produce any mention of his head injury, but this is not surprising given that she was so young at the time of the event.

What Ossian’s second paragraph produces is more in line with part of the mystery I uncovered:

“When garage employee Harvey Dilger found the murderous note at 7 a.m., he immediately drove with Clarence Wilson, station agent, and Albert Neiman, mail carrier, out to the Andressen farm where they did in fact find five bodies. Two versions still remain to explain the last death. Nanno had either subsequently returned to the farm and killed himself with a shotgun as planned or his wife, barely alive when he returned, struggled with him and ultimately shot her murdering husband dead. Four murders and one suicide or five farmstead murders? Only the corpses carry the truth.” 43

Ossian, Lisa L.. Depression Dilemmas of Rural Iowa, 1929-1933. Columbia, MO, USA: University of Missouri, 2012. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 23 February 2015. Copyright © 2012. University of Missouri. All rights reserved.

Here is where many sources converge: What caused Nanno’s death? Was it suicide or murder? Certainly, he was prepared to die that day, whether that involved him taking his own life (given the cryptic message: “you will find five dead bodys”) or whether he died at the hands of another. Sources indicate his wife may have still been alive when he returned, yet that does not clear up the mystery of the hidden gun which was not found by others until days later…more on that to come.

The Rensselear Russell House in Waterloo, IA

Last summer, when time was still on my side, I spent a few days as a docent at the Rensselear Russell House Museum in my hometown of Waterloo. A Victorian structure built in 1857 by businessman R. Russell, the home stands on its original spot overlooking the downtown area situated near today’s Grout Museum of Science and History and its accompanying structures, the Snowden House and Imaginarium, both of which also have interesting histories related to the area.

I first visited the Russell House when I was in junior high school in the early 1990’s, probably seventh or eighth grade, and have held a youthful fascination with it since. Needless to say, I was excited to serve as a docent and offer tours and my own retelling of this structure and family’s history.

My first day was great. I had about 4 or 5 different groups of people come in, ranging from retired couples passing through town to families with their young children. The time flew and I was closing up before I knew it. My second day was less busy. In fact, no one came. It was probably because Cedar Falls was holding its annual summer festival, Sturgis Falls. That said, I had my book and was prepared to settle in for my three-hour shift waiting for anyone who might choose to call on me that day.

The house was very quiet with just me occupying her spaces, and the air was still and musty except for the slight breeze from the modern AC flowing intermittently about. I could not help but close my eyes hoping to “hear” the house. I wanted so much for it to speak to me, for a voice to come through the quiet and tell me what life had been like in the house so many years ago. I tried to imagine myself as a family friend and wondered how it would have been to sit in the fancy parlor or the family’s sitting room. (Because it’s a museum, there are limited places where one can sit now. I was on a metal folding chair most of the afternoon.) How would I have had to act? What would I have been wearing? What type of education would I have had? How different would my life be?

StairsAlas, all was quiet that day in the Russell House. No voices, no sounds, no stories, no answers. The wannabe “ghost hunter” in me wanted to see Mrs. Russell come down the grand entryway steps or hear the laughter of young Genevieve who drowned in a cistern on a nearby property when she was very young. The hurt experienced by the family during those dark days after losing Genevieve, the joyful birth of their daughter Lillian years later, and the later deaths of both Mr. and Mrs. Russell seemed to hang in the air around me. (Image from the Grout Museum District webpage).

While disappointed at the time that I had no “living” visitors to lead around the house, looking back now, I see what an amazing gift I was given to have the experience of being in that house all by myself. It offered me solitude and time for reflection. For a brief period of time, I was with the Russell family, stepping tentatively into their world, yet keeping one foot (securely) in my own.