The Case of Martin Zehetmir

Was it a Case of Greed and Premeditated Murder,
or a Desperate Man Driven to Murder as the Only Way Out?

When Jordan, my son-in-law, interviewed his grandmother to find out more about his family history she was quite helpful and could remember some tidbits of information. Myra, Jordan’s grandmother, was the granddaughter of Burdena Larson, whose maiden name was Zehetmir. Burdena was the daughter of Joseph Henry and Frieda(Fleshman) Zehetmir , who was the son of Casper and Annie Zehetmir. Myra had heard of a story about Martin Zehetmir, a brother of her great-grandfather Casper, who commited suicide in jail while waiting to be hanged.

At first it was difficult to find any information – I searched at Ancestry.com
I found Casper Zehetmir in both the 1900 & 1910 census (with different spellings), and I also found Caspers father in the 1900 & 1910 census

Zidmair - Paradise from "Valley on the Yellowstone"According to my research the story starts in a small village in Bavaria (now a state of Germany). Marinus and Anna Zehetmaier were living in the village of Hundham, County Miesbach, in Bavaria. Marinus was a farmer and had 7 children – 3 sons (Casper (1850- 1913) – Marten(1854-1903) and Joh(an)n(1860-1902) and 4 daughters (Anna, Catherina, Theresa and Ursula) – all these children were born in Bavaria.
According to Wihelm Kaltenstadler, who wrote “Ein bayerisher Wilderer vor Gericht in USA” (“A Bavarian Poacher on Trial in the USA”), John and Martin had been involved with the “Haberfeldtreiben” in the night of October 7-8, 1893 in Miesbach in (to be continued shortly)
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Date: April 15, 1903
Location: Montana
Paper: Anaconda Standard

Zidmair Murder Trial Begins at Livingston

Livingston, April 14 – The trial of Martin Zidmair, accused of the murder of George Reider on Trail Creek two years ago, is in progress in district court today. Up tp noon a jury had not been secured, and a special venure for 25 jurors was issued. County Attorney Stark is assisted in the prosecution by Attorney E. M. Hall of Sweet Grass County, and the prisoner is defended by Attorney John T. Smith.
It is alleged that Zidmair murdered Reider in cold blood and concealed the body, and that the crie would probably never have come to light had not Andrew Weidenbauer overheard Zidmair telling his brother about the crime, Weidenbauer kept the secret for two years and than in fear that Zidmair would make away with him also as the result of his knowing of the deed, notified the authorities.
Weidenbauer and Jack Held will also be tried as accomplices after the fact to the murder of Reider. The case is exciting great interest and the court is filled with spectators.
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Date: April 16, 1903
Location: Montana
Paper: Anaconda Standard

Zidmair Case Nearly Ready for Jury

Fate of Man Who Admits Killing of George Reider More than Three Years Will be in Hands of 12 Men Before Noon To-Day – What the State and Defense Claim

Livingston, April 15 – The Martin Zidmair is almost ready for the jury. Zidmair is accused of killing George Reider on April 10, 1900, and concealing the body. The arguments of the lawyers will begin tomorrow morning and the judge will deliver his charge. Probably the case will go to the jury before noon. The testimony, both for the state and for the defense, was completed
tonight. The state attempted to prove wanton and cold-blooded murder, and the defense claimed justifiable homicide, setting up the assertion that Reider provoked Zidmair beyond the pain of endurance.
The state’s case in brief is as follows: Zidmair and Reider settled in the Trail Creek Country about the same time. For a time they were in partnership in the sawmill business. Reider’s home is only three-quarters of a mile distant from Zidmair’s. They finally had a serious quarrel and afterward had frequent altercations. Zidmair was heard at various times to threaten Reider’s life and these threats were communicated to Reider. Zidmair had stated that he would kill Reider for tearing down his fences and otherwise injuring him. Reider was a large, heavy and strong man. Zidmair is of medium height and about 40 years of age.
The End of the Quarrels

On the morning of April 10, 1900, Zidmair took his gun, a combination rifle and shotgun and went to where a lot of logs were bamked near Reider’s mill. He looked around for a shovel and cant hook he had left near there and failed to find them. While he was searching he observed Reider driving a team up the hill. When Reider got to where Zidmair was the latter called out: ”What have you done with my cant hook and shovel?”
Reider raised up from the seat on the sled and grasped an axe, whereupon Zidmair seized his gun and shot Reider.
Zidmair thereupon proceeded down the hill toward his home, and on the way met Jack Held, who had been working for Zidmair and living at his house.
Zidmair told Held what had occurred and together they went to where Reider lay. He was not yet dead, and lay with one leg across the runner of the sled, the rest of his body being on the ground. The reins were grasped in one of his hands. Zidmair endeavored to release the lines , and as he did so Reider turned his head and looked him in the face. Zidmair asked Held to assist him in removing the lines from the dying man’s grasp, and the latter refusing, Zidmair stepped back, seized his rifle, loaded it and deliberately shot Reider again.

Starts to Give Himself Up

After this the two men took Reider’s team back to the Zidmair ranch, and Zidmair saddled his horse and started to town to give himself up to the authorities. On the way to Livingston he stopped at the ranch of his brother, John Zidmair, who has since died . He told John what had occurred and how he came to kill Reider and said he was on his way to Livingston to surrender.
What occurred at the ranch of John Zidmair is told only in the testimony of Andrew Weidenbauer, the man who informed authorities of the murder on March 2, last.
Weidenbauer had been in Livingston that day and had started to walk home. Arriving at the John Zidmair ranch he went into the house for a minute and then went to an outhouse. While he was in that building, Martin Zidmair arrived and related the story of the murder to his brother John and Weidenbauer overheard it. Weidenbauer said that John Zidmair advised his brother not to reveal the crime to the authorities, but to go back and bury the body, and no one would ever be the wiser. At this juncture Weidenbauer emerged from the outhouse, and Martin Zidmair , apparently greatly disturbed, asked if he had heard what he had said.
Receiving an affirmative reply, Zidmair threatened Weidenbauer with death if he ever told what he had heard. The defense avers that at this juncture Weidenbauer also advised Zidmair not to give himself up, but this Weidenbauer denies, stating that he was actuated through the entire transnotion by fear of Zidmair.

Decides not to Surrender

At any rate, Zidmair suddenly changed his decision to surrender, and he and Wiedenbauer returned to the Martin Zidmair ranch. Here they were joined by Held and together they went to where Reider’s body lay. By this time Reider was dead and Zidmair went through his pockets and possessed himself of the dead man’s watch, first offering it to Weidenbauer, who refused it. Zidmair then raised the body and endeavored to drag it towards the burning sawdust, 200 yards distant. He found the task a hard one, he could carry the body of Reider only a few feet the time. He ordered Weidenbauer to assist him, and upon the latter demurring, Zidmair drew a revolver and threatened to kill Weidenbauer unless he complied. In fear of his life Weidenbauer did as he was bid and together they carried the body of Reider to the burning sawdust pile and there buried it in a grave at the bottom where the flames were breaking forth.
This done the three returned to the Reider cabin, where Weidenbauer resided, and together with Mrs. Weidenbauer they took an oath not to reveal what had taken place.
The next day Weidenbauer and Zidmair took Reider’s gun and snowshoes, destroyed the latter and cached the former., which was afterward found by the sheriff hidden in Zidmair’s house, and gave it out to those who inquired that Reider had gone bear hunting.
In the interval between this time and the time when Weidenbauer confessed it is asserted that Zidmair frequently threatened to do away with Weidenbauer if he ever told what had happened to Reider. Under fear of these threats Weidenbauer kept his own counsel, even when former sheriff Beley , suspecting foul play, searched the sawdust pile where the body had been buried.

Scatters the Remains

At this time Beley asked Weidenbauer if he knew what had become of Reider, and he stoutly denied any knowledge of his whereabouts , except to say that Reider had gone bear hunting and never since had been seen. At this time Zidmair heard of the search by Beley and exhumed what was left of the body of Reider – a piece of his blouse, a rubber shoe and the bones of one of the legs and according to his statement after his arrest , made to Sheriff Robertson, scattered them throughout the woods and over his hey meadow.
Last October John Zidmair died and Martin Zidmair was said to have remarked that one of the witnesses was gone and the other would soon go. This remark was communicated by the hearer to Weidenbauer and in fear that Zidmair would murder him he came to the city and told the whole story to the authorities.
Mrs. Weidenbauer testified that about a year prior to the murder of Reider, and while she was cooking for him, Zidmair came to her and exhibited a bottle which he told her contained strychnine and asked her to put it in Reider’s coffee. She refused to do so.

The Defense

The Anaconda Standard, 15 Jul 1903, Wed, Page 2The defense was that Reider had betrayed Zidmair’s daughter, and the daughter herself testified to that fact this afternoon.
In rebuttal the state produced a letter written by her to Harry Lamb, in which she stated that he knew that he was the father of her unborn child, but that if he would say nothing about it she would cause him no trouble, as she intended to accuse Reider of the offense, having him arrested and get his property interests in the sawmill. The letter was fully identified as having been written and signed by the girl.
Mrs. Berkhermer also testified that Miss Zidmair, now Mrs. Hanson of Bozerhan, had stated to her that her father was putting her (Miss Zidmair) up to swear the child onto Reider.
Zidmair testified in his own behalf, admitting the killing but asserting that Reider had made a motion to strike him with an axe and that he had shot in self-defense. He denied having fired a second shot, but the state put in evidence to show that Zidmair had said to Held at the jail during the noon recess that he, Held, had told nothing but the truth on the stand. Held testified positively that after he went back with Zidmair to where Reider lay, after having been shot the first time, Zidmair shot him again as he lay helpless and dying in the snow.
The testimony is all in tonight. The court’s instructions will be given and the argument will take place tomorrow. Meanwhile the jurors are in charge of a bailiff and are not allowed to separate.

The Anaconda Standard, 17 Apr 1903, Fri, Page 1

The San Francisco Call – Friday, July 17, 1903

Verdict Carries Death Penalty

Martin Zidmair Stands in the Shadow of the Gallows

Helena, Mont. July 16 – Martin Zidmair is again in the shadow of the gallows. The Jury which heard the evidence in his case returned a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree at Livingston today. Zidmair showed no emotion when the Clerk of Court read the verdict. To all appearances he was not interested in the outcome. The trial just ended was the second in which Zidmair was defendant.
He was charged with having shot and killed George Reider in April, 1901. He was convicted of murder in the first degree on his first trial and sentenced to be hanged. He was later granted a new trial on errors of the lower court. It is understood that his counsel will move for a new trial and that an appeal will then be taken if an order denying the new trial will be made.
The case has attracted a great deal of attention, principally because of the defense set up. Murderer and victim came to Montana from Bohemia 12 years ago and were prosperous neighboring ranchers. Zidmair asserted that Reider had ruined his daughter, the disgrace of which caused his wife to commit suicide. When he reproached Reider for his alleged misconduct he asserts that Reider attacked him an ax . And he then shot him in self-defense. The victim’s body was buried on the spot and no report made of the crime for a year, which evidently had great weight with the jury.


The Anaconda Standard, 4 Sep 1903, Fri, Page 1

Interview with Zidmair

Date: 1903-08-08;
Paper: Anaconda Standard

Martin Zidmair, the Condemned, Tells Most Interesting Story Man under Sentence of Death at Livingston

Man Under Sentence of Death at Livingston Chafes Under the Accusation that He Was Concerned in the Murder of a Gamekeeper
in His Native Country, Bavaria, Before He Came to the United States

Says He is Not Sorry That He Killed Reider

Livingston Aug. 7 – Martin Zidmair, under sentence of death for the murder of George Reider, chafes under what he considers a accusation, namely, that before he came to this country, he killed a gamewarden named Thomas Luidl in Bavaria. Ever since the accusation was given publicity he has been restive. A few days ago he began to write a denial of the story in German. When he had it compiled he sent for the Standard correspondent and translated the story into English. The correspondent sat on the edge of Zidmair’s cot, with a checkerboard for a table, and took down the statement word for word as the condemned man made it. Zidmair spoke in broken English and at times had considerable difficulty in expressing himself, but with a little assistance he managed to say all he had to say in the space of an hour and a half.
Much of the statement is irrevelant and consists largely of abuse of those who testified against him on his trial. Publication of such charges would do Zidmair no good, and are perhaps libelous. They are therefore omitted. With these exceptions his statement follows:
The Killing of Luidl
“I want to put something from the high Bavarian Alp lands in the paper. My Bavarian friends know lots to say about me. Since I was in jail I guess they think I got no chance to read the newspaper or to write. Thomas Luidil, the game warden who was shot and killed by two hunters that Americans call poachers , lived in the high Bavarian Alps near my father’s Alp. He was shot on Dec. 29, 1883. What we owned was a little game reserve.
My family was well aquainted with Luidil. He was the best friend of our family. He stopped almost daily in our Alp cabin. We have spent of the best halves of the nights in his company by the campfire, singing the good Yodel songs, which I can prove by my sisters. Nobody was more sorry than we when we heard he was dead.
Two Men’s Names Mentioned
“One of the Bavarians I know, who came to this country last year, and to my place, told me several times the names of the two men who killed Luidil. One of them, to keep himself in the old country, cast suspicion on me. That Virgil Rank was present when Luidil was killed I do not believe.
We were often together and told over hunting stories a hundred times, and he never said a word about that.
I did not know Weidenbauer or Reider in the old country at all. I left the old country in 1884 on account of my two little girls and their mother, to find them a home in this country. I saw my little children and their mother the last day before I left, and paid for the support of the children until I could send for them. Me and their mother were not married then. I had a passport from the court of my country, which I can show up right now, and prove by my three sisters and brothers who live in Park County.
Why He Left Home
“I was a natural hunter in the old country, where every hunter sooner or later meets his bad luck and gets caught as a poacher by the warden, and that was why I left the old country.
“I came to this country Oct.5, 1884, to Mankato, Minnesota and lived there about three years. Then I came to Livingston, and my wife and children then came here to join me. They came direct from the old country, and me and my wife were married here. We bought a ranch up on Deep Creek , 10 miles south of Livingston and we lived there for three years. The family was soon more by one son. Then I sold the ranch to my brother, and settled over in Trail Creek basin, 24 miles southwest from Livingston with my wife and three little children.
A Pioneer of his Section
“The country was wild and rough and there was road to the place. The next neighbour was 4 miles away. I made two and three-quarters miles of road and put in 17 bridges, little and big, all by my own work and expense. I cleared 40 acres of land and fixed up a nice ranch. All the folks had to work hard to build a good home. We were not very lucky on the ranch, but we were happy and satisfied just the same till the woman went sick and then everything went wrong.
“Where is now my home and where am I on account of my country people? I was myself to blame. The first greenhorn that came on my place I should have taken a club and beat him out of the house, instead of giving them meals, show them a piece of land and do them all kinds of favors. Then I would have my home now and all kinds of money.
The Death of His Wife
“I am not sorry that I killed Reider when I think of my woman. She killed herself on account of Reider. My boy is a half cripple since Reider whipped him. That last day, in the morning , when my woman killed herself , about 9 o’clock, I found her in her bedroom sitting on the bed reading the prayer book and Reider’s baby lying near her. She got up and said: “’You never will kill Reider. He will kill you and then who will take care of me and the children?’”
“That evening at 7 o’clock she killed herself. After that REider wrote a letter to the old country , to my woman’s sister, that I had shot and killed my woman. My enemies also told that story that my woman once called for a doctor and that I gave her a revolver and said to her, ‘Kill yourself’. I wonder what another man would do if anyone should say something like that about him?
“That last two years before I killed Reider I lost 27 head of stock, horses, hogs, cattle and dogs. I could prove that agood many of them were killed by Reider. When I complained, the authorities said to me, ‘protect yourself’, and I did protect myself, my home and my folks. I don’t know whether I did right or wrong. I have been a citizen of the United States for a long time, and none of them are citizens yet. I am very well satisfied in jail. The officers are very good to me and so are the other prisoners. I get everything I want and it is pretty near the best time I have had since living in Park County. All the rest of the time it has been hard work and trouble. I hope my folks have better luck than me and my woman had. I never saw the inside of a jail before this, and was never fined a dollar in my life.
Something about Reider
Reider was a farmer in the old country and was worth about 150,000 marks in property and money. He had no children and his woman left him because of his attention to other women. He lost pretty near everything he had on account of court trouble and the burning of his buildings. His mother is alive yet in Bavaria. She gave him everything she had, and one of her friends is taking care of her now. That is what my brother told him. He knew Reider well in the old country. Reider told me that he only had a little farm in the old country, that he was not married and that his parents were dead.
“What makes Weidenbauer give away this Reider story? He claimed he was afraid that I would kill him. He never was afraid of me and he had no need to be. He knew well enough I would never kill him. He was working for the reward, for he said shortly before that somebody could make $200 to find Reider.
When he concluded what he had to say for publication, Zidmair remarked that before he was hanged he hoped to see some of those countrymen who had testified against him, in jail.
He exhibited not the least bit of depression and told the correspondent that he had no hope that the supreme court would reverse the district court in refusing him another trial. In appearance his is rather short and of spare build. His features are rather sharp, and he wears a bristling mustache, in which the grey is beginning to show. In one cheek he has a repulsive looking scar and a profile view of his physiognomy leaves a bad impression.
The general opinion is now is that there will be no appeal to the supreme court , although the matter is not yet definitely settled. Application will probably made to the governor for a commutation of the sentence to life imprisonment, but that is a forlorn hope.
The sheriff is preparing to send out invitations to the execution. The scaffold on which Dodson and MacArthur were hanged in Powell County will probably be used.
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The Anaconda Standard, 17 Jul 1903, Fri, Page 1The Anaconda Standard, 17 Jul 1903, Fri, Page 2Cheated the Gallows.

BUTTE, Mont. Sept 3, 1903

Martin Zidmair, who was to be hanged tomorrow morning for the murder of George Reider, on Trail Creek, two years ago, was found dead in his cell here this morning, says a Livingston, Mont, dispatch to the Intermountaln. He is thought to have been deranged. Zidmair killed Reider, a lifelong friend, for ruining his daughter, and then, secreted the body. Zidmair’s wife killed herself over the girl’s disgrace. All parties concerned were Bavarians.

The Anaconda Standard, 30 Aug 1903, Sun, Page 2The Minneapolis Journal, 5 Sep 1903, Sat

 

I found all the newspaper articles at Genealogy Bank Newspaper Archive

According to the 1900 US Census did Martin Zidmair’s parents – Marin (in different sources also spelled as Martin, Marion) and Anna immigrate to the USA in 1887 – as did his brother Casper. I did find Casper and his wife Annie (Zehetmeyer) on a passenger list of S.S. Main of Bremen, which landed in the Port of Baltimore on 31 Mar 1887 – his parents were not on that list.
I did find their gravestones at findagrave.com

Martin & Anna Zehemir
Annie Zehetmir

Casper Zehetmir