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First/Given Name(s):


Ralph W. Van Horn

Male 1867 - 1897  (30 years)

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  • Name Ralph W. Van Horn  [1, 2
    Born 1867  [2
    Gender Male 
    Died 6 Nov 1897  Unadilla, Otoe, Nebraska Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
      Ralph Van Horn, While Insane, Shoots His Son and Then Kills Himself
      He Would Also Have Murdered His Wife Could He Have Found Her.
      Domestic Infelicity and a Broken Home the Cause of the Tragedy

      The terrible tragedy enacted at Unadilla Saturday evening was the culmination of a series of events which include a marriage, divorce, a broken home, damage suits and then murder and suicide. It was the work of a desperate man while temporarily insane, and while he blotted out—the child cannot possibly recover—an innocent life he paid the penalty with his own. The story is told as follows:
      About 6:30 o'clock Saturday evening, Ralph W. Van Horn who had been making his home of late with his parents four miles south of Unadilla, came to town evidently having learned that his wife was then a guest of Mrs. John Abbott. He had been in town not to exceed twenty minutes when he went to the home of Mr. Abbott and knocked at the door. Mrs. Abbott answered the rap and seeing that it was Van Horn asked what he wanted. He said he had come to make his usual visit with his three-year-old baby. Mrs. Abbott turned and asked Mrs. Van Horn if he could come in, to which the latter said no. The mother and baby at on a lounge, the baby being disrobed and being made ready to be put to bed, and when the mother heard the voice of her divorced husband she sprang to her feet in a fright, the light streaming through the open door showed that the husband was armed, having a repeating 38-calibre rifle in his hand. The wife screamed at the sight of this and it is thought Ralph raised the rifle to his shoulder to fire as his wife sprang to her feet, but the scream brought Mrs. Abbott to an instant realization of what was going to happen and she slammed the door shut with all of her might, but Van Horn's rifle stuck through the opening and prevented it from being closed. Van Horn then seemed to become desperate and forced the door open and coolly leveling his rifle fired at his only child as it sat dressed in nightclothes on the sofa staring at him with amazement. The steady gaze of the child at the father seemed not to deter him in the least for pulling the trigger of the rifle he sent a leaden messenger through the left side of the head, within half an inch of the eye, opening the skull on that side of the head. The little one dropped over as if dead and the murderer then started through the house, rifle in hand, in quest of his wife, who had during the parley between Mrs. Abbott and Van .Horn ran into a side room and locked the door. Van. Horn went through the house going out of the kitchen door and then around the house in quest of his wife, and finally came into the front door again. He gave the child a glance and continued his search for his wife, who was in a side room and frightened almost to death, expecting each minute to hear her husband trying to force his way into the room where she was. As soon as Van Horn stepped into the house, Mrs. Abbott pushed by him and rushing into the street screamed lustily for help, which came very promptly, but not soon enough to prevent the would-be murderer from taking his own life. It seems that hearing the people coming he had thrown his rifle away and stared to escape, but getting to the front gate he changed his mind and taking a revolver from his pocket fired a shot into his left temple, dying instantly, for he was breathing his last when those who responded to Mrs. Abbott's call for help arrived. His body was allowed to lay where it fell until Coroner Karsten was notified, and hearing all the details ordered the body turned over to his relatives, an inquest not being deemed necessary. His brother-in-law, Mr. Pearson, took charge of the body and the same was interred Sunday afternoon.
      On return to the house the child was found to be alive, despite its dangerous wound. How it was possible for the child to survive the wound is something that is hard to understand. A physician was called who dressed the wound and the child was alive at noon today but there is no hopes for its recovery.
      No one seems to have the least doubt but what the deed was deliberately planned, for Van Horn came to town fully prepared to do something desperate and it is very plain to all who are conversant with the facts that when he learned that Mr. Abbott and his son were not at home, they being down town, the two ladies and the baby being in the house alone, he concluded to go there and kill and the wife and baby and then himself. That this plan has been in his mind for some time is said to be borne out with things that have developed since. The grief stricken mother is said to have the sympathy of all. The murder, for it will eventually develop into that, was a cold blooded one, and that he secured but one victim instead of two was not his fault, for he fully intended to kill his wife, and only the fact that he was unable to find her was all that prevented his killing her.
      Ralph Van Horn and Miss Lillian Belle Anderson were married November 20th, 1891, at the home of the bride's father, Jesse W. Anderson, the ceremony being performed by Rev. G. S. Alexander. They lived happily for a short time, a son, Clarence, Jr., being born to them, and that was the child he shot. October 15, 1894, his wife was granted a divorce and custody of the child and he (was) restrained from interfering with her in any manner. The mother and child then went to her old home to live. Van Horn was particularly bitter toward his father-in-law, claiming that he was the cause of all his trouble, and frequently said that we would rather see the child dead than to have it raised by Mr. Anderson. He also worried considerable because he was not permitted to see the child and finally his attorney, John V. Morgan, had the order modified so as to allow him to visit the child in company with an officer. He made several visits with Sheriff Huberle. Then in order to get away form his troubles he went to California, remaining there for some time, and then returned to this county, living at the old home, four miles south of Unadilla. At the last term of court he sued his father-in-law, Jesse W. Anderson, for $10,000 damages for defamation of character and the jury returned a verdict of $1 in his favor, thus throwing the costs on him. When the news of this terrible deed reached here many thought he had gone insane on account of the loss of the suit, but his attorneys think not, as they received a well written, intelligent letter from him about a week ago in regard to appealing the case.
      But that he was mentally unsound at times no one who was acquainted with him will doubt. His aberrations were only temporary. He was 30 years old, and his father, A. W. Van Horn, was one of the earliest settlers of Russell precinct, having located there in 1869. The deceased was a hard working young man and not addicted to the use of intoxicating liquors in the least. [3]
    Person ID I20170  Mindrum
    Last Modified 18 Feb 2017 

    Family Lillian Belle Anderson,   b. 9 Nov 1872, Fayette, Lafayette, Wisconsin Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 13 Mar 1906, Syracuse, Otoe, Nebraska Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 33 years) 
    Married 26 Nov 1891  Syracuse, Otoe, Nebraska Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    Divorced 14 Oct 1895  [2
     1. Florence Van Horn,   b. 4 Mar 1893,   d. 14 May 1894, Syracuse, Otoe, Nebraska Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 1 years)
     2. Clarence Van Horn,   b. 15 Oct 1894,   d. 20 Nov 1897, Syracuse, Otoe, Nebraska Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 3 years)
    Last Modified 18 Feb 2017 
    Family ID F14126  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Sources 
    1. [S1895] Girdner Family Genealogy.

    2. [S1968] Max Anderson Melick, The Jesse and Anna Anderson Family Tree, (1997).

    3. [S8603] Murder and Suicide, Nebraska City News, 9 Nov 1897.