Told with a reporter’s eye for story and a sleuth’s nose for the incriminating detail, this book is the culmination of years of research into how a small community in frontier America dealt with violence and death, the free press, men (and the occasional woman) behaving badly, mental health, grief, alcoholism and drug abuse, skilled defense attorneys, immigration, population growth, and the ghosts—be they real or imagined—that haunt us to this day.
Less than one year ago, the news reached this city that a bloody and inhuman murder had been committed in the township of St. Olaf, about 18 miles from this city. The details were meager, but they were of such a character as to make the blood run cold and caused one to wonder whether such a thing could be done by one in human form. A beautiful young girl left at home by her family on that May morning had been murdered – most likely outraged – horribly mutilated, thrown into the hog pasture and her mangled remains partially eaten by the swine.
— Fergus Falls Weekly Journal, Thursday, April 19, 1888
“It was a several years later before Lillie started “showing up” intermittently. But I was busy with other projects. She waited. I lived in another part of the state but visited my home county often, especially after my son and his family moved there. I noticed things as a visitor might and appreciated it anew. If Lillie was still hanging around the county, I could understand one reason, at least, for that; it’s beautiful there.
Otter Tail County is big, sort of square and sits off-kilter: not in the center of the state, not in the north half or the south. It’s not west central, exactly, either. Skewed in its location and, at 2,225 square miles, unwieldy in its size, it’s a piece easily found and placed, if Minnesota counties were a jigsaw puzzle.
I know this place. I’ve driven to every corner of it, around many of its 1,000 lakes and down countless gravel driveways. As a reporter for the local radio station, and later the area reporter for the Fergus Falls Daily Journal, I talked to cops, the retired guys having coffee in the cafes, the teachers, business owners, quilters at the churches, farmers in the fields and mayors in meetings. I grew up here and raised my children here. I fished its lakes, hunted in its woods and rode my horses across its fields. It was easy for me to imagine it as nothing but footpaths and dirt wagon trails. I feel as though I touched its history every day of my life. …”