Pastor's murder confession

It had been a pleasant vacation in Grand Haven for 30-year-old Dora Kayser and her three children, who were staying at the parsonage home of her father, the Rev. William (Wilhelm) Koch at 114 N. Seventh St., late summer 1915. Dora's husband, the Rev. Edmund Kayser, was to join them in Grand Haven on Sunday, Aug. 29.
Kevin Collier
Mar 25, 2013

Edmund had stayed behind to oversee a charity fundraiser at his church. It was to be the first time he was to visit Grand Haven, but he never made it.

On Aug. 24, Dora received a telegram that her 41-year-old husband, pastor of St. James' German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Indiana, had been shot to death.         

Newspapers reported that Edmund Kayser had been “assassinated” for his “pro-German views.”          

The Aug. 25 edition of the Grand Haven Tribune conveyed that Rev. Kayser had engaged in some street arguments with Yugoslavians regarding the war in Europe.          

“Mr. Kayser particularly roused the ire of the Slav workers in a Gary, Ind., industrial plant, police said, by pro-German utterances regarding Germany's submarine attacks on unarmed merchant liners,” the Tribune reported.          

Months earlier, on May 7, a German U-boat torpedoed the Lusitania, sinking her, taking 1,198 passengers and crew to their watery graves. Among the dead were 128 American citizens.          

While the United States would not enter the war until April 6, 1917, a battle was engaged concerning the life of the Rev. Kayser, the son-in-law of St. Paul's German Evangelical Church minister, William Koch and his wife, Sophia.          

The day after the Rev. Edmund Kayser was murdered, Dora Kayser and her father, Rev. Koch, traveled by train to Gary, where they met with police to give and seek information as to the tragedy. Dora, who married Edmund in 1906 in St Clair, told investigators she and her husband feared for his life.          

Prior to the shooting, the Kaysers had turned over to the Gary postmaster some threatening anonymous letters the pastor had received. One read, “Move away, or dynamite will move you.”          

The Rev. Kayser's body had been found in a clump of bushes near his home, with two bullet wounds — one to the shoulder and the fatal shot to his neck. Cords were also found tightly tied about his neck and wrists. Evidence suggested several men had confronted Kayser in his home, where a scuffle took place, breaking furniture, which was scattered about. Police believe the unidentified assailants then dragged the victim outside and shot him.

Police arrested several men, two who had written the threatening letters to Kayser, and two women were taken into custody. All were released due to lack of evidence. With no witnesses and no one coming forth to offer further information, the press soon resigned the case to a mystery.          

After her husband's funeral and she put her affairs in order, Dora and her three children returned to Grand Haven and moved in with her parents and a few teenage siblings who still lived at home. The Tribune continued to cover the story as several theories surrounding the murder were advanced.          

“Will Kayser murder always be a mystery?” the Tribune wrote as a headline for an article listing several theories being advanced my authorities surrounding the murder. Among speculation was members of Kayser's own congregation had killed him because of differences concerning the war in Europe. There was also talk that Kayser was linked to a plot to bomb the nearby Aetna Powder Co., a manufacturer of ammunition for European allies, and workers there snuffed him out.          

Rumors such as the Rev. Kayser being a German spy and operative also surfaced.          

“I've got ideas about the murder of my husband,” Dora told the press a week after the tragedy. “But what's the use of telling them? Telling don't seem to do any good.”          

Dora and her children became familiar faces in the city and members of St. Paul's congregation, often playing organ in her father's church. But she was a subject of gossip, as speculation concerning her husband's death endured.          

That would end nearly two-and-a-half years later, on Feb. 19, 1918.          

On that day, a man named Michael Schramm, who was living in Bridgeport, Conn., confessed to killing Edmond Kayser. Schramm told police he and a companion had seen Kayser in the library window of the church rectory “counting money” as they drove by, and decided to rob him. The thieves acted when Kayser arrived home and when Kayser grabbed his pistol, a struggle ensued. Schramm said he wrestled the weapon away from the pastor then shot him with his own gun. The thieves ran off with $1,000.          

Schramm said he came forward because his conscience got the best of him after watching children pray at a Christmas program. It was learned his accomplice had committed suicide a few months after the shooting out of fear of being caught. Both men had previously been on investigators’ suspect list.          

Dora and her children lived in Grand Haven until 1919, then moved to Manchester for a decade. Later in life, she settled in Dexter, then the Ann Arbor and Detroit areas.          

She died in Detroit on Aug. 26, 1977, at the age of 92. Remaining a widow until the end, she was buried in Indiana. The last of her three children died in 2004.

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