STRANGE GH: Death of former St. John’s pastor remains a mystery

Oct 24, 2011

Spindler was born on March 10, 1822, in Wittstock, Prussia, and arrived in America when he was 36 years old. He served as the second pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Church of Grand Haven from 1871-80. He was compelled to resign and bid the congregation farewell on March 26, 1880.

Spindler next became the pastor of the new St. John’s Lutheran Church in Union City Township, Iowa, on Aug. 15, 1880. He served his final pastorship at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Shakopee, Minn., from 1886-94. He then retired and began writing a book.

In September 1895, he published that book, which was a 503-page volume of his sermons on the gospels of Jesus Christ. Spindler used a printer and binding company in St. Paul, Minn., to which he owed $600 (comparable to $15,000 today.) They reportedly were hounding him for the money. Then, he suddenly died.

The mystery as to his death began the moment his partially frozen body was found under some trees in a tiny grove on the outskirts of Minneapolis. He had been shot three times, at close range, in the chest. At his side lay a .22-caliber revolver.

Coroner Jonas M. Kistler, as well as the Minnesota State Police, determined that Spindler had taken his own life and no inquest was held concerning his death. He was 73 years old, and left a wife and six adult children.

Investigators uncovered Spindler had registered at the Market Hotel in Chaska on Oct. 29 — and that afternoon had visited his daughter, Anna, who lived in the city. He did not return to the hotel that evening. Instead, he rented a room at the run-down Jones Boarding House on the outskirts of Minneapolis to stay the night.

Spindler intended to visit another daughter, Hannah — who lived in nearby Renville — on the morning of Oct. 30. Witnesses said Spindler went out to walk that cold evening and never returned.

Clerks at the Market Hotel said Spindler “acted strangely,” and appeared despondent and depressed.

He had left a valise in his room there. Police searched it and found clothing and routine accouterments one would travel with. Strangely, the valise was found there; and not at the Jones Boarding House, his final flop.

Those who knew Spindler well said he routinely strolled with his head bowed, paced and wrung his hands simply out of habit. He was partially deaf, which would account for his appearing despondent. Spindler was also in great health for his years, contrary to news reports.

Authorities claimed Spindler’s concern over the $600 owed to his printer was the reason for him taking his own life. This didn’t make much sense, however. The book had lost money, but Spindler was financially “well-to-do.”

Some insisted Spindler had been murdered and there was evidence to support it; thus newspapers reported both scenarios. It was asserted that Spindler, impeccably dressed as always, “might have been mistaken for an eccentric millionaire” and had been murdered by a thief.

A pocket lining in his trousers was found turned out, and $12 (equal to more than $300 today) the reverend was known to have been carrying was gone. A valuable silver watch in a silver case he always kept on his person was also missing. Plus, Spindler was not known to possess or carry a gun.

Folks in Grand Haven, like Michael Draeger who corresponded often with Spindler and his wife, didn’t believe he’d taken his own life either. Neither did the Tribune.

“The opinion is that he was murdered,” the Grand Haven Tribune reported. “It seems impossible Mr. Spindler could have inflicted the (three) wounds himself.” 

Copies of Spindler’s book exists at the Minnesota Historical Society Library and in the Library of Congress.

The tiny grove where his body was discovered at the corner of Plymouth and Morgan avenues remains intact today. Ironically, kitty-corner to the intersection stands the 4th Precinct station of the Minneapolis Police Department.

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