When 21-year-old Frederick Kuschmann was found dead on the evening of February 29, 1896, in Black Hawk Township near Milan, Illinois, it appeared to have been a tragic accident. His body was found along a local roadside by his employer, Henry Bastian, after Mr. Kuschmann’s horse had returned to the Bastian farm without a rider late that night.
Mr. Kuschmann had been working as a hired hand on the Bastian farm under a one-year contract. February 29th had been the last day of his employment. When asked by the authorities, Henry Bastian stated that on that day he had paid the young man $79 in wages owed and watched him ride off to visit his family in South Rock Island. Kuschmann was to return the next day with a wagon to collect his belongings at Mr. Bastian’s suggestion (Henry’s sister, Carrie, was in the kitchen bathing at the end of the day, which prevented young Frederick from entering the house). Mr. Bastian also stated that the horse on which Frederick left seemed irritable and hard to control.
Upon finding the body, Mr. Bastian immediately sought assistance. Dr. Eddy of Milan, IL was called upon and later reported there was nothing he could do for Frederick. A Coroner’s Inquest held on March 2nd returned a verdict of accidental death. Poor Frederick Kuschmann was likely thrown from his horse.
Not everyone agreed with the verdict.
On March 3rd, the family of Mr. Kuschmann made it known they did not feel this was an accident. Mr. Bastian had stated Mr. Kuschmann rode off with $79, but only a few silver coins were found at the scene. Also, Frederick’s head was severely bruised and cut with no other signs of trauma to the body. That did not seem to fit with being thrown from a horse.
The family demanded further investigation into the matter. It most certainly was not an accident; they believed Mr. Kuschmann had been the victim of a robbery and assault for his wages.
Authorities began to look into the case again. It probably did not hurt the Kuschmann family that Frederick’s uncle was a former alderman in the city of Rock Island and knew many local officials.
It soon became apparent that the death of Frederick Kuschmann was not an accident. But who would do something so horrific?
It brought to mind a recent event that had left people puzzled. Two nights before Mr. Kuschmann’s death, farmer William McLaughlin’s barn had been set on fire. The elderly Mr. McLaughlin remained in the farmhouse while others went to extinguish the flames.
In the midst of the commotion, an unknown man entered McLaughlin’s house and began to go through the family’s parlor. McLaughlin surprised him and he ran off. The family was rumored to have kept a large amount of money in the house; the man was probably after it. Because the Bastian farm adjoined the McLaughlins’ to the southwest, many people believed the same man had committed both crimes and was now on the loose.
On March 7th, the Rock Island County Board of Supervisors issued a reward of $500 for the capture of Frederick Kuschmann’s murderer. Rumors ran rampant as the police worked to solve the case.
The murder and fire even caught the attention of the much larger Chicago Tribune newspaper. Citizens on both sides of the Mississippi River were on edge, wondering where this fiend would strike next.
By March 13th, rumors were circulating that Mr. Kuschmann had not been murdered on the roadside. Evidence suggested he had been attacked elsewhere, his coat wrapped around his head, and he was then driven to the spot where his body was placed. His bloody but undamaged coat was found a short distance away.
More and more, locals began to wonder if Frederick Kuschmann ever left the Bastian farm alive.
Henry Bastian was a 26-year-old married farmer with one young child and another on the way. He had taken over the family farm from his parents, Christian and Catharina, a few years before. His older sister was also staying with the family at the time, as his wife Eva was expected to soon give birth.
The police began to question the Bastian family about Mr. Kuschmann’s last day at the farm. Eva Bastian had been sent by her husband to visit her parents that afternoon, and was not at home when Mr. Kuschmann was paid and left for the night. Henry’s sister Carrie claimed to have been in the bath and also did not see Mr. Kuschmann leave. As for Mr. Bastian, he never wavered from his original account.
The police soon learned that Henry was in financial trouble. They also began to suspect that he had forged his father and wife’s names to mortgage the farm. And then…
Early on the morning of March 13, 1896, the body of Henry Bastian was found in the granary of the farm. He had committed suicide.
He was buried on March 15th (his 27th birthday) in Chippianock Cemetery. Only a few days later, his wife would give birth to a little girl.
Mrs. Bastian never returned to the farm after her husband’s funeral. Instead, she chose to move in with her parents in nearby Rock Island. Carrie Bastian returned to live with her mother in Geneseo, IL (her father had passed away a few months before), and the old family farm was left empty.
The question had been raised in some community members’ minds: Could financial loss have so overwhelmed Henry Bastian that he killed Frederick Kuschmann instead of paying him the wages he was owed?
When authorities went to the farm after Henry’s death, they quickly discovered the truth. Area residents then learned just how wrong they had been about their well-respected neighbor.
Part II of this blog will be printed on October 31, 2016
(posted by Amy D.)
Davenport Daily Republican, March 3, 1896. Pg. 6.
Davenport Daily Republican, March 6, 1896. Pg. 7.
Davenport Daily Republican, March 7, 1896. Pg. 7.
Davenport Daily Republican, March 13, 1896. Pg. 7.
Davenport Leader, March 13, 1896. Pg. 12.