Henry Bastian: A serial murderer among us – Part II

Part I of this story may be found here.

Henry Bastian’s suicide did not stem the flow of gossip about Frederick Kuschmann’s death in Rock Island and Davenport. In fact, according to newspaper reports, people began to wonder about several young hired men who had left the Bastian farm without saying goodbye to anyone.

The March 15th edition of the Davenport Daily Republican openly questioned if there was not more to Henry Bastian than met the eye. It reported on area residents’ recollections of two men in particular: Fritz Kreinsen and John Lauderbach.

When neighbors asked Bastian why Fritz Kreinsen no longer worked on the farm, he told them that the young German immigrant had decided to move to Wisconsin to be near friends. No one could remember Kreinsen mentioning a desire to relocate, and it seemed odd that he left so quickly. The next year, in 1895, Bastian said John Lauderbach had left his employ to travel westward, but the relatives who came looking for the young man they had not heard from in a long time knew of no such plan.

Also odd was the fact that Henry Bastian had suddenly appeared near the McLaughlin’s house just after the robber had run off.  He claimed to have been looking for lost horse when he noticed the barn fire and wanted to come help put it out. Over a hundred acres of land separated the Bastian and McLaughlin farmhouses.

Then there were the rumors that the police had found human blood stains at the height of a man’s head on the walls of the Bastian cow shed.

By March 20th, public opinion held that Henry Bastian had killed Frederick Kuschmann and most likely set fire to the McLaughlin barn in an attempt to rob the farmhouse during the commotion. Also, Bastian had no money to pay for groceries on the day Kuschmann was murdered: he had recently sold a horse for $25 and sent $20 of that to his mother in Geneseo, Illinois.

Further investigation revealed that Frederick Kuschmann’s last day of work had originally been set for February 27th (the day of the McLaughlin barn fire) but Henry Bastian asked him to stay until the 29th to make up for some days he had been sick.

On March 24, 1896 the Bastian family sold the household belongings and farm equipment left on the farm. People from all over came to purchase the suspected murder’s items and to have a look around the farm. While the police investigation continued, the farm could not be sold, so the land was rented to H. S. Meyers for four months. Mr. Meyers charged curious people $0.10 a person to walk down the farm lane and explore the property. He hoped curiosity would die down by the time planting season began.

As each day passed, more and more people began to wonder about the fate of Kreinsen and Lauderbach. Could Henry Bastian have murdered them, too? A rumor began to circulate that there was a witness to Bastian’s deadly deeds…

Law enforcement finally found this man, Charles Reiher, in Chicago. Mr. Reiher revealed that when he had worked for Henry Bastian, he had seen his boss burying the body of a man underneath a tree on the farm. He admitted he had been reluctant to speak against the well-respected Mr. Bastian for fear of being branded as crazy — he had once been committed to an insane asylum and did not wish to return.

With this new information, the sheriff obtained permission from the Bastians to begin digging on the family farm.


Milan, Illinois 1894 Plat showing the C. Bastian farm. Christian Bastian was Henry’s father. Henry took over the farm from his elderly parents in the early 1890’s. Atlas of Rock Island County, Illinois SC 917.73393 IOW

On April 1, 1896 Rock Island County Sheriff Hemenway, Deputy Sheriff S. S. Hull, Robert Johnson, Edward Lane, and Thomas Norton went out to the farm to see what could be found. A crowd of newspaper reporters and interested locals followed them onto the property.

They decided to dig near the granary of the farm in a rubbish-filled area that had once been used by hogs. They soon uncovered a human body. It was noted that the skull had suffered some form of trauma on the left side. Henry Bastian was left-handed.

One of the spectators, Mr. Peter Grampp, was able to identify the body as that of his friend John Lauderbach.

Mr. Bastian, it appeared, had an ingenious plan. He hired men to work his farm for a set period of time. Stating he did not have the money to pay them weekly, he would then offer them room and board and a promise to pay a lump sum at the end of the contract. On or near the last day of the man’s employment, Henry Bastian would kill him and bury the body on his farm.

Mr. Lauderbach’s contract with Bastian was to end in February, 1895 when he would be paid $170. He was expected to room at Mr. Grampp’s house until finding a new work arrangement. But Mr. Bastian told Mr. Grampp that John had decided to go to Montana instead, and that he had taken him to the train station himself. Mr. Grampp began to worry when he stopped receiving letters from his friend and when Lauderbach’s mother wrote to ask him why she had not heard from her son.

The next day, a coroner’s inquest into the death of John Lauderbach began. Meanwhile, the sherriff and his crew continued to dig on the farm. A jug of kerosene and a club covered in blood were found in the cow shed; two watches with signs of fire damage were found in the hog pen. The gold watch was identified as John Lauderbach’s and the silver one thought to have been Fritz Kreinsen’s. Also in the hog pen were pieces of men’s clothing and buttons, and the worst discovery of all: a portion of a human skull, likely Fritz Kreinsen’s.

Mr. Kreinsen had been saving money to buy a farm and bring his fiance from Germany. Henry Bastian had kindly offered to bank Kreinsen’s over $1000 in savings. Not surprisingly, no account in Fritz Kreinsen’s name was found in any of the local banks.

The inquest found that John Lauderbach had been murdered, most likely by Henry Bastian. Eventually, Lauderbach’s body was laid to rest in Chippianock Cemetery, the same place Henry Bastian had been buried a few weeks earlier.

The digging continued. In an old cistern well the police found several trunks and human bones. Handles and other metal pieces from trunks were found buried in different locations on the farm. The fact that they appeared to have been burned led authorities to suspect that Bastian had used fire to destroy evidence.

By mid-April 1896, local authorities had received information on a least nine missing persons with a direct connection to Henry Bastian. They also discovered a trunk that had been left in the Milan train depot for three years. The trunk belonged to August Johnson, also originally thought to have traveled west once his work for Bastian was complete. Authorities also found that Johnson’s local bank account had not been touched for three years. Based on the timeline supplied by Mr. Johnson’s family, authorities believed that the body Charles Reiher had seen Henry Bastian bury under a tree was August’s.

In late April, the coroner reopened the case of Frederick Kuschmann. The body was exhumed and re-examined. No evidence of injury was found to the body except the head, which appeared to have been hit with a sharp object on the left side. Eva Bastian and her sister-in-law Carrie Bastian were both called to testify at the inquest along with witnesses from the night Kuschmann’s body was found.

Mrs. Bastian reported that she was visiting her parents on the night Frederick Kuschmann was found dead. She also stated she had been at her parents’ house the day John Lauderbach disappeared as well. Henry Bastian had encouraged her visits on both occasions.

Carrie Bastian’s testimony was confusing. She stated she was in the house bathing and did not see Frederick Kuschmann leave the farm, but she also claimed to have seen her brother pay him. She insisted that Henry was innocent of any crimes.

On April 28, 1896, the inquest closed the case of Frederick Kuschmann. It concluded that he had died at Henry Bastian’s hands. At this time the police investigation could go no further — there was no clear direction on where to continue digging. For many families and friends, the question of what happened to loved ones who had come to work on the Bastian farm remained an open one.

Those known to have been murdered by Henry Bastian were Frederick Kuschmann, Fritz Kriensen, and John Lauderbach. Those likely to have met the same fate were Marshall Lewis, Axel Sternberg, Hugh McCafferty, Ernest Miller, and August Johnson.

H. S. Meyers continued to lease the property for a time, living in the farmhouse with his family.

In January 1897, Eva Bastian went to Rock Island County court to have her and her daughters’ surnames changed to Johnson (her maiden name). The family continued to live with Eva’s parents until she married Frank S. Foote in 1898.

Carrie Bastian never married. She died in New Mexico in 1964.

The Bastian farm continued to yield clues for many more years. In 1899, the remains of Ernest Miller were found on the property and identified. In December 1901, tenant William Hoffman uncovered a skeleton while digging a hole for an ice house post. Authorities concluded that the remains were that of a young man who had been killed in cold weather, as the heavy winter sock on his foot attested. Also, his skull had been crushed by four blows to the left side of the head. Surely a familiar set of clues.

Upon hearing this, Mrs. Hoffman declared the farm and farmhouse haunted and quickly left. According to reports, her husband followed soon after.

Today, the area that was the Bastian farm is now a wooded neighborhood just east of Camden Park in Milan.


Milan, Illinois present day from http://ims.rockislandcounty.org/website/parcels_public/Viewer.asp. The area that once was the Bastian farm is highlighted in yellow.

One final thought on the story of Henry Bastian: At the April 1896 inquest, his sister Carrie was asked if she thought it was strange that so many of her brother’s hired men simply left the farm without a word to anyone.

“No,” she replied, stating that the same thing had happened during her childhood when her father ran the farm.

(posted by Amy D.)


Davenport Daily Leader, April 5, 1896. Pg. 5.

Davenport Daily Leader, April 7, 1896. Pg. 5.

Davenport Daily Leader, April 8, 1896. Pg. 3.

Davenport Daily Leader, April 10, 1896. Pg. 4.

Davenport Daily Leader, April 13, 1896. Pg. 8.

Davenport Daily Leader, April 14, 1896. Pg. 8.

Davenport Daily Leader, April 15, 1896. Pg. 7.

Davenport Daily Leader, April 16, 1896. Pg. 8.

Davenport Daily Leader, April 21, 1896. Pg. 14.

Davenport Daily Leader, April 28, 1896. Pg. 7.

Davenport Daily Republican, April 29, 1896. Pg. 7

Davenport Daily Leader, April 29, 1896. Pg. 7.

Davenport Daily Leader, April 30, 1896. Pg. 4.

Davenport Weekly Leader, September 1, 1896. Pg. 5.

The Burlington Hawk-Eye, January 29, 1897. Pg. 6.

Davenport Daily Leader, December 6, 1901. Pg. 7.

The Des Moines Leader, December 15, 1901. Pg. 15.

Cedar Rapids Daily Republican, December 17, 1901. Pg. 3.



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