1907 Murder-Suicide: Truth Comes Out When True Love Is Revealed


Mrs. Jennie Schnack[1], 32, and her two children Johnnie,[2] aged 8 and Stella aged 3, moved from Ottawa, Kansas to their home on King Street, Centropolis, arriving Saturday, February 2, 1907. Mr. Frank Schnack, her husband, did not join his family. Neighbors guessed he stayed in Ottawa. They were correct; Frank was in Ottawa and had lived there for “some time.” But the neighbors didn’t have long to gossip about the Schnack family, because the woman and her children had less than three days to live.
Jennie had been born a Harshman, a respected, well-to-do family. Besides being shrewd in real estate, her father was a Dunkard minister (also called German Baptists). Before his death, Mr. Harshman sold a large chunk of his land, drew up a will, and left a large amount of money from the sale to each of his children. Frank took Jennie’s portion and wasted it. Jennie also had cash to purchase the King Street house in Centropolis. She duly gave the money to Frank to buy the home in full, believing they outright owned it until she learned Frank had taken out a mortgage, forging her name, squandering the leftover cash. They fought bitterly. They separated. It was eleven years of marriage marked by strife. Finally, Jennie packed up Johnnie and Stella and left Frank in Ottawa to go live in the Centropolis home.
Jennie, Johnnie, and Stella Schnack were found dead in their King Street home on the Monday morning of February 4. All three had their throats cut. The children were found “in bed” with their mother “lying on the floor” in the same room. Neighbors had found the bodies, and officials ruled the three “had evidently been dead for some hours,” the crime occurring Sunday the third.
Someone notified Coroner H.L. Kennedy and Sheriff W. R. Cody, who drove to the Schnack home. Here they determined that Jennie cut her children’s throats, and then took her own life. Ottawa undersheriff Latimer located Frank Schnack, who arrived at the Ottawa Sheriff’s offices at 3:00 p.m. the same day.
According to an unidentified journalist, Frank already knew his family was dead, but “manifested ignorance of its nature.” 
Ottawa Daily Republic (02-04-1907)
And when told that it was a murder-suicide, Frank “received the intelligence coolly” (Their Throats Cut!).
After conferring with Latimer as to what he should do, Frank left Ottawa for the twelve-mile trip to Centropolis.
But Frank was not off the hook. At the coroner’s inquest on February 5, the jury eyed the death scene and determined the three victims “came to their deaths by knife wounds” (Coroner’s Inquest). Whoever had slit the children’s throats had closed their eyes, leaving bloodied thumb and fingerprints on their eyelids and foreheads. One of the jurors compared his own thumb to one of the prints on the child’s face; the print size revealed it was a man’s print. A burglary was out of the question – Jennie’s valuables were undisturbed. Johnnie’s pocketknife was in the room, but it was too dull to make such a horrific cut. And the people who had discovered the bodies had done so by walking through unlocked doors, doors that usually stayed locked.
Witnesses began to come forth, to include an old friend of Jennie’s: a Mr. Calvin, former Justice of the Peace. He was happy to tell the press of an alleged conversation he had with Jennie Schnack. “Mrs. Schnack came to me (on January 31 or February 1) …” Frank and his wife had fought over the mortgage, which Frank was not paying.
“She said that she had asked Frank to straighten up the mortgage on their home in Centropolis and to return to live with her and support her and the children … he refused …” Jennie threatened divorce. Frank swore at Jennie and told her that was exactly what he wished.
It seemed a pattern in the marriage: Frank asked her for a divorce; she would refuse. Jennie would threaten him with a divorce in an attempt to make him act right. He would beg her to go through with the threat, and she would renege.
Then Jennie told Mr. Calvin, “I’m afraid Frank will kill me.”
Mr. Calvin pooh-poohed the idea. “I told her she was unduly alarmed.”
“I tell you, you don’t know him,” Jennie insisted. “He would kill anyone that crossed him. I am afraid of him and have been for years.”
Mr. Calvin suggested putting Frank under a “bond,” the equivalent of today’s restraining order. Jennie replied Frank was sure to kill her then.
She had also confided in Mr. Calvin that she suspected Frank had a girlfriend.
Frank’s father Eli, who lived in Ottawa, was taking Jennie’s side. So with Eli as a buffer, Jennie was moving back to Ottawa with the children. Jennie’s nephew arrived at her house on Saturday to help her pack and moved her things back to Ottawa. Armed with the evidence and the witness testimony, officers arrested Frank Schneck on February 4. He was reportedly just as aloof when arrested as when he learned his wife and children were dead.
Eli told the coroner, “It may be murder. If it is, I am afraid Frank is done for. If he did it, he ought to hang” (Verdict of Murder, p.1).
Jennie, along with Johnnie and Stella, was laid to rest on February 7. Frank was in jail and not allowed to attend services.
But a witness named T.E. Stewart came forth saying Frank had been at the Stewart house in Ottawa all night on Sunday the third. He told reporters that Frank had lived with his family “for just a month before the murder.” Frank had spent all day with the family, and he and T.E. Stewart had played cards and dominos late into the night. T.E.’s wife, Mollie Stewart, said she understood that Jennie had voiced suicidal ideations several times. “She has often been heard to say that she ‘wished she was dead.’” Both Stewarts agreed Frank’s coat and boots were dry and undisturbed on Monday, and their horses had not been out of their stalls. And their “little girl” chatted with a reporter, telling him that Frank had been with the family all of Sunday. (Verdict of Murder, p. 5).
In late February the same year, T. E. Stewart was arrested for stealing hogs. He would be charged jointly with Frank Schnack. And later, Frank would be charged in a fraud scheme concerning cattle. Cops offered T.E. a deal: Come clean about Frank’s whereabouts on the night of Sunday, February 3, and they’d drop the hog theft charges. No, T.E. refused. He was not going to tell lies just to get himself a deal. He was an honest thief.
Then came a bombshell: Frank Schneck and Mollie Stewart were having an affair. They were in love, seeing one another all along. It was true love, Frank and Mollie insisted when confronted.
From witness testimony and little evidence, police believed Frank and Mollie planned the demise of his wife so they could be together. Mollie supplied the butcher knife used to slit the victim’s throats, then they both rode out through a storm to the house on King Street that Sunday evening. Mollie held the horses and waited in the wagon while Frank slipped into the home to commit murder. Mollie assisted in burning and washing evidence. It was all circumstantial evidence, much testimony supplied by her husband, but cops arrested Mollie for murder.
Frank and Mollie sat in jail while awaiting trial. A ventilator ran through the jail cells, and Frank and Mollie had conversations through these ventilators, calling out and listening. They were not the only ones listening. They also wrote letters to one another. They were not the only ones reading them. During the trial, witnesses testified as to what they heard and read. Frank told Mollie that on the night of February 3, he had snuck through a window and slashed Jennie’s throat. Johnnie had awaked and cried, “Oh papa, don’t do that!” To silence his witnesses, he had to kill both children. Mollie swore her undying love and to keep mum. “They can starve me, but I won’t tell.” (The Stewart Trial).
The defense still tried to prove Frank and Mollie’s’ innocence, maintaining that Jennie had committed the murder-suicide. A letter written from Jennie to Mollie was read aloud in court: “I don’t know whether to live or die. I don’t know if you ever get the blues that bad or not. If you see Frank Schneck down there, tell him that his widow woman wants to talk to him here at Centropolis as I get tired of talking to the kids all the time.” (Nearly Ready For The Jury).
Frank Schneck was found guilty for the murder of Jennie, Johnnie, and Stella. He was sentenced to hard labor at the state penitentiary for “not more than one year.” Unless the governor commuted his sentence, he would “hang by the neck” (Sentenced To Hang). Mollie was convicted of murder in the first degree. She received a life sentence. 
Frank and Mollie began their sentences at Lansing Prison in 1908. From 1907 to 1908, the triple homicide was called the worst, the most sensational, and most gruesome crime to occur in Kansas.



Resources
Coroner’s Inquest. (February 7, 1907). Lawrence Weekly World. Lawrence, Kansas. P. 8

Nearly Ready For The Jury. (July 10, 1908). The Ottawa Daily Republic. Ottawa, Kansas. P. 4.

Sentenced To Hang. (June 6, 1908). Lawrence Journal. Lawrence, Kansas. P. 5.

Their Throats Cut! (February 4, 1907). The Ottawa Daily Republic. Ottawa, Kansas. P. 1.

The Stewart Trial. (July 10, 1908) Baldwin Republic. Baldwin, Kansas.

Verdict of Murder. (February 5, 1907). The Ottawa Daily Republic. Ottawa, Kansas. P. 1-5.

  [1] In some accounts it is spelled “Schneck”
[2] In some accounts he is called “Jimmie”

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