March 20, 1931: Donald Fraser Kills Jake Neitzling And Turns Weapon On Self

Columbia Falls police and constable is shot down by alleged would-be train wrecker as he attempts to question him regarding the affair.

A murder and suicide occurred at Columbia Falls at about 6:30 last evening when Donald Fraser, reputed bad man, shot and killed Jake Neitzling, Columbia Falls police and constable, and then turned his weapons of death upon himself, inflicting a fatal wound.

Fraser, according to information gleaned by the authorities, had laid a rail across the Great Northern Railway tracks this side of Coram Saturday night which nearly wrecked No. 28, the fast mail.

Henry Bassford, agent at Coram, and L. V. Williamson, special agent for the Great Northern, went to Columbia Falls and got Neitzling to aid them in their efforts to locate the person who had attempted to wreck the train. Suspicioning Fraser, Neitzling, with Williamson and Bassford, went to the courageous officer, volunteered to go to the cabin for Fraser. When he knocked on the door, which was partially opened, Fraser stuck his head out, and Neitzling asked him to come out, saying he wished to talk to him. Fraser replied, "if you want anything, come inside." Neitzling again requested Fraser to come out, but this time Fraser answered with a bullet from a .38 caliber automatic which he evidently had in his hand, concealed behind the casing of the door. The bullet entered Neitzling's temple about two inches back of his eye and emerged in the center of the back of his head. Death was instantaneous.

Shoots At Others: After killing Neitzling, Fraser started shooting at Bassford who took to the woods and Williamson, who had his wife in his car immediately drove away. The sheriff's office and Coroner Campbell were notified and left immediately for the scene, arriving at about 8 o'clock. They found Fraser had committed suicide, with the same gun that killed Neitzling. They also found a note written hurriedly in which Fraser intimated that Neitzling had hounded him for a long time; that he had always been a square shooter, and his only regret was that all of his bills were not paid. Fraser was found still sitting in a chair. He had shot himself in the right side of the neck, the bullet coming out on the left side of his face near his ear.

Two other men were reported to have been in the cabin at the time of the shooting. Red Hogan, said to have been living there with Fraser has not been found but Frank Anderson, who was in the cabin when the tragedy occurred, is in the county jail held as a material witness. According to the coroner, the cabin was well fortified with the heavy doors and bars and a good supply of mash bottles and cappers were in evidence.

Fraser, Spanish War veteran, was about 60 years of ago. He has relations in Nova Scotia but so far they have not been located. He had lived in Columbia Falls and vicinity for a number of years and had made several threats against Neitzling according to information.

Jake Neitzling had been a resident of Columbia Falls for many years and was an honest fearless officer. He leaves to mourn his loss his widow and other relatives besides numerous friends. No funeral arrangements have been made as yet.

An inquest is being held this afternoon at the town hall in Columbia Falls.

- - - Daily Inter Lake

March 21, 1931: Murder And Suicide Is Verdict Of Jury At Coroner's Inquest

Fraser had frequently stated that he did not like Neitzling, and had threatened to kill the office and then do away with himself. Suspected of attempt to wreck train.

At the inquest held in the town hall at Columbia Falls yesterday, the coroner's jury determined that Jake Neitzling's death was caused by a gunshot wound inflicted by Donald J. Fraser on Sunday, April 19, and that Fraser had committed suicide. The jury returned a verdict in each case. Those who sat on the jury were Frank Schmidt, T. O. Elsethagen, Eli Burnet, A. L. Jordan, Ira Cassidy, and Fred Graves, all Columbia Falls residents.

Testimony disclosed that Henry Bassford, station agent at Coram and Lee Williamson, special agent had met Jake Neitzling at Columbia Falls looking for a man who had tried to purchase a ticket to Columbia Falls at Coram Saturday while in an intoxicated condition and whom they suspicioned later as having placed a rail across the track near Coram which almost wrecked the mail train. Not finding the man in Columbia Falls, Neitzling suggested going to the "jungle" camp where they questioned three men and then to Fraser's shack where the shooting occurred.

According to the testimony of Dr. Kell, Fraser had made repeated threats that he was going to get Jake Neitzling and then kill himself. Once at the shack he had mentioned to Hogan that he didn't like the "town bull."

Previous Threats: Dr. W. L. Kell was the first witness called. He related instances of having talked to Fraser who said that he was "hounded" from time to time by Neitzling and was getting tired of it. He testified to Fraser saying he would get Jake and then destroy himself with a blast of dynamite after firing the shack. Dr. Kell then said he arrived at the scene of the shooting shortly after 6:30 and found Neitzling and Fraser dead, both having been shot through the head. Burnett, who had arrived just before, and Dr. Kell found the note left by Fraser which County Attorney King read to the jury, telling of how Jake Neitzling had "rode him long enough; that he was not a coward but a square shooter and the only regret he had was in leaving with several bills unpaid. The witness then told of finding Fraser sitting in the chair dead, in front of the table, and the note about three feet away. He stated that the gun was on the floor and one empty shell. Dr. Kell also told of being called at the depot but told not to go near the house until the officers arrived.

Didn't Like Neitzling: James Hogan, known as "Red" was then placed on the witness stand. He told of coming to Fraser's shack about March 24 [14th?] and of leaving Sunday night, after the shooting, fearing for his life. He said that on one occasion previous to the killing, he had heard Fraser say that he didn't like the "town bull." Hogan testified to having cooked supper, washed the dishes and of leaving for the bedroom where he was, with the door shut, when the shooting took place. He told of seeing two men pass the window of the room just before the shot and later heard someone say, "I want to talk to you Fraser. Come on out." Hogan then said that Fraser told Neitzling, "I'll talk to you here, and then a sound as if the door was kicked, followed by a shot. Fearing for his life, he then went out the other door at the back of the shack and stated that he saw Fraser going out and shooting at someone running, hearing two shots and another as he approached the water tank. Hogan said that as he went out the door he saw a man lying near it, partly on his right side. The witness testified that "Dago" Frank was also in the shack, probably in the kitchen with Fraser. Hogan then told of the door in the kitchen being equipped with a chain which would let it swing open only about 18 inches and no one except Fraser was allowed to use it. He stated when questioned that two men, friends of Fraser, had been at the shack for about an hour, but had left when he went after water. They were dressed as lumberjacks according to his testimony. Witness said Fraser had been drinking but was not drunk.

Henry E. Bassford, station agent at Coram, was next on the stand and related an incident at Coram Saturday when an unknown man tried to purchase a ticket to Columbia Falls and that he refused to sell him the ticket on account of his intoxicated condition. Bassford said that Sunday he met Williamson and Neitzling at Columbia Falls at 6:15 and asked if Neitzling had seen a man answering the description of the man whom he and Williamson were looking for. Witness stated that they then left for the "jungle" camp where they questioned three men and Neitzling suggested going to Fraser's shack which they did. He said Neitzling went with them and they proceeded to the cabin, going to the door and knocking, Jake on the right side and himself on the left. Fraser, the witness said, opened the "chain" door, looked out and Neitzling asked him to come out, saying "I want to talk to you, Fraser, come on out." According toe Bassford, Fraser replied, "No, you talk to me here," after which Neitzling repeated the request which was answered by a shot and as Jake fell, he (Bassford) dropped, a bullet whistling over his head. He then ran down the trail to Williamson.

Tried To Prevent Suicide: Frank Anderson, who was at the shack when the shooting occurred, testified to being in the bedroom at the time of the killing. He said he heard the chain rattle and two shots and as he came out of the room, he met Fraser, who said he was going to kill himself. Anderson testified to telling Fraser not to do that and grabbed him from behind, wrestling for the gun which he took to the bedroom, with Fraser after him. He said that Fraser told him to let him along or he would shoot him, the dog and then himself. Witness said Fraser then sat down and wrote a note and when Anderson went to put a stick of wood in the stove. Fraser shot himself.

Special Agent Tells Story: Lee Williamson, Great Northern special agent, related much the same testimony as to meeting Neitzling and Bassford and going to the "jungle" camp and from there to Fraser's shack. When he arrived, Williamson said that Fraser was about 20 feet from the shack. He then saw Fraser run to the shack and as he approached the fence he heard a shot and saw someone at the back door, then another shot in his direction. Bassford came running toward him telling him Neitzling was shot and he and he then drove to the depot at Columbia Falls and notified the sheriff.

Sheriff Ralph Ripke took the stand and told of finding the bodies of both men who had been shot through the head with the same gun.

Coroner Campbell was the last witness, telling of the wounds of both men, saying that the bullet that killed Neitzling had entered his right temple about two inches from the eye coming out about the center of the back of the head. Campbell also said that Fraser had shot himself through the neck, the bullet entering the right side of the neck and coming out just at the lobe of the ear on the left side. Both wounds, he said, corresponded and had been caused by shots from a .38 caliber revolver, which was introduced in evidence. This ended the testimony and the jury returned its verdict.

- - - Daily Inter Lake

1931, 22 April: Funeral Services For Jacob Neitzling

Funeral services for Jake Neitzling will be held Thursday afternoon at 2 o'clock at the Waggener & Campbell chapel by Rev. G. William Barnum. Interment will be made in the Conrad Memorial cemetery. Mr. Neitzling moved to Columbia Falls from Great Falls as a young man 40 years ago and made his home there since. He was a photographer by profession but had served Columbia Falls as police officer and water commissioner for a great many years. He was 54 years of age.

- - - Daily Inter Lake

1931, 23 April: Boy's Prank Blamed For Coram Train Wreck Attempt

Kalispell, April 22 — Children place rod over rails. Two deaths result from probe into happening.

A prank by small boys was blamed Wednesday for the attempt to wreck a Great Northern mail train at Coram Saturday, the investigation of which led to the death of two men from gunshot wounds.

Special Agents J. E. Keith and Lee Williamson said they had learned boys, only five or six years old, placed a stirrup from a logging car across the track. The obstruction, they said, would have wrecked a train traveling slower than the one carrying mail. It passed over the iron without damage.

The names of the boys were not divulged. Jacob Neitzling, Columbia Falls constable, was shot and killed by Donald J. Fraser when he and two other men went to Fraser's shack to inquire about the attempted wreck. Fraser then committed suicide. The coroner's Inquest brought out that Fraser had threatened Neitzling on previous occasions.

NOTE: From the Daily Inter Lake “Twenty Five Years Ago” column of April 22, 1956. “Great Northern special agents determined yesterday that a stirrup from a logging car placed on the G. N. tracks at Coram was the work of small boys. It was while hunting for possible train wreckers that Officer Neitzling was murdered Sunday.”

- - - Billings Gazette

1931 9 May: Columbia Falls City Council Regrets Death Of Jacob Neitzling

Whereas, it has been the will of Almighty God in his inscrutable wisdom that our fellow townsmen, Jacob Neitzling, be removed from us through the act of a degenerate person, who ruthlessly slew him while in the active duty of upholding the law and endeavoring to aid in bringing the guilty to justice that they might be properly punished and the laws and decency of the community uphold.

Be It Resolved, that we express our sincere regrets of the loss of a capable, fearless, honorable officer who served this community over a period of more than 20 years in various offices and who has the confidence and respect of the entire community. An officer who was frequently spoken of by high officials of the state as the most capable, most fearless peace officer in the state of Montana.

Be it further resolved, that a copy of this resolution be signed by each officer of the town, that a copy be sent to his wife, a copy be published in The Inter Lake and be also spread on the minutes of the record of the Town of Columbia Falls.

T. V. Kilduff, Mayor

Thomas Lee, Alderman.
Henry Brandenburg, Alderman.
William Werner, Alderman.
Duncan McBain, Clerk.

- - - Daily Inter Lake

Home Page       History Page