Hokuf Accused of Murder



Hokuf carried on the farm work and it is said he sold off stock and produce.  It was reported that Johnson, who was a bachelor, had gone to visit his parents in Sweden but he never arrived there.

    The case was up before the grand jury last winter but nothing came of it.  A reward of $500 by the board of supervisors for the conviction of the murderer, set O. B. Harding and Ex Chief of Police Davenport, of Sioux City, at work and with the aid of Sheriff Stevens they arrested Hokuf.

    The prisoner says but little.  He asserts that he is innocent and does not appear

    Fred Hokuf was arrested two miles southeast of Melvin last Thursday and brought to Sibley, where he was lodged in jail and where he still remains.  He was taken before Justice Miller but waived examination and was bound over to the grand jury in the sum of $10,000.  His father and numerous other relatives have visited him at the jail, but it is not known whether they will furnish bail or not.

    Hokuf is suspected of the murder of his employer, Peter Johnson, who disappeared from his home near Melvin in February, 1903 and has not been seen since.




Sibley Gazette - June 9, 1904


Brought to the County Jail

Last Thursday, Bond

Fixed at $10,000.




Fred F. Hokuf


worried.  The evidence against him at the September session of the grand jury will be circumstantial.

    It has recently developed that Johnson had an illegitimate child in Illinois, who will come into possession of the property.








Fred Hokuf Confesses to Murder!

Sibley Gazette - June 23, 1904



Says he killed Peter Johnson on the Night of February 13,

1903, and Buried the Body in the Barn.






      After an hour and a half in the sweatbox yesterday morning, Fred Hokuf confessed to O.B. Harding, in the presence of Sheriff Stevens and Deputy Sheriff Stamm, to the murder of Peter Johnson on the night of February 13, 1903.  The confession was brought about by the finding of Johnson’s body Tuesday.  When first approached yesterday the prisoner persisted in his innocence and stuck to it for more that an hour.  Finally Mr. Harding said: 

    “Now look here Fred, you claim that you were in possession of Johnson’s place February 11.  We know that Johnson was buried in that stall after February 13.  Don’t it look queer that a man could be buried in that stall, where you kept the horses, without you knowing it?”  Hokuf replied, “Yes.”

    Mr. Harding then asked, “Fred, did you kill Johnson in the barn?”  The answer was “No.”

    “Did you kill him in the house?”


    “Did you kill him out doors?”


    The terrible secret was out and little by little the whole story was told, and a sworn statement made by Hokuf as follows:

    I, Fred F. Hokuf, being duly sworn, do dispose and say that I am 29 years of age and am a resident of Osceola County and state of Iowa.  That I am desirous of making a true statement of my connection with the death of Peter Johnson, late of Melvin, Iowa and therefore make the following statement of the facts:

    On the 13th day of February 1903, I met Peter Johnson at the village of Melvin, in Osceola County, Iowa.  This was just after the lamps were lighted in the evening.  I was around with him for about an hour.  I talked with him about giving me a job of picking corn for him and he promised me a job and that I could go to work any time.  Johnson left town before I did.  I stayed in town about an hour after I last saw Johnson there.  I then went on foot on the railroad track, out to Johnson’s farm, which is about one and three-fourth miles from Melvin in a direct line.  When I arrived to a point about apposite Johnson’s house and on or near the railroad tracks, I found a piece of iron about 2½ feet long and about two inches wide in the widest part and with a hole through it at each end, or near the end, which I picked up, and carried it along with me to Johnson’s place.

    Upon arriving at Johnson’s farm, or place, I found Johnson at the well, which is between the house and barn, pumping water.  After Johnson had finished pumping, I went around with him helping him get the horses into the barn, and then we fed the cattle some corn.  Then we went out on the east side of the barn.  I asked him what he would give me to help him pick corn.  He said 50 cents a day.  I told him he


Having found this clue, the work of excavation was done with the greatest of care and about noon the body of a man was uncovered and carefully guarded until the coroner should arrive from Sibley.  The corpse was face down, lying crosswise in the double stall, in a place, which would be exactly under the hind feet of the horses when they were tied to the manger.  The feet were not more than twelve or fourteen inches under ground, but the head and shoulders were down to a depth of more than three feet.

    The men who searched for the body were C. E. Legg, Joe Hoffman, J. Nickler, Will Imhoff, A. Wachtel, H. Hopfe, George Kissler, Otto Boettger, W. Schervauy and J. E. Freeman.

    Coroner Palmer, County Attorney C. M. Brooks, Attorney O. J. Clark (who will defend Fred Hokuf, who is held under suspicion of murder) and Dr. Frank S. Hough arrived at the Johnson farm about 3:30, Coroner Palmer immediately ordered the body removed to a place in the open air where an autopsy was held by himself and Doctors Hough and Steelsmith.  H. S. Abbott, W. P. Webster and H. E. Scott were appointed to act as a coroner’s jury.

    Measurements showed that the body was that of a man 5 feet and 5 inches tall, who has worn about a 7 1/8 hat and a number 6 or 7 shoe.  It was dressed in winter clothing-felt boots, leather mittens, heavy underwear, two suits of denim, heavy sweater and duck coat.  The clothes were readily identified by neighbors as being those worn by Johnson when he was last seen.  The flesh, acted upon by urine from the horses, had been reduced to a soapy condition (known to medical science as adipocerous), a very unusual form of degeneration of fat and muscular tissue.  The hair of the head and the mustache left no question as to the identity of the body.

    Then the heart was removed and small hole was found in the right ventricle, but there was no hole in the clothing to correspond, and it is improbable that this was the result of a wound.  Then the head was examined it was found that the skull had been crushed above the right ear, unquestionably the place where the foul deathblow was struck.  The remains were brought to Sibley and the autopsy was continued yesterday afternoon.

    Following is the verdict brought in by the coroner’s jury:


State of Iowa,

Osceola County       }    SS

    At an inquisition held in Sibley, County of Osceola, on the 22nd day of June, 1904, before G. B. Palmer, coroner of said county, upon the body of Peter Johnson there lying dead, by the jurors whose names are hereto subscribed.

    We, the said jury, upon our oaths say that said Peter Johnson came to his death on or about the 13th day of February 1903 by and from a blow or blows from a deadly weapon held in the hands of one Fred F. Hokuf.

W. P. Webster

Harold E. Scott

H. S. Abbott




was a cheap guy.  He said that was all a man could earn in short days.  I then told him if I could not earn a dollar per day I would not work at all.  He said he would not give it.  I said I never saw a Swede yet but what was cheap.  He the started for the granary and I followed him, and he said he did not believe I wanted to work anyway and that I had come there to quarrel with him, and told me to get off the place.  I told him I did not come to quarrel-would go when I got ready.  I had been drinking some that day and was slightly intoxicated.  He then said “I will show you,” and he started for the granary; and there was a fork standing on the north side of the granary, for which he was making; and I then struck him with the iron which I had picked up on the railroad track, on the head, which knocked him down.  He did not speak after I struck him.  I tried to pick him up but could not do it.  I then went into the house and stayed therein from one-fourth to one half hour; then I went out and tried to pick home up again and he was dead.  I then carried him into the barn, and I turned the horses out, dug a hole in the north stall and buried him therein.  The iron with which I struck him was thrown by me on the top of a snow bank, where it remained while I helped him put the horses in the barn.

    I further say that this statement is voluntary on my part and that there has not been any promise or inducement of any kind made or held out to me in order to obtain it, and that it is made with a full understanding on my part of its legal effect as evidence against me.

                Fred F. Hokuf

    Sworn to before me and subscribed in my presence this 22nd day of June, 1904, by said Fred F. Hokuf   

C.M. Brooks           

Notary Public


    Tuesday noon the decomposed body of Peter Johnson was found buried in his own horse barn, where it had remained for more that sixteen months.

    On Tuesday morning, O. B. Harding, of Sioux City, and Sheriff Frank Stevens went to the Johnson farm, nearly two miles southeast of Melvin, and began a systematic search.  Acting upon the belief that Johnson was murdered in February, when the ground was frozen, they searched in old wells, under buildings, straw stacks, ect.  A force of ten men was put to work with post augers and the premises were being honeycombed.  No clues was found until they began work in the horse barn.  This building contains four double stalls and no floor.  There was evidence of gravel and cinders having been used for filling in recently.  A post auger was run down in the back stall and a piece of blue denim was brought up. 


































Fred Hokuf Commits Suicide


Sibley Gazette - July 28, 1904



   Fred F. Hokuf


    Shortly after noon last Friday, Fred Hokuf shot himself in the abdomen with a 32 caliber revolver and Sunday morning about seven o'clock he died from the wound.  The self confessed murderer of Peter Johnson chose this method of ending his mental anguish and the only murder that ever stained the fair records of Osceola County will not come to trial in court.

    Sheriff Stevens took Hokuf's dinner to him as usual Friday noon and left the door open between the Sheriff's residence and the jail corridor.  Hokuf ate his meal and pushed the dishes out between the bars of his cage onto a box in the corridor just as he has done during all the weeks of his imprisonment.  Shortly after one o'clock the sound of a single shot came from his cage and Sheriff Stevens rushed in just as Hokuf threw a smoking revolver into the corridor and sank moaning to the floor.

    "I've shot myself, Frank, to end my misery," groaned the dying man looking with terror stricken eyes at his keeper.  Just then Otto Frey, deputy county treasurer, scrambled up to the east jail window to see what the excitement was and Hokuf, recognizing him, said "Goodbye Ot', I won't see you again, I've shot myself.  O, my God, my God forgive me," and thus he went on with his piteous wailings.

    Physicians were summoned and the wounded man was removed from the cage to the corridor where he quickly yielded to the effects of ether and an operation was performed.  Dr. Neill had charge of the case and Doctor Hough performed the operation, assisted by Doctors Hill and Palmer.  The ball entered the body to the left of the navel, just below the twelfth rib, passed through the upper curvature of the stomach and lodged in the muscles of the back an inch and a half to the left of the spinal column.

    The gun had been held so close to the body that the flesh was badly powder





attempt to poison himself.  If he had the gun at that time, it seems very likely he would have used it.

   Mrs. Hokuf was asked if the gun Fred used to kill himself with was the one he had at home before he was arrested.  She was unable to identify it as such although there was similarity.

    Before he died, Hokuf became very penitent and expressed a hope that his awful crime might be forgiven and that salvation might still be open to him.  His remains were given Christian burial Monday afternoon.  Quite a long

procession, mostly relatives of himself and wife, followed to the Sibley cemetery, where the burial occurred.  The service at the grave was conducted by Rev. W. C. Wasser, of the Methodist church.



Peter Johnson


   The story of Hokuf's crime is familiar to most people in the county.  Peter Johnson, who lived alone on his quarter section of land, two miles southeast of Melvin, disappeared February 13, 1903, and nothing was seen of him again until his dead body was dug up from a stall in his horse barn, Tuesday, June 21, 1904.  Hokuf had possession of the Johnson farm after the owner's disappearance and sold off several hundred dollars worth of chattels.  He paid the taxes, worked the farm, got married and made that his home.  He was arrested under suspicion June 9, 1904 and confessed to the murder June 22, the day after the finding of the body.  In his confession Hokuf stated that he killed Johnson with an iron brake rod which he picked up on the railroad track and so far as possible tried to make it appear that the deed was not premeditated and that he did it while intoxicated.  The cold blooded way in which Hokuf buried his victim and confiscated the property wrought up a strong public sentiment against him, and he was the object of many threats of violence.

    There have been many suspicions that Hokuf was not alone in the crime, but if he had help, his death forever shields the accomplices.























burnt.  The wound was very much like that which Killed President McKinley, excepting that in Hokuf's case the splenic arteries were cut, causing a great loss of blood.  The physicians at once pronounced the wound fatal on account of the great loss of blood but used the best of their skill to prolong his life.  The wounds in the stomach were successfully closed and the hemorrhage was stopped by packing it.  The post mortem showed that there was no loss of blood after the operation and death resulted from hemorrhage before the operation.  Life was prolonged by the injection of salt water to take the place of blood and keep up the circulation.  Nourishment was injected and the patient rallied.

    He expressed a desire to see his wife and baby and they came, as did also his father, mother and numerous other relatives.

    His mind was entirely clear and he wanted to talk.  He maintained that he had no accomplices in the killing of Johnson and that the deed was done in drunken passion.  To his wife he confided that he would not have shot himself has she not forsaken him.  To a group of boys who came to look at him through curiosity he said, "Boys, it was liquor brought me here."

    When questioned about the gun he said he brought it into the jail with him when arrested earlier in June, claiming that he concealed it in his underclothing just above the shoe top, after being searched.  His story about the gun is not believed, and it is thought he had it only a few days.  The screen on the west side of the jail bear evidence of having been tampered with.  The side of one screen had a fresh split several inches long.  One screen was shoved up slightly and from an abrasion of the wood it is evident that the screen had been pried up two or three inches.  It would be possible for an accomplice to pass the revolver on a stick from the window to the cell.

    Hokuf may have intended to use the revolver on the sheriff and escape.  Twice he complained of the drain from the urinal in the closet being stopped up and wanted the sheriff to come in and fix it, but the sheriff gave him a wire and told him to fix it.  The cell door was never opened unless the sheriff had someone with him, and escape was impossible.

    Sheriff Stevens is certain from recent developments that Hokuf got information through the window on more than one occasion, and once in the night he heard a noise which caused him to make an investigation.

    Recently the prisoner has been affected with melancholia.  He wrote crude poetry about his wife and baby and studied the bible diligently.  It also  appears that his sickness of a few weeks ago was caused by eating match heads and cigar ashes in an







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