On a cold night on Jan. 29, 1931, a masked mob broke into the Schafer, N.D., jail in McKenzie County and took the sheriff and his deputy captive. They smashed into the cell holding Charles Bannon, abducted him and threw him over a nearby bridge with a noose around his neck, killing him. The perpetrators were never apprehended.
It was the 12th lynching in North Dakota since capital punishment was abolished 16 years earlier. And it was also the last.
For some years, Bannon had been employed by Albert E. Haven as a farm worker. Bannon lived on the farm with Haven, his wife and four children: Daniel, Leland, and a baby, Charles, named after Bannon.
In January 1930, Bannon claimed that the Haven family had gone to Oregon, and in February, a week after the family was last seen by neighbors, Charles showed a letter, signed by Daniel Haven, saying the family had arrived safely in Colton, Ore., and that his mother's mental condition had worsened.
The letter told Charles to proceed with operations of the Haven farm as had been agreed with Mr. Haven.
Charles Bannon's father, James, joined him on the Haven farm after the Havens had supposedly left.
Eight months passed before the Havens' whereabouts became a matter of official concern. By fall, when payments on the Havens' bills became due and were not met, relatives became alarmed. Authorities had begun to investigate the case and had put Charles Bannon in jail on a charge of embezzling four hogs belonging to the Havens.
Charles Bannon was suspected for the Havens' disappearance, so authorities asked him to do some handwriting samples for them. His samples contained the same spelling mistakes that were made in the letter that he said came from Daniel Haven.
At the time the investigation moved into high gear, Charles' father, James, left to drive out to Oregon to look for the Haven family, even though the postmaster in Colton said there was no Haven family there.
The preliminary hearing for Charles on the embezzlement charge began on Dec. 5, 1930, in Watford City. During the hearing, Charles said the Haven baby was buried near the barn on their farm after Mrs. Haven killed the child. He said that he had seen Mrs. Haven try to trample their baby and had assaulted her husband with a poker.
Charles was then taken to a jail in Williston. Later that evening, Charles drew a map of the Haven farm showing where Daniel and Leland were buried. He said Mrs. Haven had killed them all except the baby Charles, taking him with her when she fled the country. Bannon said Mrs. Haven paid him $100 to take her to Williston.
Subsequently, the bodies of the entire family were unearthed on the farm.
After Charles told conflicting stories, authorities realized that he could not have done the murders alone, and a search was made for his father, who was found in Oregon and returned to North Dakota.
The father was arraigned for the crime, but Charles never answered in a court of law.
James Bannon was tried and convicted in the Haven murders and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released in the late 1960s and lived the remainder of his life in Minnesota.
Charles Bannon was not so fortunate.
Source: Forum files
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