April 11, 1965
White Bear Lake, Minnesota
Three-year-old Dennis Jurgens is murdered by his adoptive mother
Adopted just after his first birthday, Dennis suffered years of abuse at the hands of his adoptive mother, Lois Jurgens. Lois had had a history of mental illnesses — including depression and psychosis — and was originally deemed unfit to adopt. Lois and her husband, Harold, were able to adopt a son named Robert through a private agency, however, who adapted quickly to Lois’s stern parental style. Because Robert seemed to flourish under the Jurgenses care, Lois was allowed to adopt Dennis through a public agency.
Dennis’s personality did not fit well with Lois’s; he was much more energetic and less focused than his adoptive brother Robert. This seemed to fester a disliking for the child in Lois, and within months of his arrival to the Jurgenses’ home, he was rushed to the hospital with second- and third-degree burns on his genitals. The incident was officially ruled as accidental.
As Dennis grew up, Lois used various methods of punishment to correct any “flawed” behaviors Dennis exhibited.
Dennis had a difficult time memorizing and reciting the Rosary, and was forced to kneel on a broomstick until he was successful.
If he refused to eat a certain food, Lois would put horseradish on it and force-feed the toddler, covering his nose and mouth until he swallowed, until he turned purple; the spicy foods and abuse would make him vomit, which he was also forced to eat.
To speed along potty training, Lois would use a spring clothespin on his penis.
Neighbors later testified to seeing Dennis often wearing sunglasses to hide black eyes. Family testified Lois tied Dennis to the posts of his bed and tied him to the toilet.
Dennis’s end came during a time when flooding was causing damage to the area, including the Jurgenses’ home. The additional stress pushed Lois further than before and, according to Dennis’s brother Robert (who was 5 at the time and the only witness to the murder), Lois severely beat Dennis and threw him down the stairs.
Dennis died of a perforation of the small bowel as a result of blunt force trauma, though the coroner performing his autopsy also noted he had almost no subcutaneous fat, similar to a person who has been starved to death. The coroner’s report included adult bite marks to Dennis’s genitalia, multiple lacerations, and multiple bruises sustained over a prolonged period covering most of his body, as well.
Despite all the evidence on Dennis’s body and a police investigation, Lois was not charged. Although Lois was not charged, Robert was taken from the home and placed with family members due to the suspicious nature of Dennis’s death. After a lengthy process of Robert being re-homed with various relatives, including a suspicious house fire which killed his grandmother and rumored to have been caused by Lois, Robert was placed back with the Jurgenses.
The Jurgenses soon adopted a group of 4 siblings, and the cycle of abuse began again. The siblings were older, and together with Robert, managed to run away and alert neighbors and authorities to Lois’s abusive behavior. This in turn brought attention back to Dennis’s death. Lois was tried and convicted for Dennis’s murder in 1987, receiving a 25 year sentence. She was released 8 years later, due to good behavior, in 1995 and proclaimed her innocence until her death in 2013.