Crime Scene Photography · Massacres/Mass Murder · North Dakota

Family murdered over argument involving a dog biting a cow

April 22, 1920
Turtle Lake, North Dakota
Henry Layer kills his neighbors, 5 of their 6 children, and a chore boy following an argument

Layer had visited the Wolf farm with a complaint regarding Wolf’s dog biting one of Layer’s cows. Wolf eventually demanded Layer leave, grabbing a double-barreled shotgun and loading it in front of Layer to intimidate him. Layer grabbed at the weapon which discharged accidentally, killing Mrs. Wolf and striking the chore boy, 13-year-old Jacob Hofer, in the back and neck, killing him as well.

Wolf fled the area leaving Layer to take more ammunition. Layer shot Wolf twice then pursued Maria (10) and Edna (8) Wolf as the girls fled screaming into the family barn and killed them. Three more of the Wolf daughters were killed in the house; Bertha (13) and Lydia (6) were shot in their home while 3-year-old Martha was beaten with the broad edge of a hatchet.

Layer then took Mr. Wolf’s body into the barn and covered it with the bodies of Maria and Edna, then piled hay on top of all of them. In the house, he dragged the bodies of Mrs. Wolf, Bertha, Lydia, Martha, and Jacob into the cellar via the trap door in the kitchen (the open trap door is visible in the middle of the kitchen pictured).

The bodies were discovered 2 days later when the family’s absence was noted. Along with the grisly murders, 8-month-old Emma Wolf was found, cold and starving but alive. The family’s funeral brought nearly 2,500 attendees including Layer who allegedly made a show of opening each casket to look at each victim’s face. Layer was arrested May 11 with no physical evidence against him, and he confessed a day later. He was sentenced to life in prison but died less than 5 years later in March 1925. Emma was raised by her aunt and uncle until their deaths in 1933 and 1932 respectively. She then was placed in the care of married grocery store owners, worked in their store through high school, went to college to become a teacher, got married in 1940, had 3 children, and passed away in 2003.

Photo credit: TheMurderedFamily.com

The trap door where Mrs. Wolf, 3 of her children, and the chore boy were dumped.

The caskets of the Wolf family and their chore boy.

The graves of the murdered family.

The funeral drew 2,500 people, so many that some attendees had to sit or stand on the barn roof.

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