Minnesota · Religion

Woman dies after being ritualistically flogged by husband

October 18, 1951
St. Paul, Minnesota
Ardith Lennander dies after severe flogging during a religious ceremony to “beat the devil out” of her

On October 17, the body of 64-year-old Anna Halvorson was “found in a pool of blood in a bed” in the Lauderdale home of her daughter and son-in-law, Marie and Patrick Doyle. Along with Halvorson, Lennander (35) was found clinging to life. Though she was transported to the hospital, she died of her injuries the following day.

Lennander — pictured with vacant eyes during her hospitalization shortly before her death — and Halvorson had been involved in a cult which often referenced Proverbs 20:30 (“The blueness of the wound cleanseth away evil and so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.” KJV) as their reasoning behind their flagellation.

All members of the sect showed the bruises and scars of the rituals. Newspapers described Lennander’s “back a mass of bloody welts from repeated lashings with a three-foot-long whip”. Halvorson’s right ribs had been broken, as had one rib on her left side. Her breastbone was also broken, and she “was covered with welts and blood clots.”

Lennander’s husband, Curtis Lennander, confessed to having fatally beaten Halvorson after whipping his wife. He stated he was “absolutely guilty” and had been “in a frenzy” during the lashings, but immediately attempted to justify his actions by adding “whipping is needed for wrong-doing and almost always a person who gets it admits it. It drives out the devil.” During trial, he said he “was possessed of satanic fury” and stated he had beaten Halvorson for criticizing him for beating his wife. While questioning Marie Doyle, Halvorson’s daughter, Sheriff Thomas Gibbons asked “How could you stand by and see your mother beaten to death, didn’t you do anything to stop it?” Marie replied, “No, why should I?”

The Doyles served as material witnesses against Lennander while Halvorson’s son and daughter-in-law, Luther and Esther Halvorson were sentenced to 90-day workhouse (a jail for minor offender) terms. Curtis Lennander was sentenced to two 7-to-30-year terms to be served consecutively, bringing his total sentence to 14 to 60 years. After the murders, it was revealed Mrs. Lennander had filed for divorce two months before she was killed, making no mention of the whippings, though the couple apparently had reconciled.

Sources:
Millett, Larry. Murder Has a Public Face: Crime and Punishment in the Speed Graphic Era. St. Paul: Borealis Books, 2008
“Wife-Beating Cultists Jailed For Psycho Test,” Arizona Republic [Phoenix, Arizona], November 21, 1952
“Cultist Starts 14-to-60-year Prison Term,” The Minneapolis Star [Minneapolis, Minnesota], December 18, 1951
“Mrs. Lennander Considered Divorce,” St. Cloud Times [Saint Cloud, Minnesota], November 7, 1951
“3 Witnesses in Whipping Case to Ask Release,” St. Cloud Times [Saint Cloud, Minnesota], October 29, 1951
“Second Woman Dies After Man Admits Beating,” The Winona Republic-Herald [Winona, Minnesota], October 18, 1951

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