Executions · Iowa

Man executed for beating woman to death with piece of firewood

March 9, 1923
Fort Madison, Iowa
Earl Throst (24, pictured) is executed for the murder of Inga Magnusson

Magnusson (sometimes spelled Magnussen) was a 21-year-old teacher of a one-room schoolhouse in Allamakee County, Iowa, though she lived with her parents in Houston County, Minnesota, roughly 40 miles (64 km) north of the school. When she failed to arrive for dinner on December 12, 1921, her father grew concerned and traveled to the schoolhouse. The building was locked and the interior appeared in order, so he assumed Inga had taken an alternate route home and the two simply missed each other. When her father returned home and Inga had still not arrived, a group was formed to investigate the school further.

The school’s door was broken down, and the basement searched, where the group found the body of Inga Magnusson. She had been struck with a piece of firewood roughly the size of a baseball bat, with enough force to crush her skull.

A bloodhound was employed to track down Magnusson’s killer, who led authorities to the home of Earl Throst and his parents, and the dog indicated a discovery by laying on Throst’s bed. Under it were bloody articles of clothing.

A manhunt was launched with all nearby rural towns contacted to be alert for Throst. He was soon recognized in a town 35 miles (56 km) south of the school and apprehended by Sheriff Gunda Martindale. (Martindale had taken over the position of sheriff after her husband died, and remained in that role until the original term in office was completed. Because the sheriff was a woman, newspapers often dedicated more attention to her than to Throst, Magnusson, or the trial.) Throst had planned to take a train to escape the area, and was found with keys to the schoolhouse in his pocket. He denied having a part in Magnusson’s death until his bloodied clothing and her hat were placed on his lap, at which point he confessed.

Throst claimed Magnusson was his fiancée and the couple quarreled over some trivial matter, resulting in his loss of temper and her death. This claim was immediately discounted, however, when Magnusson’s true fiancée, Otto Deters, was brought forward. Soon the motive emerged that Throst had become enraged when Magnusson “turned him down.”

Throst attempted a plea of innocent by reason of insanity, with a doctor testifying on his behalf that he had been diagnosed with dementia praecox, or schizophrenia. The jury did not accept the plea and Throst was sentenced to death.

While he went to the gallows quietly, the night before Throst’s execution was shared with other condemned inmates who would join him in death the following day. A so-called Death Row banquet was assembled, consisting of fried chicken, fried oysters, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, salad, bread and butter, potato chips, ice cream, cake and pie, Jell-O, and coffee, and the inmates reportedly enjoyed themselves heartily as they laughed at one another’s jokes.

Sources:
“Throwback Thursday: A crush, a murder a hanging in Houston County.” LaCrosse Tribune. February 14, 2020. Accessed: March 9, 2020. https://lacrossetribune.com/winona/news/local/throwback-thursday-a-crush-a-murder-a-hanging-in-houston/article_7200b938-0a80-55eb-9e1a-436bbeef48d7.amp.html (image source)
Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016
Mullenbach, Cheryl. “In 1920s Iowa murder investigation, all eyes were on female sheriff.” Omaha World-Herald. April 11, 2015. Accessed: March 9, 2020. https://www.omaha.com/news/crime/in-s-iowa-murder-investigation-all-eyes-were-on-female/article_92f9dfe4-e060-11e4-9331-0f40c761bd81.html
Haw, Dick. Iowa and the Death Penalty: A Troubled Relationship, 1834-1965. 2010.
“Murderer Gives Banquet to ‘Pals’ on Hanging Eve.” Sheboygan Press-Telegram. March 9, 1923
“Plead of Insanity Made to Save Earl Throst From Noose.” The Muscatine Journal and News Tribune. March 5, 1923
Bassett, Warren. “It Took a Woman to Track Down Earl Throst.” The Des Moines Sunday Register. December 25, 1921

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