Murder in Westmanland

Albert Bjorkman kills Gus Johnson in Westmanland

Probably from the newspaper “The Aroostook Republican” Oct. 5, 1899 pgs 62A, 62B, 62C, 62D Oct.12, 1899 pg 268

Tuesday forenoon, Oct. 3, 1899, A. G. Olson, the boss, and his crew of nine men were working in the woods about two miles from George W. Howe’s lumber camp in Westmanland Plantation.

Anders G. Olson ( 1833-1902) from portrait at New Sweden Historical Society Museum

Anders G. Olson ( 1833-1902) from portrait at New Sweden Historical Society Museum

The October sun shone in all its splendor, adding richness to the autumn tints in the many hued leaves, and some men were swamping roads while others were chopping cedars. The older man, Olson, and one Gustaf Anderson were clearing out the main road in advance of the choppers.

The cook, Peter Castonia, of Caribou, was about his many duties, when a man came into the camp and asked for Mr. Olson. When asked if he was going to work, the man replied that he was. The cook told him to take an axe and follow, but the man replied he was in no hurry to begin work and only wanted to be shown the road on which the men were working and asked if Gus Johnson was there. Replying in the affirmative, the cook went with the man, Albert Bjorkman, and showed him the right road to find the crew.

Passing the men at their work, he inquired for the boss, Mr. Olson, and asked if Gus was with him. He seemed highly excited and angry and walked rapidly.

Finally, about eleven o’clock he came to the end of the road, where Mr. Olson and his son-in-law, Mr. Johnson, were at work. He stopped near Mr. Olson and talked for a few minutes and then walked behind him toward Gus Johnson, who was working a little further along.

Johnson looked up from his work and asked Mr. Bjorkman if he had been to Caribou the day before. Bjorkman didn’t answer, but whipped out a new Smith & Wesson revolver and began to empty the contents into the back of poor Johnson, who had turned to his work. Johnson started to run away after three shots had been fired and Bjorkman followed and shot twice at him, before Johnson sank to the ground.

Bjorkman calmly emptied the used shells from the cylinder of his revolver, slipped in new cartridges and started to walk away into the woods. Mr. Olson was standing not more than ten feet away with an axe in his hands, completely paralyzed with fear.

Bjorkman made for the road and met Carl Hellstrom, whom he tried to hire to take him to Caribou, but Hellstrom refused, and Bjorkman walked along the road and disappeared into the woods.

Bjorkman is a man of medium stature, has a very slim, almost peaked face, small light mustache and light hair.

The woods crew were hastily summoned and the wounded man tenderly carried to the camp, and a man started on horseback for a physician. Drs. Thomas and Sincock arrived at the camp at about three o’clock. Their examination soon proved that Gustaf Johnson was mortally wounded and would last but a short time. The young wife had reached her stricken husband before the doctors arrived, having been told about the murder by the messenger on horseback, and she walked and ran, directly through the woods the two miles between their home and the camp.

Johnson was conscious all the time up to his death at 6:55 Wednesday morning. He made but two remarks about the affair. The first was to a member of the crew as he came up to him before his wife arrived, and was, “Well, he fired five or six bullets into me.” The next was in reply to Dr. Thomas, and was, “He came right up behind me and began to shoot without saying a word.” Not one more word did the dying man utter about the reason or cause why Bjorkman had shot him, nor did he ever give the least sign of pain, not even when the physicians were probing for the bullets. When the end came he folded his arms on his breast, closed his eyes, and in the dimly lighted lumber camp, surrounded by his own people and his working mates in the crew, passed to his eternal rest.

Men were stationed to watch Bjorkman’s home and other men commenced searching for him, and it is hoped that the fugitive from justice will soon be apprehended and lodged in jail.

A coroner’s jury was summoned from the town of New Sweden, composed of the following men: Nicholas Wessel, Carl Anderson, Oscar T. Johnson, Carl D. Uppling, Nels Ringdahl and N. P. Clase, and they assembled at the camp with the coroner, Clarence V. King, Esq., of Fort Fairfield, Wednesday evening and, after viewing the remains, rendered their verdict which was that, “Gustaf Johnson, of Westmanland, in the county of Aroostook, came to his death by a bullet wound from a revolver in the hands of Albert Bjorkman, of said Westmanland Plantation.” Nels Ringdahl, foreman of the jury.

Nicholas Wessell of the jury

Nicholas Wessell of the jury

After the jury had finished its labors, the relatives took the body home for burial.

Three of the five shots took effect, one striking him on the right side five inches from the spine and just under the last rib and making its exit on the left side in front three inches from the median line and one and one-half inch below the navel. The second wound was also in the back and about four inches from number one, coming out about six inches from where it entered. The third bullet entered the left arm on its inside about four inches above the elbow and came out two inches above the elbow on the outside. The first wound stated above is the one that caused death as it punctured the intestines and severed the mesentery blood vessels, or, as the physician stated, “Death was caused by shock and loss of blood.”

It is not known what caused Bjorkman to commit so rash an act, but it is asserted that it was blind, unreasoning, unfounded jealously.

Both men had families. Bjorkman having a wife and five children and Johnson a wife and two children. They lived near each other and there never was known to be any trouble between the two men. Johnson had often done favors for Bjorkman, such as hauling potatoes for him, and once when Bjorkman lost a cow, Johnson took a paper around in New Sweden and the generous Swedes gave enough money to buy another one. There are divers rumors and whispers of rumors, but the real reason of the murder is a mystery. The Swedes are much incensed at this high-handed crime. Mr. Johnson was a young man of good character, belonged to a good family, was 27 years of age, and highly respected. Mr. Bjorkman was about 43 years of age, and bears rather an unsavory reputation.

The sympathy of the people generally go out to the sorrowing young widow and her little ones, and to Mrs. Bjorkman who is left worse than a widow, by the mad act of her husband.

October 12, 1899 Republican [newspaper]:

img_2035-olof-p-fogelin

Rev. Olof P. Fogelin

The funeral over the remains of Gustaf Johnson, who was murdered by Albert Bjorkman, was held at the home of John Holmquist, a brother-in-law of the deceased, last Sunday afternoon. About 200 relatives and friends attended. The services were conducted by Rev. O. P. Fogelin. There were 41 teams in the procession to the New Sweden cemetery.

Albert Bjorkman is still at large, one whole week after murdering Gustaf Johnson. Sheriff Gary and his deputies have abandoned the plan to hunt him down as it was simply impossible. A man so well acquainted with that part of the woods surrounding his farm as he is can hide successfully from a large crew of men. One of the searchers hid in a clump of woods one day and 21 men passed by without seeing him. Last Sunday one of the searchers created a great sensation by writing on a blank envelope: “I have been here today, Oct. 8, 1899,” and not signing his name to it. This was left with the remnants of his lunch and was found by others. It caused Sheriff Gary to drive 14 miles to identify some parts of the find. At last it was traced to the right one and he got a sharp reprimand.

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jeanbduncan@yahoo.com

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2 Responses to “Murder in Westmanland”

  1. joanne smith Says:

    Does anyone know if the murderer , Albert Bjorkman was
    ever found?

  2. jeanbduncan Says:

    It is said Albert was discovered dead in the woods behind Hulda’s house in the spring and that he was buried in the Westmanland Cemetery, although there is no marker for him in the cemetery.

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