Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Enough August 24, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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I EXPECTED IT. As soon as I read that the suspect in the murder of small town Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts is an alleged illegal immigrant, I knew this would become a political issue. I knew, too, that the venom of hatred in this country would strike like a coiled snake.

From the President to too many politicians (including right here in Minnesota) to everyday Americans, the poison is spreading. A young woman is dead and that seems to have been lost in the spewing of anger and hatred and pushing an agenda for immigration reform.

Enough.

Beyond that, the family which operates Yarrabee Farms, where the suspect was employed, is receiving death threats, threats to burn down their buildings, even threats to kill their dog.

Enough.

What has happened to common decency in this country? What has happened to respect for a grieving family? What has happened to the ability to see crime as crime and not something linked to an individual’s skin color or residency status?

I know there are those who will disagree with me, who will jump all over this post and argue. But, because this is my personal blog, I will not give hatred a platform. I choose to honor Mollie.

In the words of Yarrabee Farms co-owner Craig Lang, also a Republican candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture this summer: “…now is not the time to discuss immigration.”

Now is the time to respect a family and community which are grieving. They, and Mollie, deserve more than the politicization of her death.

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NOTE: I moderate all comments. I decide what publishes here.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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From the perspective of a former reporter: Thoughts after The Capital Gazette shootings June 30, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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I’M A FORMER NEWSPAPER reporter and photographer. As such, the killings of five employees in The Capital Gazette newsroom just days ago affects me in a way it may not non-journalists.

The single phrase that repeated through my mind: He (the suspect) really did kill the messengers (newspaper employees). The alleged shooter apparently held a grudge against the Gazette for writing about his conviction for stalking a woman.

Too often I’ve heard people attack and criticize reporters for doing their jobs of reporting the news. Journalists are blamed for whatever is negative. It’s an unfair accusation. Do not kill the messenger. The reporter did not cause the bad thing that now banners the newspaper.

If journalists report only the good news or whatever is spun to them, then they are nothing more than pawns, propaganda tools, mouthpieces. These are difficult times to be a journalist with the constant spewing of the words “fake news” and open hostility and name-calling at the highest levels of government. Democracy needs a free and open press. The press is not the enemy.

I experienced firsthand efforts to suppress my reporting while working in the profession decades ago. In small town Minnesota. How dare I attend a school board meeting and quote a teacher who didn’t want his comment, made at an open, public meeting, printed. My editor backed me up. But I had to endure the ire of that teacher and his superintendent for the rest of my stay in that rural community.

Likewise, a prominent businessman in the same county seat town harassed me for quoting him at a city planning meeting. When I moved to another job with a regional daily working in a satellite news bureau, I encountered the same hostility from a superintendent who didn’t like my story on a student walk-out. He treated me with absolute contempt, behavior which I found (and still find) totally unprofessional for an educator.

Then there was the sheriff’s department employee who wanted to withhold public information from me when I was gathering facts in a drug case.

There are those who will argue that the media deserve the contempt and criticism heaped on them. There are those who will say media people are nothing but a bunch of biased liberals. There are those who will blame journalists for anything and everything. Everyone is entitled to an opinion in a free country. Not all journalists are fair or balanced in their reporting. I agree with that.

But I also come from that perspective of working in the news profession. I know how hard I worked (long and odd hours with low pay) to accurately and fairly gather and report the news. I cared that I got the story right. I think most journalists do.

A reporter at the Gazette tweeted after the shootings: “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.” That tweet shows remarkable strength when a man with a gun has just killed the messengers in a Maryland newsroom.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Missing in Minnesota May 7, 2018

 

 

DURING A RECENT RESTROOM stop at a Redwood Falls convenience store, I paused to read notices tacked onto a bulletin board. There I saw a missing persons bulletin for Mato Dow. The 26-year-old was last seen in the early morning hours of October 13, 2017, in this southwestern Minnesota community. A quick online search showed he remains missing. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

That led me to wonder how many other Minnesotans are missing. The number shocked me. Eight-three. That’s according to information published on the Minnesota Department of Public Safety website. In the Minnesota Missing and Unidentified Persons Clearinghouse section, the missing are snapshot profiled via photos, places and dates of disappearances, and current ages. (Click on individual names for more details.) Dow, for whatever reason, is not among those listed.

But familiar names from high profile missing persons cases are on that list. Cases I remember.

  • Corrine Erstad, missing from Inver Grove Heights in June 1992, current age 31
  • Georgia Smith, missing from Champlin in June 1999, current age 95
  • Josh Guimond, missing from Collegeville in November 2002, current age 35
  • Leanna Warner, missing from Chisholm in June 2003, current age 20
  • Brandon Swanson, missing from Marshall in May 2008, current age 29.

The body of Jacob Wetterling, Minnesota’s most high profile missing person, was found in September 2016, his killer then apprehended and imprisoned. Jacob’s case did much to raise awareness. I am thankful the Wetterling family finally got answers about their son. I only wish the results had been different.

But for 83 other missing persons, family and friends still don’t have those answers. That includes the oldest case listed, that of brothers Daniel, David and Kenneth Klein. The three left their home on November 10, 1951, for Fairview Park in Minneapolis, never to be seen again. Can you imagine? I can’t. Those “boys” would now be in their seventies.

The most recent entry (as of Friday, May 4) is for Tawhna Pringle, 31, who disappeared from the Babbitt area on January 11, 2018.

From every corner of Minnesota—from Worthington to Winona to Warren to Chisholm and places in between—people have vanished. Disappeared. Gone. The list also includes several gone missing in other states.

Eighty-three. Kids. Teens. Adults.

To not know what happened to your loved one has to be the most unimaginable pain. I’d encourage you to take the time today to click here and scroll through those 83 missing persons profiles. Even if you live outside Minnesota. All it takes is one person somewhere to share information that could help solve a case and provide answers for loved ones.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look back at an unfathomable act of domestic violence in rural Minnesota & more March 24, 2018

WHAT CAUSED A MINNESOTA farmer to kill his entire family—his wife and four young children—with an ax in a horrific act of domestic violence?

We likely will never know the truth behind the murders-suicide which happened on March 24, 1917, in rural Redwood County, my home county in the fertile farmland of southwestern Minnesota.

 

 

Up until the release of a book of historical fiction, Sundown at Sunrise by former Minnesota state legislator Marty Seifert in late 2016, I’d never heard of this crime. I recently read the book published by Beaver’s Pond Press. Therein I found familiar names, including the maiden surname of my maternal grandmother and other known names from Redwood County.

 

The murder occurred in Section 16 of Three Lakes Township in the area noted by the pointing hand. This is a photo of a Digitized State of Minnesota Plat Book map from 1916. I found this through the Minnesota History Center, Gale Family Library, Borchert Map Library. The author grew up in the northeastern corner of Sundown Township.

 

Seifert grew up in Sundown Township within miles of the murders. In a farmhouse in Section 16 of Three Lakes Township north of Clements, William Kleeman, 31, raised an ax and killed his wife, Maud, and their children ranging in age from six weeks to five years. He then hung himself. Many times I’ve passed that former farm place at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 68 and Redwood County Road 1 west of Morgan and near the site of Farm Fest. I had no idea of the violence that occurred there.

But the author grew up hearing the story of the Kleeman ax murders. That and his interest in history—he’s a former history teacher—prompted Seifert to research and pen this book rooted in fact.

 

From the Minneapolis Morning Tribune dated March 27, 1917. This is a photo of the article found in the Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub.

 

I decided to check out for myself newspaper accounts of the murders. That led me to the Minnesota Digitized Newspaper Hub and sensationalized layered headlines followed by detailed stories. I expect Seifert used the same sources, and more, to research for his book. But he goes beyond those stories to suggest the real reason behind the crime discovered by a young teacher (her name is fictionalized in the book) who boarded with the Kleemans. I won’t share more. You need to read the book.

 

The story about the murders published in the New Ulm Review on March 28, 1917.

 

In reading Sundown at Sunrise, I noted specific red flags pointing to future domestic violence and an awareness of that potential. A hired hand, for example, tells Maud’s father upon her engagement to William Kleeman that, “I think Miss Petrie done deserve better.” Henry Petrie agrees.

The author also describes William Kleeman “from a young age parlaying his handsome looks and confident demeanor as ways to manipulate his mother.” That manipulative charm threads throughout the story. I appreciate that the author understands the characteristics of an abuser and writes that into this work of fiction based on fact.

And then, after the murders, the hired hand sees the Kleemans’ marriage certificate nailed above the bed where Maud and her baby lie in pools of blood. Frank Schottenbauer notes that “he’d rather look at a bloody corpse than view the license William Kleeman had used to violate Maud Petrie.”

The author many times works the appearance of garter snakes and William Kleeman’s aversion to religion into the storyline, alluding to evil.

 

The Pine Island Record printed this story on March 29, 1917.

 

You can surmise what you will from this book of historical fiction. But nothing changes the fact that Maud died at the hands of her husband and Gladys, Lois, Gordon and Rosadell died at the hands of their father in an unfathomable act of domestic violence in Redwood County, Minnesota.

Today I honor the memories of that young mother and her beloved children. They deserved to live full lives on the prairie, to love and to be loved.

 

A plat of Three Lakes Township from a 1963 Atlas of Redwood County Minnesota shows the section (16) in which the crime occurred. You’ll find some of the surnames here included in Sundown at Sunrise.

 

FYI: The ax used in the murders is stored in the archives of the Redwood County Historical Society in Redwood Falls. For years, it was kept as evidence by the sheriff’s department before its donation to the county museum.

 

 

 

TODAY, AS YOUNG PEOPLE and others gather in Washington, DC, and around the world (including right here in Minnesota) for the “March For Our Lives” anti-gun-violence rally, I honor those I knew (via personal connections) who have been murdered in acts of domestic violence. Not just by gun violence, although several were shot.

Violence, whether in our schools, our homes, on the street, needs to stop. We need to take a stand, to act when we can, to say, “Enough is enough.” We need to care, to speak up, to listen, to educate ourselves, to push for change. I don’t pretend to have the answers. But I have witnessed and experienced the pain and grief of those who have lost loved ones through acts of violence. If you haven’t, consider yourself fortunate.

I’ve had to reach deep inside myself to comfort a friend whose father was murdered. I’ve had to reach deep inside myself to comfort parents whose daughter was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. I’ve had to reach deep inside myself to write about the murder of a beloved community member by her ex-husband at our local tourism office.

I’ve watched a SWAT team sweep through my neighborhood searching for a knife used in a murder within blocks of my home. I’ve talked to police many years ago about a drive by shooting involving big city gang members. A gang member purchased a car from us, failed to change the title, used the car in a shooting and then stashed the gun in the trunk. Investigators started with us, owners of the car.

Yes, I’ve been touched many times by violence. Gun and other.

Enough is enough. To those young people and others who are speaking up today, thank you for using your voice to effect change.

 

 

 

IMPORTANT: If you are in an abusive relationship and in immediate danger, call or text (if that option is available in your area) 911. If you are leaving (or thinking of leaving) your abuser, please seek help and have a safety plan in place. Talk to someone you trust like a family member, friend, c0-worker, clergy, advocate…  Immediate help is available. Reach out to a local women’s shelter or advocacy center for professional help. You are not alone. You deserve to live a life free of any type of abuse whether physical, mental, emotional, psychological, financial, spiritual or technological.

Please know that you are in greatest danger when you are about to leave, are leaving or have left your abuser. Abuse is about power, control and manipulation. When abusers lose that control, they often become violent. Be safe and know that you are loved.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Quoted passages are copyright of Marty Seifert and used here for review purposes only.

 

A must-read report: Murders due to domestic violence in Minnesota in 2017 February 1, 2018

Photos of victims released with the 2017 Femicide Report. Source: Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page.

THE 2017 FEMICIDE REPORT: Domestic Homicide Violence in Minnesota is out. This year in my state, 24 people lost their lives due to domestic violence, according to this report released by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.

Of those, 19 were women murdered by current or former intimate partners. The other five were family members/friends/interveners.

Senicha, Dawn, Jessica, Phanny, Sarah…

Slightly more than half were shot, the rest beaten, strangled, stabbed and killed by other methods. Their stories break your heart. These were women (and two men) who were loved and valued in their families, their communities, their workplaces. They are not simply statistics.

Please take time to read this report by clicking here. Beyond data, you will see the victims’ faces and learn of the circumstances related to their murders. You will read also about the “Red flags for batterer lethality” and findings and recommendations from the MCBW. At 44 pages, it’s a lengthy report packed with plenty of valuable information. But it’s well worth your time if you care about this issue, and you should. It’s vital that we are educated and aware. These are our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our nieces, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers.

We cannot, must not, remain silent.

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship and in immediate danger, call 911. The time period in which a woman is leaving or has just left her abuser is the most dangerous. Have a safety plan in place. Reach out to a local women’s advocacy center for help. Or start by talking to a trusted family member, friend, co-worker…you are not alone.

Please also click here and read an article by Bob Collins at MPR about a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that toughens the state’s Domestic Abuse Act.

 

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take Two: Raising awareness about domestic abuse & violence in my community January 16, 2018

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A snippet of the domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

ON THE EXTERIOR, everything seemed normal. Julie and her husband attended church services every Sunday. She worked a 9 – 5 job at a local law office. Steven worked in sales. He came across as a charming guy with a strong opinion on everything. Julie, although friendly enough, was much more reserved. Quiet in the shadow of Steven’s overwhelming presence. Yet they appeared happy enough to those who knew the couple.

But something seemed off to Julie’s co-worker, Kathryn. She couldn’t pinpoint the reason for her concern. But it lingered, just below the surface. Kathryn caught unguarded moments of sadness in Julie’s eyes, unfounded anxiousness whenever she asked about Steven. Something wasn’t right.

Still, Kathryn felt it wasn’t her place to probe. If Julie and Steven had problems, they would work the issues out themselves. She didn’t want to meddle. Besides, she was probably just being overly-sensitive.

But Kathryn should have trusted her gut. Julie was in an emotionally abusive relationship. While Steven had yet to raise his hand against his wife, he had already intimidated Julie into silence, convinced her to lie for him, controlled their finances, pulled her away from friends and even belittled her with demeaning names. Julie feared losing Steven’s love if she resisted, disagreed, shared her worries about Steven’s behavior.

 

Photographed on the inside of a women’s bathroom stall at Lark Toys in Kellogg in 2015. I found this to be one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever read on domestic violence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The above story is fictional. But it could be your story, your neighbor’s story, that of the woman sitting next to you in church or across the hall in your workplace. You could be Julie. Or you could be Kathryn.

This Wednesday evening, January 17, the Faribault Elks Lodge hosts its second annual community-wide forum on domestic abuse and violence. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. and features talks by Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen, HOPE Center Executive Director Erica Staab-Absher, Ruthann Lang of Rice County Social Services and Jennifer David of DivorceCare.

 

A photo of a graphic posted on the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page shows photos of all 21 individuals who died as a result of domestic violence homicide in 2016 in Minnesota. Barb Larson, left (second from top) was among those murdered. The 2017 Femicide Report releases soon. At least 24 people were killed in Minnesota in 2017 due to domestic violence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’d encourage you, if you live in Faribault, Rice County or a neighboring community, to attend. We all need to be educated and aware. Abuse thrives in silence. We each have the power within us to make a difference and that starts with knowledge.

 

Northfield, Minnesota, native Becky Kasper was only 19 and a student at Arizona State University when her abusive ex-boyfriend killed her on April 20, 2013. Her murderer is serving a total of 30 years in prison followed by a life-time of probation with mental health terms. Read Becky’s story by clicking here. She died in a vicious act of domestic violence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

If you are in an abusive relationship like Julie, you can break free. No one has the right to control any aspect of your life. Help is available. If you are intuitively sensing abuse like Kathryn, it’s important for you to trust your feelings. Connect with an advocate so you can best help your friend, co-worker, loved one.

No one has to go this alone. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship and in immediate danger, call 911. Know that the period in which you leave a relationship and immediately thereafter are the most dangerous times for you. Have a safety plan in place. Don’t rely on a piece of paper (an order of protection, for example) to keep you safe. Reach out to a women’s advocacy center or shelter in your community for help.

UPDATE, 12:53 p.m. Tuesday: This post has been updated with the correct time of Wednesday’s meeting, which differs from previously published information. The hour-long forum begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Elks.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering Barb Larson one year after her murder via an act of domestic violence December 21, 2017

Barb Larson, an employee of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, was murdered on December 23, 2016, at her workplace. A memorial mosaic on the building exterior honors her.

 

ON DECEMBER 23, 2016, Barb Larson was murdered inside the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office. She was shot by her ex-husband, a former cop, who then turned his gun on himself.

 

This plaque fronts the artwork.

 

The murder of Barb Larson and the suicide of her killer, Richard Larson, just days before Christmas 2016 stunned my community. Both were well-known in Faribault. For Barb to die in an act of domestic violence in the workplace—in a place promoting our community—seemed unfathomable.

 

Caron Bell’s mosaic is titled “Love Remains” and was designed with input from Barb’s family and friends.

 

But it happened. Just like domestic abuse and violence still occur daily in my city. And in yours, too. Most often the violence does not result in death. Sometimes, tragically, it does.

 

I see grief, a swirling of emotions, in the grey tile.

 

A year out from Barb’s murder, I wonder if anything in my community has really changed. Reports of domestic-related calls continue to fill police reports published in the local newspaper. Domestic violence stories still cover too many column inches.

 

Even after Barb’s death, beauty and hope still bloom.

 

Are we more aware, educated, alert now than we were before Barb’s high profile death? And if we are, what are we doing to make a difference in the lives of those affected by domestic abuse and violence? I’m talking individuals here, not those who already serve victims/survivors/families through advocacy programs like those at HOPE Center and through Ruth’s House, a local shelter for women and their families.

 

Inspirational and honoring words are embedded in the mosaic tile.

 

Initially, some positive action followed—a Faribault church gave away battery-operated candles to shine the light of hope; the Chamber celebrated Happy Barb Day on what would have been Barb’s 60th birthday; public art exhibits honored Barb and spotlighted the darkness of her death and hope rising; a statewide It Happens Here awareness campaign highlighted the issue of domestic violence; and HOPE Center staffers attended a Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial event honoring Barb and other victims.

 

 

In addition to the art commission, the Chamber interior was refurbished by volunteers after Barb’s murder there. Inside the office, a word collage also honors Barb as does a fiber art piece by long-time friend and Northfield artist Judy Sayes-Willis.

 

As a Chamber employee, Barb was especially welcoming.

 

Additionally, the Chamber commissioned an art piece by Minneapolis artist Caron Bell. Titled “Love Remains,” the mosaic on the exterior of the Chamber office honors Barb through a peaceful landscape scene and six words describing her: friendly, passionate, hopeful, beautiful, strong and welcoming.

 

“Love Remains” needs to be viewed up close to see all the words celebrating Barb.

 

 

 

I didn’t know Barb personally. But I especially appreciate the words hopeful and strong. Strong and hopeful.

 

 

I’m thankful for these multiple efforts focusing public attention on the issues of domestic abuse and violence. I hope these efforts continue. Our awareness and concern must remain even when headlines vanish into the next day’s news.

 

 

In the year since Barb’s death, 21* known individuals have died in Minnesota due to domestic violence. That’s too many in 2017, or ever. We need to remember these victims and their families and friends. And we need to care about those who remain in abusive relationships. Whether sisters by blood, sisters by community connection, sisters by workplace, sisters by church or neighborhood or friendship, we must pledge to believe them, support them, help them. Stop blaming them.

We need also to question why men continue to abuse women. Beyond that, how can we prevent such abuse and change the negative ways in which some men and boys view women and girls?

We need to break the silence. We need to do something. And that starts with each of us.

 

Please click on the highlighted links within this post (especially in the final paragraphs) to view enlightening and informative stories and videos on the topics of domestic abuse and violence. These are important and worth your time. 

 

 

 

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help. Confide in someone you trust such as a family member, friend, co-worker, pastor, women’s advocate… You are not alone. There is hope and help. You deserve to be free of any type of abuse whether verbal, emotional, psychological, mental, financial, spiritual, technological and/or physical. Believe in yourself and in your strength.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. The time period in which you try to leave (or after you’ve left) your abuser is the most dangerous time for you. Have a safety plan in place. In Barb’s case, a harassment restraining order had been served on her ex-husband the week he murdered her. Don’t rely on a piece of paper or “the system” to protect you.

If you know someone in an abusive relationship, offer your support, love and care. Educate yourself. Seek professional advice so you best know how to help a victim. That’s vital.

 

* This number may actually be higher, but is the most recent figure published on the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page.

NOTE: Since most victims of domestic abuse and violence are women, I choose to use that gender when I write on this topic. I am aware that men can also be victims.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling