Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Remembering Barb Larson December 23, 2018

A mosaic on the exterior of the Faribault Chamber office honors employee Barb Larson, murdered there on December 23, 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I WISH I WASN’T WRITING this post. But I must. Today marks two years since Barb Larson was shot and killed by her ex-husband at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office. Richard Larson then turned the gun on, and killed, himself.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This high-profile crime rocked my community. And raised awareness of domestic violence. Barb was a victim even before her death. A harassment restraining order was served on her ex the week he killed her. A piece of paper is just that, a piece of paper.

 

Inspirational and honoring words are embedded in the mosaic tile. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The anniversary of Barb’s murder is a sobering reminder of domestic violence. But it is also a time to remember that we can all step up and do something about it. We can support, encourage and love those who are in abusive relationships. That includes all types of abuse, not just physical. We can direct them to professionals for help. In Faribault, HOPE Center offers help and hope. We can be there, listening. We can be a voice for victims. We can refuse to look the other way.

 

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

We can do this. For Barb. And for all the other Barbs who need us to care.

If you are in an abusive relationship and in immediate danger, call 911. Have a safety plan in place to leave your abuser. Please seek help. It is there. Locally or by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Enough August 24, 2018

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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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Thoughts on domestic violence six months after a high profile murder in my community June 28, 2017

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SIX MONTHS AGO a former Faribault police officer walked into the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office and murdered his ex-wife, then turned the gun on himself. It was a crime that left my community reeling just days before Christmas.

On Tuesday, The Faribault Daily News published a column by Chamber and Tourism President Kymn Anderson reflecting on life since the death of her friend and 12-year employee Barb Larson. Click here to read that piece on the Chamber website. In summary, Anderson writes about the grief she and her staff experienced, the support they received and ways in which Barb is being honored and remembered. All are important topics to cover when dealing with a violent crime that had such a profound affect on a community.

 

A photo of recent police reports published in the local paper. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This high profile case has created in Faribault a heightened awareness of domestic violence. Yet, is it a sustaining awareness? Six months from now, a year from now, five years from now will we have forgotten? Will we view this as an isolated incident or will we continue to wonder why, week after week, local law enforcement are called to respond to reports of domestic assault? What are we doing to reduce those numbers, to personally help those women who continue to be victimized?

I struggle with those tag words of domestic assault, as if domestic relegates the crime to something less important, for example, than a bar fight or a street fight. To me, domestic diminishes the crime and subconsciously lays some of the blame on the victim. As a wordsmith, I pay attention to language usage. And so does Jackson Katz, an educator who spoke on “The Language of Gender Violence” at Middlebury College, a private liberal arts college in Vermont. He claims that the way we talk and write about gender violence places blame on the victim rather than the perpetrator. Click here to read the story; it’s worth your time. And then consider how we as a society label these crimes against (mostly) women.

 

A snippet of the My inner chick homepage. Don’t let the “B” word scare you from reading this powerful blog.

 

I am passionate about educating others on the crime of domestic violence. So is Minnesotan Kim Sisto Robinson of Duluth. On May 26, 2010, Kim’s brother-in-law shot and killed Kim’s sister, Kay, and then killed himself. A month after Kay’s murder, Kim started blogging. She writes with depth, grief, honesty, passion and fire—her words flaming from her heart and soul. Kim holds nothing back. Not her grief. Not her anger. Not her desire to help others. Not her anything. If you want a personal glimpse into how domestic violence/murder has affected one woman, then read My inner chick. In her grief, Kim rises to inspire and bring hope. She has committed to raising her voice against domestic violence. In Kay’s honor.

 

The homepage for Ruth’s House website.

 

How about you? Have you educated yourself and loved ones on domestic abuse and violence? Do you notice red flags in relationships and trust your gut? Do you speak up or remain silent? In early June a Minnesota State Representative intervened when he observed a man beating a woman in downtown St. Paul. I’m not suggesting that you should do the same as it may not always be safe. But, at least call the police. I’ve done so myself, when I watched a guy shoving a woman along my street. I also called out a teen who was getting verbally abusive with his female companion. I refuse to remain silent.

I am grateful to the many organizations, like my local HOPE Center and Ruth’s House, that help women in need and their families. I love that word hope. It is such a positive, and powerful, word.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
(h/t to HOPE Center for the Jackson Katz article)

NOTE: I realize that men are also the victims of domestic abuse. But because the majority are women, I reference women when writing on this topic.

 

From Minneapolis neighborhood to prison, one inmate’s life story June 13, 2017

 

NOT ALL THAT FAR from my home, across the historic viaduct spanning the Straight River, past the hospital and down the road a bit, razor wire tops fences surrounding the Minnesota Correctional Facility, Faribault.

Among the men incarcerated there is Zeke Caligiuri, prisoner and author.

I recently read his book, This Is Where I Am, a memoir that takes the reader from Caligiuri’s growing up years in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of south Minneapolis to a prison cell. His urban life was marked by school truancy, drug use and dealing, crime, violence, and a lack of purpose. All this despite loving parents and a grandmother who never gave up on him, who wanted and expected so much more. He doesn’t blame them for the choices he made.

I’ve never read a book like this because, well, I’ve never read a book written by an inmate. His story is both revealing and yet not so. I kept waiting for Caligiuri to share information on the crime that landed him a 34-year prison sentence in 1999. He never did. To me, the absence of that presents a gaping hole in an otherwise revealing read. For the record, he is in prison for robbery and second-degree murder with a scheduled release in 2022.

A threading theme throughout Caligiuri’s story seems to be an innate desire to change. Yet, the pull of environment, the pull of long-time friends, the pull of drugs, the pull of darkness overwhelmed him. Depression defined that darkness. Given the recent public shift toward addressing mental health issues, this particular part of the story is especially enlightening in its in-depth details. My heart hurt for the young adult overcome by an illness that is too often not addressed by society (although that seems to be changing).

Caligiuri doesn’t write about daily prison life as much as he writes about his feelings and his struggles to maintain his sanity within the confines of a penal institution. When he throws food out of his cell and when he hides a banned something (which he fails to identify) in his cell during a lockdown, I feel no sympathy for the rebellion, defiance and anger he holds. Perhaps I should. But then my thoughts trace back to his crime.

How you view this book depends, I think, on your experiences. If you have been personally affected by violent crime either directly or indirectly through a family member or friend as I have been, you will probably react differently than a reader who has never been victimized.

I appreciate, though, this honesty in Caligiuri’s book: I looked around and everyone had a story about getting f****d by the system, or by their best friend, or the mother of their kids.

Blame, blame, blame…anyone but themselves for their incarceration. That this inmate-writer recognizes that lack of responsibility and accountability is noteworthy.

The author considers himself a much different person than the young adult who entered prison nearly two decades ago. That is evident through the telling of his story. He’s clearly proven himself as an author with a unique voice. He can write. He’s educated himself. He’s matured. In five years he’ll leave prison, trying to determine his new role in the world away from the men who have become his family and away from the place that’s been home for so long.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling