Erwin Heiden’s Dizzy Spells

Erwin C. Heiden was born on March 30, 1904 in Black Creek, one of the last of several children of farmers August and Hulda Heiden. Also living with them were Erwin’s paternal grandparents and a farm laborer, John Lieg. The farm was located on what the census called “Center Township Road.”

I was unable to find the 1930 census, but by 1940 (age 36) he has taken over the farm, with two brothers staying on with him. Their mother also lived on the farm.

In 1948, at 44 years old, Erwin married Mabel Zocholl, a 36-year old divorced woman with a 16-year old son named Leroy. He took in the son as his own and by 1950 was living in Grand Chute and working as a carpenter. Mabel was a regular attendee of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mackville, a congregation that dates back to 1864.

At first, things in the family were apparently going well. But in November 1951, just after Thanksgiving, Erwin had what was called a “nervous breakdown.” He had episodes in the past, but this time was the worst. He would “talk irrationally on the job” and often would not be able to work for more than three or four hours without lying down. During his “nervous spells” he would sometimes just stare blankly.

Before Christmas, the Heidens were visited by Rev. Guenther. Mabel told the pastor she felt sorry for her husband and wished she could help. She said, “I have a new, beautiful home. I have everything I want and Erwin is a good husband to me. What else can I expect?” Guenther found Erwin to be a “pleasant and good-hearted man” when he was feeling well.

Arthur Heiden said his brother had “lost faith in everything” since his nervous breakdown. He explained that Erwin felt he was overworked and that customers “bothered” him when they kept calling him because they wanted their work done.

Heiden appeared nervous when Mabel’s sister Elsie and her husband of Black Creek visited the family in early March. Elsie and Mabel conversed by telephone almost every day. Elsie was worried about Heiden’s condition and she asked Mabel if she was afraid of him. “I don’t know why” she said “I just had that feeling.”

Then came March 17, 1952 (St. Patrick’s Day). Erwin left for work at a construction site early that morning, but returned shortly after 8:00am, unable to focus. Arthur, his brother, returned with him to Erwin’s home almost immediately to work on the furnace. Erwin did not go back to work that day.

Leroy visited with his mother in the living room after eating lunch and then went into Appleton to work about 12:55pm. Erwin was in the bedroom when he left the home.

Appleton police received a telephone call about 2:37pm from a man who refused to give his name. He said he wanted an ambulance at once at Highway 41 and North Mason Street. (I think 41 in 1952 is Northland Avenue today.) His wife was dead and his wrists were cut and he was bleeding badly, he told police. The message was relayed to the sheriff’s department at 2:40 and within a minute Special Investigators Jack Zuelzke and Jack Frenzl and County Policeman John Bandy were on the way to the scene.

Zuelzke and Bandy began a search of the homes in the area. Bandy opened the rear door of the Heiden home, the fourth house he checked. Mabel Heiden, 39, was found on a blood-soaked bed at her home about 2:45pm. She was wrapped in a bed spread, and the room showed no signs of a struggle. Under the bed spread, Mabel was dressed in blue jeans and blouse, black and white saddle shoes and silk stockings and was wearing a red coat with a fur collar. Her husband, Erwin, was in the kitchen of the home with his wrists and throat slashed. He was rushed to the hospital in Lindy’s ambulance. Two blood transfusions were given but his condition was such that the man could not answer questions coherently. Heiden had a 9-inch gash on his neck and deep lacerations of both wrists. Tendons in the wrists were cut. His condition was described as ‘”poor.” Heiden’s stomach was pumped because police found a can of poison used for cleaning porcelain fixtures in the bathroom closet that had been opened recently.

After questioning him the next morning, Undersheriff Lyman B. Clark believed it was a case of murder and attempted suicide. Although he was vague on details, Heiden told Clark, Lieutenant Jack Zuelzke and District Attorney Fred Froehlich that he “must have” slashed his wife’s throat while she was sleeping and that he “must have” cut his own wrists and throat when he realized what had happened. Heiden said he had taken “four or five” sleeping tablets about noon and had gone into the bedroom to rest. He said he was lying on the bed when Leroy came home and that his wife came to the bedroom and laid down shortly after the boy left the house to go to work.

A 2-blade jackknife, covered with blood, was found in Heiden’s pocket when he was admitted to the hospital. Authorities believe it is the murder weapon. Heiden at first denied the knife was his but then remembered it was an old one that had been lying around the house, Clark said.

A post mortem examination conducted at Brettschneider Funeral home showed that Mabel had suffered one 4 1/2 inch cut and another wound 1 1/2 inches long on the throat. The death instrument sliced the larynx and almost severed the jugular vein, Coroner Bernard Kemps said.

Mabel was pronounced dead by an Appleton at 3:10. Kemps said she had died within the past hour.

A copy of the April True Story magazine was found on the floor behind the bed, Clark said. It was opened to the last page of part 1 of a serial entitled, “My Home Was Hell.” The “teaser” line under the title read: “Nobody saw the evil that lived in our house, night and day – until it boiled up in bloody tragedy.” The story was about a man who killed his wife with a stove poker.

Mabel’s son Leroy was a student at Lawrence University. Lieutenant Jack Frenzl searched for an hour before he found Clesielczyk at work in an Appleton store. The youth broke into sobs as he entered the house and cried, “I don’t want to go in there.” When questioned, Leroy told authorities that his stepfather had a nervous breakdown in November and had worked only infrequently since that time. Other relatives also said that Heiden had been ill for several months and that he had had similar nervous trouble about three years ago.

Erwin was charged with murder on March 22. He was in the hospital for around two weeks, finally able to make a court appearance in early April. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity through his attorney, Stanley R. Gabert. On April 8, at the request of both the prosecution and defense, Judge Oscar Schmiege sent Erwin to the Central State Hospital at Waupun to be examined for 30 days.

July 7: From a pool of 74, a jury was quickly selected consisting of 12 jurors and two alternates.

July 8: The state closed its testimony with Leroy. He spoke on how Erwin “wouldn’t let my mother go anywhere… Every place mother went, he was right behind her.” He also said Mabel threatened to leave Erwin because of his poor employment record.

July 10, 1952: On the final day of the trial, psychiatrists gave conflicting reports. Dr. James Hurley believed Heiden was “mentally unbalanced” on the day of the murder. Dr. Jefferson Klepfer believed Heiden had been sane, but still recommended he be institutionalized. The jury was apparently not swayed, and found Erwin guilty. Judge Schmiege sentenced him to life in prison.

Mabel’s son Leroy married in Black Creek on November 27, 1952, less than a year after the murder. At the time of the marriage, he took the unusual step of taking his wife’s last name (Shaw). He always said it was because his own name (Ciesielczyk) was too complicated, which is true, but one has to wonder if the recent tragedy played any role.

Erwin Heiden died in Appleton on November 19, 1969. It is unknown if Leroy is still alive as of this writing (2023).

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