John and Hilda Lingle
The story of John and Hilda Lingle is not all that different from thousands, perhaps millions, of small town crimes. A few salacious details and unexpected twists allow it to stand out, however, and the story is presented here for those with prurient and morbid fascinations.
Hilda Lingle, 27, was shot on April 19, 1943 as she assembled lunch in the kitchen of her Kaukauna, Wisconsin home at 205 West Seventh Street. A bullet from a small caliber rifle struck her in the back of the neck and ranged upward into the head. Paper mill employee and part-time stunt car driver John Lingle, 28, found his wife on the floor and immediately called Dr. Alois M. Bachhuber, who rushed over, but quickly realized there was nothing he could do.
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John Lingle said the shot was fired while 4-year old Marjorie, at his request, was taking his rifle to its upstairs place of safekeeping. The doctor decided that the shooting – whether an accident or not – was a matter for authorities, and he contacted the police.
Chief James McFadden and Assistant Chief John Haid arrived, inspecting the body. Lingle repeated his story. They found the .22 rifle in the living room, with one spent shell inside. McFadden asked Lingle to demonstrate how the accident happened. Lingle insisted his daughter must have pulled the trigger, not knowing the gun was loaded, despite his warnings to her about not touching the trigger. Haid was sent next door to find Marjorie for questioning. When she was brought back, she gave the same story as her father – that she was supposed to bring the gun upstairs and then fired.
Was It An Accident?
The case was nearly declared an accident, but Haid discovered a hole in the wall with a bullet inside. That meant two shots were fired. He asked Lingle how many shots there were, and he insisted it had only been the one. So why were there two bullets fired? When confronted with the second bullet, Lingle said the one in the wall was from another accidental shooting several weeks ago. The household, if Lingle was to be believed, allowed small children to handle rifles and had repeatedly had guns go off in the house!
Further arousing suspicion was 7-year old Richard “Dickie” Lingle, who came in and spontaneously told the police he had seen his father kissing “Aunt Letty” (Letitia Stanelle, Hilda’s sister). At this point, everyone was brought to the police station to get matters sorted out. District attorney Oscar Schmiege was also called in and spoke to John and Richard. John stuck to his guns (no pun intended) and Richard elaborated that after he saw his father kiss this other woman, he was told not to tell his mother, but his father made him mad and he was going to tell her anyway.
The Truth Comes Out
After 26 hours of grilling by the police, district attorney, and two interrogators from Milwaukee, Lingle broke down the next day and told Schmiege the whole story: he had become infatuated with Hilda’s 18-year old sister Letitia and planned to leave the state with her, deserting his wife and two children. John and Letitia had been meeting up for sexual encounters at every available moment, in barns and attics and under bridges. Lingle’s 7-year-old son Dickie caught him kissing the woman, and before going to school told his father he was going to tell Mrs. Lingle about it.
At that time Lingle was repairing a radio and came upon some rifle bullets. They gave him the idea of concealing his affair by shooting his wife. He went upstairs, retrieved his rifle, loaded it as he descended the stairs and then waited in a living room doorway until Mrs. Lingle stepped into view. He fired one shot. Marjorie, who had been playing outdoors, came to the front door and was stopped by her father. Her arrival gave him the explanation of the shooting he needed for a cover-up. Still clutching the rifle, he explained to her the dangers of playing with it and then showed her how to shoot it. The child was reluctant, so as her finger rested on the trigger, he placed his finger over hers and pressed. The cartridge discharged and lodged a bullet in the dining room wall. Marjorie then found her mother lying on the kitchen floor, and assumed she was responsible. John secreted the fatal cartridge behind a ventilator pipe in the bathroom.
Having confessed, John Lingle pleaded guilty in municipal court to a charge of first degree murder. Municipal Judge Thomas H. Ryan bound Lingle over to the next term of circuit court after he waived the preliminary hearing. Court moved fast in those days, and the circuit court was ready for Lingle that same Saturday.
Life Imprisonment & Death
Again pleading guilty, John Lingle was sentenced to life imprisonment by Circuit Judge Henry P. Hughes. Lingle remained calm during his court appearance. After Judge Hughes had passed sentence, Lingle requested he be given a few days to arrange for the care of his two children. The request was denied and the children were put in the care of their maternal grandfather, Harry Stanelle of Forest Junction. The time between the murder, confession and sentencing was so fast, Lingle was on his way to Waupun State Prison on the same day as his wife’s funeral.
Life in prison ended up being a rather short sentence. After six years in Waupun, John Lingle was working as a mechanic in the prison when heat from a blow torch apparently set fire to several bottles of insect spray. The area was a tight tunnel and the flames and smoke brought on injuries that soon ended his life.