The Golden Pheasant Mutilations

Peter A VanVeghel (1862-1934) was twice the sheriff of Brown County. With wife Antoinette Herman (1862-1941), had several children, including John Peter “Jack” VanVeghel, born on October 22, 1893 in the town of Scott, Brown County.

1916: Jack VanVeghel lost his wife and child to influenza. He was 22.

Jack helped his younger brother Walter Peter VanVeghel (b. 1903) establish a “soft drink parlor” at 1215 Main Street, Green Bay. Jack opened his own place, Van’s Saloon, at the northeast corner of George and Main.

Jack later left Van’s and moved to the edge of town, two miles east of Green Bay on Highway 78. The Golden Pheasant Inn (2015 Willow Street) was a roadhouse known for its hamburgers, chicken dinners and slot machines. Although it was in the same neighborhood as well-known brothels including Happy Hanson’s and Ma Peers, it was not itself one of those places. It may have been too well-known for its slots, because the machines were targeted by burglars more than once.

After a long time of being a widower, Jack met young Lucille Birdsall, who became his girlfriend and waitress. Lucille had previously been married to Frank Kupczack at age 16 and they had a daughter, Betty Jane. Kupczack was a machinist and found he could triple his salary by moving over state lines into Illinois. For whatever reason, Lucille couldn’t accept this and the couple separated. They were not close friends after the split, but Frank never stopped loving Lucille and would do anything for her or their daughter. When Lucille moved in with Jack, Betty Jane went to live with Lucille’s parents.

On the night of May 18-19, 1930, Jack VanVeghel, 36, and girlfriend Lucille Birdsall, 24, were killed in their sleep at the Golden Pheasant roadhouse. Jack was attacked first. The wounds suggested the weapons used were a corn sickle, an axe and an axe handle. His face was pulverized, mashed right into his skull and slashed many times in a haphazard way. Lucille met the same fate, but apparently woke up because her arms showed extensive defense wounds. The walls were splashed with blood, much of it probably Lucille’s because she was moving around more.

The next day, a number of people came by as customers or delivery men and found it odd the building was locked while Jack’s car was parked outside. But it wasn’t mysterious enough to alert police – if Jack wanted a day off, he was welcome to do that. One day closed doesn’t make him a missing person.

Another day passed and neighbor Mrs. William Debroux became concerned. She sent her 9-year old son, Martin Verhagen, over to peep in the windows. Martin wasn’t sure exacly what he saw, but he knew it wasn’t good. Blood was splashed on the bedroom’s white walls and someone had obviously been injured very badly.

“We were all shocked. Jack never had any enemies,” said his friend Eddie Bodart, a former city alderman. An Eddie Bodart, presumably the same one, was a former Golden Gloves boxer and tavern owner, once even winning Tavern Owner of the Year from the state Tavern League. Green Bay detective Otto Cronce said, “It was messy, all right. Killing two people like that, there had to be a cause.” There was speculation that it was a robbery gone wrong, especially because two slot machines were found smashed open. The cash register had a $20 bill inside, but the coins missing. The violence suggested a more personal connection. Police said it was possible the killer knew Lucille, and wanted her to see Jack die before she was killed.

Checking the building, a basement door to the outside was found unlocked, while ground floor entrance was blocked from the outside by a piece of wood. According to Jack’s nephew Norb VanBeckum, the police did not secure the scene very fast, and people flooded the restaurant to steal souvenirs when the word got out.

Two doctors conducted the autopsies. Dr. RC Buchanan said, “So deep are the wounds, they resembled the tearing discharge of a load of buckshot.” The other was PJ Gosin.

Lucille’s ex-husband Frank Kupczack was brought up from Milwaukee. With no clear leads, he was the prime suspect. A motive of jealousy was certainly possible. But he couldn’t be connected to the crime and his alibi was solid. Furthermore, the restaurant’s other waitress (Irene Clowry) had never seen him before.

VanVeghel’s funeral was at St. Willebrord’s Catholic Church and was well-attended by extensive family, friends and curious locals. Not surprisingly, Jack’s mother Henrietta was visibly shaken.

Months later, accused crooks Bernard Coy and WG Foss were in a cell together in Sturgeon Bay. Coy told Foss that a man named Thomas Donnelly had been Lucille Birdsall’s boyfriend and killed her out of jealousy. Coy said Donnelly used a hatchet but immediately regretted killing his angel. Coy had met Donnelly in a jail cell where Donnelly frequently had nightmares.

By an incredible coincidence, Foss was transferred to Sheboygan’s jail and put in a cell next to Thomas Donnelly, who was booked under the name Jim McGilth for drunk and disorderly. They were in jail together for two weeks and Donnelly apparently told Foss that he was wanted for murder in Green Bay. Later, when Foss told authorities, Donnelly denied it and Coy denied ever telling Foss. Sheriff Nicolai questioned Donnelly and believed he could be the killer, but solid evidence was lacking – no one could place Donnelly at the Golden Pheasant.

Despite being the site of a grisly double murder, the building continued on as a restaurant. For a while it was Don Quixote’s Supper Club, and then purchased by Peter and Phillip Lee in 1974, who turned it into a Chinese restaurant. For years, the brothers saw and heard strange things – glasses breaking and a woman talking on a telephone that wasn’t there. At the brothers’ request, David Ray of Neenah conducted a seance on the site in 1990. He saw Lucille crying out for the killer to stop. Using “automatic writing,” he asked those present to ask questions. The weapon was a “corn knife” and the killer was an “itinerant farm laborer” that Lucille knew. The writing said the killer died in 1942 in a car accident outside Chicago. A woman in the room had a vision of a man with a dark beard and big nose. Ray was deeply bothered by what he saw and soon stopped conducting seances. “I never wanted to do it again,” he later said.

By the 2000s, the building was removed. Today the site is a strip mall at he northeast corner of University and Danz.

Frank Kupczak passed away in Milwaukee in 1969. Betty Jane married Robert William Burmeister. He passed away in Waukesha in 1990. Betty Jane followed in 2004.

The case is covered in “True Crime in Titletown USA” by Tracy Ertl and Mike Knetzger. The general facts are presented. The authors, unfortunately, taint the narrative by having long passages of made up conversations between Lucille and her killer. This gives the reader a completely inaccurate impression of who Lucille was and how she died. Other made-up conversations are in there, too, including a false meatloaf recipe. Concerns aside, I have to give them credit for being the best source to date on the case.

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