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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History
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This article was contributed by Kay Reitberger

Sheboygan Press - March 31, 1931

Sheboygan Man's Suicide Is Climax Of Enoch Arden Plot


A modern counterpart of Tennyson's Enoch Arden, climaxed by a suicide in Chicago, was unfolded today in the investigation of the death of Theodore MAHNKE, 53, formerly of Sheboygan.

Seventeen years ago, MAHNKE deserted his wife and six small children at New Holstein. On Nov. 5, 1928, his wife, giving him up as dead, married John MICHELS at West Allis. Three weeks ago, MAHNKE returned to find the woman he deserted happily married. He spent a week here with relatives, and went back to Chicago. Yesterday afternoon in a room at 19 West Ontario street, Chicago, he ended his life by inhaling gas.

The essential contrast between Tennyson's story and that of the modern counterpart is that Enoch Arden was involuntarily separated from his wife and family, while MAHNKE purposely abandoned them apparently inconsiderate of his responsibility.

Left Three Notes

MAHNKE, who was a veteran of the Spanish-American and World Wars, left three notes in which he revealed his identity to the police, confessed to deserting his wife and children, expressed sorrow for having done so, and asked that his World war bonus be turned over to his wife.

After abandoning his family at New Holstein, his note revealed, he adopted the name of Thomas J. Criss. He did not refer to his whereabouts since leaving the family except to say that he enlisted in Manitowoc and served in the World war.

One of the notes addressed to Col. C. M. PEARSALL, National Soldiers' Home, Milwaukee, was as follows:

"Col. PEARSALL, Dear Sir:

I expect that by the time you receive this letter I will have passed beyond recall. I have known you to do deeds of kindness for veterans of the U.S.A. so take it for granted that you will do this not for me but for my wife and children."

Tells Of War Service

"I am a veteran of the Spanish-American war, was, as a member of H company of Manitowoc, Wis., 2d Wisconsin infantry, name, Theodore MAHNKE. I never applied for a pension. I deserted my wife and children in June, 1914, and up to a few days ago I've never seen or contributed one cent to their support. In January, 1918, I enlisted in the World war as Thomas J. CRISS and became a member of the 19th company, 20th engineers and served overseas as my discharge at the soldiers' home will show."

"I never made any application for a bonus or pension."

"Can you help my wife to gain the benefit of the soldiers' compensation? Because she sure needs it. I am asking the Chicago police to take my fingerprints in order to have them coincide with the prints taken when I entered the army. Yours."

Theodore MAHNKE, alias Thomas J. CRISS."

After writing the three notes, he turned on three gas jets of the gas stove in his kitchenette and laid down on the bed to await death.

Locate Survivors

Authorities of Chicago, aided by the address on the note to MAHNKE's wife and family at Sheboygan, asked that Sheboygan police notify the survivors. They were located at 1808 S. Thirteenth street, where Mrs. MAHNKE has resided for the last two weeks. Mrs. MAHNKE was shocked when she learned of her first husband's act. She and her children immediately prepared to go to Chicago, where funeral services are to be held Wednesday.

MAHNKE was born in Manitowoc, the son of Mr. and Mrs. John MAHNKE. He and Mrs. MAHNKE were married in Chicago twenty-six years ago and they came to Sheboygan to live later going to New Holstein.

Six children were born to Mr. and Mrs. MAHNKE and with their mother and two brothers are the immediate surviving relatives. The children are: Mrs. Harvey BARTLET, Mrs. Paul RENZELMAN, Edward, Ferdinand, and Alphonse, of Sheboygan, and Mrs. Louis CORDOVA of Chicago. His brothers are Emil MAHNKE of Sheboygan and Edward of Racine.

In June, 1914, as he admitted in his note, MAHNKE deserted his wife, and nothing had been heard from him since. Mrs. MAHNKE heard rumors to the effect that he had enlisted in the army during the World war and that he had gone overseas.

Believed Dead

Mrs. MAHNKE waited long and faithfully, hoping for word from her husband, but when she failed to hear anything from him or about him, she concluded he had been killed in action.

On Nov. 5, 1928, Mrs. MAHNKE, having given up her first husband as dead, married John MICHELS at West Allis after having obtained a marriage license in Sheboygan. They lived together at Kohler until three weeks ago, when MAHNKE appeared.

Mrs. MAHNKE was startled when she saw her first husband. She told him that she had married again and that while in view of his conduct in leaving without cause or explanation she could not live with him, she would discontinue marriage relations with MICHELS, and would live apart from both. Accordingly, she moved to her present address, 1808 S. Thirteenth street, and started action to annul her marriage to MICHELS.

Papers for the annulment of the MICHELS marriage had been prepared but were not filed. With the death of MAHNKE, she is now free to remarry Mr. MICHELS, the marriage to him two years ago being void from the legal standpoint.

Might Be Considered Will

Milwaukee, Wis. - Col. Charles M. PEARSALL, governor of the National Soldiers' home here, said the bonus of Theodore MAHNKE, Sheboygan, who committed suicide in Chicago yesterday, probably would be paid to the beneficiaries named in the certificate when he took it out. MAHNKE had written a letter to Col. PEARSALL directing that his bonus be paid to his family. He declared, however, the letter might be so drawn that the courts would consider it a will.


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