Throwback Thursday: Enraged Winona husband kills priest in rooming house
Rev. Nicholas Brommenschenkel, a 55-year-old Catholic priest affiliated with the Diocese of La Crosse on a leave of absence for the last 10 years because of illness, was shot to death in his rooming house at 315 E. Third St. at 11 o’clock last night.
John Gira, whose wife operates the rooming house, has confessed to the murder in a statement given to police, according to Chief H. C. Riebau. Gira was shot through the left thigh and his wife, over whom the trouble is believed to have taken place, was battered over the head with a baseball bat.
The slaying, which was characterized by Mr, Owen as being a “clear case of murder in the first degree,” took place last night when Gira, jealous over wife’s attentions to the priest, whom she was nursing, climaxed a carefully laid out plan. He obtained a .22 caliber automatic revolver in St. Paul, a baseball bat, locked all the doors and windows in the house, clipped the telephone wires and hid under a day-bed in the dining room waiting for his wife to come out of Brommenschenkel’s room, where she says she went to give the priest an alcohol rub.
Stories of Gira and his wife conflict in many respects but he has admitted that he shot Brommenschenkel and that he struck his wife over the head with the bat. He claims that his wife then took the gun away from him and shot him in the leg but she says that while trying to pull the gun out of her husband’s hands it was accidentally discharged.
Gira seemed perfectly calm in his cell at the city jail this morning and did not appear to regret his action. His wife, with a bad bruise on her head, appeared to be on the verge of collapse while being questioned.
At a late hour this morning the house was under a police guard and the body had not yet been removed. Brommenschenkel was shot through the right breast and died a few minutes later. His only words before becoming unconscious were “I’m dying.” The priest had been rooming at the residence for the last five years although Gira did not marry the woman until Jan. 2 of this year.
Gira, who is 65 years old and who had been a bachelor all his life until he married Pauline C. Resch, first met her when he came here a year ago last January to attend a funeral of a cousin who roomed at the Reach home. Prior to that time he lived on a farm in North Dakota for 27 years.
After attending the funeral he returned to North Dakota and corresponded weekly with Miss Resch until they decided to get married. On Dec. 11, 1928, Gira came to Winona and on Jan. 2 they were married. Jan. 3 they went to an attorney’s office and he signed both of his Dakota farms over to his wife and also gave her $1,000 which he brought with him.
For two weeks, Gira said, they got along all right but after that she never talked to him again. He questioned his wife about the priest who usually stayed In his room, and said that her answer was that she had “adopted him and was going to take care of him.”
Gira said that for six months he said nothing until he finally agreed to take some action. Last night, he said, he got home about 8:30 p.m. and his wife was not there. Brommenschenkel was working out in the garden.
“I got the bat and went in the dining room where I crawled under the cot.” Gira said. “She came home about 10 minutes after I was under there and then she went in his room. I finally came out and looked through the keyhole in his room and I could see them moving around. Then she came out and the trouble started.
Gira said that when his wife came out of Brommonschenkel’s room he struck her. She screamed for help, he said, and immediately Brommenschenkel came to the door of his room and then into the dining room where tho two men began to fight.
“He grabbed me about the neck and I grabbed him around the neck,” Gira said, “and finally we fell on the floor. The gun was in my back pocket so I pulled it out with my left hand and let him have it. When I shot I was about six inches away from him but he didn’t fall down. Instead he fought like everything after that.”
Gira said that his wife then pulled the gun out of his left hand and shot him in the left thigh while he was lying down on the floor. Brommenschenkel then got up and went in his room, Gira said, and Mrs. Gira followed the priest.
“What did you do? Stand around there?” Gira was asked.
“Yes,” he answered. “She said the police would come pretty soon. I said that I didn’t care and I wouldn’t go one step. She went out and telephoned somebody and I went up stairs and got my good clothes on. I came here to the police station then. It was no use for me to run away.”
Gira said that he bought the gun about the 22nd or 23rd of April in St. Paul.
“They made it so warm for me I went away Easter Monday to get the gun.” He said that he used a pocket knife to cut the telephone wire with. Asked why he cut the wire, he said, “So I would have a little time, I guess. He ought to have been killed six months ago.”
Gira said that he had no intentions of harming his wife. He said that he made up his mind last night to kill Brommenschenkel although he admitted that he had been “laying for him for six months.” He said he picked last night because he “couldn’t stand it any longer.”
After the shooting Gira said his wife pointed the gun at him and also a butcher knife and told, him to get out of the room. He said that he then went into the kitchen and also got a knife.
Brommenschenkel was dressed in his nightgown at the time of the shooting as was Mrs. Gira. The slayer said that he slept in a “five-foot room” all winter and that she locked the door behind him every night.
“My wife had this man in her house five years and not half a dozen persons in there knew he was there. He never had anything but a nightgown on,” Gira asserted. “She carried meals to him and said he was sick but he was no more sick than me or you. She would see him in the morning and in the afternoon and at night. Twice he beat me up when she told him what I said about him.”
Mrs. Gira’s story was much different than that of her husband. She had been a nurse, she said, is 47 years old and first met Father Brommenschenkel in La Crosse in 1903 when she was in training at St. Francis Hospital. In 1909 she came back to Winona to live with her family and then went north where she stayed in Duluth, Hibbing and Virginia, working as a nurse, until 1920.
“I came back to Winona in 1920,” she said, “and lived with my mother and my stepfather here and in the country until 1923 when we got the house at 315 East Third Street. My mother has since died and my step father is living out in the country. About six years ago Father Brommenschenkel happened to be in Winona and stopped at my house to see me. He had been in charge of the parish at Eastman, in Crawford County, Wis., but had been sick. He called at my home twice during the following year and the last time he came he made arrangements to board and room at my home.”
Mrs. Gira said that the first three years the priest stayed at her home she worked afternoons at the office of Dr. W. V. C. Helse. After her mother died, she said, she stopped working.
“The first year Father Brommerschenkel was at my home he had a physician who treated him for his nervous trouble but then he got a little better and for the last four years has not had a doctor. Once in a while he got bad nervous spells and ripped things to pieces in his room but I always was able to quiet him down. She said that almost every night she gave the priest an alcohol rub and that she was giving him one of the rubs when she was in bis room last night. She also stopped to read the paper while in there, she said.
Mrs. Gira said that her husband started to abuse her the very day they were married, that he was always excessive in his demands and was hard to live with. She denied having illicit relations with Brommenschenkel but admitted that her husband had accused her of being unfaithful to him as well as having threatened to kill the priest.
“When I came out of Father Brommenschenker’s room last night and started to walk across the dining room into the parlor I thought I saw a shadow,” Mrs. Gira said. “Then John struck me over the head with the bat and I screamed for help. Father Brommenschenkel came to the door of his room and they both got into a tussle. Finally they fell down on the floor and I heard the first shot but I didn’t see the gun. Then they got up again and I started to grab the gun when it went off. I didn’t know where the bullet struck and didn’t know that John was hit.”
Mrs. Gira said that after the second shot was fired she took the gun and pulled the trigger but that it didn’t go off. The priest went into his room and fell on the bed, she said, and she followed him and slammed the door. Later she said she opened the door and showed her husband the gun as well as a knife which was in the priest’s room and which was used for digging dandelions. She told her husband she would have to use the knife if he didn’t go away, she said, but he went into the kitchen and got another knife which he shook at her. Gira finally went upstairs, she said, so she went outside and told passersby to call police. A roomer upstairs apparently did not hear the shot or the scuffle she said.
Mrs. Gira told police that for the first few years the priest was there she was paid $30 a month for keeping him and later $25. In February of this year an arrangement was made through a priest’s fund where she was to receive $40 a month for keeping Father Brommenschenkel. The checks were made out by Father Phillip Kramer of Genoa, Wis., and were sent to a Mrs. Branig of La Crosse, former housekeeper for Father Brommenschenkel. Mrs. Branig always sent the checks to her, Mrs. Gira said.
“The only money Father Brommenschenkel had was $8 which he got from an insurance policy and $10 which was given him for Christmas by Mrs. Branig and Father Kramer,” Mrs. Gira explained. She was unable to give any reason why the money was not sent direct to her although she said Father Kramer, who signed the checks, knew she boarded Brommenschenkel.
Brommenscbenkel is not affiliated with the Diocese of Winona, according to officials of the diocese. He is listed as absent on leave from the diocese of La Crosse, they said, but is not known to Bishop Francis Kelly of this diocese. The man is said to have moved to Winona on his own initiative. Nothing is known, by officials of the Winona diocese of Father Brommenschenkel’s status in the church. Father Kramer today, however, said that the man was still a priest.
Late this morning Gira retained H. M. Lamberton Jr., as his attorney. Police said that an insanity hearing would probably be held to determine Gira’s mental condition. His wound is not serious although the attending physician said the bullet went in one side and came out the other. The shell from the bullet which killed the priest was found on the dining room floor and the other was jammed in the barrel of the revolver. Had the second shell been properly ejected, police believe that others might have been wounded.
Editor’s Note: Two successive grand juries listened to Gira’s testimony refused indict him and he was released. He was divorced Feb. 27, 1930, from his wife, Pauline Resch, on grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment and not contested. Gira and his attorney sought the return of Gira’s property. His body was found Aug. 28, 1930, on a roadside two and a half miles north of Willmar, Minn. Gira shot himself through the heart with a small caliber automatic revolver similar to the one he used to kill Rev. Brommenschenkel.