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Evansville Courier and Press from Evansville, Indiana • A6

Evansville, Indiana
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6A TUESDAY, AUGUST 23, 2022 EVANSVILLE COURIER PRESS The brutal murder of three women in Fort Wayne had been unsolved for more than two years when Ralph Woodrow Lobaugh walked into a police station and said he was the killer. have an urge to he told police, according to news reports. tells me to kill confession on that sum- mer night 75 years ago triggered one of the most tangled, tragic and as one former Indiana governor put it messes in the history of the At the center of it all was Lobaugh, a 30-year-old factory worker who repeat- edly confessed to crimes, only to promptly claim innocence. He con- fessed and retracted several times, set- ting a years-long legal saga and media circus. His story highlighted weaknesses in the criminal justice sys- tem during an era when DNA testing was still decades away and investiga- tors leaned on now-debunked tactics like truth serum tests.

Lobaugh was sentenced to die just four months after he confessed, a lightning speed unheard of in system of justice. But the case built solely on the ever-changing confessions of a troubled man to investigators des- perate for an arrest quickly began to unravel. New evidence of his innocence sur- faced, and investigators began to doubt whether the man doomed to die killed anyone at all. One lie detector test showed he did; another showed he Another man was convicted, and another confessed. Throughout it all, Lobaugh remained No.

24221 at one point, housed in the same prison with a man convicted of the same crime nobody be- lieved they committed together. The crimes and confessions Wilhelmina Haaga staggered to a ru- ral farmhouse seeking help one winter evening in 1944. She was bloody and di- sheveled. The 38-year-old factory work- er and former vaudeville singer made her way to the home after being left for dead in the snow a few miles from where she worked, according to news reports. She lived for three days in the hospi- tal.

killing was the of four that happened in a span of a year in war- time Fort Wayne, stumping police de- tectives and driving the public into a mass hysteria. Anna lay lifeless in a not far from her home the following spring. Near the 20-year-old factory body were a belt buckle and a pocket comb. Summer came, and a 17-year-old high school senior suddenly disappeared. Hunters found Phyllis Conine just out- side the city, according to news reports.

A dirty trench coat lay near her body. Dorothea Howard clung to life for 11 days after she was found in an alley in early 1945, according to news reports. Witnesses saw the 30-year-old talking to two men a soldier and a civilian inside a tavern the night she was last seen alive. All were bludgeoned to death. In media interviews, warned of a killer next door, or of a Dr.

Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character with the dual per- sonality of a man and a Tips poured in, theories abound, doz- ens were questioned, but no one was charged. Then, in 1947, Lobaugh showed up at the Kokomo Police Department, about 80 miles from the crime scenes, and begged to be locked up. He claimed he met Haaga at a bar, left with her and killed her in the country. He said it was his belt buckle and pocket comb that were found near body, according to news reports.

He said he was one of the two men the civilian who was with Howard at the tavern. As for the high school student, Lobaugh said he kill her. Lobaugh signed a confession out Fort Wayne Police Chief Jule Stumpf told reporters, adding that he described one of the crime scenes with unfaltering Stumpf, though, acknowledged that Lo- baugh read details of the wide- ly publicized crimes in media stories. The following day, Lobaugh recanted, claiming he was drunk when he con- fessed, according to news reports. Three days later, he said his original confes- sions were true, a retraction of the re- traction.

A week later, he was indicted for mur- der. Lobaugh pleaded guilty in late Octo- ber 1947. On the same day, he stood si- lently as an Allen County judge sen- tenced him to die and set his execution date for the following February at the In- diana State Prison. But Lobaugh soon backtracked again, telling his attorneys he ly did kill the women, the Muncie Star Press reported. Who was Ralph Lobaugh? A high school drop out who became a menial laborer, Lobaugh was erratic, mixed-up oddball with a failing mar- riage, sex hang-ups and a drinking reporter and Indiana Journal- ism Hall of Fame member Al Spiers wrote in one of the last stories published about the infamous death row inmate.

Lobaugh was married and divorced twice. unclear if he had any children. During his marriage, he lived with his family outside Fort Wayne and worked with his father-in- law at the Eel River Cemetery. They di- vorced in 1944 after years of mar- riage, according to media reports. Lobaugh moved to Kokomo, where he met his second wife while working as a restaurant cook.

They married in 1947, just a few months after they met. She for divorce that same year, after Lo- baugh confessed and was arrested. Their marriage lasted only a few weeks. In the spring of 1948, reporters watched as two prison doctors gave Lo- baugh a truth serum, a tactic once used by investigators to try to extract confes- sions. While supposedly under the spell of the drug cocktail, Lobaugh again pro- claimed innocence, according to media reports.

He said his confession was a bi- zarre attempt at suicide. I am not guilty, but am willing to die for somebody else. The truth will never be known. Thank you kindly. Ralph Lobaugh As Lobaugh sat on death row, Fort Wayne had a new police chief who told reporters there were discrepancies in his confessions.

New evidence uncov- ered by his attorney evidence that po- lice seemed to miss also threw a wrench into the already questionable prosecution. The nights the and second vic- tims, Haaga and were killed in 1944, Lobaugh was not even in Fort Wayne. according to from wife, to whom he was still married at that time, and her parents. They attested he was living with them in Churubusco, a tiny town 15 miles away, and could not have killed the women. Lobaugh also could not have killed Howard, the last victim.

The owner of the Fort Wayne tavern where Howard was last seen said in an that Lobaugh was not one of the men who was with her that night. A soldier and a civilian Charles Dodson, a soldier stationed at a military airbase near Fort Wayne, and Robert Christen, the son of a local drugstore owner, were indicted in late 1948 for murder. Dodson had come forward and told police he and Christen were the soldier and civilian who were with Howard at the tavern. They lured her into the alley, Dodson said, although he claimed he later left. Another witness reported see- ing Christen with the victim.

Charges against Dodson were dropped. Christen, who denied killing Howard, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He served time at the Indiana State Prison with Lobaugh, until the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that evidence against Christen was based on conjecture. Christen was freed. Lobaugh re- mained behind bars, although the pos- sibility of execution was slowly fading.

am convinced that a full-scale in- vestigation of the whole procedure should be undertaken before the death penalty should be Gov. Henry Schricker said in 1949 after postponing the execution for the time. Then, came another confession. am the Dear Franklin Click, a farmer, wrote in August 1949 in a letter to his wife, want you to be the to know and learn from my own lips that I am a Click told his wife he killed Haaga and the and second victims who Lobaugh admitted killing two years earlier. Click also said he killed Conine, the high school student.

other person was with me or par- ticipated in either of these murders I am the Click wrote, telling his wife to hand over his confession to the police chief, which would guarantee her $15,000 in reward money. Media reports described Click as the more likely suspect. He lived across the street from He and Haaga worked at factories a few blocks from each other. Click was promptly indicted for the three murders, although he was tried only for death. He was convict- ed and sentenced to die in 1949.

At 12:05 a.m. Dec. 30, 1950, Click was strapped to a chair as 2,300 volts of electricity passed through his body. man is In 1977, 30 years after Lobaugh showed up at the Kokomo police sta- tion, Gov. Otis Bowen granted him clem- ency.

Carrying everything he owned, in- cluding a pair of shoes in one hand, a couple of books in the other, Lobaugh walked out of the Indiana State Prison a free man. He was 60 years old. not going to get into any new trouble. paid too dearly for the Ralph Lobaugh But the outside world proved to be too foreign, too far from the comforts of his old cell, the company of his old friends, and the familiarity of his old job at the maximum-security prison he had called home. Lobaugh asked to be put back in after a brief stint sweeping in Indian- apolis and South Bend, according to media reports.

He was free for only two months. man is Har- old G. Roddy, then the director of Indi- work release program, told report- ers. just been locked up too damn Lobaugh spent his last days in a nurs- ing home in South Bend. He died in 1981 at age 64.

at Spiers told the Associated Press. case is a classic in the annals of Indiana justice or the lack of Call IndyStar reporter Kristine Phil- lips (317) 444-3026. Follow her on Twit- ter: The innocent man rather be in prison Kristine Phillips Indianapolis Star USA TODAY NETWORK Former Gov. Henry Schricker in 1949 ordered a full-scale investigation into the case of Ralph W. Lobaugh, a death row inmate who confessed to the slayings of three Fort Wayne women.

JOSEPH STAR Thirty-year-old Ralph W. Lobaugh is being escorted from court on Oct. 27, 1947 after he was sentenced to die by electric chair. Lobaugh had confessed to killing three Fort Wayne women. He retracted and confessed multiple times, setting off a years-long legal saga and media circus.

Further investigations revealed he did not commit the crimes. ASSOCIATED PRESS Sixty-year-old Ralph W. Lobaugh, left, walks out of the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City with warden Jack Duckworth on Aug. 24, 1977. ASSOCIATED PRESS Sixty-year-old Ralph W.

Lobaugh carries his belongings as he leaves Indiana State Prison in Michigan City on Aug. 24, 1977. ASSOCIATED PRESS Ralph W. Lobaugh confessed to the 1940s slayings of three women in Fort Wayne. He confessed and retracted several times, setting off a years-long legal saga and media circus.


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