Getting mail is a strange thing.
On one hand, we hate it. We hate getting junk mail, and who looks forward to getting bills every month? There’s the electric bill, the water bill, the rent payment, medical expenses, and on, and on, and on. The mail seems to bring us a never-ending torrent of credit card applications, flyers, and did I mention bills?
When you look at it this way, getting mail sucks. We don’t want it.
But, on the other hand, we love getting cool stuff. We love getting letters and invitations. While personalized letters are an exceedingly rare thing in the electronic age, it’s always nice to receive a thank you card, or an invitation to some kind of event. And, of course, there’s the gifts.
Receiving packages in the mail are like the ultimate present. It doesn’t matter that you bought it yourself. You know its coming, you know its exactly what you want, and you can’t wait for it to get there. You check your box or front steps day after day, eagerly anticipating the arrival of your new whatever.
Few people understood this better than rural Americans.
The post office followed people from the eastern United States west onto the frontier. Mail was dropped off at general stores, certain houses, or, later, railroad depots. Everyone had to come to the office to pick up their mail.
Roads were made from dirt, rendering them unusable when they turned to muddy bogs during wet times of year. Roads weren’t plowed in the winter, so deep snow could render them impassable. If the weather was too hot or cold, or there was any kind of severe weather, it wasn’t safe to travel by foot or by horse.
In short, it was very often either inconvenient or unsafe for rural people to go pick up their mail. The area that would one day be the state of Wisconsin was certainly no exception.
Wisconsin was originally made a territory in the late 18th century, and had achieved statehood by 1848. With two of the predominant industries being farming and lumber, many people who settled in Wisconsin lived in more isolated areas.
Mail pick-up remained the same as it always had. It came to a given location that served as a post office, and people came to get their mail when they were able to. All of this began to change in the late 1800’s.
Starting in about 1896, a rural mail delivery service began to be introduced into outlying areas in the state. For the first time, farmers didn’t have to travel to town to get their mail. Now, a paid post office employee braved the inclement weather and struggled down awful roads to bring the mail directly to your home.
By 1922, rural delivery service had long since become the norm. The mail came on a regular basis, and for younger children like Helen Schneider, it was simply another service that they had grown up with.
Still, that didn’t mean that the excitement of receiving new mail wasn’t there. How interested and thrilled she must have been when she opened the mailbox that cold November day and saw the package inside.
Helen was the daughter of Frank and Theresa Schneider. One of eight children, she and her siblings had happily helped welcome their youngest sibling into the world just five days prior. The birth had gone very well, and the baby was happy and healthy. Theresa was recovering quickly, and the doctor thought that she would be up and about after just a few days of rest.
Taking the package, Helen scanned the address. It was a gift from her maternal aunt, Theresa’s sister. Smiling, Helen took the mail back into the house and told her mother what she had found.
Theresa must have been a little excited, too. It was very nice of her sister to have sent her something, but what was it? She couldn’t wait to see. She asked Helen to open it. Eagerly, the young girl agreed, tearing open the package.
Inside, she found a box of candy and a chocolate bar. Smiling, Helen read the letter to her mother. It said that the candy bar was for Theresa. Chocolate was usually a welcome treat, and, having just given birth, Theresa no doubt felt that she had earned it. Helen put the letter on the mantle, and handed the candy bar to her mother.
Theresa unwrapped it, snapped off a piece, and handed it to her daughter. Helen happily accepted and eagerly took a bite.
She made a face. The candy tasted…strange. It was bitter and sour at the same time. She didn’t like it at all. Taking it out of her mouth, Helen walked to the kitchen and threw it into the stove.
Theresa finished the rest, and then went back to what she had been doing. A short time later, her face contorted with pain. She felt extremely nauseous. Eventually, she passed out, and lay unconscious for nearly an hour.
Frank, Theresa’s husband, sent for the doctor in the nearby town of Chilton. His wife needed help, and fast.
The doctor, J.W. Goggins, responded to the Schneider farm as fast as he could and began to examine Theresa. Judging by her symptoms, Goggins suspected that she had been poisoned. He opened his doctor’s bag and began making a concoction that would induce her to vomit.
Unfortunately, it was too late. As Dr. Goggin’s hurried to make the medicine that he hoped would save his patients life, Theresa Schneider passed away.
Goggin’s was positive that Theresa had been poisoned. The 32-year-old woman had been healthy as a horse a few days before. There were no signs, no indications. Without warning, Theresa had simply gotten sick and died. Goggin’s didn’t believe it. He had seen her symptoms, how she had acted when she was dying. There was no doubt in his mind that Theresa Schneider had been poisoned.
When he told the family, they were shocked. Suspicion immediately turned to the candy in the package. While an accidental poisoning might have been possible, if the source was the candy, then it could greatly change the situation. It could mean that Theresa’s poisoning had been deliberate, and she had been murdered.
Theresa was a good person. She had no enemies that anyone knew of, and she certainly wasn’t a criminal. And how had she even gotten the poison into her system to begin with?
If it was the candy, it had apparently come from Theresa’s sister. But why would she want to kill her? Frank contacted her, and told her both what had happened and what everyone suspected. She vehemently denied that she had sent the candy. She had loved Theresa, and they had been very close.
The family wanted to contact the authorities right away, but both the county attorney and the sheriff were out of town for the next few days attending to official duties. As they discussed what to do, someone eventually came up with the idea of contacting the post office.
No one knew where the package had come from or who had sent it. The accompanying letter was apparently a forgery. However, it was obvious that the killer had used the postal service as a tool to murder Theresa Schneider.
The postal service was all too happy to assist. Dr. Goggins, the family, and the post office all agreed to keep things quiet until the sheriff came back. If word got out about how they suspected Theresa died, than it might alert the murderer and allow them to escape.
Theresa was buried at a quiet funeral service that was attended by many people in the area. Before she was interred, Dr. Goggins asked the undertaken to remove her stomach contents and send them to Dr. David Hopkinson, the county coroner, for analysis. Believing it was poison was one thing, but they would need definitive evidence of it to convict the culprit of murder.
A few days later, the sheriiff and the county attorney, H.F. Arps, had returned, and were surprised to hear about the alleged poisoning. They hadn’t had any idea what had been going on, but were just as interested in seeing that justice was done. Unfortunately for them, they already had a few problems from the outset.
First, no one could find the candy box, the chocolate bar, or the letter. As potentially key pieces of evidence, they had disappeared. Helen admitted that she had burned the candy box and the candy bar wrapper because she didn’t want anyone else to get hurt by them. However, she didn’t know what had happened to the letter.
It was an unfortunate setback. Although Helen had meant well, not having the candy bar wrapped meant that it couldn’t be analyzed for poison. Without the letter, the handwriting couldn’t be compared to either that of Theresa’s sister or any suspects that may arise.
The lack of a wrapper became a much bigger issue when Theresa’s stomach contents were shown to have no traces of poison. The coroner, based on this, ruled that her death must have been from natural causes. Several other physicians also decided to weigh in on the issue, also stating that her death, no matter how unfortunate, wasn’t caused by poison.
They theorized that it must have been peritonitis, an infection of the membrane surrounding the abdominal wall. For his part, Goggins stuck by his judgement. He knew what he had seen, and had been the only doctor present at Theresa Schneider’s bedside.
Symptoms of poisoning and peritonitis can be very similar, so it was nearly impossible to tell what the cause was with the evidence that he had. Dr. Hopkinson needed to know whether or not Theresa Schneider had been murdered, and there was only one way to answer that. Hopkinson ordered Theresa’s body to be exhumed and an autopsy performed.
Meanwhile, investigators were hard at work following any leads that they had. While investigators were looking into anyone who might have a possible motive for murdering Schnieder, they initially heard that she was liked by nearly everyone. And then, someone was mentioned that might have a potential grudge against her.
30-year-old Anna Lenz had lived on her parents farm across the road from the Schneider’s for years. Her father, Ray, was a very successful farmer and had a good reputation. Anna had never married, and had even considered becoming a nun at one point in her life.
She was an epileptic and had issues associated with that condition. But even beyond that, Lenz was considered slightly strange to the people of Calumet County. There didn’t seem to be anything that people could put their finger on, but many of them seemed to agree that there was something a little off about her.
Several years before, Lenz had worked at the Schroeder home after one of their children were born. Presumably, she helped around the house by performing the necessary household chores while Frank worked in the field and Theresa recovered. Things started out well, but ended on a sour note when Theresa fired her for making passes at Frank.
This by itself might not have raised much interest, but authorities became more intrigued when they found out that Lenz had visited the Schroeder home shortly after Theresa’s death. She had come over to help clean and do what she could for the family in their time of loss. But, just like what people said about her personality, there was something off about her visit. Now it was just a matter of finding out what, if anything, bothered them about it.
Lenz was questioned by H.F. Arps and J.A. Niles, a postal inspector. Niles was known as a successful interrogator, choosing to sit and be very friendly to the people he interviewed. As they became more and more comfortable, the suspect would often start talking about the crimes that they had committed all on their own.
Lenz would prove to be no exception.
Initially, she denied having anything to do with the poisoning. She had liked the Schroeder’s, and claimed there were no hard feelings between her and Theresa. As the interview went on, however, her story began to take a decidedly darker turn. After six hours, Anna finally confessed to having poisoned Theresa Schneider.
Lenz claimed that Frank’s sister, Elizabeth, had been spreading horrible rumors about her. She said that Elizabeth had allegedly been telling people that Lenz had romantic designs for her brother Frank, and that they had been taking car rides and going to dances together. Worse still, people were starting to spread the rumors. People all over the county were talking about her.
Lenz knew that the rumors weren’t true, and at first she tried to ignore them. But after a while, they wore her down. She couldn’t stand the idea that people would spread these lies. It was Elizabeth Schneider’s fault. Lenz was sure of it. Now she needed to be punished, and Lenz knew exactly how she was going to do it.
She went to a local store and bought some strychnine, saying that she was going to use it to kill some rats. It was a common poison, and a common problem in rural Wisconsin, so no one at the store really thought much of it. Lenz went out the next day and bought the chocolate bar and the candy.
Lenz dosed the chocolate with the strychnine, and then rewrapped it. Next, she forged the letter to Elizabeth Schneider, saying that the chocolate was for her. The problem was that in her agitated frame of mind, Lenz accidentally addressed it to her neighbor, Frank Schneider, instead of her intended victim.
The idea hadn’t been to kill Elizabeth, but only to make her sick. It was to teach her a lesson for spreading those awful, awful rumors. But the package had been delivered across the road instead.
When Lenz found out about Theresa’s death, she knew what must have happened. She went across the street under the pretense of offering her condolences and helping take care of the house. What she really wanted to do was find the letter. She must have known that an examination of the handwriting on the letter would prove that she had written it.
Once she found what she was looking for, she stole it and took it with her when she left, with no one ever being any the wiser. Presumably, she burnt them or got rid of them some other way.
When the autopsy results were received, they clearly showed that Theresa Schneider had died from strychnine poisoning. Authorities later theorized that the undertaker had mistakenly sent the intestinal contents to the coroner, noting that no evidence of poison would have been found there.
Anna Lenz was arrested for the murder of Theresa Schneider placed in the county jail. Authorities quickly reinforced their case against her. They had the confession, but they wanted to make sure that their evidence was as strong as it could be.
After interviewing the rural mail carrier in that area and going to the shops where Lenz made her purchases, the police were able to trace Lenz’s movements as she bought the poison, then the candy, and then gave the package to the mailman.
The police didn’t believe Lenz’s story about the poisoning being accidental. There had been an animosity between Lenz and Theresa Schneider for years, and they felt that Lenz had finally decided to do something about it. Maybe it was for revenge, or maybe it was because she secretly loved Frank and planned on stepping in to marry him after she killed her rival. The motive was unclear, but the result was undeniable.
What was even more disturbing was apparently no truth to the alleged rumors that were started and spread by Elizabeth Schneider.
When police began their investigation, it took some time for them to discover the old issue between Theresa and Lenz. Never once did anyone state that they investigated Anna because of rumors involving her and Frank Schneider stepping out together like they were a couple.
It seemed that the rumors that had driven Anna Lenz to kill were products of her own imagination.
During the early stages of the legal process, Anna Lenz became ill and was confined to her cell to recover. Doctors who examined her told the authorities that she needed to rest.
When she was finally able to carry on with the proceedings, she fainted after the first witness had given their testimony. The trial was halted,, and then continued again the next day, this time with a doctor there in case any more medical issues might arise.
Thankfully, there weren’t any and the trial continued without incident. The day took a sad turn when Helen Schneider took the stand and related the events leading to her mother’s death. Although she was calm and composed, the people in attendance that day could tell that her mother’s death had taken a heavy toll on her.
While there was no doubt of her guilt, the question in everyone’s mind was whether or not Anna Lenz would be declared insane. People had their opinion, but it was very important concerning her future from a legal standpoint. If she was sane, then she would go to prison. If insane, then she would be declared mentally unfit to stand trial and, not being in her right mind, be sent to a mental institution.
H.F. Arps knew that the ultimate fate of Lenz would be determined by this question. Using his authority as district attorney, he had two of the leading psychologists, or alienists, in the state of Wisconsin examine Lenz to determine her mental health.
They concluded that Lenz had the mind of a child, regardless of her age, and was what they termed “feeble-minded.” In short, Lenz was never going to stand trial for murder. Instead, after some deliberation, she was sent to the Chippewa County Insane Asylum & County Home in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
Frank never remarried. His children, including Helen, grew up and moved on with their lives. Anna Lenz spent the rest of her life in the mental institution, through staff rotations and name changes. She passed away quietly in 1990, at the age of 97.
The mail is a routine part of our lives. Today, with the advent of e-mail, we get more of it than ever before.
We take it so much for granted that it has blended into the background. The mystery box isn’t something to fear, but something expected, something normal. We ignore the fact that there might be a dangerous surprise inside. We ignore that small voice telling us to use caution, that voice that told our primitive ancestors that there might be a snake under the rock they walk past everyday.
Most of the time, everything is okay. But sometimes, the normal is just camouflage for the deadly.
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Mystery Still Shrouds Chilton Death. The Sheboygan Press, 11/25/1922
Poison Candy is Blamed For Woman’s Death. The Daily News and The Times, 11/25/1922
Poison Theory Given Setback. The Daily News and The Times, 11/27/1922
Learn Former Rival Bought Strychnine. The Post-Crescent, 11/27/1922
Confessed Borgia Charged with Mrs. Schnieder’s Murder. The Sheboygan Press, 11/28/1922
Girl Admits Sending Poison Candy to Neighbor. The Post-Crescent, 11/28/1922
Girl Confesses Poison Slaying. The Journal Times, 11/28/1922
Girl in Poison Case is Insane? The Menasha Record, 11/29/1922
Chilton Poisoning Case Awaits Result of the Post Mortem. The Sheboygan Press, 11/29/1922
Insanity Plea In Chilton, Wis Poisoning Case. The Leader-Telegram, 11/20/1922
Mrs. Schneider’s Death Unnatural. The Menasha Record, 12/1/1922
Girl Poisoner Ill; Hearing Is Delayed Today. The Sheboygan Press, 12/2/1922
Schneider Poison Murder to Be Subject of Inquest, Today. The Sheboygan Press, 12/8/1922
Coroner’s Inquest Asks Anna Lenz Be Tried For Murder. The Sheboygan Press, 12/9/1922
Lenz Woman Ill In Jail. The Menasha Record, 12/19/1922
New Poison Case Warrant Issued. The Menasha Record, 1/16/1922
Defendant Swoons When Identified As Poison Candy Source. The Sheboygan Press, 1/20/1923.
Chilton Girl Held to Answer For Death of Mrs. Schneider; Outcome of Poison Candy Plot. The Sheboygan Press, 1/22/1923
Slayer Probably Will Go To Asylum. The Post-Crescent, 2/2/1923
Anna Lenz Is Feeble Minded;Will Not Have To Face Jury. The Sheboygan Press, 2/2/1923
Diamond, Stephen A., Ph.D. Who Were the Alienists? www.psychologytoday.com, 1/26/2018