The Strange Death of Carl Albright

The wind howled, and the dog howled, too.

The air was cold, turning the Nebraska plains into a frigid tundra where no man wanted to stay for long. This was especially true for the dog’s owner, a Cass County, Nebraska farmer named P.M. Nord.

Nord stood in the backyard, yelling for the dog to come inside. He paused, listening. Instead of hearing the soft footfalls of the animals feet thudding against the frozen ground, all he could hear was the wind.

He just knew that he’d have to wander out and find that damn dog. Instead of coming inside like a sensible animal, it had decided to take off across the darkened fields. Muttering under his breath, Nord hoped that whatever that dog was chasing after was worth it.

He walked into the fields, bracing himself against the tearing wind. Periodically, he would call the dog’s name, then listen. Nord could hear the animal barking, but it sounded like it was getting further away instead of coming closer.

Pulling his coat a little tighter around himself, the farmer kept walking.

Eventually, the barking sounded closer. Finally! Letting out sigh of relief, Nord picked up his pace.

Before long, he could see his dog, barking at something on the ground. As he walked closer, Nord could smell something, too. It was like burnt meat, mixed with something acrid that he couldn’t quite place.

The dog must have caught scent of it on the wind and decided to go find out what it was.

“There you are! What the hell are you doing out in this mess? Don’t you have enough sense to get  out of the cold?” Nord said to the dog.

The dog spared him a quick glance, then went back to barking at something on the ground.

It was too dark for Nord to make out what it was, so he walked a little closer to get a better look. Peering against the darkness, his breath caught in his throat as he realized what it was.

There, lying in a ditch, was what was left of a man. The body was badly burned, and it was obvious that he was dead.

Taking the dog, Nord started quickly back to his home to call the police.

   The body was located a short distance away from a north-south highway that ran between Plattsmouth, Nebraska, and Omaha, Nebraska. In the light of day, police officials examined the charred remains found by Nord. There wasn’t much left to examine.

While most of the clothing had been burnt away, enough remained to show the initials “C.A.” had been written inside of them. The person’s watch had stopped at 8:20 P.M., which the investigators regarded as the time of death. There was no other identification on the body.

A burned-out car was found about 150 feet away. Many parts had been removed, including the tires, radiator, and carburetor. Oil stained the ground near the car, and an empty shotgun shell was found nearby.

After their initial examination of the scene, police theorized that the man had somehow been waylaid by thieves on the road. He resisted, and the criminals shot him. After, they stripped the car and the body of anything of value, then set it all on fire to make it look like an accident.

In spite of the ruined state of the vehicle, the license plate was still intact and legible.

By tracing the number, the sheriff’s department was able to identify the car’s owner, a Nebraska City native named Carl Albright. According to their information, his parents still lived there.

Unfortunately for the local sheriff, he had to track them down and deliver the awful news about their son. He then drove Carl’s father, J.F. Albright, to Plattsmouth to positively identify the body.

Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

According to the elder Albright, Carl had been working for the Omaha-based Ward-Condut Construction Company. He worked as a company timekeeper, keeping track of worker’s hours so that they could get paid fair and accurate wages. For the past year, Carl had been working for the company out of Rockport, Missouri.

The previous Friday, he finished up all of his work in Missouri and drove home to Nebraska City. Since that time, Carl had spent all of his time catching up and socializing with friends and family members. On Monday, December 22, 1924, he had loaded up his Ford Coupe and started north to Omaha. His intention was to take his documentation to his company, make an official report, and then spend Christmas with his family there.

Instead, he had somehow ended up dead. The question that police had was why.

   Carl’s body had been sent to Nebraska City for burial. Investigators asked Dr. G.W. Fegers, a local physician, to examine the body.

The remains showed no signs of bullet wounds or any other damage that was consistent with gunshot wounds. This was in direct contradiction to the initial police theory of robbery and murder.

Carl’s neck was broken, but there was no crushing damage to his skull, which might have indicated he had been bludgeoned to death. The front of his body had received extensive burns, and his heart and lungs had received severe heat damage.

After completing his examination, Feger’s offered up his own theory. He believed that Carl had stopped on the side of the road to put gasoline into his car. As he did, something caused it to ignite, resulting in a small explosion that set both the car and Albright on fire.

Suddenly finding himself engulfed in flames, Carl had started running blindly, perhaps looking for help or some way to put out the fire. The air flow from his panicked running only served to stoke the flames, making them worse. When he got near the ditch, Carl tripped and fell, breaking his neck.

According to Fegers, Carl Albright’s death was the result of a tragic accident.

Whichever theory was the right one, it was the sheriff department’s job to uncover the truth and bring the matter to a close. The investigation continued.

Some people driving down the highway that night had seen the burning car, but there was no sign of Albright. Apparently not seeing anyone near the vehicle or elsewhere, all but two chose to keep driving. The one man who stopped left when they didn’t see anyone in any danger or distress.

The other, Louis Burbee, was headed south from Omaha when he came across the burning car in the middle of the road. He was afraid to go around because he didn’t want his own vehicle to either catch fire or be near the other if the gas tank exploded.

Omaha, Nebraska. Courtesy of the Omaha World-Herald.

He told police that the car was still very much intact, such as it were, but there was no one around. Burbee stated that he saw a smaller flame in the distance, but thought that it was a fire that someone had deliberately set.

Eventually, he mustered the courage to drive around and get back on his way.

The Baumister family, who lived on a farm near where Albright’s car was found, said that they had seen a fire in that area from their house at about 8 p.m. A second, smaller fire was also seen moving away from the larger one.

A local Plattsmouth man named Oliver Harvey came forward and told the sheriff that he had ridden with Albright that night. Riding north from Nebraska City to Plattsmouth, Harvey recalled that there was a gas can in the car with them. Every so often, gas would slosh out onto the floor as they drove.

When asked about it, Albright explained that his Ford Coupe had a leaky carburetor, so he carried the can with him as a precaution. Carl dropped Harvey off at his destination, and then drove away.

When Albright’s car was more closely examined, police noted that it seemed that the parts were pirated from the vehicle after the fire. Where pieces were removed and bolts taken off, the metal was bright and shiny instead of blackened by the flames. This was also indicative that someone had come along the highway and stolen the parts from the burned-out car later.

In light of this new evidence, investigators concluded that Carl Albright’s death was unfortunate, but accidental. The missing company papers that he had been carrying, as well as his wallet and money, had either been burned or stolen by unknown persons later.

In spite of all the things pointing to accidental death, the Albright family kept insisting that Carl had been murdered. They reported every rumor and whisper, including that Carl had allegedly been seen with a mysterious passenger in his car.

The police dutifully looked into the claims, but they lead nowhere. Still, the Albright’s pressed the murder theory.

Finally, the county attorney for Otoe County, where Nebraska City was located, ordered that Carl Albright be exhumed and an autopsy performed. The purpose was to further examine the body for signs of bludgeoning or strangulation that might not have been readily apparent previously.

No new knowledge was gained.

Over the next several months, the Albright family continued to put forward any leads that they came across. The police, for their part, continued to investigate them all professionally and thoroughly.

The primary focus of investigators for quite some time was the unaccounted-for hours that Carl Albright spent in Plattsmouth before heading north toward Omaha. If they knew what he had done in the hours directly prior to his death, there might be an alternative explanation for his untimely demise.

Despite everyone’s best efforts, his whereabouts during that time were never fully discovered. They knew for certain that he left his car in an auto garage, but didn’t have any work done to it. Investigators also knew that he shared a meal with some companions at a local establishment.

The Albright Family said that Carl didn’t really have any friends in Plattsmouth. They also didn’t understand why he would have waited there so long when the weather was so cold and the roads going north were in such a poor condition that night.

Eventually, the leads dried up. The investigation, exhausting itself, was ultimately settled as an accidental death. While there were still unanswered questions, Carl Albright took his reasons and motivations with him to the grave.

Valued by his friends and loved by his family, Carl Albright was a young man full of life and promise. But fate had its own plans for him, and on a cold December night along a lonely Nebraska road, his days came to a sudden and unexpected end.

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Search For Clues In the Mysterious Death of Albright. Plattsmouth Journal, 1/1/1925

Search For Albright Slayers. Lincoln Journal-Star, 12/24/1924

Identify Watch. Plattsmouth Journal, 1/8/1925

Carl Albright Name of Victim of Car Tragedy. The Plattsmouth Journal, 12/25/1924

No Arrests Made So Far. Lincoln Journal-Star, 12/25/1924

Death Stills Christmas Joy. The Lincoln Star, 12/24/1924

Albright Died in the Accident. The Lincoln Star, 12/26/1924

Two Theories In Plattsmouth Case. Lincoln Journal Star, 12/26/1924

Brother Finds New Clew. Nebraska State Journal, 12/28/1924

Further Probe Into Mystery of Fatal Fire. The Plattsmouth Journal, 12/29/1924

Search For Clues In the Mysterious Death of Albright. The Plattsmouth Journal, 1/1/1925

Clue in Albright Case. Lincoln Journal-Star, 1/7/1925

Probe the Albright Case. Nebraska State Journal, 1/12/1925

Find A Ford Car Stripped On the Omaha Highway. The Plattsmouth Journal, 1/26/1925

May Have Clue To Mysterious Death of Carl Albright. Plattsmouth Journal, 2/212/1925

Goes To Sydney, Iowa. Plattsmouth Journal, 2/16/1925

Working On Old Mystery. Lincoln Journal-Star, 6/6/1925

Still Probing Into Albright Death Here. The Plattsmouth Journal, 6/9/1925


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