Murder in My Family Tree

In 1895 my Swedish 2nd great-grandmother was convicted of inciting the murder of her husband. She was sentenced to life imprisonment. At 62 she died in prison after serving six-and-a-half years of her sentence.

I mentioned Maja Stina Karlsdotter Molin’s story here. It was disturbing to learn this information and prompted one particularly nagging question – why? I will never know the complete answer, but learning some of the facts surrounding her case gives perspective about this chapter in my family history. Many thanks to Bo Johansson for his invaluable help in the transcription and translation of the information contained in Swedish parish records.

Uppsala in the 19th Century

Uppsala Sweden

Stina was born in Börstil, Uppsala, Sweden on 02 Jul 1839. She gave birth to four children; Maria (1867-1944), Carl (1871-1945), Johanna (1876-1956) and Johan (1878-?) who may have been fathered by Karl Johan Andersson Molin. Stina married Karl Johan 28 May 1880 and had two more children; Agnes (1880-1952) and Henning Bernhard (1883-?).

In 1878, when Johan was eight months old, Karl Johan Molin was sentenced for first offence theft with burglary to hard labor for six months and loss of civic trust (the same as being declared a minor) for two years. In 1886 he was arrested again, this time for battery with a life-threatening arm. He was sentenced to hard labor for a year and nine months, with an additional six months added for a crime written illegibly in the parish records. In 1891 Karl Johan was sentenced yet again for yet another battery and the use of a lethal weapon.

The three oldest children immigrated to the US, settling in Chicago; Maria in 1887, Carl in 1890 and Johanna in 1891.

Karl Johan Andersson Molin was killed 12 Mar 1895. Maja Stina was sentenced to life in prison on 24 Apr 1895 for incitement to murder him. Her son Johan was sentenced the same day to seven years in prison for his involvement in the murder of his mother’s husband.

I can’t help comparing the dates of Karl Johan’s convictions and the dates of immigration for Stina’s children. Stina and her children were destitute, yet somehow they found enough money for three tickets from Sweden to America. Perhaps the parish paid for the tickets; perhaps as a way to ensure the safety of Maria, Carl and Johanna?

Stina’s son Johan did not serve his entire seven year sentence. He was given special permission to immigrate to America and did so in June of 1901.  I hope he found a better life.

Börstil-B-3-1895-1936-Image-380-page-33 enlarged

1901 Utflytting Record of Johan Karlsson

8 thoughts on “Murder in My Family Tree

  1. I forgot to say that the lynching I wrote about happened in the fall of 1889, so not that distant in time from the murder you discuss, even if half a world away.


  2. Often there is more to such stories than meets the eye. Perhaps her husband’s sentences for battery actually involved domestic violence against her. Maybe her son’s involvement in the murder was an attempt to help his mother. In those days without any formal understanding that domestic violence was a crime, people still often had some compassion for those involved. Whatever the case, I am sure that your 2nd g grandmother Stina’s murder case was much more complex than the records of the time allow us to see.

    One reason I’m sure of this is that my gg grandfather became involved in a murder case in WI that included domestic violence. I know more about it, because it happened in the US and made the newspapers. My gg grandfather, a Norwegian immigrant, had a Norwegian neighbor in the Norwegian community who subjected his wife and children to severe beatings, which the “law” did nothing about. He also appeared to be the best suspect when my gg grandfather’s barn burned down, livestock inside, in an arson fire, though the authorities refused to investigate, even when the man threatened to do the same to the house, with the family inside. He was a general nuisance, frightening the neighbors. Finally he put someone up to stuffing gunpowder in some wood in the woodpile of a merchant to whom he owed money he couldn’t pay, apparently thinking that when the wood was used, the resulting explosion would kill the merchant, his family, and any customers in the store. Luckily, when the wood was used, it was damp from rain, the resulting explosion was minor, and no one was hurt. He was traced, and went to prison. He had asked my ancestor for help in his trial, which my gg grandfather refused, remembering the arson incident. The man went to prison for 5 years for attempted murder, and the area had 5 peaceful years. His family were free of his battering. The minute he returned, he beat them again, and his wife went to the sheriff. This time he went to jail, on a parole violation. He was heard by the sheriff to say he’d “get” my gg grandfather, blaming him for his prison term.

    A few days after he was released, he broke into my gg grandfather’s cellar at night, but did not come into the house itself–one of the children heard him. Learning of this intrusion in the morning, my ancestor went to another neighbor who’d had similar problems, and they agreed to go to the man that night with a few “respectable” Norwegians to talk this man into leaving.

    Well, the upshot is that a mob showed up, and the man ended up lynched. This is the only case in US history where a group of Norwegians lynched another Norwegian. My gg grandfather, the other man, the victim’s wife, who wasn’t involved at all though she was in the house at the time, and one of his sons, who wasn’t involved in any way, all ended up in a travesty of a trial, accused of 1st degree murder. My gg grandfather pleaded guilty, the others innocent. All got life sentences at hard labor (WI didn’t, and doesn’t, have the death penalty, or they probably would have hung, even his wife), plus 3 days per year in solitary confinement.

    Within four years, petitions circulating in the county were signed by everyone on the jury, the DA, and hundreds of citizens, asking for pardons. The judge who had tried the case asked the governor for a pardon for them all. A few months later, it was granted. I have a copy of the pardon, which takes the judge to task for how he handled the case.

    My reason for writing at such length is to say that “my ancestor was a murderer” is not always a very clear-cut statement. I think my gg grandfather was, however misguidedly, trying to protect his family from a man who we would call mentally ill. In the case of your 2nd g grandmother, she may have been trying to protect herself and her children from a husband who beat her, and them. You don’t have enough information to know that for sure, but I think in the case of my ancestor, I do.


    • Thank you for sharing your story. Just to clarify, I would never say “my ancestor was a murderer”. We never know the full story of what happened to any of our ancestors. I learned long ago not to judge the people in my family tree.


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