The murder of 57-year-old Anna Sarman rocked Carson Valley in 1895.
Anna and her husband, Fredrick, were living on the old Ferris Ranch about four miles south of Genoa, Nevada. Like so many local ranchers, the Sarmans originally hailed from Germany; they’d arrived in the Valley in 1882 and had lived peaceably there for a dozen years before that tragic spring day. Their extended family included two married daughters and a son: Mrs. Louisa M. Heitman; Mrs. Henry Frevert; and Fred Sarman.
But May 8, 1895 would prove to be Anna’s last day of life. Someone entered her home and struck Anna brutally in the head with a hatchet. Investigators later reviewing the crime scene concluded Anna had been murdered in the front room of the house; her body had been carried to a bed in an adjacent bedroom; and the bed was then set on fire. The hatchet that killed poor Anna was found in a nearby woodshed, “covered with blood.”
Nearby ranchers claimed to have spotted a transient named Jim Williams about 3 p.m. on the day of the murder, “hurrying through the valley . . . and looking back at short intervals as if expecting pursuit.” Williams was promptly arrested and actually admitted taking a meal at Mrs. Sarman’s house earlier that morning — but adamantly denied killing her. Local sentiment initially ran high; there was even talk of lynching. But when the preliminary hearing was held, “nearly all the testimony went to show that Williams could not have committed the murder,” according to the paper, and he was released.
A second transient, Joseph Richie, was arrested at Bodie about two weeks later. He, too, candidly admitted passing through Carson Valley on the day before the murder. Suspiciously, he was said to wear a “narrow-toed shoe which corresponded well” to footprints found near the Sarman home. But charges against him, too, eventually were dropped.
The local rumor mill kept churning, however, and community suspicion eventually began to turn toward Anna’s husband. Fritz Sarman claimed to have been out working in his fields at the time of the murder, returning home about 3 p.m. — “in the nick of time to save his property,” but not to save Anna or to catch any glimpse of the murderer. Fritz said there were witnesses to his whereabouts during those crucial afternoon hours, but none of the witnesses he named could be found. A few townsfolk reported that Fritz had “acted strangely” after discovering Anna’s body, going about his usual chores and even calmly milking his cows. Friends, however, expressed themselves “very confident” that Fritz was innocent.
Anna was laid to rest in the Genoa Cemetery, and sympathetic townsfolk turned out in huge numbers for her funeral: a reporter counted sixty wagons and buggies at the somber affair. Husband Fritz, however, did not attend; he was said to be “completely prostrated” by his wife’s tragic death.
Fritz Sarman passed away on May 12, 1900, almost exactly five years to the day after Anna died. He, too, was buried at Genoa, beside his wife. Whispers persist to this day, but the mystery of Anna’s murder was never officially solved.
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Enjoy real-life murder mysteries? I’m pleased to give a shout-out to my friend and fellow writer Sue Russell! Check out her fascinating book, The Illustrated Courtroom, for illustrations from some of the most colorful and historic criminal trials of the last half-century including Charles Manson, Jack Ruby, Patty Hearst, and “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz.
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