Ogden’s Union Station is by far my favorite old building this city has. The history behind the station is incredible, and there are quite a few tales about its ghostly activity. The story of the Death Trunk is just one of the fascinating tales the Union Station has. I’ve investigated this location numerous times throughout the years, and would usually come away with at least one or two quality EVPs. More often than not, the voice captured was that of a woman.
A few years ago I began to dig into the past of the station and see what I could uncover. Honestly, Ogden’s Union Station is what prompted me to start The Dead History. I’ve uncovered over 41 deaths that occurred at the Union Station. Some deaths were due to natural causes and freak accidents, some were due to murder, and some were suicides. It’s important to remember just how many people passed through this building on a daily basis. At the peak of war traffic in 1946, up to 140 passenger trains were passing through the station each day.
The Crime Is Discovered
The Union Station didn’t handle just passenger cars; it also dealt with cargo and mail. Needless to say, it was an incredibly busy place. And Wednesday, March 19th, 1924 was no different. Alexander Brown, who was employed as a baggage handler and electrician for the railway, was busy moving pieces of luggage and cargo off of the train. After slipping while trying to move a massive trunk, he realized that he was slipping on a small pool of blood.
An investigator for the Union Pacific railroad was called, and when the trunk was opened, they found the body of a woman who had obvious head trauma and had been wrapped in two carpets. Women’s clothing was packed around the body as well. Ogden City police were quickly notified, and the investigation into the murder of this unknown woman began. The newspapers were quick to describe the trunk as The Death Trunk.
Dog Brought Murder to Light
While being questioned by police, Alexander Brown mentioned that he thought there was something unusual about the trunk while it was en route to Ogden. When he placed the trunk on the train, he tied an Airedale Terrier to it who was being shipped to San Francisco from Denver by an army officer. He stated that the dog clearly did not like being tied to the trunk, and incessantly barked and howled.
When Mr. Brown went to see what the problem was, he stated the dog was trying with all his might to get away from the trunk. After being moved to a different part of the train car, far from the trunk, the dog calmed down and was quiet for the remainder of the trip. He also told police that while loading the trunk onto the train in Denver, he remarked to a coworker that it sounded like someone was shipping liquor to California the way the contents of the trunk sloshed around.
The Lady In The Trunk
Ogden police learned that the trunk had been shipped to Ogden from Denver, on its way to Weed, California. Union Pacific had the name and address of the man who shipped the trunk from Denver, and Ogden police accompanied the body back to Denver by train that night to talk to police there.
Police began asking around at the Denver train depot if anyone had seen a man named John J. Smith who lived at 4144 Clay Street and brought a trunk to the station on Friday, March 14th. They soon found that the name and address were bogus, but the address, at least, was not far off from the suspects real address. A few people stated they remembered seeing a man dragging a massive trunk and gave police a physical description. It didn’t take long for them to connect the trunk to Fred Janssen of 4124 Clay Street, and once they received information that no one had seen his wife since Thursday, March 13th, they were certain they had their man.
The lady in the trunk was Isabella Mary Janssen. Originally from Pittsburgh, she worked at a local department store and had been married to Fred Janssen for about five years. According to police, based on the condition and quality of her clothing and the items in the trunk, she did not appear to live a very comfortable life.
Husband is Arrested
When police questioned Fred, he said he was afraid that Bella was trying to kill him. He decided to pay a “Mexican” $150 to kill her while he waited in the next room. When police pressed for more information, Fred couldn’t remember the man’s name. Police discovered that a month before Bella’s murder Fred purchased two life insurance policies on Bella totaling $1,000. After he killed her, he called the Salvation Army to pick up all of her clothing and other small belongings. He told the person who picked up her belongings his wife left him to move to Pittsburgh with her family.
Finally, after 3 hours of intense questioning, Fred admitted to murdering his wife. He said he attacked her with a hammer while she was kneeling next to the bed in prayer. He then strangled her and then stuffed a handkerchief down her throat. The medical examiner stated that it was likely she was still alive when she was placed in the trunk.
Once locked in a jail cell awaiting trial, Janssen would scream that he did not want to die. “Please don’t let them hang me.” His defense team claimed he was not guilty because of insanity.
Trial & Sentencing
Fred’s trial began on April 8th, 1924 with prosecutors seeking the death penalty. During the trial, the death trunk was brought into the courtroom for the jurors to see. His trial lasted less than two days, after 8 minutes of deliberation he was found guilty. Judge Clarence Morely stated: “the testimony of a confession was merely circumstantial testimony and as such prevented the infliction of the death penalty.”
He was sentenced to life imprisonment in Canon City, Colorado on April 11th, 1924. Fred Janssen died in prison, at the age of 64 on the 29th of November, 1948. He is buried at Woodpecker Hill in the Greenwood Cemetery in Canon City, Colorado. The inscription on his tombstone simply reads 381.