Pondering the Past: Tales Lost in Time - The "Foul Murder of a Young Farmer"

The areas of Deerpass Road and Kishwaukee Valley Road, in many ways, are typical of the McHenry County landscape. Gently-rolling fields planted with crops, small farms, and single-family homes create a peaceful and serene landscape.

It was in this setting where two young, single farmers, John Bedford and Oscar Hoganson, lived in the fall of 1908. Bedford’s farm was located on the west side of Deerpass Road, just south of Kishwaukee Valley Road in Marengo Township. Hoganson lived about one mile away, possibly on Kishwaukee Valley Road east of Deerpass Road, in Seneca Township.

Marengo-area residents who picked up the Friday, November 6, 1908, issue of the Marengo Republican News saw the awful headline: “FOUL MURDER OF YOUNG FARMER.” Most of the locals were probably already aware of the grisly crime, since the body of Hoganson, with a bullet wound in the head, was found buried in Bedford’s chicken coop on the previous Saturday, October 31. According to the article, Hoganson lived on the Ritzert farm about four miles northeast of Marengo. In the week preceding the gruesome discovery, Hoganson’s neighbors became concerned when they noticed a lack of activity on the farm. Further inquiry revealed that Hoganson was nowhere to be found and his three horses were missing as well, but there was no indication of foul play.

When Hoganson didn’t reappear by Thursday, his neighbors contacted relatives in Chicago. Hoganson’s brother and sister arrived at the farm the next morning and immediately notified McHenry County Sheriff, Charles Wandrack. Through his investigation, Wandrack learned that Hoganson had been seen alive the previous Saturday, October 24, and he was on his way to Bedford’s homestead. With this new clue, the focus of the search for the young farmer shifted to Bedford’s farm where the body was subsequently discovered. With one mystery solved, two more were at hand - where was John Bedford, and what happened to Hoganson’s horses?

During the search of Bedford’s property, Wandrack found a potential lead to his whereabouts, a letter from Bedford’s mother in Ellis, Nebraska. The sheriff wired Nebraska law enforcement officials and requested that they be on the lookout for Bedford, and if he was located, to arrest him immediately. While Wandrack waited to hear from Nebraska, he continued to tenaciously work the case. About three miles from Hoganson’s place, he located a farmer who had witnessed a man go by, under the cover of darkness, with three horses tied behind the buggy. Additional digging revealed that a man had recently sold three horses in Rockford for $75.

Wandrack quickly acted on this clue and paid a visit to the Rockford horse dealer. The mystery of Hoganson’s missing horses was solved. The horse dealer described the man who sold him the horses as six foot tall with broad shoulders, a build similar to that of Bedford. Soon, Wandrack heard from Nebraska that Bedford was in custody. He immediately dispatched McHenry County Sheriff ’s Deputy Jim Burke to extradite the prisoner to Illinois. On the train trip back, Bedford confessed to the heinous crime.

In the December 1939 issue of Daring Detective magazine, a sensational version of this crime was published. According to the article Bedford said, “Yes, I killed Hoganson. I needed money to go to Nebraska, and the only way I could think of getting it was by selling Oscar’s horses.” Bedford further admitted that he invited Hoganson to his home for supper, and while Hoganson ate, Bedford shot him in the head. Bedford never contested the criminal charges in court. On February 4, 1909, he stood before McHenry County Judge Charles Donnelly as he passed sentence. Donnelly, who was not fond of sending killers to the gallows said, “...capital punishment ought to be abolished, and that the law should not recognize as right a legal murder,” when he sentenced Bedford to life in the penitentiary at Joliet, Illinois. Bedford lived for 17 years in the dreary confines of a prison cell, and eventualy was assigned to the prison honor farm.