[Note: I was recently informed that some Kaukauna historians were interested in this write-up of Porter Ross. If you are one of these historians, please contact me. I would be happy to speak with you about this project (which I personally think needs more work) or other projects I have started on Kaukauna history.]
In Wisconsin’s history, there have been many unusual criminal happenings. Our cannibalistic killers — Gein and Dahmer — are legendary. Our northwoods was a vacationing spot for Al Capone. But one of the strangest cases of all revolves around a resident of Kaukauna – Porter Ross – who made a mockery of the justice system in one of Outagamie County’s most degrading cases ever. The Kaukauna Times called the event “one of the most blood curdling that has even been recorded in this county.”
Porter Ross was born in Erie County, New York state in 1842. His parents, both New York natives, were Daniel and Polly Ross.
In 1860, Porter was sent to Waupun Prison from Walworth County for unknown reasons at age 17. His stay was less than two years.
It was nine years prior (1851) when Governor Nelson Dewey signed an Act to appoint a three-member Prison Commission on March 14 to select a site for the penitentiary. Waupun was chosen on July 4, 1851 for two primary reasons: it was near the proposed Rock River Valley Railroad and the locale was surrounded with quality limestone for building. A temporary prison was started that same month. The original permanent building was constructed in 1854. It contained 288 cells and was built using convict labor, coming to a total cost of roughly $325 per cell or $93,600 overall.
The main administration building was built in 1855 with the large ornate stone and iron wall added in 1858. Young Ross was getting state-of-the-art prison facilities during his stay. An interesting sidenote is that Waupun housed all inmates – male and female – until the women were transferred to Taycheedah in 1933.
When the Civil War needed young men to serve for the Union, Porter grudgingly obliged. He enrolled in Shawano as a private in the 16th Wisconsin Infantry, Company D on January 2, 1862. He was anything but a model soldier, though, becoming a “bounty jumper” and deserting his crew as early as May 6, 1862.
In 1867 while employed as a farmer, Porter was sent back to Waupun Prison from Rock County for unknown reasons. He is given the number 1264 and is finally released again on August 12, 1870 with time served.
Ross found himself a wife, Diana Palmer Sears, shortly after leaving prison the second time. Diana was born in New York in 1845 to John Sears and Patty Foarel Sears. They were married in Shawano on December 23, 1872 (some sources suggest December 25, 1873 though this seems too close to their daughter’s birth). There followed three children: Mary at Richmond in January 1874, Charlotte in 1876, and John in 1879.
Porter Ross, now a farmer, was living in Spring Water, Waushara County in 1880. Daughter Mary died there on April 29, 1882 at age 8 and was buried in Saxeville.
More children were to come. Katie Ross was born in 1883, while the family lived in Richmond, near Shawano, and after moving to Kaukauna in 1886, he was blessed with another daughter, Carrie, in 1888.
Porter’s wife Diana died in Kaukauna on April 24, 1891.
Shortly after Mrs. Ross’s death, Porter was told of a young woman in DePere named Nellie Duprey. His neighbor had recommended her to him as a “first-class housekeeper.” Porter met Nellie at the home of her father in DePere, and took her on as a housekeeper along with her two children from a prior relationship — Mamie and Willie. Porter knew she was a woman with questionable morals, but she swore her faithfulness to him and he accepted her oath as sincere.
The pair were married on July 12, 1892 in Kaukauna by the Justice of the Peace, Michael H. Mulloy. Their witnesses were C. V. Burch and Charles Pope, persons unknown to this author. If that wily stonecutter Porter Ross had known the family history of Nellie Duprey when he married her, he might have had second thoughts. While his reputation was not spectacular, and hers was none better, her family’s was even more unusual.
The Duprey clan had lived in the Green Bay area for a great many years, settling in DePere. Jean Baptiste Duprey came to the area in the early 1800s, when Wisconsin was still part of Michigan Territory and run exclusively by United States troops. Jean Baptiste, a Frenchman, had been trained and educated to become a Roman Catholic priest but turned away from his calling to marry a Chippewa Indian woman.
Jean Baptiste’s marriage was evidently not a happy one. He and his wife were living in DePere in 1855 when the woman, now blind, attempted to kill her husband in his sleep. Her blindness was so severe, though, that in an attempt to grab his throat she had actually taken hold of his leg and nearly cut off his foot with a knife. This marriage produced three sons — one being Thomas Duprey, the father through his wife Mary of Nellie Ross and Katie Duprey.
In 1893, Ross was living on the north side of 13th, two houses north of Main. (The current address is unknown to me, though having the abstract for this house would fill in some details.)
One evening in the first week of October 1893, there was a noise coming from the cellar of the C. H. Hodges residence in Kaukauna. Hodges, a “loc eng” [locomotive engineer?] was living on Reaume Avenue at the northwest corner of Fourth. Mrs. Hodges heard the noise, but with her husband being away, did not care to investigate. The following morning the cellar was checked, and it was determined that roughly twenty cans of fruit and a jar of butter had been removed.
Marshal Julius Kuehn was notified and arrived on the scene to search for clues. Kuehn was a man of many talents, and was very respected in town. More than anything else, he was known as a successful businessman, having leased properties to others for their businesses (such as T. H. Warren’s dry goods store on Second Street, established 1890). He had invested in all sorts of new projects, including an elevator in 1885 (also on Second Street).
Julius was experienced in the field of danger, having walked away from an explosion on February 21, 1887. He was in his shop, pounding on a hot piece of iron with his hammer, when a spark flew off into a nearby cigar box. As luck would have it, Julius stored his gun powder in this box and thought little of it until this point. The resulting explosion took out seventeen panes of glass and sent Julius (along with hammer and tongs) several feet back from his anvil! No one else was in the shop, and Julius walked away unscathed.
Kuehn found the ground near the Hodges home to be soft, and there were easily identifiable footprints near the cellar door – those of a man’s foot and also those of a boy who appeared to have accompanied him. Kuehn, having “sized up” the residents of that part of town, decided to search the domicile of Porter Ross. Ross, a stone cutter, was living on the north side of Thirteenth, two houses north of Main. Kuehn ascertained that the shoe prints were comparable to shoes owned by Ross.
Kuehn called in to the residence, but there was no answer as Ross was absent. Julius began a thorough search, and did indeed find the fruit stored away in Ross’ cellar. The butter, however, appeared to be missing. Hodges identified the missing fruit and Kuehn waited at the Ross residence for Porter’s reurn, at which time he was placed under arrest.
But Ross was not ready to go willingly, and took off running. Kuehn pursued Ross and was able to successfully knock him to the floor. Ross struggled, but after having his head slammed repeatedly into the floor, Ross gave up every last ounce of fight in him. Ross was later arraigned before Squire Michael H. Mulloy (the same man who married Porter) and was fined $25 or three months in jail. Ross paid up.
Things didn’t stay quiet long. Nellie had Porter arrested in Kaukauna in 1894, claiming that he had tried to shoot her but missed. The case went as far as the city court where it was quickly dropped.
After the shooting incident, the couple moved to Aniwa for six weeks, and then moved again to Shawano where they were counted for the 1895 census. Memorial Day 1896 proved to be a turning point for the couple when after three years of marriage, Nellie again began her old lifestyle at the urgings of her sister. Despite these disturbances, Shawano was a place Porter found acceptable enough and was able to live there until December of 1896. At that point, he moved on to Menominee.
Throughout the years, Nellie repeatedly left Porter for other men but he was always able to persuade her to come home and give up her “life of shame.” However, Menominee was the couple’s downfall. While walking the streets on Thursday, December 29, Porter discovered that Nellie and her sister Katie — using the alias “Katie LaClair” — were keeping rented rooms in town. Porter again persuaded Nellie to come home, but she fled to Winneconne on Sunday (New Year’s Day).
Nellie returned home the next day with her sister, but left again by the end of Monday when Katie told the police that Porter had physically assaulted her. She also claimed that just prior to the “pounding” he sent her a letter in which he threatened to kill her. The following morning (Tuesday) he had a jury trial and was again acquitted.
Porter left Menominee in the middle of February 1897, and again took up residence in Kaukauna “on the Island” and found work as a stone mason. His wife and her sister did not join him, but instead took up residence in a place north of Menominee known as “the shanties.” After this, they again returned home to their father’s house in DePere but were also occasionally seen on the streets of Kaukauna. Nellie and Katie visited the “resorts” near Kaukauna and also the ones in Appleton. Porter had found Nellie taking up residence in an Appleton resort on Saturday, February 27. He tried to convince Nellie to return home with him, but was unable to this time. Porter was scared away from the house when the “woman of the house” appeared from upstairs with a revolver under her apron, and that was the last he saw of Nellie for over a week.
Porter was at home between two and three in the afternoon on Monday, March 8, when his attention was directed by his daughter to a horse-drawn carriage. Watching the sleigh and team of horses go by, he saw it contained his wife, her sister Katie, and two men that were unknown to him. With his new residence and job firmly in place, the last thing he wanted was any distractions. When his wife waved at him in a mocking manner, though, he became enraged and quickly took his pistol from the shelf and put it into his pocket. Witnessing his grab for the pistol was his maid, Miss Bertha Mills (sometimes identified as “Gertie Mills”). The pistol was a 38-caliber American Bull Dog revolver, which held five rounds. It had been in Porter’s possession for some time, and was admittedly an old gun.
Porter went directly to the livery stable and hired a horse and cutter. He followed the carriage just northeast of the city limits in the direction of a boarding house owned and operated by Mrs. Louise Beaulieu. The house, as was typical for the two sisters, was of a very poor reputation. Its precise location lay one and a half miles east of Kaukauna towards Wrightstown, along the river road with the race track adjoined to the resort. On the way, he passed Charles McCarty walking to town.
Upon reaching the house, he spotted the party’s team of horses hitched in front of the building as he had expected. He, too, hitched up his horses and went inside.
Porter was greeted by a young man (later found to be Fred Scharbo / Schabau / Schaubo of Appleton) sitting in the left hand corner of the front room and also by Mrs. Beaulieu. She had been forewarned of his possible coming by one of the women, probably Katie. Porter inquired about the two women, and Louise informed him they were upstairs. When he asked about the other man (who was later found to be Phillip Brown of Appleton), she confirmed that he was upstairs with the women. Porter asked Scharbo if he was the driver of the rig which brought the four out to the boarding house. He denied it, stating, “I am a stranger here. I just came from Canada.”
Porter instructed a girl he saw working (perhaps Amelia Yetke) to watch his horse, and he went upstairs with Mrs. Beaulieu. Ross had told her he had a warrant for the women’s arrest, and she assisted him on that pretense. She instructed the three to open the door, and they would not. When she demanded again, they unlocked and opened the door. The two women were in the middle of the room, and Phillip was standing to the left of the door with his coat off. Porter approached his wife, placed his hand on her shoulder, and said, “My God, Nellie. I have caught you in another place, same as I did a week ago [in Appleton].” When he urged her to come home with him, she retorted, “Go away! I will not live with you or have anything to do with you. I am going to lead a gay life and a fast one.” Porter became quite perturbed and threatened her with a warrant for her arrest.
While the four (without Brown) walked back downstairs, Nellie turned to her sister and said, “My God, Katie! You have lead me to this.” The three family members congregated in the kitchen with Scharbo (Mrs. Beaulieu had returned to the front room) and began talking to each other. Porter took hold of Fred’s coat and asked him to go outside for a moment. Scharbo refused the offer, but Porter insisted again. Katie suddenly said to Scharbo, “Fred, kill the old son of a bitch.” Fred reacted and pushed Porter into a table that was against the wall.
Porter was hit across the face between his cheek and nose, and was pushed hard enough that his elbow flew back through a window. Nellie started to egg Scharbo on, yelling, “Give it to him, Fred! Give it to him!” Thinking that he (Ross) “was getting the worst of it”, Porter pulled his revolver and shot at Scharbo. Fred fell back, holding his chest. Seeing he had been shot, Fred took off for the road.
Porter shot at Katie, who had tripped over Nellie while trying to run back upstairs. She was shot in the right breast above her lung. The bullet hit in just such a way that upon entering her chest it fell into the cavity of her lung where it could not be removed.
Nellie was hit by a bullet intended for Fred, and at this point she informed Ross, “I will go home and live with you, but I am shot.” One of the stray bullets had grazed her right shoulder, making a “skin wound.” When she turned to walk away, Ross stood in the doorway between the kitchen and front room and shot Nellie in the back. She fell down face first, bludgeoning her face on the door casing at the foot of the stairs. This bullet was far more direct. In an unlikely fashion, it entered her back under the right shoulder blade and somehow managed to exit at the base of her forehead between her eyes.
Katie staggered into the front room informing Mrs. Beaulieu that she was shot. Fred had since returned and was stumbling out a back door when Louise called him back in to go fetch a doctor. He told her that he wasn’t able to get far, as he was shot, too. Fred was luckier than both women, as his wound was simply a flesh wound and not life-threatening. He was shot on the left side under the lower rib, and the bullet had lodged in his right hip bone. His abdomen muscles were slightly torn, but his internal organs remained unharmed. When he was treated later that day by Doctor Boyd, the bullet was easily extracted. Brown was back in the front room by now. As it turned out, he had broken the upstairs window and jumped out, but returned when he was called back by Scharbo, who had been outside momentarily before he realized he had forgotten his hat.
When the macabre event was over and Porter saw what he had done, he said to himself, “My God, what have I done? I have killed my poor wife.” He turned the gun on himself and fired, but found all the chambers to be empty. The fifth bullet was lodged in the wall near the stairway, another one that missed Scharbo initially. Ross instead left the residence, spotting two other men (neither Brown nor Scharbo) running away in the direction of Wrightstown.
On the ride back home, Ross came across Charles McCarty again, still heading into town. Charles was just about to reach the railroad tracks where they cross Lawe Street. Said Ross to McCarty, “I have killed three of them since I saw you last.”
He repeated this assertion of three deaths when he reached the depot where Chief of Police Daniel Reardon was. “I went out there with the intention of killing them all and myself.” Reardon asked for the revolver, but Porter replied that he was perfectly capable of hanging on to it himself. The officer, somewhat surprised by the straight-faced response, was able to eventually get the gun from him. Ross was placed into the local lockup for a few hours before District Attorney Bottensek arrived on the 6:25 train. Both men (Ross and Bottensek) were already headed back to Appleton by the 7:01 train.
As soon as possible after the affray, Doctor C. D. Boyd and Doctor Lord were summoned to care for the three wounded at the boarding house. (Early reports had stated the doctors present were Boyd and D. A. Titus, but this seems to have been incorrect.) Somehow in an unexplained manner, Louise Beaulieu had received a minor “scalp wound” and needed a bandage for the damage done.
After the murder was discovered, a coroner’s jury was hastily assembled. The jury members were:
Thomas Malone of 332 Wisconsin Avenue.
C. W. Larson.
N. M. Kettenhofen.
The jury examined the body of Nellie Ross and also the premises where she was killed. They then adjourned until nine o’clock the next morning.
That same Monday evening Porter was taken before Judge Mitchell, who now had the revolver in his possession, for examination. Acting as Porter’s attorney was Alfred A. Nugent, a seasoned veteran in multiple senses of the term.
Nugent had served his second country — he was born in Canada — during the Civil War. At the unthinkably tender age of fifteen, young Alfred enlisted as a private in the 21st Wisconsin Infantry, Company I, in December 1863. He was with his regiment on the top of Lookout mountain in the winter of 1863-1864 and later was with General William Tecumseh Sherman in his campaign from Chattanooga to Atlanta, Atlanta to the sea and on through the Carolinas. It was at the battle of Bentonville, North Carolina where Nugent lost his right arm while advancing with the firing line, taking the place of a sick comrade.
More to the point, Nugent was also an experienced attorney. Following the war, he attended Lawrence University and graduated successfully. Alfred studied law under Judge Baldwin and Judge (Thomas?) Lynch of Calumet County, and was admitted to the bar in 1876. By 1884, he had been elected to the position of district attorney of Calumet County, but came to Kaukauna in 1889 to be the city’s attorney. In June of 1894, it was thought that Nugent would move from the city because he had sold his library and office furniture to Hampton Corlett, but this was simply a minor setback to Nugent’s continuing legal career.
Also present was District Attorney John Bottensek on behalf of the state. Bottensek was born in Waukesha County on January 4, 1850 to John Henry Bottensek (an immigrant from Hanover) and Sophia Remmers Bottensek. In 1855 he moved with his family to Dale and farmed with his father until the latter’s death in 1865. John remained on the farm with his mother, brother August, and sister Lena (Mrs. Edward Wege) until 1873. John, like Alfred Nugent, graduated from Lawrence University and the two were equally balanced opponents. John married Elsie M. Buck on September 26, 1878 and together they had a daughter, Elsie S. Bottensek.
Ross was officially charged with the murder of his wife, Mrs. Nellie Ross, and the case was adjourned until nine the next morning (along with the jury). Phillip Brown was also held over as a material witness in the sum of $200. He was arrested and placed in the lockup, but Appleton relatives posted his bond.
Before sundown, Ross was visited at the jail by a reporter from the Kaukauna Sun. Ross was alleged to lament, “My poor Nellie; her soul is in hell, and I sent her there.” But he was also quick to modify his story to appear in his favor, trying to convince the reporter that Katie was carrying a concealed dirk and he was only acting in self-defense. Unfortunately for Ross, no knife was found — nor did anyone recall spotting one.
He was also visited that evening by a reporter from the Appleton Crescent, who was told of Porter’s attempt to starve himself. He would not eat or drink anything offered to him by the officers. “No, I can’t do that. I am sustained by other influences.” The reporter discovered that Ross was a spiritualist and intended to kill himself in order to meet up with his wife in the near future. When he was asked if her spirit blamed him for what he had done, he said, “No, she had been told of it before hand.” Ross further explained that he had often talked with his deceased father through the powers of spiritualism and was warned in advance he would someday commit such a heinous act as the one he had committed that day. He even claimed he knew that his wife would come to Kaukauna this day and had told his daughters so.
“Do you excuse yourself through spiritualism for shooting the Duprey girl?” he was asked. “No, I am sorry for that,” was his reply, “They say she will die but I hope not so she will be able to profit by her experience and be an example to others.” Porter’s exact thoughts on how this experience would help her “profit” was not clearly established. Porter offered to write a full confession if his lawyer would allow him to do so. When told he would have no strength to write without food, he retorted, “Oh, no! I need no food, for the spirit sustains me and I can do without [food] for forty days.”
That night after the reporters left, Porter Ross was visited in his cell by the ghost of his murdered wife. The two of them held hands, and he promised to join her in death after she asked it of him. Numerous guards witnessed this exchange (although they could not see Mrs. Ross) and thought of it as particularly queer.
Fred Scharbo was taken before Judge Mitchell Tuesday morning after being charged with assault and battery. Scharbo was bound over in the sum of $100 for his appearance at the March 12 trial that Friday. The coroner’s jury was also asked to reach their verdict by Friday regarding the cause of Nellie’s death. The date of Friday was given under the belief that Katie would soon pass on, as well.
The remains of Nellie Ross were boxed up and sent to her father’s home in DePere on the noon train.
That afternoon, Chief Reardon attempted to get a statement from Katie Duprey, who was still in horrible shape. She was barely audible and he could hardly make out what she said, although she confirmed Porter was indeed trying to kill them, make no mistake about it. She told Reardon of a letter in which Porter threatened to kill her. The letter, allegedly in a trunk in Appleton, never surfaced to this author’s knowledge.
Reardon also interviewed Porter’s maid (Gertie Mills of Shawano), who told a tale of just how awful she found him to be. The Chief also determined that Porter was leaving behind a family “in destitute circumstances.” (The author is unable to ascertain what became of any of them.)
March 12 (Friday) came and at nine in the forenoon, the coroner’s jury declared that Nellie had died “from a shot fired by Porter Ross.”
When the Kaukauna Sun was published around noon on March 12, readers were greeted by a story in which the Sun called for Porter to be punished to the fullest. Included with in the article was the cold and callous claim that death “is too good for him; the jail during the balance of his life and hell hereafter will not be sufficient to satisfy justice for his crimes.” The March 12 Kaukauna Times came to a similar conclusion, stating that they “regret that there was not another bullet in the gun when he placed it to his own worthless head.”
Court was held Saturday morning, March 13, at Heindel’s Hall, with Judge Mitchell presiding. The courtroom scene was quite a spectacle, with “several hundred” people all gathered around to hear what the witnesses would say and to catch a glimpse of Porter Ross. The population of Kaukauna at this time was a solid 5,200. The witnesses’ testimony was more or less accurate to the story outlined above, with some minor changes or additions worth noting.
1. It was revealed that Mrs. Louise Beaulieu knew Kittie Duprey, and that the girl had actually worked for her about six weeks in early 1896. The other three people in the sleigh were unknown to her. Beaulieu testified that she had only heard three of the five shots fired. She also added that besides the witnesses identified in the newspaper, her son (Fred Beaulieu) was out back carrying in wood at the time of the incident.
2. Amelia Yetke was sworn in as a witness. Yetke, who had been employed by Beaulieu and lived with her nearly a year, testified she was upstairs when the two women and Brown originally came up. She had been in the front room or outside during the scuffle, however, and only came back from the wood shed for the final shot, when she saw Nellie Ross falling over dead.
3. Fred Scharbo’s testimony was consistent with the story. He simply added that he was unaware of the two women by anything other than their first names and he was not aware that either of them was married. He had only met them in Appleton four days prior to the shooting, although he was quite aware of their “character.” Fred also added that he had been drinking before reaching the Beaulieu residence, and both he and Brown purchased a bottle of beer when they arrived, as well.
4. Gertie Mills testified that she had been employed by Ross for two months, having come with him from Menominee. He would say on numerous occasions, “Poor Nellie, I will take revenge on the one that led her astray.” Gertie testified Ross was not in the habit of carrying his revolver on him.
Porter had been calm and collected all morning, glancing around the hall “to see how many he knew in the assemblage.” However, when Gertie took the stand he began to cry and while looking at her he shook his head over and over again.
When court adjourned, Ross asked permission to talk to Gertie Mills. Permission was granted and he went over to her, saying, “Gertie, I understand you have been telling some terrible stories about me.” A bit flustered, she replied, “Oh, I don’t know.” Porter insisted, “Yes, you have. The papers are full of it. Now, for God’s sake don’t make it any worse for me than it is, you know I have a good deal to stand.” He waited a moment and then added, “Gertie, be true to yourself.”
Also on Saturday was the case of Fred Scharbo’s alleged assault and battery. He pled guilty and accepted a sentence of $1.00 and costs, amounting to $6.20 in all.
Court reopened Monday the 15th at 9:00 a.m. for the defense to present its case. Attorney Nugent offered no evidence on behalf of his client, and the testimony was closed. Porter Ross was found to be guilty of murder and was committed to the county jail until he could have his trial there. [The trial held in Kaukauna appears to be similar to our modern day preliminary hearing, more or less deciding if there was enough evidence to take him to court at all.]
Katie Duprey finally succumbed to her ailments on Saturday, March 20.
The weirdness exhibited by the defendant was not exclusive to the city of Kaukauna. On Wednesday, March 31, Porter Ross, while confined at the county jail at Appleton awaiting his trial, called for a doctor during the night. Ross had previously been eating various pieces of tin, but the physician found he had thankfully given up that habit. Unfortunately, he had “taken to devouring the wire springs of his bed.” When Porter told the doctor he ate no less than sixty pieces of his bedsprings, the bed was thoroughly examined by the guards. Sure enough, they found that a “considerable” amount of wire was missing.
Porter’s arraignment before Judge John Goodland finally came on Monday, April 26. He pled not guilty. Other residents from Kaukauna appearing before Judge Goodland that day included Martin Hehn (for forging a $200 note), Sophus Morrison (for embezzlement), and former Kaukauna mayor Luther Lindauer (who was suing Albert W. Priest for the sum of $150). Defending Ross was, of course, Alfred A. Nugent.
Ross was still being visited in his cell by the ghost of his wife (and now his sister-in-law) as of Monday, May 10. The other jail residents were getting quite upset with what they saw as a “sham of insanity” and Porter succeeded in keeping the sheriff, turnkey, and numerous inmates awake for hours on end. To capture the attention of the other jail residents, Porter would shake the gratings, pound the walls, and rattle the ventilator until he was quite sure he had an audience. He would then “flop down” on his cot and begin to talk with “Nellie” and “Katie.” When talked to by others among the living, Porter ignored them and continued to stare straight ahead – sometimes groping at his face and making “dismal” groaning noises. He vowed to get a knife and escape from his cell, joining his wife on the other side.
Sentencing finally came for Porter Ross on Monday, June 21, 1897. In what can only be described as a miracle — or a miscarriage of justice — Judge Goodland sentenced him to a maximum of two years in prison under the charge of fourth-degree manslaughter. The Sun was quite upset with the verdict, and declared if “he had to kill several more the jury would probably purchase the murderer a home and pension him for life.” They further said that someone “has failed to do their duty… the blame must fall on the district attorney.” According to the paper, numerous witnesses were never called at all and the evidence — which was quite damning — failed due to this lack.
Before heading off to jail, Ross was re-arrested and charged with the murder of Katie Duprey. The trial would be held when he was released from jail on his current charges. On Tuesday morning, Ross reached the old familiar territory of Waupun prison for the third time in his miserable life. Undersheriff Thomas Mitchell visited Ross (along with prisoners Sinclaire and Haen) and discovered at that time Porter’s prior stays in Waupun and wondered whether that should have played some role in his sentencing from the judge.
After only twenty months, Ross was released from Waupun Prison in March 1899. He had been a model prisoner in every sense of the term, according to prison officials. The warden granted him his freedom, along with a new suit of clothes and eleven dollars. This freedom was short-lived, however, because Ross was greeted at the door by Outagamie County Sheriff William Wilson and brought back to jail to await trial.
Ross was arraigned Monday, April 17, and pled guilty just as before.
Porter Ross stood trial again Monday, April 24, 1899, with Attorney Nugent defending him once more. A new district attorney, Fred M. Wilcox, was prosecuting. Porter entered the court that afternoon dressed in a plain black suit. Unlike his haggard appearance two years before, he now stunned the court looking even more handsome and younger with his mustache and “chin whiskers.” The jail time had taken some life from him, however, as his mustache and hair had both gone quite grey.
Fifty men were drawn up that afternoon for the jury pool, and almost all fifty were called before the court decided on the twelve who would remain. The jury consisted of, in short: William Schultz, Liberty, farmer; Frank Spencer, Grand Chute, farmer; James McClellon, Dale, saw mill operator; H. G. Hough, Hortonia, farmer; William Blake, Cicero, farmer; X. Earle, Appleton, pump dealer; Richard Bottrell, Dale, farmer; Charles Christenson, Maine, farmer; Hugh Hagen, Greenville, farmer; Lewis Cole, Appleton, painter; and Dan Kattke of Appleton. Worth noting is the complete lack of any resident from Kaukauna, Kimberly, Combined Locks, or Little Chute — which seems to suggest the bias present in these communities.
The trial resumed the next morning, with attorneys presenting their opening statements. Nugent presented the argument that Ross was justified in his shooting and that the ordeal was an accident resulting from self-defense. The witnesses that morning were Louise Beaulieu, Fred Beaulieu (her son), Dr. Boyd (who tended to Katie Duprey), and Amelia Yetke (identified as “Amelia Yedischa”). Their testimony was the same as it had been in the last trial.
The afternoon consisted of Fred Schabo and William Brown (previously identified as “Phillip Brown”), the men who witnessed the shooting. The officers called in to investigate the shooting, Thomas R. Earles and Daniel Reardon, testified. George W. Fargo, the undertaker, testified. Katie Ross and Gertie Mills testified, as well as several “close relatives” of Katie Duprey. At this point, the state rested.
At 10:00 a.m. the following morning, Attorney Nugent took up his case. He called on numerous witnesses to show Porter had a good character and reputation before the shooting incident (which may or may not have been true, as we have seen). Most of the witnesses were residents of Shawano and other communities Porter lived before Kaukauna. Nugent called Dr. F. H. Kreiss, who had tended to Porter’s injuries in jail. Carrie, Katie, and John Ross all testified on behalf of their father. That afternoon, Porter testified the same as before — he only intended to shoot Scharbo, but the two women came into the line of fire.
Closing arguments were presented Thursday morning, April 27. Wilcox spoke “about an hour” and the papers felt he gave “a strong effort.” He was followed by Nugent, who “one-upped” him in the eyes of the spectators. He “made a splendid and most convincing speech and was given the closest attention by all in the court room.” After lunch, the state closed with a speech from Attorney Bottensek, the former district attorney, who also spoke roughly an hour. At that point, Judge Goodland handed the case over to the jury.
District Attorney Wilcox was apparently no better than his predecessor, because after only seventeen minutes of deliberations, the jury believed Porter’s story of self-defense. Ross was acquitted, thus ending what has been called “one of the most sensational and degrading cases ever tried in Outagamie County.”
After Porter’s trial and acquittal, he was never seen within the city limits of Kaukauna again and was not missed by those citizens. His whereabouts after Kaukauna remain unknown to me, but few have mourned the passing of Mister Porter Ross.
The last reminder of Ross disappeared in October 1900, when his old house (now vacant three years) burned entirely to the ground. The home, since acquired by the Building and Loan Association, was uninsured and completely unrepairable. As the Kaukauna Sun pointed out, the “loss was trifling;” a small price to pay to finally be rid of the stench that was Porter Ross.
For those of you who remain curious, Louise Beaulieu did eventually see her day in court. After an unidentified Kaukauna man complained, Sheriff Thomas Mitchell and deputy P. G. Sherman arrested Beaulieu and three girls living with her on July 13, 1903. One of the women was released, having just arrived at the home from Fond du Lac just moments before the bust. The other three were brought before Justice Koch in Appleton and charged with “keeping and being inmates of a disorderly house.”
Porter’s daughter Carrie married George J. Wesinski on August 7, 1903 in Hurley, Wisconsin. He was the son of Joseph and Mary Wesinski. Whether Porter attended the ceremony is unknown.