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Peccadilloes in the Police Department


Written and contributed by Ben Feld


“Good-Old-Boyism” has been a feature of government, be it federal or local, since long before its hey-day just after the War of Rebellion more than a quarter of a century ago.  I suppose, if one is in government service, it is nice to know some of the “old boys” will be looking out for you in case you are ever in trouble of some sort.  Sometimes that looking out takes the form of refusing, quietly or overtly, to discipline or prosecute a fellow worker for an obvious infraction of the rules or the laws; sometimes it consisted of deliberate postponing , dragging of one’s feet, as it were, and delaying prosecution until the infraction is all but forgotten.


Do you remember the case of Mary Gruezmacher in 1886?  (Maybe it deserves to be called a case of “Good-Old-Girlism”)  She was charged , early in the year with keeping a “disorderly  house,”  a “house of ill-repute,” a “bawdy house;” call it what you wish, but prosecution of her case was sure to embarrass a few well-known men in the community.  The case dragged on for months and months until finally, at the insistence of the newspapers as well as a good number of citizens, she was fined $100 and cost, the total amounting to about $200.  Rumor had it that she had no sooner paid the fine than she was back in business again [see Cross Reference below]. 


There were many similar cases; ask any resident of our city.  Most were small, unimportant hungry- mid-summer mosquito types of cases, not at all earth-shaking, just annoying to the Board of Street Commissioners, the city marshal, the mayor and other officials in the city hall whose job it was to deal with them.  It seemed that every time a nagging complaint did make it to the agenda of the meeting of the Board of Street Commissioners, or the City Council, it was dealt with what finally became an all too familiar decree:  “The communication was laid on the table”.  


The treatment of a complaint that Sheriff Illing had been directing his deputies to “go a bit slow in making arrests” rankled the complainants severely when after discussion of the complaints left no doubt the city officials put it in a category on a level with school-boy tattling and was “laid on the table” which effectively banished it to the never-never land for unimportant complaints.


But finally one complaint just refused to go away.  Week after week the Board of Street Commissioners and/or the individual officers received complaints that the night watchman, the officer appointed to serve the post of a night police officer (but at a lesser salary) was sleeping while on duty.  Each time the complaint was perfunctorily dismissed until finally City Marshal Zautner, that paragon of virtue, that honorable, up-holder-of-the-law could no longer ignore the complaints.  So when night watchman Jansen was caught for the umpteenth time, sleeping on the job, the marshal prepared a formal complaint to present to the Board of Street Commissioners.


But his efforts were for naught when Jansen handed in his resignation at the beginning of the meeting, before Zautner had a chance to make his complaint and demonstrate his dedication to his job.  Now there was nothing on record indicating Zautner’s innocence of “good-old-boyism”.  Nothing in the minutes of the proceedings would now indicate he had spent hours drawing up the complaints so as to leave no incriminating loop-holes.  And furthermore, not a word of his attempt to bring Jansen to account for his sleeping on duty or a word of any recrimination in the newspaper.


But the proceedings of the meeting which were published in the next issue did report that Jansen had resigned, and the Board of Street Commissioners had, at that same meeting, unanimously appointed Charles Wendtlandt as replacement.  But no mention was made of the relief felt by the councilmen and the satisfaction they enjoyed knowing they had dealt with the incident with dispatch.  No more complaints about a sleeping night-watchman.  Peace had been restored.  Things would be quiet now.


But peace lasted less than a month.  Soon complaints were again being submitted (and laid on the table), complaints of Wendtlandt also sleeping on the job.  This time, however, a Watertown citizen, Fred Behling, got involved.  He was determined there would never again be any night-watchmen sleeping while on duty.  And he came up with a plan to gather circumstantial evidence; a plan, which, while not particularly clever, would surely be effective.  .


So, one night when he was sure Charles Wendtlandt was asleep in a chair in the fire house on the east side, Behling stealthily crept up on Wendtlandt and, without disturbing his sleep, removed the night watchman’s badge.  What better proof could anyone secure as evidence the wearer was asleep?


Next morning he swore out an affidavit before Judge Halliger, swearing that he had not been bribed, or even urge by the city marshal to perform that dastardly act.  At the meeting of the Board of Street commissioners the next evening Marshal Zautner, as was his duty, presented the case to the board.  With due solemnity the Board heard the charges, considered them briefly, listened to Wendtlandt’s explanation, which they deemed reasonable and satisfactory, and dismissed the case.


It is safe to assume that Wendtlandt experienced a sense of relief when he heard the case being dismissed.  I have no idea what went on in the minds of Marshal Zautner and Fred Behling when they heard that pronouncement.  They probably experienced puzzlement, chagrin, and a good amount of disbelief.  Their disbelief must have been heightened when after hearing the Board of Street Commissioners conferring among themselves, and then ordering Marshal Zautner to arrest Fred Behling, placing him under $200 bail for his appearance before Justice Halliger for the crime of “stealing from a person”.


There !!   A crime had been committed and justice had been meted out.


It should be noted that Justice Halliger, apparently the only clear head serving the city, at the hearing discharged the prisoner, because, it was reported, “the evidence was not of a criminating nature.”


Justice did prevail.  Is this a great country, or what?


Cross Reference

New Trial is Denied

Watertown Gazette, 10 16 1908

Judge Grimm Sentences Charles Donovan to Eight Years Imprisonment at Waupun


Jefferson, Wis., Oct. 8 —Judge George Grimm of this city today handed down an important decision in denying a motion for a new trial in the case against Charles Donovan, who was convicted of criminal assault on a girl under the age of 14 years.  A new trial was asked for on the ground that evidence had been used against him which he had given as a witness in the case against Ida Gruetzmacher of Watertown, who was convicted of keeping a house of ill fame in that city.  Under section 4581h of the statutes of Wisconsin it is provided that full immunity shall be granted to persons who may testify to any matters concerning facts or circumstances relative to the conviction of keepers of disorderly houses.  Judge Grimm denied the motion for a new trial upon the ground that section 4581h is unconstitutional and void, and the witness should have invoked his constitutional privilege of not answering upon the ground that his answer might incriminate him.  Donovan was sentenced to eight years at hard labor in the state penitentiary.  His attorney will appeal.