Reminiscing: Historic Jackson County murder trial took place in 1899A story of the early years of the family in Jackson County has one of Albert Dunai and Andrew Zelar arguing over a stud bill of $2 or $3 that Andrew refused to pay.
By: H. Ed Carlson, Worthington Daily Globe
LAKEFIELD — I picked up a family book written by Steven Henry Ukasick, the son of old friends — Steven John and Dorothy Lambert Ukasick. The family is of Polish ancestry. The book is well written, and it has stories from newspapers of the Lakefield area incorporated in places.
I’ve included the following stories with permission of the author.
A story of the early years of the family in Jackson County has one of Albert Dunai and Andrew Zelar arguing over a stud bill of $2 or $3 that Andrew refused to pay. According to the Lakefield Standard of Nov. 11, 1899, District Court was convened at Jackson with Judge James H. Quinn presiding. The state was represented by Attorney E.T. Smith, and H.G. Latourell and E.C. Dean of Fairmont for Albert Dunai. It took from all of Tuesday to noon of Wednesday to select 35 men for the jury out of a jury pool of 56.
The story told to the court by Mrs. Zelar was that Mr. Dunai came to their place about 5 pm. with a gun, and the Zelars had been drinking alcohol all afternoon. Dunai accepted a drink; then Zelar threatened to kick him out of the place, took him by the shoulders and shoved him out the door. Both men went outside, and soon a report of a gun was heard and a cry of agony. A neighbor was summoned and, after a search, Zelar was found near a straw pile and bleeding from the side. He was carried into the house, where he died in the early night.
According to the published report of the trial in the Nov. 18, 1899 Standard, Mr. Dunai gave this account of himself. On Sept. 24, he went hunting and met Andrew Ferrick. He returned home at three o’clock, did chores, had dinner and went to see his corn, which is two miles east of his house. He took his gun with him. From there he went to Zelar’s farm.
He rapped on the door and Zelar came. They passed the time of day and Zelar said, “What do you want? Oh, I know what you want. You want that money.” Dunai answered, “Yes if you have it, if not we will let it go ‘til some other time.” (Zelar was owed for stud services of his stallion.) They went out to the barn to look at the colts. Dunai then said he might as well go home if Zelar didn’t have the money, but Zelar told him he must not go yet and asked him to go up to the house, as he had got half gallon of alcohol the day before and they would have some schnapps.
When they went up to the house, the men were dancing and singing and yelling and the women assisting. Zelar got a bottle and treated all his guests and drank himself. Dunai got what was left in the bottle — a small glass.
The crux of the matter was Dunai was found guilty of murder in the first degree. The Dec. 2, 1899, Standard reported Albert Dunai was sentenced to be hung. He was remanded to the sheriff for transport to Fairmont jail, where he would be kept in solitary confinement until the governor fixed the date of his execution. This was carried on by commutation of the sentence, which was finally changed to life in prison.
Steven Henry Ukasick researched this and found Albert was eventually released to freedom after 37 years of incarceration. Albert Dunai died Oct. 22, 1937, after living with his son, Peter. Albert had been born in Jaslo, Austria, on June 5, 1857, and had attained 80 years, 4 months and 17 days when death claimed him.
This murder trial and conviction was the first in the county, and also the first in the old 13th Judicial District of court.
H. Ed Carlson is an employee of the Jackson County Historical Society.