Searching for what happened to ‘Bad’ Peter

Sometime this summer, I noticed that both Mathias Konzen and his brother John Konzen (my great great grandfather) had sons named Peter.  Mathias’s son was Peter Henry Konzen (1857-1935) and John’s son was Peter H Konzen (1872-?).  At the time, I dismissed this as not very weird at all since I’ve seen much stranger things in the Konzen’s genealogy.

One day, I skimmed some news articles on Ancestry about Peter H Konzen and I didn’t really read the full extent of them, but I saw that his wife was granted a divorce from him.  That still wasn’t anywhere near weird enough for me to look deeper into Peter H Konzen’s history.  Around this time period, I found some great information on Peter Henry Konzen’s life (at this website  It turns out that Mathias’s son Peter Henry seems to have been an all-around good guy, he was a lawyer, mayor, and judge.

Soon after this, Paula found a bunch of newspaper articles on Peter H Konzen who was also a lawyer.  And we discovered that John’s son Peter H wasn’t an all-around good guy like his cousin Peter Henry.  In fact, Peter Henry was probably very glad that he moved to Minnesota from Chickasaw County, Iowa, and I bet he wanted to change his name a time or two.  Peter H was the ultimate bad Peter.  As my great aunt Kay Konzen Anderson says, “he was always a schemer.”

According to a newspaper article that Paula found, bad Peter “a real estate dealer and justice of peace at New Hampton, started for Chicago Sept. 26 [,1903] and has not been heard of since.”  On October 15, 1903, the Evening Gazette published an article entitled “Was Iowan Murdered by Chicago Thugs?”  The article states “Chicago, Oct. 15 – Murdered for the purposes of robbery is believed to have been the fate of P. H. Konzen, a wealthy justice of the peace of New Hampton, Iowa, who disappeared on his way to this city during Centennial week.  The police were asked today to solve the mystery surrounding his disappearance.  Konzen, who is 35 years of age, left his home September 29, and came to Chicago to attend the centennial celebration, after which he intended to sell here a large piece of land in South Dakota.  His friends believed that he made the sale and received in payment a large amount of money, for which he was held up and probably murdered.”

The Elgin Echo reported on Nov. 12, 1903, in a piece called “Lost in Chicago” that “Five weeks after the disappearance of P. H. Konzen from New Hampton a trace was secured last week.  One was from Chamberlain, S. D., reporting the deposit of a deed to lands in Brule Co., S. D., which deed was sent from Chicago, Ill., Sept. 29th, 1903.  Another trace was from letters found on Adams street bridge in Chicago on the morning of Sept. 29th.  This came in a letter from Valparaiso, Ind.  This shows that Mr. Konzen did go to Chicago as he intended to do when he left home; but Chicago is a pretty large hole in which to hunt a lost man.”

Right now you’re probably wondering why we call him bad Peter…

In the Jan. 21, 1904, issue of The Nashua Reporter it was written that “A telegram to a party here brought the news of the safety of P.H. Konzen but does not give the location of the man nor any facts relative to his disappearance.  We are glad he is found and hope there will be some reasonable explanation of the seeming cruel abandonment of a loving wife and chidren.  We always liked P.H. Konzen and still persist in the belief that this last matter will be explained.”

The Nashua Reporter reported in the Feb. 18, 1904, issue that “W.L. Darrow accompanied Mrs. P.H. Konzen to Marshalltown Sunday where Mrs. Konzen was notified she would meet her husband and fix up their business matters.  For some reason Mr. Konzen failed to keep the appointment but informed them that he would be there very soon.  Both Mr. D. and Mrs. K. are still, at this writing, in Marshalltown and but little is known about the matter at this time.  Later: A telephone message from Mr. Darrow informs us that he has met Konzen and will be home Thursday.  No facts as to any settlement of business has yet been received.”

In an article entitled “Konzen a Wife Deserter” The Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette reports “New Hampton, Iowa, Feb. 19 [,1904] – A meeting between Mrs. P. H. Konzen and her husband, the New Hampton business man, who left here on September 29, and who was for a time thought to be dead, took place a few days ago at Marshalltown.  [It] now develops that Mr. Konzen has been at Vaiparaiso, Indiana, at school ever since he left here.  He shaved off his mustache and entered the school under the name of Carl Meyer and all of the evidence which tended to show that he might have been killed was manufactured by him and it was through the alleged transfer of Dakota land that his brother John discovered his whereabouts.  The details of the meeting between husband and wife are not known.  It is sufficient to say that Mr. Konzen refused to be reconciled to live with his wife, that he transferred his property here to her and that she will have the custody of the children.  The curtain now goes down on this affair.”

According to the Dec. 21, 1905, issue of the Nashua Reporter, Elizabeth Leichtman Konzen was granted a divorce from P.H. Konzen.

It seems hard to imagine how a 31 year old man could pass himself off as a student – or why he’d want to do so – but that’s just bad Peter for you.  Last month, I visited my great aunt Kay Konzen Anderson and I asked her about the Konzen side of her family because I’ve never heard any stories about my great grandfather’s family.  Kay told me that she didn’t know that her dad had a brother named Peter until she was about ten years old and she asked her mother about the man in a picture that they had in her house.  Her mother (Ella Kuske Konzen) told her that he was John Charles’s brother Peter and since John Charles no longer considered Peter his brother, he wouldn’t talk about him.  Then Ella told Kay this story of Peter (which contradicts the newspaper accounts a bit).

According to Kay, bad Peter’s wife Elizabeth Leichtman Konzen (her brother Casper was married to bad Peter’s sister Mary) was waiting at the hospital for Peter to pick her up after the birth of their last child and he never showed up.  When she got home, he’d left a note saying he didn’t want to be married anymore and that he’d set up an account of money for her so she wouldn’t have to work and he’d disappeared.  My interpretation of this and the newspaper accounts is that Peter probably “left for Chicago” soon after the birth of their last child (their daughter Bessie was born Aug 4, 1903 and he disappeared in September 1903).  Then when Peter was found he told Elizabeth he didn’t want to be married anymore and gave her money when they met in Marshalltown or she got the money from him when they divorced.

Then, according to my aunt Kay, Peter ran off with a nun (maybe she was a teacher at the school he was attending during his disappearance)!  But, he refused to marry her and they lived together for a while.  Then he married again and lived in Wisconsin and he had some more kids and up and left his wife one day when his kids were teenagers.  Before Kay told me about bad Peter, I didn’t know that he married a second time and I haven’t, yet, been able to find Peter and his second family.  I really have no trace of him after his divorce was granted in 1905.
Kay told me that she’d found out about bad Peter’s second family one day when one of his daughters (my guess is that it was Mamie) was in a nursing home in Minneapolis and she called Kay and asked her to come see her.  Kay went to visit the woman (who was her first cousin) and she said when she walked into her room there was a picture of Kay’s dad (John Charles) on the woman’s dresser.  This threw Kay off, but the woman said that her mother had destroyed all of their pictures of bad Peter so she had no pictures of her father.  She asked Kay to tell her about Peter, but Kay didn’t know much about him since her dad wouldn’t talk about him.  After she told Kay about bad Peter’s second family, she showed her pictures of the second family and apparently one of bad Peter’s sons looked almost exactly like my grandfather Kermit Konzen.
Unfortunately, we don’t know how bad Peter’s story ends, but hopefully one day I’ll find out – if for no other reason than because I can’t keep myself from trying to solve a mystery.

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