Finding ‘Bad’ Peter

In December 2011, I wrote a post about my hunt with Michelle, Paula, and Sandy for my great great uncle Peter Konzen, otherwise known as bad Peter to us (to distinguish him from his cousin Peter Konzen who was also a lawyer). Bad Peter was my great grandpa John Charles Konzen’s younger brother and he became notorious amongst the four of us when we discovered newspaper articles detailing his disappearance and reappearance. To sum it all up, bad Peter faked his death on a business trip to Chicago and disappeared for months, leaving his wife and children behind in New Hampton. Bad Peter was eventually found in Valparaiso, Indiana, going to school under an alias. Over two years after bad Peter’s disappearance, his wife, Elizabeth, was granted a divorce from him and then he disappeared from records again.

During our hunt for bad Peter, we ran across many different possibilities to be him. We found a Paul Konzen, a P.H. Konzen, and more, but none of them seemed to match up with what my great aunt Kay (Kay Konzen Anderson) had told me about him. According to Kay, we were looking for someone who had remarried, had more children, lived in Wisconsin, and later left his second family. Every time we tried to stop focusing on him, one of us kept going back and trying to find him again. This year at Christmas time, Michelle was desperately trying to “find” bad Peter as a present for all of us, but it still didn’t happen.

Then during the beginning of the new year, Michelle reread all articles and records that were possible bad Peters. She realized that one article linked bad Peter to a P.H. Konzen and we were able to connect him from there to almost all the bad Peter possibilities we’d run across! An article published in the Mason City Globe-Gazette on May 24, 1917 linked P.H. Konzen to New Hampton. According to the article entitled “Martin is Dead,” P.H. Konzen had gone by the alias Joe Martin, but Martin was dead. The article said that “Martin and Konzen, originally from New Hampton, were warm friends in Martin’s lifetime. New Hampton men whom Konzen asked to go his bond have refused to do so.”

What we now know about bad Peter is that according to his World War I draft registration card, Peter Hubert Konzen was born on December 15th and I believe he was born in 1872 (Citing the 1880 census, 1885 census, 1895 census, and 1900 census.). His obituary, under the name Paul Konzen, says he died in Arkansas on January 8, 1953, at the age of 81 (hmmm!). He was remarried to Marie Dreyer (11 Mar 1885-May 1966) and they had five children together Carleton Konzen (1908-1975), Ronald Paul Konzen (1909-2000), Clarice E Konzen Dummermuth (1911-2001), Merle V Konzen (1921-2004), and Elvin E Konzen (1923-1986).

From newspaper articles, censuses, and directories, we’ve compiled a timeline of bad Peter’s escapades. Elizabeth Leichtman Konzen divorced him in 1905 and between then and 1908, we don’t have any records of him. According to an article entitled “Konzen Slated for Pen,” Peter lived in Sioux City and then Rock Rapids before moving to Bijou Hills, South Dakota, where he farmed for a year or two. His second wife Marie gave birth to his son Carleton on March 1, 1908, in South Dakota, so he probably married Mamie between 1905 and 1908. He then returned to Iowa where his son Ronald was born on September 22, 1909. In the 1910 census he was in Rock Rapids where he unsuccessfully ran for county attorney.

On November 1, 1911, Peter’s daughter Clarice was born in Eldorado, Arkansas, so I assume he had moved to Arkansas at that time. He returned to Sioux City, Iowa, by 1914 and he was listed as Paul H Konzen of the firm Kephart & Konzen in the Sioux City Directory. Peter continued to be listed in the Sioux City directory through 1916. On January 1, 1917, his residence was listed as Stillwater, Minnesota, in his mother’s obituary. There’s no record of him living in Minnesota, so maybe that was just a ploy to throw people off his trail or he could have temporarily lived there.

In 1917, Peter’s luck ran out and his schemes started to unravel. He was caught in Mason City, Iowa, and arrested for defrauding a railway company. Peter falsely claimed to have injured his back by slipping on a banana peel while stepping from a train. He used the alias Joe Martin He was sentenced to seven years in the state penitentiary. But according to the penitentiary records, Peter ended up being paroled on August 18, 1920, after less than 18 months in the state pen. That’s the luck of Bad Peter.

After his parole, we don’t have an idea of where Peter might have lived until his son Merle was born on September 23, 1921, in Dubuque, Iowa. So Peter could have also lived in Dubuque in 1921. Then on July 18, 1923, his son Elvin was born in Wisconsin, so Peter might possibly have lived in Wisconsin in 1923. In 1929, Peter is back in a Cedar Rapids newspaper ad as “Paul H Konzen, Lawyer, 20 years experience.”

He drops back off the radar until April 25, 1942 when the World War II Draft lists him as a self-employed resident of Amberg, Wisconsin. In 1947, he’s the newspaper again in Manchester, Iowa, as Paul Konzen, a lawyer filing a $4000 lawsuit against the United Benefit Insurance Company. Peter claimed that after he took an insurance policy out with the company in 1938, he was soon after injured in a streetcar accident “and was hospitalized after becoming totally disabled for a time.” He believed he deserved $830 since he’d been disabled and $4000 in damages “because of false statements made against him by the defendant company while refusing to allow his just claim.”

Peter disappears again until 1952 in Springdale, Arkansas, where he shows up in the newspaper for owing taxes. And on January 8, 1953, Peter died in Springdale. The obituary for Paul Konzen says he was 81 years old, which supports our belief that his birthday was December 15, 1872. His obituary makes no mention of his first marriage or of any children from that marriage. It also doesn’t mention his second wife Marie who was still living, so maybe they had gotten divorced or were just separated or estranged. With Peter anything is possible.

I love mysteries – which is why I love genealogy – but when I can’t solve them it makes me a little crazy. And despite what we’ve found about Peter, his story is nowhere from finished. If anyone happens to know any more about Peter, I’d love to hear from you. Or if you have any good Konzen family stories or family stories, feel free to share them.


2 thoughts on “Finding ‘Bad’ Peter

  1. Very interesting story, I’m the grandson of Elvin Konzen, I heard stories of his father abandoning his families but had no idea of the details. I assure you, Elvin was nothing like his father!!

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