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A Bottle, a Murder and a Mystery – John Bollow

This article was original published in Landmark magazine (Waukesha County Historical Society) in 1991. Recently, John Bollow's great grandson contacted me and supplied me with more information and the photos that illustrate the text.

An article in a Waukesha Freeman dated July 11, 1889, told of a tragic incident. Within it lies a tale of mystery.

Last Friday morning the dead body of John Bollow was found sitting bolt upright against a tree on the Hadfield farm a mile or two east of here, with a revolver clasped in one hand. One chamber of the weapon was empty, and there was a bullet hole in the dead man's right temple. The body was brought to town and an inquest was held before Justice Kimball where it was developed that it was undoubtedly a case of suicide. The deceased had been in Milwaukee the day before and was last seen on Grand Avenue of that city. He was about 35 rears of age and leaves a wife and two children who reside in the city on the west side. He used to be employed in selling pop, but had recently sold out to the Henk Mineral Spring Co. No reason is assigned for the fatal shot, but is supposed to have been caused by despondency over his affairs, The shot is supposed to have been fired between the hours of one and five o'clock on the 4th. The body was not found until the morning of the fifth.

After the inquest, at about 4 o'clock Friday afternoon, a pitiful procession, consisting of the undertaker's buggy, the hearse, and a double seated light wagon containing the widow and the orphans, wended its way to the cemetery, and the poor suicide, who had found life too burdensome, was laid to rest.

That was one explanation of the tragic death, but 79 years later a second article appeared in the Freeman which added more to the mystery. On Monday. July 13, 1970, two city workers unearthed a John Bollow bottle. They wondered who John was, and the paper published the following story:

John Bollow was horn in Mecklenhurg, Germanv, in 1854. It is not known when he came to America or Waukesha, but it is known that he married Caroline Kremer in 1878. She had been horn in Venezuela.

(According to local historian Parnell Ryan of Waukesha, who heard the story from his grandmother, a boatload of German immigrants was headed for the United States when a hurricane blew them off course, destroyed the mast, and wrecked their ship. The group made their way to Venezuela, where they stayed for thirteen years. Mr. Ryan's grandmother, Sophie Grabow, was among the castaways. The Germans struggled to make a living in the new country, but they were repeatedly raided by bandits and harassed. The local militia was forced to rescue them and escorted them to a nearby port. Eventually, a group of them, including the Kremer, Grabow and Bollow families, emigrated to Waukesha and settled along St. Paul Avenue, in an area known as the "flats." Caroline Kremer was among that group.)

Their first child, Albert John Fredrick Bollow was born on July 10, 1879. A daughter, Bertha (Emling), was added to the family a few years later.

The Bollows lived on the corner of St. Paul Ave. and Maria St., maintaining John's bottle works in the rear of the home.
Once a week, John would load up his wagon and deliver his soft drinks to taverns and stores throughout the area, collecting money on his accounts as he went.

On July 4, 1887 (determined by the fact Albert was known to have been eight years old at the time), Bollow loaded up in the usual manner and headed east toward Milwaukee.

Late that afternoon, the horse and buggy returned to the Bollow home - but John wasn't in it. There was a large blood stain on the buggy seat.

The family immediately set out to find the bottle maker asking customers along the route if he had been by. They got "yesses" until they passed old Goerke's Corners, east of the city, so they decided to center their search there. The area was mostly forest at the time, so the search was not easy. They found nothing. Darkness came and they had to go home. They returned the next morning and began covering the same area. Within minutes they spotted him, propped up in a sitting position against a tree, shot with his own shotgun.

There is no record of his death in any of the Freeman files or at the courthouse. The family feels the authorities simply called it a suicide. (Notice the conflict of dates. The event occurred in 1889, not 1897, and that is why the Freeman writers could not find information in 1970 - they looked in the wrong place.)

Bollow's wife refused to accept this, maintaining he did not have a penny on him after collecting almost $400. She also insisted he was a happy man and would have no reason for taking his own life. No record can he found of the official ruling on the death.

That story of Bollow's violent death is corroborated, with some variations, by one of his nephews, Joe Kremer, who lives in Tucson, Arizona. That's the story of John Bollow: all brought on by a bottle.

Amateur detectives may debate the stories. There are discrepancies between the two versions. Which do you believe?
The 1970 article described a shotgun: the 1889 article, a revolver. The 1970 article said the widow described a happy man, the 1889 one described a despondent one who had recently sold his business. Yet, if he had sold his business, why was he collecting accounts?

Other questions remain - if there was blood on the wagon seat, why was the body found propped up against a tree? Both articles mentioned finding the body in a sitting position against a tree. The 1970 article mentioned finding no record at the Freeman or the courthouse or any record of an inquest. However, there was a newspaper article, and it mentioned an inquest held before Justice Kimball.

A check of courthouse records confirmed that there was no death record on file and that there was no record of the inquest. The Medical Examiner's office said that they doubted that any such record existed, and that if it did, it was locked away in the storage room above the sheriff's garage.

John Bollow's full name was John Heinrich Friedrich Bollow. He was born March 5, in either 1853 or 54 in Mecklenberg, Germany. His parents were first cousins - Johnann Bollow and Anna Bollow. He arrived in America on the ship NordAmerika at age 5.
John's wife, Caroline Henrietta Johanna Kremer was born on March 12, 1860 in Brazil or Venezuela. She died on December 31, 1941. Her father was John C. Kremer. He ran an "express delivery service" in Waukesha. Her mother was Sophia Condo. Both of Caroline's parents were born in Mecklenberg.

After their October 17, 1878 wedding, John and Caroline lived in Milwaukee. The 1880 census has John listed as a brewery worker living in the 9th ward.

After John's death, Caroline married a man named Erbach and had two daughters, Edna Erbach Dahms and Florence Erbach Brown.

Caroline married a third time - to John Hendricks, but there were no children.

Albert Bollow Sr., one of the "poor orphans," mentioned in the newspaper article, became a photographer and opened a studio on the north side of Milwaukee. He lived on North Second Street for many years. He married Hatti Kranich. Her father was a Civil War veteran and a captain with the Milwaukee Police Department.

Their son Albert Jr. married Dorothy Anvelink, and they lived on South 7th Street in Milwaukee for many years. Albert Jr. worked for GE after graduating from UW Madison and Syracuse University. In 1959, he moved to Wauwatosa.
John Bollow Ill and his wife, Janet, are retired Wauwatosa elementary school teachers. They have two daughters and one grandaughter.

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