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Minnesotaís Oldest Murder Mystery: The Case of Edward Phalen: St. Paulís Unsaintly Pioneer

6 x 9
Gary Brueggemann
Softcover, 328 pp
Pub Date:
November - 2012

On September 27, 1839, the battered body of a middle-aged Irishman was found by some Dakota Indian boys. The corpse washed up along the Mississippi River shore, about seven miles downstream from Fort Snelling near the ancient Indian landmark the non-Indians called Carver’s Cave. It was the body of Sgt. John Hays, a popular former soldier, who, prior to his disappearance twenty-one days earlier, had been sharing a log shanty a few miles upriver from the cave with his friend and business partner, Edward Phelan (or Phalen). Before the year was over, Phelan was arrested and charged with the murder of his friend. This is the first book to focus on this historic murder and the first thorough biography of Phelan, a notorious pioneer intimately involved in the making of St. Paul and founding of Minnesota. Was he guilty? All investigative reports and records of Phelan’s trial were mysteriously lost and no newspapers covered the story. However, in 1994, St. Paul historian Gary Brueggemann made an amazing discovery in the Minnesota Historical Society archives: hidden in the papers of Joseph R. Brown was Brown’s original Justice of the Peace casebook which included his handwritten transcription of the Hays’s murder hearing. Using this record, other primary sources, and drawing from decades of studying Minnesota and St. Paul history, the author theorizes a logical solution to Minnesota’s oldest unsolved murder.




About the Author


Gary Brueggemann teaches history at Century and Inver Hills Community Colleges. A lifelong resident of St. Paul, he has spent the last 35 years researching, writing and teaching Minnesota History. He is the author of numerous works on St. Paul History, including at least 40 newspaper and magazine articles.





What's Being Said




“History and mystery will take the reader deep into the world of this well-written, heartily researched, groundbreaking book. Gary Brueggemann’s Minnesota’s Oldest Murder Mystery is wish-we-were-there fascinating.”

—Tim Rumsey, author of Pictures from a Trip


Customer Reviews
Debbie Wells
This avid reader of fictional murder mysteries thoroughly enjoyed this nonfictional murder mystery and, at the completion of the book, was pretty much convinced who perpetrated the earliest murder in Minnesota. The authorís exhaustive research and colorful descriptions of Minnesotaís first settlers and landmarks taught this life-long resident of Minnesota a thing or two, thatís for sure. The writing style of this well-written book totally pulls you into solving this crime by offering up the few facts as they existed so many years ago, and then presenting a fictional scenario which you may or may not buy into, but will give you something to think about nonetheless. Once digesting the facts and ruminating over the possible murder scenario and cover-up, you will (as a true detective would!) come to a conclusion as to whether Edward Phalen did or did not commit this murder. You will enjoy this wonderful read, and learn interesting and surprising facts about Minnesotaís early ďcharactersĒ and well-respected statesmen, and will enjoy viewing pictures of some great Minnesota landmarks. I recommend you try out your detecting skills by reading this murder mystery and see if you can figure out whodunit.
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