There have been cases of murder, manslaughter and mayhem since the times before Lexington was even called Lexington.
One of the first occurred at noon on June 17, 1876, when Lexington was still Plum Creek.
Dawson County’s first Sheriff, Charles Mayes, 36, was shot dead while executing an arrest warrant on a suspect, Thomas Hallowell.
Hallowell gave Sheriff Mayes three shots through the heart and six shots around the heart. He also shot a constable in the neck and face, but the man recovered.
After being arrested by officer R.C. Freeman, Hallowell was jailed. His initial crime was squatting on land belonging to someone else.
That evening a party of about 30 masked men stormed the jail and after over-powering the lone guard, dragged Hallowell outside and the lynch mob determined he was guilty and immediately hanged Hallowell.
By the light of the next day, the general verdict was that Hallowell deserved his fate.
Homicides, while not common in Dawson County, appear through out its history.
Statewide interest was sparked when one of Dawson County’s wealthiest cattlemen, T.H. “Herb” Malm, 54, was fatally shot by his second cousin, H.A. Swanson, 44, on Oct. 23, 1939.
There was speculation that Swanson’s estranged wife, also the sister of Mrs. Malm and who was staying at the Malm home, was the cause of the argument that led to Swanson shooting Malm, but hired men who witnessed the affair said differently.
The reason of the shooting was reportedly financial in nature.
Swanson fired a shotgun at Malm at close range, leaving a deep gash that tore his left forearm and entered his chest. While the shots were bloody, they were not the ones that killed Malm.
After firing the shotgun, Swanson switched to a pistol and fired several more shots, one striking the right side of the head in front of the ear and another, also on the right side, lower in the chest. It was one of these two shots the doctor stated was serious enough to kill Malm.
Swanson fled the scene, but was captured, his 1928 Dodge found a few hours later, minus its guns.
Swanson, whom a jury found guilty in December 1939, was sentenced to life in prison.
During 1977 and 1978 Dawson County law enforcement investigated the disappearance of two Dawson County women, Judith Dangler and Ruth Eby.
Dangler dropped her two little girls off at their two-room Dawson County country school one morning in early Feb. 1977, but didn’t come back for them at the end of the school day.
There were no clues to her disappearance.
Seven months later, another Dawson County family with children lost their mom, Ruth Eby, in the same way. In the case of Eby, however, clues were left behind.
Eventually enough evidence was pieced together to arrest Dennis Sell for their murders. He eventually confessed to killing the two women.
As Sell went to court, the bodies of the two women still hadn’t been found.
At the time, then Dawson County Sheriff John Rohnert told a reporter, “I probably couldn’t do today what I did back then, but I went to his cell at night and kept visiting with him, telling him he needed to tell us where they were so their families could finally have peace.”
Rohnert’s patience paid off and Sell eventually told authorities where to look for his victims.
Sell, who had been incarcerated since May 1978, died in 2009 while in prison. He was 64 years old and had served a total of 31 years and eight months of his life sentence.
Eric R. McCain was just 17 years old when he shot and killed Gothenburg Police Sergeant Glen Haas on July 22, 1990.
Haas had been off duty but was called in to work to assist another officer on a criminal mischief case.
McCain, who was charged with a misdemeanor in the incident of criminal mischief, was released at 2:30 a.m. from the two officers.
He returned to the station at 3 a.m. with a rifle.
Haas was shot once in the abdomen with the .30-.06 rifle. The 42-year-old left behind a daughter, son and wife. Attending his funeral were more than 900 people, including approximately 200 fellow officers representing five agencies from across the state.
Meanwhile, McCain was lauded as a folk hero at Gothenburg High School. His friends wore t-shirts to school in support of McCain’s actions.
In his statement in court, McCain said he shot Haas because he felt the police had harassed him over a long period of time.
Judge John Murphy saw it differently.
“You will have to seek forgiveness from God, because it won’t come from me,” Murphy said.
McCain was sentenced to life in prison. He is eligible for a parole review in July of this year.
A cold case that haunts law enforcement is that of Leah Rowlands, 41, a clerk who was shot twice and killed just after 10 a.m. March 10, 1997 at the Cozad convenience store where she worked.
Her killer is still at large.
The suspect, described as about 6-foot-1, around 200 pounds, possibly in his late 20s or early 30s with short dark hair, entered the convenience store along Interstate 80.
He walked back to the cooler and got a Mountain Dew. The surveillance tape shows he was barefoot with the legs of his jogging pants hiked up to just below his knees.
Rowlands was waiting on a customer who had a crying baby with her. A video surveillance camera captured the man as he walked back up the aisle and crouched behind a set of shelves.
As soon as the customer left, the suspect walked up to the counter and demanded money.
Rowlands followed store procedure perfectly. She put cash from the register into a bag, then pulled out the drawer and showed the robber it was empty.
The man told Rowlands to lie down and she did, directly behind the counter. The man took several steps toward the door, turned around, walked back to the counter and shot Rowlands point-blank, once in the right shoulder and once in the neck. Rowlands offered no resistance.
A customer discovered Rowlands’ body minutes later.
Since then, despite hundreds of hours spent on the investigation and national exposure on the “America’s Most Wanted” television program, no suspect has been caught.
Death is most foul when it comes at the hand of an intimate partner, such as it did in the cases of Anita Montiel and Erika McDowell.
Serafin Ochoa, 38, was charged and tried in 1997 in connection with the 1993 disappearance and death of his common-law wife, Anita Montiel, who was found in the crawl space under the couple’s home.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Jerry Wilson Jones of Omaha testified for the prosecution. He reviewed a variety of slides and photographs for the jury from the Nov. 14, 1997, autopsy of the skeletal remains of Montiel and attributed the cause of death to multiple blunt trauma to the right side of the head, face and mandible or jawbone.
The defense brought in their own forensic pathologist who determined the same fractures could have also come from a single blow, rather than multiple.
The defense attorney, Stephen Potter, also noted there was no evidence of a continuing argument, no shouting, no screams.
Potter pointed to testimony by the children that Ochoa had never been physical with either them or their mother. He also pointed out the children expressed a fear of their own mother on occasion.
After deliberation, the six-man, six-woman jury found Ochoa guilty of manslaughter, an option offered during jury instructions. Manslaughter, a third degree felony, carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
There was not a crawl space burial for murder victim Erika McDowell, however.
On Feb. 18, 2008, Erika’s estranged husband, Christopher McDowell, 31, entered the home in northwest Lexington where Erika was staying with relatives, and shot and killed her. He then turned the gun on himself and fired it.
Erika, 29, died instantly. Christopher was transported by air to Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney and died a few hours later.
An investigation by the Lexington Police Depart-ment revealed that Christopher McDowell had a will drawn up just days earlier. Later that same day, Feb. 14, he purchased a 9mm handgun at Dubs Sports in Kearney.
According to the Lexington Police Depart-ment, this was the same handgun that was used in the Feb. 18 murder and suicide.
Dawson County District Court records show that on Sept. 4, 2001, Erika filed a protection order, stating her husband had shoved her while she held their baby.
“He’s made threats that if we ever got divorced he’d take the baby away or (have) someone do it for him,” she wrote as the reason for the order. “He’s threatened me with a knife, playing I think. But mostly he’s threatened to do something to me or the baby because he doesn’t want to pay child support.”
Violence in a relationship can have many patterns and take many courses.
For Tracy Giugler, 35, her relationship with Timmy Timmens took the worst possible course.
Giugler, a 1983 graduate of Overton High School, was reported missing by family members July 21, 2000 around 11 p.m., and the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office began a missing person’s investigation.
Two days later, on July 23, Giugler’s body was discovered in Overton at the home that she shared with Timmens. Preliminary autopsy results indicated the cause of death was blunt trauma to the head and body.
An arrest warrant was issued for Timmens by Dawson County Judge Carlton E. Clark on July 24.
Timmens was arrested at 9:45 p.m. the same day at a house in Kearney, and the next day he was transported to the Dawson County Jail. He was charged with first-degree murder, a class 1B felony, in the death of Giugler, his live-in girlfriend at the time of her death.
Dawson County Attorney Liz Waterman later reduced the charge to second-degree murder.
Prior to the trial, the defense argued for a change of venue, but the request was denied. The case went to trial and on Feb. 7, 2001, Timmens was found guilty of second-degree murder.
During the sentencing hearing, held in a quiet, mostly empty courtroom at the Dawson County Courthouse on Monday, March 19, 2001, Timmens was sentenced to 45 years to life for the murder of Giugler.
After tallying Timmens’ list of prior arrests and jail sentences, District Judge Donald Rowlands cited several reasons for the sentence. The minimum sentence for second-degree murder is 20 years, while the maximum is life in prison.
“Anything near the minimum in this case is out of the question,” Rowlands said.
Rowlands’ reasons for the sentence were that the victim was savagely beaten, medical testimony showed that she probably suffered prior to her death, there was no provocation by the victim and Timmens’ prior conviction of attempted first degree assault of a former girlfriend in Buffalo County.
Timmens’ brother, Gary Paben, 21 at the time of his arrest, also of Overton, was arrested and was charged with being an accessory to a felony, which is a class III felony. The charge was later reduced to failing to report a dead person.
In November 2010, Timmens requested a hearing in Dawson District Court, attempting a motion to have the case altered or amended. After consideration, on Feb. 16, 2011, Dawson County District Judge Jim Doyle denied the request.
Timmens, now 38, remains incarcerated at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. He is eligible for parole in January 2023.
Other victims of homicide in Dawson County include Deniar Barfoot, Mike Bodfield, Delbert Hansman, Michael Lee, Rodney Allen Marshall, Dewayne Morrison, Steven Osuna, Ramiro Prado-Reyes, Luwanda Peters, Antonio Ruiz-Zavala and Charles Workman.
A case involving a possible homicide in the death of a Gothenburg toddler is pending in Dawson County District Court.