Thursday, January 18, 2018

Larry Kuntz and his mother, Frieda, are pictured in front of their house in Wheat Basin in 1937.

Last living piece of Robideau case lost

Stillwater County lost a local inspiration earlier this month.
Larry Kuntz, 85, passed away on Oct. 4. Kuntz was a victim in a horrible crime that resulted in the last legal hanging in the county.
A book, titled “Death Ride: A Little Boy’s Night of Terror,” was published in 2014 and tells the story of the tragedy that befell the Kuntz family in Wheat Basin.
In 1937, at the age of five, Kuntz’s parents, Mike and Frieda, moved the young family from North Dakota to Wheat Basin, a small town 26 miles north of Columbus, located between Rapelje and Molt. Bringing the Kuntzes to town was the managerial position at the Occident grain elevator in town.
During the heart of the depression local folks were struggling – the fields were not yielding the correct amount of crops, leading many local farmers to borrow more money than they could pay back.
One of those farmers was Frank Robideau, the Kuntzes’ neighbor.
On November 26, 1937, Robideau confronted Mike Kuntz in the grain elevator office at gunpoint, alleging the company owed him money.
After Kuntz explained that Robideau had already borrowed money against his crops, the desperate farmer demanded Kuntz write him a large check. The elevator manager obliged.
Later that night, Robideau brought his pistol to the Kuntzes’ home and forced the family to take a drive. Several miles out of town, Robideau shot Mike in the back of the head. Frieda struggled with Robideau, forcing him to expend most of his bullets. The last in the chamber, however, found Frieda’s heart, killing her as well. Robideau, now out of bullets, pistol whipped 5-year-old Larry and beat him until Robideau presumed Larry was dead.
The murderer drove the car back into Wheat Basin and parked it inside the grain elevator.
Larry awoke the next morning in the car alongside his dead parents. The young boy managed to find a back door to the grain elevator and used his last ounce of energy to find help at the local store.
Following a day and a half investigation and an eight-hour interrogation, Robideau confessed to the murders.
Several days later, local authorities learned that Robideau’s real name was Joseph Liberty, a man who, along with his brother, murdered a man in New York. Liberty served some time in jail for the murder, but he escaped prison and fled west. Robideau’s identity was such a well-kept secret that even his wife, with whom he had four children, did not know Robideau’s past.
On December 15, 1937, Robideau was sentenced to death, and on January 15, 1938, he was hanged on the “galloping gallows” in Columbus in front of an invited crowd of about 375 people.
Larry Kuntz recovered from his injuries and was raised by relatives in North Dakota.
He attended Assumption Abbey school, Gonzaga University, and North Dakota State University, where he received a degree in pharmacy, according to his obituary, published in the Spokesman-Review.
Kuntz worked in pharmacy in Spokane for 54 years, and he even owned his own drug store, a dream of his.
Kuntz and his wife, Janet, were married for 59 years and had four children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“His listening, kindness, guidance, and wisdom made him the solid foundation of his family across multiple generations,” his obit reads.
In April of 2015, Kuntz visited Columbus and shared his tale of resilience with local students and community members.
An exhibit that describes the tragedy in Wheat Basin can be found at the Museum of the Beartooths. Its artifacts include the pistol used to kill the Kuntzes and the rope used to hang Robideau.
A memorial service has already been held in Spokane, but the Kuntz family said memorials can be sent to the Museum of the Beartooths.