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  • Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

    Mrs. Dach's
    Weight Reduction Regimen
    It's Easy, It's Effective, It's Fatal

    by Mike Cox
    Mike Cox
    If there’s a haunted jail in Texas, it’s the 1882-vintage former lockup in La Grange, used for a mere 102 years to house miscreants and felons in Fayette County.

    Not to speak ill of the dead, but since most ghosts tend to hang around where they died, if the old jail has any ghosts it’s a safe bet that they are not as nice as Casper, the friendly ghost. While several suspects could be lined up as potential ghostly inmates, one person who spent time in the jail is the most likely restless spirit in residence.
    La Grange, Texas - Fayette County Jail built with Muldoon blue sandstone
    Former Fayette County Jail - La Grange, Texas
    TE Photo August 2004
    TX - Fayette County Sheriff Flournoy
    Fayette County Sheriff Jim Flournoy
    Courtesy Fayette County Heritage Museum & Archives

    On a spring day in 1933 the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department – then located in the old jail – got a call from someone who said a farmer named Dick Stoever needed to talk to a deputy. Deputy Jim Flournoy drove out to see him.

    Stoever said he hadn’t heard from his older brother for a while and was worried about him. Handing Flournoy a crudely written and poorly spelled letter supposedly from his brother to his daughter, Stoever said it didn’t read like something his brother wrote.

    The brother told Flournoy that 58-year-old Henry Stoever had been living with Mrs. Anton Dach, 36, a recently widowed mother of three. She had hired him to help her run her farm. Now, the brother continued, Mrs. Dach had a new worker staying with her.

    Flournoy drove to Mrs. Dach’s farm. Alerted by her dogs, she stood at the barn gate about 60 yards from her house as the deputy pulled up.

    The deputy described her as having “a Slavic rather than Teutonic cast of countenance, brown eyes and black hair braided and wound round her head, which was close-cropped to her huge frame.” She weighed at least 200 pounds.

    The widow said Stoever had left her employment on Feb. 24 for a better-paying job in Amarillo. She said Stoever had shown back up at her farm in early April, telling her the man he had gone to Amarillo with had beaten and robbed him of all the money he had earned. He asked for his old job back but she told him she had already hired someone else. When he left again, she said, he had threatened to “end it all.”

    Flournoy left the Dach farm and went to Schulenberg, where he talked to as many people as he could hoping to learn more about Mrs. Dach and Stoever. He didn’t net much information, but no one in town recognized the name of the man he had supposedly gone to Amarillo with.

    When Flournoy told Sheriff Will Loessin the story, he agreed that it didn’t ring true. The following day, Dick Stoever came to the jail with another letter ostensibly written by his brother. In this letter, dated in January, he said he thought he had cancer and might die unless he could find a good doctor.

    As soon as they could, Flournoy and the sheriff visited Mrs. Dach a second time. This time, the sheriff interviewed her in German while Flournoy took a look around the farm.

    One of the things Flournoy noted was the strange location of a freshly constructed chicken house. While sitting on a high piece of ground, it appeared to have been elevated with the addition of fresh mounded dirt.

    Mrs. Dach, meanwhile, stuck to her story, but it seemed too far-fetched to the two officers.

    Early the following week, the two lawmen, accompanied by someone hired to do some digging, returned to the Dach farm. In excavating the soft dirt beneath the chicken house, evidence of murder most foul came to roost: Henry Stoever, badly burned and with a skull full of buck shot.

    Mrs. Dach at first said she had buried a calf that had died, but finally admitted it was Stoever. Even so, she insisted that he had taken his own life, worried about money and his health.

    The sheriff arrested Mrs. Dach. The next day, following a four-hour interrogation, the widow confessed to having used the shotgun she kept over the mantle to kill Stoever as he slept. She then hauled his mattress-wrapped body to a pit she had earlier had Stoever dig, telling him it was for a flower bed.

    Indicted for murder with malice, Mrs. Dach went on trial in La Grange in May. She said she decided to kill Stoever because he had – in the more delicate parlance of the day – “criminally assaulted” her the previous December. But in prosecuting the case, the DA maintained any relations the couple had were voluntary. While Stoever apparently did abuse her and her children, the state produced convincing evidence that Mrs. Dach had altered $600 worth of promissory notes Stoever held to make herself the benefactor.

    A 12-man jury found her guilty on May 25, 1933 and assessed her punishment as death.

    Well before then, Mrs. Stover had virtually stopped eating. She had begun her fast immediately following her confession, going 13 days without food. When she did resume eating, she ate only lightly.

    By the time of her trial, she had lost 50 pounds. But she wasn’t starving herself out of vanity or for the health benefits. What she had in mind, clearly, was just the opposite. Whether the sheriff or Flournoy picked up on what she was doing, their prisoner was slowly committing suicide.

    On the other hand, maybe they did realize it. Assuming her conviction would not have been reversed, she would have been the first woman to die in the electric chair at Huntsville. Whatever they understood about it, the two lawmen made no effort to force-feed their prisoner and she continued to waste away.

    Three months after her conviction, Mrs. Dach died of starvation in the old jail on Aug. 24, 1933. By then, she had lost more than 100 pounds.

    © Mike Cox - October 31, 2012 column
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