Gary Sosniecki began researching his great-grandmother’s brutal murder in 1996 when he and wife Helen owned the Webster County Citizen in Seymour.
Twenty-four years later, that research has become a book, “The Potato Masher Murder: Death at the Hands of a Jealous Husband,” published Aug. 11 by The Kent State University Press.
Sosniecki will return to Seymour next Tuesday to discuss the book at the historic Owen Theatre. His program, titled “Uncovering a Deadly Family Secret,” will be at 7 p.m.
Admission is free.
Books will be available for $24.95.
A book signing will follow the program.
His great-grandmother, Cecilia Ludwig, was only 30 when she was knocked unconscious and set on fire Sept. 25, 1906, in Mishawaka, Ind.
The murder brought a tragic end to a troubled marriage, Sosniecki said.
Cecilia’s second husband, Albin Ludwig, had caught her with other men several times, including once hiding in a bedroom closet. After secretly following his wife one evening, Albin was overcome with suspicion. Albin and Cecilia quarreled that night and again the next day.
Prosecutors later claimed that the final quarrel ended when Albin knocked Cecilia unconscious with a wooden potato masher, doused her with a flammable liquid, lit her on fire and left her to burn to death. Albin claimed self-defense, but he was convicted of second-degree murder.
The South Bend Times reported that the murder’s “horrors and its shocking features ... have never before been witnessed in Mishawaka.” The story was front-page news throughout northern Indiana for much of a year.
Sosniecki said that while he grew up, his family rarely spoke of the tragedy and only cryptically when it did.
“Finally, in 1996, I got my mom to talk a little about it,” he said. “She didn’t have the right year or the right town, but she knew enough that I found a historian in La Porte, Ind., who could fill in some of the blanks.”
Sosniecki researched the murder on-and-off during the rest of his 43-year career, which, after selling the Citizen in 1999, took him and Helen to Lebanon and Vandalia in Missouri, then Le Claire, Iowa. They retired back to Lebanon in 2016 and visit Seymour often.
“One of my goals in retirement was to finish my research and, if I had enough material, write a book about the case,” Sosniecki said. “We made several research trips to Indiana, but the key was when an archivist found the trial transcript in the Indiana State Archives. That’s when I knew I had enough for a book.”
Sosniecki has been giving presentations about his new book — some in person, some virtual — since June. He is excited that his Seymour presentation will be at the renovated Owen Theatre.
He recalled that the old Citizen office was where the police department is now, only 25 feet west of the Owen Theatre.
“When Harold Owen reopened the theatre in the fall of 1991 — it had been closed for several years — he gave me a key. UPS was instructed to deliver the movie reels to the Citizen office if the driver couldn’t find Harold.” Sosniecki then lugged the movies to the theatre.
Sosniecki said Owen also told him he could help himself to any leftover popcorn.
“That greasy, days-old popcorn was great,” Sosniecki said.
“I ate a lot of it.”