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March 05 , 2009

Lies Told Under Oath

The Puzzling Story of the Pfanschmidt Murders and of the Surviving Son—Victim or Villain?


In 1912, a prosperous Illinois farm family—Charles; his wife, Mathilda; their fifteen-year-old daughter, Blanche; and boarding schoolteacher Emma Kaempen—were brutally murdered, the crime concealed by arson, and the family’s surviving son, handsome Ray Pfanschmidt, arrested. He was convicted by the press long before trial. In Lies Told Under Oath, author Beth Lane retells the story of the murders, the trial, the verdict, and the aftermath.

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Using information culled from actual trial transcripts and newspaper accounts, Lane presents the day-to-day testimony as Ray’s battle for his life surged through three courtrooms—the drama complicated by brilliant attorneys, allegations of perjury, charges of rigged evidence, jailhouse informants, legal loopholes, conflict over the large estate being inherited by the alleged murderer, and appeals to the state supreme court. The remaining family became divided over Ray’s guilt while his fiancée staunchly stood by him.

Lies Told Under Oath provides a fascinating, historical account of the times and the people—when science was in its infancy, telephones meant shared party lines, bloody evidence was contested (or contrived), and automobiles competed with bloodhounds and buggies. It captures the essence of an emotional crime that rocked this small Illinois community.

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