Loyal Lundstrom didn’t fit the stereotype of a murderer.

A pillar of his church and respected civic leader, he was regarded by most who knew him as a dedicated family man and committed friend — a perception that was shaken when his first wife died in 1967 following an altercation at their lake resort home outside of Brainerd, Minn.

Although initially convicted of first-degree manslaughter after a trial revealed Helen Lundstrom died from asphyxiation, his case was overturned 18 months later by the Minnesota Supreme Court in a decision that cast doubt on the intentionality of the crime.

The dismissal allowed Loyal Lundstrom to start over.

That new beginning was shattered in 1983 when, as serving as mayor pro tem of a close-knit Texas community, he was convicted of first-degree murder for shooting and killing his second wife, 27-year-old Doris Lundstrom, at a motel the couple owned.

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It was then, in the aftermath of the Texas shooting, that those who had grown to know Loyal Lundstrom learned of his tainted past. The man they had trusted with their children at Sunday school had proven himself to be anything but the dependable friend, teacher, businessman and community leader he had portrayed.

Putting the pieces of his past together, members of Cisco, Texas, population 4,500, were faced with the reality that their perception of Loyal Lundstrom had been blurred by years of deception and good deeds.

For Doris Lundstrom, that realization came too late.

The death of Helen Lundstrom

For most of Loyal Lundstrom’s 20-year marriage to Helen Lundstrom, the couple resided just outside of the quiet southwestern Minnesota farming city of Montevideo. There, the couple added five children to the family and immersed themselves in the community.

Loyal Lundstrom maintained employment at the same company for 15 years, all while serving as a member of the Watson School Board, president of the Montevideo Interdenominational Holiness camp and a member of the volunteer fire department.

With their eldest son in the Navy, the Lundstrom family picked up their well-manicured life in 1965 and moved north to Merrifield, Minn., where they purchased the then-Rainbow Acres Lake Resort on North Long Lake.

Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper clipping from June 12, 1966.
Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper clipping from June 12, 1966.

Once again, the family became active in the community, with Loyal Lundstrom serving as superintendent of the church’s Sunday school program. His wife taught classes alongside him.

Hours before Helen Lundstrom’s death, she and her husband sat at the dining room table, preparing Sunday school lessons for the weekend, according to court documents. It was a scene regularly witnessed by their children — a weekend ritual for the church leaders.

Yet what came next was anything but routine.

According to court documents, the argument between the couple began in their bedroom, where she allegedly bit him on the hand during a near-sexual encounter. Angry with the situation, Helen Lundstrom made her way downstairs to the kitchen to get some air. Their daughter testified in court to hearing slapping noises originating in the bedroom, claiming these were sounds she recognized as familiar. She then heard her mother yell from the kitchen, “Why do you always have to act like this?”

Loyal Lundstrom followed his wife as she left through the kitchen door and made her way to the lake resort’s shower-and-washroom building — the location that would become the scene of her death.

Loyal Lundstrom testified in court that his wife became “hysterical” and began hitting him — he attempted to restrain her, pushing her against the wall with one hand on her neck and one hand on her waist. She jerked back and fell to the floor. Concerned she had merely fainted, Loyal Lundstrom stated he slapped his wife to revive her. She, however, did not wake up.

After failing to find a pulse, he did not call for help. Instead, he testified that he went inside to get dressed and drove to the Brainerd police station. There, he told Officer Harold Knutson that the two had a friendly argument, resulting in his wife’s death. He told Knutson that he loved his wife and would not hurt her, according to court documents.

Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper clipping from Oct. 8, 1967
Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper clipping from Oct. 8, 1967

First-degree manslaughter conviction

Dr. William Knoll, who conducted the full autopsy on Helen Lundstrom, testified during the trial that, according to his medical opinion, she died from asphyxiation.

Knoll painted a picture of Helen Lundstrom’s injuries that included bruises on the neck and thighs, as well as congested blood vessels in the brain and diaphragm. No fractures were detected — however, Knoll did indicate there was evidence of hemorrhage in the area around her larynx.

The defense team relied heavily on Loyal Lundstrom’s demonstrated character, highlighting his civic accomplishments, church involvement and testimony from those who had grown close to him.

After more than 10 hours of deliberation, the jury found Loyal Lundstrom guilty of first-degree manslaughter. He was given a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and began serving his time at Stillwater State Prison.

Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper clipping from Jan. 20, 1968.
Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper clipping from Jan. 20, 1968.

According to Minnesota law, first-degree manslaughter is defined as an act that “intentionally causes the harm of another person in the heat of passion provoked by such words or acts of another as would provoke a person of ordinary self-control under like circumstances.”

After more than a year of appeals, Loyal Lundstrom’s case made its way to the Minnesota Supreme Court. In 1969, the court overturned the first-degree manslaughter conviction. In the majority decision, Justice Frank T. Gallagher cited a lack of evidence to establish the intentionality of the incident. Gallagher also stated the indictment presented to the jury was confusing in nature.

While the court called for a new trial, the Crow Wing County Attorney’s Office dropped the charges, citing a lack of new evidence.

St. Cloud Times newspaper clipping from Oct. 31, 1969
St. Cloud Times newspaper clipping from Oct. 31, 1969

Transitioning to a new life

Just two years after the death of his wife, Loyal Lundstrom was a free man.

He moved to the Twin Cities with his children, where he gained employment as a machinist, according to an article published in the UPI archives.

In need of care for his children while he worked, he hired an in-home nanny — and eventually married the nanny’s daughter, then-Doris Oehlke, according to the article.

The two were married in Brown, Texas, on April 4, 1974, according to the Texas Marriage Index. Doris Lundstrom was 18 years old at the time — Loyal Lundstrom was 50.

Star Tribune newspaper clipping from April 2, 1983
Star Tribune newspaper clipping from April 2, 1983

The two had five children together, ranging in ages from 3 to 10 at the time of Doris Lundstrom’s murder. Settling down in Cisco, Texas, the couple owned and operated Cisco Motel and Monument Works, a successful business by all accounts.

James Lundstrom, previously known as Loyal Lundstrom Jr., was the second youngest of the couple’s five children. Seven years old at the time of his mother’s murder, he has fond memories of a warm woman who gave selflessly to her family, church and community.

“She was a very, very caring and generous person,” he said. “You know, she was heavily involved in our lives as children. She was a great mother. There were five of us kids, and she was very involved in our upbringing, very involved in the community.”

Doris Lundstrom was an active Sunday school teacher, children’s church choir director and president of the PTA. In addition to her community activities, she was a hands-on owner and operator of the family business. Gifted artistically, Doris Lundstrom contributed to the monument aspect of the business through the careful creation of custom headstones and gravestones.

“The one that she was working on at the time (of her death) is the one that is on her plot now,” James Lundstrom said.

Doris Lundstrom's grave photo from Ancestry.com
Doris Lundstrom's grave photo from Ancestry.com

The death of Doris Lundstrom

Doris Lundstrom’s body was found on Saturday, March 5, 1983 with a shotgun wound to the abdomen at the Cisco Motel. An autopsy revealed she was shot two days earlier.

Loyal Lundstrom took the youngest child, 3-year-old William Lundstrom, to their pastor’s home on the day of Doris Lundstrom’s death, according to court documents. The Star Tribune identified the pastor as the Rev. James Clinton.

Loyal Lundstrom told Clinton he had to take his wife to visit her injured brother. He requested Clinton look after their children while they were away. While Clinton agreed, he grew concerned after learning the story of the injured brother was false. In search of the couple, Clinton and close family friends visited the motel, where they discovered Doris Lundstrom’s body.

Lundstrom Newspaper clipping
Lundstrom Newspaper clipping

James Lundstrom and his three older siblings were attending school, located just behind the motel, when their mother was shot and killed. He still remembers the day when he learned his mother was murdered — and the realization that life would never be the same.

“I was told what had happened and from that memory, that morning was the last time I was actually in that house, my childhood house… that morning when we went to school,” he said.

Law enforcement located Doris Lundstrom’s 1982 Chrysler New Yorker at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. After more than two weeks on the run, Loyal Lundstrom was apprehended after exiting an incoming flight, according to an article published in the New York Times. He was charged with first-degree murder.

New York Times newspaper clipping from March 18, 1983
New York Times newspaper clipping from March 18, 1983

The trial for the murder of Doris Lundstrom didn’t end well for Loyal Lundstrom.

Defense attorney Bill Hart argued that Doris Lundstrom fainted after her husband pointed the gun at her. The jury deliberated for 45 minutes before returning a guilty verdict. Loyal Lundstrom was sentenced to life in prison — his appeal attempts failed.

The Galveston Daily News newspaper clipping from Sept. 7, 1983.
The Galveston Daily News newspaper clipping from Sept. 7, 1983.

Through the eyes of a son: Revisiting the past

In the wake of his mother’s murder, James Lundstrom and his siblings stayed with their grandfather in Texas before eventually moving in with their mother’s brother. With their uncle serving active duty in the military, they moved around a lot, finally settling in Osceola, Wis.

As he got older, he began questioning what really happened between his parents. Recalling the day he learned his father murdered his mother, he said he was shocked. It was, as he perceived at the time, out of character.

“It still actually surprises me to this day,” he said.

James Lundstrom did not learn about his father’s first wife until after the murder of his mother. While it completes a piece of the puzzle, it also adds more mystery.

The (Bute) Montana Standard newspaper clipping from March 13, 1983
The (Bute) Montana Standard newspaper clipping from March 13, 1983

“And then of course as I got older, I started learning a lot more of our history, the family history… that this had happened before with a previous wife,” he said. “I mean, there’s no excuse. It’s mental illness, and I say that, but I even have a hard time swallowing that pill because it’s just not justified.”

While the Cisco, Texas, community was shocked in the days following Doris Lundstrom’s murder, James Lundstrom wonders how much his grandparents knew about the death of his father’s first wife.

Fred Oehlke and his wife, Vernice Oehlke, relocated from Minnesota to the Texas area to be closer to their daughter and her young family. Having lived in Minnesota during Loyal Lundstrom’s first trial, James Lundstrom can’t help but believe his grandparents followed his parents to Texas to keep an eye on their daughter.

“I think my grandfather was kind of smart to some of that stuff, “James Lundstrom said. “That is just me speculating, but he always stayed close to us and always checked in with my mom.”

Fred Oehlke died in 2002.

“In some ways, I wish I could have asked my grandfather,” he said. “I wish I could ask him.”

Months before his father died, James Lundstrom traveled to Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville with his two older sisters. He went with a mission: to find out what happened on March 3, 1983 — and why.

James Lundstrom didn’t find the answers he was looking for. Dying from complications associated with Alzheimer’s disease, his father wasn’t capable of explanation.

“I was kind of disappointed, but in a way I kind of knew what to expect because the prison ultimately had contacted us and let us know he was going to die,” he said. “I kind of had an idea beforehand. I still wish I could have gotten more out of him.”

Loyal Lundstrom died in prison on May 1, 2007. He was 77 years old.

Loyal Lundstrom tombstone
Loyal Lundstrom tombstone

Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper clipping from March 10, 1983.
Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper clipping from March 10, 1983.