115 Years Later, 1907 Murder of Grace Burns Remains Unsolved

In 1907, 14-year-old Grace Burns was found murdered in the Red River near Fargo, North Dakota, with evidence pointing to her 22-year-old boyfriend Charles McCartney. Despite multiple investigations and confessions, McCartney was never convicted of the crime, which remains unsolved 115 years later.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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115 Years Later, 1907 Murder of Grace Burns Remains Unsolved

115 Years Later, 1907 Murder of Grace Burns Remains Unsolved

On June 21, 1907, the body of 14-year-old Grace Burns was discovered in the Red River near Fargo, North Dakota. Known as "Pretty Grace," the young girl had been beaten and strangled to death after secretly meeting her 22-year-old boyfriend, Charles McCartney. Despite overwhelming evidence implicating McCartney in the crime, he was never convicted, and the case remains officially unsolved 115 years later.

Why this matters: The case of Grace Burns highlights the challenges and limitations of criminal investigations in the early 20th century, and serves as a reminder of the enduring pain of unsolved crimes for the victims' families and communities. It also underscores the importance of continued efforts to solve cold cases, bringing closure to those affected and ensuring justice is served.

The investigation into Grace's murder began with police questioning her mother, Hilda Burns, who initially denied that her daughter had any boyfriends. "Grace was only a little girl, and she kept company with no one," Hilda insisted. However, it soon came to light that Grace had been secretly seeing McCartney, a "Chicago tough" who had told his partner in petty crime, Tommy Ryan, that he was "crazy about Grace Burns."

Despite a local $500 reward, later increased to $1,000 by Governor John Burke, police were unable to find any solid leads in the case. In 1908, a criminal named Gold Tooth Murphy claimed to have information about the murder, but his story was later proven to be a fabrication. It wasn't until McCartney and Ryan were arrested for stealing from a U.S. postal bag that a break in the case occurred. Under questioning, Ryan named McCartney as Grace's killer.

McCartney was sentenced to hard labor at Leavenworth Penitentiary for the postal theft, but upon his release on June 7, 1909, he was identified by The Forum as Grace's murderer. However, he was not convicted due to a lack of evidence. U.S. Marshal James F. Shea and Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Gilbert J. Stout took up the investigation, shadowing McCartney for nearly two years and gathering evidence against him.

The marshals matched footprints along the Red River near the Old Red Brewery to Grace and McCartney, and found nearly a dozen witnesses who placed the couple at the scene of the crime on the days leading up to and on the day of the murder. They believed McCartney had a motive, jealousy, as Grace was also seeing another boy. However, when they presented their evidence and sought a warrant for McCartney's arrest in August 1910, Cass County State's Attorney Arthur Fowler and Judge Charles A. Pollock denied the request.

The murder of Grace Burns shocked the Fargo community and captured headlines across the region. "She was tasked with going to Huffaker's meat market in Moorhead before supper, but she took a detour again to the Red River," the Bismarck Tribune reported on August 9, 1907, shortly after Grace's disappearance. The tragic case serves as a stark reminder of the challenges and limitations of criminal investigations in the early 20th century, and the enduring pain of unsolved crimes for the victims' families and communities.

Key Takeaways

  • 14-year-old Grace Burns was found murdered in the Red River near Fargo, ND in 1907.
  • Charles McCartney, her 22-year-old boyfriend, was suspected but never convicted.
  • Despite evidence, McCartney was not arrested due to lack of evidence and denied warrant.
  • The case remains unsolved 115 years later, highlighting early 20th century investigation limitations.
  • The case serves as a reminder of the enduring pain of unsolved crimes for victims' families and communities.