The murder of Tena Johanna Espetvedt

321 N. Duluth Avenue
At 1:45 p.m. on Saturday September 3, 1955, shots rang out at an apartment building at 321 N. Duluth Avenue. After the commotion and gun smoke cleared, one woman lay dead and another was taken against her will.  Headlines read “Youth Runs Amuck [sic], Kills Woman, Flees”. What emerged was a tale of troubled fifteen-year-old Ronnie Loughlin, an altar boy at Calvary Cathedral. Had he been reading too many comics? Watching too many movies? The gossip spread through the streets, but the truth wouldn’t emerge for several days.
James Woltjer and Jerry Hagen. 
Before leaving the apartment that day, Ronnie’s father Harry had found Ronnie to be “jolly as can be”, though his mother, Garnet, thought him despondent. Ronnie was on probation for recently burgling cars. His priest thought he might benefit from seeing a psychiatrist. Ronnie had visited the previous Friday with Dr. Roy Knowles, who was, after the incident, more eager to speak with the press and police than is customary today, or ethical then.

Ronnie’s friends James Waltjer and Jerry Hagen had just shown up to watch the baseball game on TV. Waltjer brought his .32 pistol, which he was lending to Ronnie for gopher hunting. Ronnie had his own shells for this. Before long, an argument arose and the boys told Ronnie’s grandmother, Mrs. E.M. Harris, that Ronnie had a gun. Harris asked Ronnie if it was true he had a gun to which he replied “Certainly”, and went to his room to get it. He returned with the revolver shouting “Reach. Stick ‘em up!” At that point, his grandmother reached for the phone to call the police. He shot twice at his grandmother, missing each time. Ronnie then ran to the apartment building’s laundry room.
Tena Johanna Espetvedt was a 21-year-old woman born and raised in Estelline, South Dakota. She attended public schools there before moving to Sioux Falls in 1953 to attend Nettleton Business College. Upon graduation, she got a job at the National Biscuit Company as a billing clerk, a job she’d performed for nearly a year. She was making a sandwich at the time of Ronnie’s episode. When she heard the commotion, she opened her apartment door and was shot in the head by the one shot Ronnie successfully landed that day. She was pronounced dead at Sioux Valley hospital at 4 PM that day.

Ronnie ran. On his way out the front door, he shot at Waltjer’s head, missing, and bolted out of the apartment in bare feet and pajamas. He ran up the street where he encountered Mrs. Myrtle Raabe of 413 S. Duluth just arriving home in her car. Ronnie jumped into her car, forcing her at gunpoint to be his getaway driver. They drove east.
Tena Johanna Espetvedt
Tena Johanna Espetvedt
Myrtle Raabe
At approximately 3 p.m., they stopped at a farmhouse four miles northeast of Luverne and awakened Mrs. Arlyn McClure. Still brandishing the gun, Ronnie forced Raabe into the home and demanded clothing, shoes, and money from Mrs. McClure. McClure said all she had was her husband’s jeans, hanging outside on the clothesline. He held McClure at gunpoint while Raabe retrieved the jeans from the line. He demanded the women turn their backs as he put on the jeans and some shoes he took. Laughlin demanded money, but McClure had none. As Laughlin and Raabe left, he shouted “If you leave the house before a half hour is up, I’ll shoot you”.

The next stop was at the farm of Klaas and Effie Drenth two miles south of Ellsworth, Minnesota, around 30 minutes from the McClure farm. Laughlin demanded money from Effie, who was home alone at the time. When she said she had none, Laughlin hit her over the head with his gun and he headed south, Raabe in tow.

Approximately 114 miles later in Emmetsburg, Iowa, Mrs. Raabe feigned illness at Hughes service station on highway 18. She went to the bathroom as Ronnie gassed up the car. While in there, a former Wisconsin Sheriff and his wife, Homer and Margaret Curry pulled in to gas up. Margaret went to use the bathroom where she found Raabe. Rabe told her “For heaven’s sake, get some help, call the police!” Margaret, cool as a cucumber told her husband “get the license number of that car. It’s serious”. As Curry jotted down the license, Ronnie took notice and approached him. Curry said “What’s the matter, young fellow?” And asked who the woman with him was. Ronnie claimed it was his mother. Curry asked the boy to step into the station to talk it over. Ronnie pulled a gun and told the Curry’s to join Raabe in the car, saying “If you don’t want a bullet in the belly, get in that car”. Curry could see the two remaining live rounds in the revolver. He later said “I don’t argue with a gun”.

At that moment, a Emmetsburg mechanic Roy Hanson drove up behind Curry’s car. When he saw what was going on, he sped off to notify the police. Laughlin shouted “Stop or I’ll shoot!”. Margaret Curry, cool-headed voice of reason, suggested that Ronnie drive off in Raabe’s car alone, which he did.

He stopped 126 miles down the road in Clarksville, Iowa at a small grocery store. There he called the Iowa highway patrol and confessed “I’ve done something pretty bad and I want to turn myself in”.

Ronnie was tried in the juvenile system and served his time at the state training school at Plankinton. He was released into his uncle’s custody three years later and had enrolled at the University of Minnesota.