The Wisconsin State Prison, located in Waupun, Wisconsin has many stories of hauntings, but it is the State Prison Cemetery that is the focus of this story. The graveyard for the prison is located almost two miles away from the prison and reported to be almost as old. It was used for the inmates whose family members didn’t want to bury them in their hometowns or in a regular cemetery.

Wisconsin State Prison, Waupun, WI 1895.
Waupun State Prison, 1895

The cemetery is filled with the bodies of unclaimed prisoners that died while serving their sentences at the prison but contains no stones or identifying markers. The names have been forgotten and the cemetery has been abandoned. Most of the time, the feeling here is peaceful and calm. But sometimes, there is a definite feeling in this lonely place. Some of the folks who have visited here feel that they are being watched. Others speak of the feelings of sadness and loss that permeate the very air here. Others claim that they feel an angry presence at this location. But though the stories differ, most folks agree that something else is here.

Waupun_State_Prison, 1893; H.H. Bennett (1843-1908), 1 January 1893.
Waupun State Prison, 1893; H.H. Bennett (1843-1908), 1 January 1893.

One of the men who was brought here to be buried was Peter Frahm (also spelled Fromm). Peter died inside the prison walls in 1871 but the story began much earlier and many miles away in Burlington, Wisconsin. It would be called one of the most horrible crimes of the day.

Besides Frahm there was another man at the center of this story, Anton Koch. Anton Koch had come a long way in his life by 1865. He owned 130 acres just outside of Burlington. He was married to a young woman, twenty five years his junior. Both Anton and his wife, Amelia were born in Bavaria and had come to Wisconsin with their families. They married in 1859 in Burlington. They had 3 small children, Joseph who was 4 years old, Anna Barbara who was 2 and a newborn boy named Ernest. A 12 year old niece, named Amelia after her aunt, was also living with the family during that winter.

December 3, 1865 was a Sunday and that meant church for the Koch family. For some reason, Anton and Amelia decided to leave the children at home that day. They weren’t worried because the younger Amelia was wonderful with the children. They also knew that their hired man, Peter Frahm would be around that morning. Anton had sold a lot of wheat and had $1,300 on him when he left for church. He had some bills to pay after the church service and decided the money would be safer with him.

Frahm had only been with the Koch’s for seven weeks by December 3. Frahm didn’t talk much about his past but he did tell Anton that he had traveled from Moline, Illinois. Frahm was working with Anton to earn some money and wait out the winter before heading toward Iowa.

Anton and Amelia felt they would be late for church so they hurriedly told their family goodbye and rushed out at 10:00a.m. The church service ended right around noon that day. Anton wanted to run a couple of errands so Amelia went home alone. She would later claim that she had a strange feeling when she approached the house.

The feeling grew as Amelia approached the house and saw that the door was open. The entrance was in the rear of the house right next to the woodshed. As she approached the open door, she noticed a small bundle on the floor of the woodshed. It took her a moment to realize that it was her little two-year old daughter, Barbara. The toddler lay in a pool of blood and was gasping for air.

Newspapers from the day described the horrific scene stating the toddler had a “deep gash on the side of her head, penetrating the skull, her flaxen hair clotted with blood and her fair cheeks covered in the crimson gore!”

Amelia quickly gathered her child into her arms and rushed into the house screaming for her niece. The house was eerily silent as she went room to room. In the parlor, she noticed that her baby was happily lying in the cradle.

As Amelia turned from the tranquil scene of her baby, she noticed her four-year old son, Joseph, near the kitchen stove. The little boy was obviously dead and next to him lay Amelia’s namesake, her twelve-year old niece. She was alive but was in a hideous state.

Amelia would later state that even at that moment, her mind refused to process the obvious truth. It took another minute or two for her to realize that someone had come into her home and murdered her children. When the truth finally registered, Amelia stumbled out of the house and began to scream.

Several families were making their way home from the church services and heard Amelia’s cry for help. Someone ran to notify Anton that his family was in trouble. The men were shocked by the scene that awaited them inside the modest farmhouse. They were helpless to help the distraught mother.

Little Barbara lived only a short time. It gave everyone comfort that she died in her mother’s arms. Amelia then picked up her niece and held her close while she took her final breath. Amelia was still rocking her when Anton returned to find his whole family changed. Their lives would never be the same again.

The murder weapon was left on the floor next to the children’s bodies. This added another shock in a day filled with them. It was an ax. The doctor that came to examine the bodies determined that it was probably the back of the ax that was used on the victims. The doctor couldn’t look the parents in the eye as he told them that the children had all died of skull fractures.

The authorities questioned Anton about why someone would hurt his children and ransack the home. Anton told them he had been paid a large sum of money a few days before. Maybe whoever committed the crime had been looking for the money. But Anton had carried the money with him inside of his clothes. When the police asked Anton who knew about the money, he told them that only a few people knew. One of them happened to be the hired man, Peter Frahm.

Part of the ransacking in the home included the destruction of a wooden bureau. It had been destroyed with the ax. When asked what was in the bureau, Anton told the man questioning him that he kept a pouch with a few dollars in silver coins. The pouch was gone.

The authorities hated to ask the questions of the grieving father, but they knew they had to catch the monster who had committed this heinous crime as fast as they could. As Anton was recounting the morning, the man in charge seemed to focus on the hired man, Peter Frahm almost immediately. Frahm was found by the authorities and brought in for questioning.

The evidence against Frahm added up quickly. The pouch with the silver pieces was found buried not far from the house. He also had blood on his boots. There was no DNA at that time or blood typing. That meant the main evidence gathered by authorities were the boot prints left in blood. Authorities matched Frahm’s boots with the tracks that they discovered inside and outside the home on the morning of the crime.

The Sheriff’s men gathered up the evidence. They also questioned Frahm about his whereabouts during the time of the crime. They reminded Frahm that he was supposed to be watching the children. Frahm had no answer to their questions about the evidence against him. He also had no straight answer for his location during the murders.

Even though Frahm claimed he did not kill the children, not many believed him. Anton and Amelia were highly thought of in Burlington. Anton was well respected for his assistance to other Germans that came to the area. He helped them with a job and a place to stay. That respect and the fact that the victims were innocent children kept this story in the headlines for a considerably long time.

Frahm was eventually found guilty of this horrible crime and sentenced to serve his time in the Wisconsin State Penitentiary at Waupun. There was no death penalty in Wisconsin at the time though many men in the town thought if any crime deserved the death penalty it was the murder of these helpless children. Most felt that Frahm deserved to be hanged for his crimes.

Anton and Amelia buried their children in God’s Acre Cemetery, now the St. Mary Cemetery in Burlington. All the family would be buried there eventually but not close to each other.

Frahm never wavered from maintaining his innocence. He was 57-years-old when he entered prison and grew into an old man during the first years at the prison. Frahm seemed a broken man and he struggled with mental health issues. He would pace the cell laughing and crying, calling to God to help him.

This lasted until March of 1871. On the morning of March 21, a prison guard found Frahm dead in his cell. He had ripped his shirt into strips to create a rope which he tied to his cell door. Then Frahm hung himself. The guards cut him down and tried to revive him, but it was too late. Frahm was dead.

Those who thought he was guilty claimed that the guilt had finally become too much to bear. Those very few who thought he was innocent, claimed the thought of spending years incarcerated for murders he did not commit pushed him into suicide.

There was no service for Frahm and since no loved one came forward to claim the body of the 62-year-old man, he was buried in the State Prison Cemetery. But there are some that believe that Frahm still continues to claim his innocence, even this long after his death. Visitors state that they feel an intense anger and sadness at the site. Whether it is the spirit of Frahm or one of the other murders who are buried here, only more investigation will tell.

One of the final articles written about the murder was in 1929 when Amelia passed away at the age of ninety-three years old. Amelia lived through so much heartache in her long life. The baby named Ernest, who survived the killing of the other children, died in childhood. Anton and Amelia had two more daughters after the murders, and they did survive to adulthood. But Anton didn’t live to see it. He died just ten years after the murders. People who knew Anton before that December day said he never recovered from the horrible way his children died. He would always bear the burden of knowing that he had brought the murderer into his home. Amelia outlived her husband by fifty-six years.

There is another ghost story attached to this tale, though it is far away from Waupun. The location where these children were murdered seems to be haunted. According to a woman whose family lived in the area, the children that were so horribly murdered on that day in 1865 still linger at the site. She has seen them playing in the house and around the barn which has now been remodeled into a business.

The same woman states that the stories of strange happenings in the house continue even today. The home has been converted into a business now. Stories are told of cleaning crews that have heard unexplainable sounds and doors slamming when there was no one else in the building.

Besides the children’s ghosts, others claim to have seen a woman in the yard and in the house. Perhaps the ghost of Amelia wanders reliving those moments when she returned from church to find her world destroyed. It makes one’s heart ache to think of the young mother searching for the children she couldn’t save.

There is a darker presence here as well. One that “feels” different from the other spirits that roam the house and barn area. Folks that experienced this entity claim to feel fear and anger when this spirit is near. They fear that Frahm or whoever killed the Koch family children is keeping the children trapped in the house. This may be another reason why Amelia’s spirit remains.

There is a theory about spirits who were wronged (whether by murder or wrongly accused of a crime). The feelings of anger, frustration, and lack of justice carry on after the person’s death. These feelings can grow and cause a different type of haunting.

Spirits involved with this type of haunting become vengeful, dark, and dangerous. They no longer care if they revenge on the actual person that caused their situation. They only care that they get revenge on society for the wrong that was perpetrated against them. This could be the dark energy felt at the State Prison Cemetery and at the home in Burlington.

There is no way that we will ever know if Frahm was innocent or guilty of the horrific crimes he was found guilty of committing. But one thing is very clear, the ghosts created by the long-ago murder of these small children reach far beyond the abandoned cemetery in Waupun.


Copyright © 2024 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events