Murder on Long Lake: A Mason County Great Depression tale

December 7, 2022

Murder on Long Lake: A Mason County Great Depression tale

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

An evening of drinking and romance in a cottage along Long Lake ended with the shooting death of a 52-year-old Indiana man in late October 1941 and eventual murder charges against a 38-year-old Branch woman. 

Crystal (Christal) Landon Jasper Anderson, likely taken prior to her 1941 prison sentence.

Crystal (Landon) Jasper Anderson grew up a little over a mile west of the Mason-Lake counties line, near what is now Landon Road in Branch Township. She was a twice-married widow whose first husband, Henry Lawerence Jasper, died in a car accident and who was separated from her second husband, Rex Anderson. The name Jasper is often referred to as Jaspers as well. 

Ora James Bunton was a 52-year-old widower from LaPorte, Indiana. His wife, Jean (Prothero) Bunton died in 1935. They were married on April 23, 1913. Bunton helped manage the Sandee Resort, located on the northwest corner of Wever and Jackpine roads. The resort was owned by Abie and Geraldine Sandee of Three Oaks.

Anderson and Bunton had met two years prior, according to testimony given by Anderson during her murder trial in June of 1942. She had married Rex Anderson in 1936 and was seeking a divorce (exactly when she was separated from Rex wasn’t clear in the testimony). 

Crystal Landon married Henry Jasper on May 28, 1922 in Saginaw. Jasper was born on Feb. 22, 1897 in Chaska, Carver County, Minnesota and had joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 17 in 1914 and served for six years, including serving in Europe during World War I. After they got married the couple moved to Brewster, Washington where Henry worked for his uncle, William Jasper, who owned a ranch. After William died, Henry and Crystal moved back to his hometown in Minnesota and then back to Michigan where Henry got a job for Chevrolet Motor Co. in Flint. 

On Jan. 20, 1931, Henry Jasper, 32, was trying to push his stalled vehicle off the highway when he was struck by another vehicle, dying later that day in the hospital. He left behind his wife of nine years along with a son and a daughter. One month after Henry’s death, on his birthday, another daughter was born. 

On page 2 of the June 12, 1931 edition of the Ludington Daily News, under Branch Village news, a notation read: “Mrs. Henry Jasper, formerly Crystal Landon, and children, of Flint are spending the summer at Branch.” This was about six months following Henry’s death.

On page 2, under Free Soil news, in the Sept. 19, 1933 edition of the Ludington Daily News, a notation is made that “Mrs. Crystal Jasper and children, who have been occupying the cottage on the Henry Darr farm, have moved to the Haynes residence in Free Soil.”

William Landon, father of Crystal Anderson

In 1936, Crystal married Reynold “Rex” Leland Anderson. Rex was born on Jan. 27, 1902 in Eden Township to Swedish immigrants August (1878-1924) and Slma Olive (Tallquist, 1881-1956) Anderson. Crystal and Rex had a daughter, Aunita Louise, who was born and died in 1937. Following Crystal and Rex’s divorce, he married Itola E. Toby in Ludington on Feb. 26, 1947. Rex worked on the carferries in Ludington and died in 1972. He and Itola, who died in 1973, are buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Ludington. 

Crystal (also written as Christal) was born May 9, 1903, the sixth daughter of William and Millie Landon, who ultimately had 10 daughters. The Landons lived a half mile west of what is now known as Landon Road. According to the 1914 Mason County Plat Book, their property was located in section 23 of Branch Township, about a quarter mile south of modern US 10. The Pere Marquette Railway cut through the northern eighth of the property. A 1915 plat book shows that Landon had sold the property but her uncles, Charles Landon, and William Treloff, continued to own property in the area. 

Some of the turmoil that Crystal Landon Jasper Anderson faced in her life may have been due to her family’s circumstances. 

William John Landon was born in Ludington on May 28, 1870, the son of David and Anna (Crompton) Landon. David was born in York, Medina County, Ohio in 1838 and died on Feb. 20, 1917 in Branch at the age of 78. He is buried in Tallman Cemetery in Branch Township. Anna was born in Chemung County, New York on April 5, 1840 and died June 8, 1902 in Branch at the age of 62. She is buried in Lakeview Cemetery. David fought for the United States in Eighth Regiment, Co. K, Ohio Infantry during the Civil War. After the war he received 40 acres of land for his service in Mason County from the U.S. government. He was an avid hunter. He apparently killed a Native American man for allegedly stealing one of his traps. His son, Frederick told authorities that he was the one who killed the man and he was sent to prison, later moving to Mexico and then Texas. David worked a saw mill in Branch, living near his sons Charles and William (father of Crystal). 

Millie was the daughter of Julius and Wilhelmine “Minnie” (Yeager or Jaeger) Treloff, German immigrants who came to the United States from Berlin in 1871. Millie was born in the U.S. and had lived in St. Joseph County, Michigan until she was 5-years-old. She had five siblings. The family then moved to Mason County. Julius was a band leader. Julius (1845-1891) and Minnie (1847-1928) are both buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Ludington. 

Millie developed a tumor and died in 1914 when Crystal was 11-years-old. William had apparently exhausted all the family’s finances attempting to treat his wife. They had been at Chicago’s Presbyterian Hospital for three weeks when she died at the age of 38. While at least two daughters were adults at that point, William made the decision to continue to raise his daughters, in the country, by himself. A few years after Millie’s death the family home burned. William and the remaining girls lived in an underground chicken coop until the new house was built.

According to a 1904 plat book, Charles Landon owned and operated a sawmill on 90 acres of land. The sawmill was located on the southeast corner of modern Landon and Young roads near the railroad tracks. William Trieloff (also spelled Treeloff, Treelove and Treloff, 1881-1955), brother-in-law to William Landon and uncle to Cyrstal Jasper Anderson, owned 110 acres of land at what is the southwest corner of what is now US 10 and Tyndall Road in Branch. 

According to testimony during the trial, Crystal Jasper Anderson and her three children (Henry Larry Jasper, 16; Rosemary May Jasper, 13; and Christal or Crystal Ann, 10) lived with her uncle, William Trieloff. Though property records show that Trielhoff had sold his property by 1914, it’s possible that he still lived on that site or nearby.

The Oasis Tavern sign taken the day after it burned to the ground. Photo by Rob Alway.

In the afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 18, 1941, William Trieloff went to Oasis Tavern, located on US 10 just east of Tyndall Road (the Mason-Lake counties line) in Branch, with his niece, Crystal Anderson, and her friend Ora Bunton, along with Abbie and Geraldine Sandee. 

If Trielhoff still lived on the property he owned in the early 1900s, the Oasis would have only been a short walk to the east of his house, and about 2 1/2 miles east of the Sandees’ Long Lake resort. The Oasis was destroyed by fire on March 21, 2013.

According to Abie Sandee’s testimony, it was the first time he had ever met Crystal Jasper Anderson. The group had stayed at the Oasis for several hours, drinking, eating, and dancing. They left at dark. Note: Abie Sandee died in Oct. 1964 at the age of 84. Geraldine Sandee died in 1957. 

Trielhoff, in his testimony, told of going to the the Oasis Oct. 20 with Crystal and Ora. He said that he returned to Crystal’s cabin between 8 and 9 that evening and that Crystal was not there. He said there were several of the neighbor’s children there together with Crystal’s three children playing the radio and that after the neighbors had gone home at 10 he went to bed. As he couldn’t sleep he asked one of the children for a book, which he read until about midnight then he went to sleep. Crystal had not returned home before he dropped off to sleep, he said, but a squeaky door awakened him sometime before daylight and he heard her come in. 

Julia Masunas was a waitress at the Oasis who testified that Crystal and her uncle, along with “another man” entered the Oasis shortly before noon on Oct. 20. Her testimony was substantiated by Roland Campbell, owner and manager of the Oasis. It’s likely since Crystal and William Trielhoff had lived down the road, and that their families had lived in the area since the late 1800s, they were regulars at the Oasis and known to the staff. It’s also likely that the Sandees had just met up with the trio and had not gone together with them.

Sheriff Colyer

William them testified that the next morning, Sunday, Oct. 21, 1941, Crystal got breakfast for him and her family. There was a boy waiting to be paid for some wood she had got and so, according to her uncle, she went to the store at Walhalla to get a check cashed. When she returned she had some groceries, cigarettes and matches. She told Henry Jasper, her 16-year-old son, to take the cigarettes over to Bunton in the nearby Sandee cottage. 

“Henry was gone quite a while about 15 to 20 minutes,” Trielhoff said. “And when he got back he said he couldn’t arouse anyone there, although he heard someone snoring or groaning.”

Henry found Ora Bunton unresponsive in his cottage and went to the cottage next door where he told Gertrude Anderson (unrelated) about not being able to wake up Bunton. Gertrude, upon realizing that Burton was dead, called coroner Lloyd Stephens, owner of Stephens Funeral Home of Scottville. Stephens then called Steve Wever, a friend who lived nearby on Jackpine Road on the west side of Long Lake (Wever Road was named after his family). Wever confirmed that Bunton was dead. At that point Sheriff George Colyer and his undersheriff, Ed Anderson (no relation) were called in to investigate Bunton’s death. Sheriff Colyer served as sheriff from 1918-1923 then again from 1926 to 1941, the longest serving sheriff in Mason County history. Ed Anderson served as sheriff from 1941-1964. 

The last murder to take place in Mason County occurred on Monday, Nov. 1, 1937 when Branch farmer Anthony Becker, 58, apparently killed his wife, Mary, 64, and then himself in a field behind their farmhouse. 

Undersheriff (later sheriff) Ed Anderson

Mrs. Becker had apparently been working in the field when her estranged husband came upon her and shot her with a 12-gauge shotgun at a distance between 40 and 50 feet. After which he put the gun to his mid-section, pulled the trigger and fell face forward, mortally wounded. 

Both Mr. and Mrs. Becker were born in Lithuania. Both are buried in Bachellor Cemetery in Branch Township.  

Over five months went by before Crystal Jasper Anderson was arrested. On April 1, 1942, Mason County Undersheriff Ed Anderson (who would later become the longest serving sheriff in Mason County) walked into the Oasis Tavern with Michigan State Police Trooper Wilbur Peterman where they found Crystal with her husband, Rex Anderson, and arrested her. She was charged with murder.

During a preliminary examination held later that month, several witnesses were called to the stand. Justice Lester Blodgett found enough evidence to send the case to circuit court with a trial date set for Tuesday, June 9, 1942. 

The trial lasted four days, ending on Monday, June 15. Under normal circumstances Judge Max E. Neal would have continued the trial through the weekend, especially since it was wrapping up by Friday. However, because there were so many farmers on the jury, he recessed the trial until Monday. 

Crystal Jasper Anderson’s testimony contradicted information she had given Ed Anderson. 

Sheriff Anderson (who was undersheriff at the time of the murder) said on the evening of her arrest, Crystal told him she had stayed in the cottage with Bunton until daybreak. She told him Bunton had gone into the clothes closest to get whiskey, she thought, and brought out the gun with one shell. He pointed the gun at himself. She wrestled with him, knocking him down three or four times trying to get the gun away from him.

“In my presence,” Undersheriff Anderson said, “she said she might have fired the shot that killed him. She was too drunk to remember.”

Sheriff Anderson said, according to Crystal Jasper Anderson, Bunton told her he intended to commit suicide. “She sat down beside him and talked to him, telling him that if he killed himself she’d be blamed as her fingerprints were on the gun.”

A newspaper report of the trial then said Ed Anderson said Jasper Anderson told him that Bunton wiped off the gun and told Jasper Anderson that that would clear her. He also said the woman had told him that she was going to marry Bunton as soon as she could obtain a divorce from Rex Anderson, her husband, a newspaper report stated.

Jasper Anderson took the stand, a tactic that is rare in murder trials. 

She testified that she and Bunton went to the Oasis sometime in the afternoon. 

“He drank and we danced,” she said. “I don’t know exactly how much beer I drank, six or eight, or nine bottles, I guess. When we left the Oasis it was getting dark.”

She said her uncle, William Trieloff, stayed at the Oasis and she left with Bunton. 

“We stopped at Walhalla where he (Bunton) got a pint of whiskey,” Jasper Anderson said. “Then we went to my place. On the way home I was worried about my children I wanted to see if they were all right. I don’t know what time that was – 7 or 8 I guess.” 

She said they left her house and then went to Bunton’s cottage. 

“We came in the kitchen door. We sat down. He took off his good suit and his white shirt and put on a pair of working pants. We prepared to get supper. We had fried hamburgers and some squirrel he’d shot that day. We were talking in the kitchen while getting supper. 

We heard a noise at the kitchen window. He said we’d better go sit in the bedroom where no one could see us. We went in and sat on the bed. The bed hadn’t been made from the night before. The spread was partly over the bed and I pulled it back.”

“Mr. Bunton wanted me to move down to Indiana but I thought I’d better wait until after my divorce,” she continued in her testimony. She said the first time she saw the gun it was at the kitchen door when they entered the cabin. 

She said there was no trouble over the gun. 

“It was just his way, I guess of trying to influence me to go to Indiana,” she said. 

“He made the remark that he’d commit suicide if I didn’t go down there. He put the gun back, stood it up against the dresser and then we went to sleep.

“I don’t know how long we slept. We both woke up about the same time, I think. He was quite sick. He took a drink of liquor and then threw it up. We both decided it was time for me to go home as it was light enough for the neighbors to see and there would be gossip. I went home then. Before I went home we kissed each other three or four times.”

Again, contradicting herself, Jasper Anderson had told Sheriff George Colyer, the day after the body was found, that she only knew Bunton casually, quite a different story than her testimony stating she was prepared to marry him. 

The jury took 4 1/2 hours to deliberate and reach a verdict, guilty of manslaughter. 

Graves of William and Minnie Landon in Tallman Cemetery, Branch Township.

“Mrs. Anderson was calm as foreman Henning Runquist pronounced the verdict, although she closed her eyes and apparently swallowed hard a couple of times,” a Ludington Daily News article stated. “As the verdict was announced, the only sound was a gasp that came from some person in the audience.” 

Before dismissing the jury, Judge Neal said, “Your verdict is more than amply justified by the evidence in this case.” 

Members of the jury were Runquist, Andrew Andersen, Joseph Becker, Herman Peterson, Emil Lessard, Albert Conklin, John Houk, Frederic Hansen, John Gorley, Fred Reek, Stephan Herban and Manley French. 

On Wednesday, June 17, 1942, Mason County Circuit Court Judge Max E. Neal sentenced Crystal Jasper Anderson to five to 15 years in prison at the Detroit House of Corrections. Before passing sentence Judge Neal asked Anderson if she had anything to say. 

“Yes, I have. There is one thing I want to say. You are making a terrible mistake. I did not kill that man,” she said. 

Judge Neal then responded: “You have had a fair trial, as fair a trial as any one could have who was charged with this crime. You have had a competent counsel, one of the outstanding criminal lawyers in this part of the state. 

“The jury found you guilty and as the question of guilt or innocence the court is bound by the verdict of the jury. 

“In the opinion of the court the verdict was amply justified by the evidence in the case. The jury would have been within its rights to have brought in a verdict of second degree murder, if not first degree murder.

“You stand convicted here of a crime punishable by the laws of this state after a fair and just trial. No one else is to blame for this situation except yourself.

“The court has some sympathy for your young children, for this son of yours who testified in this case and for your two daughters. You have brought this disgrace upon them. The court hopes they have the courage and stamina to rise above it — they are not responsible for your conduct.

“Your conduct as a mother has been far from above reproach. You should have conducted yourself far different from the manner in which the proofs in this case show you have.”

Neal recommended that Jasper Anderson serve 7 1/2 years of her sentence. 

“If you are a good prisoner and your conduct entitles you to some reduction of time you serve, it is the court’s recommendation that you serve seven and a half years.” 

It turns out that Jasper Anderson was paroled twice and violated her parole each time. She ended up serving 10 years and was paroled on Oct. 27, 1952. 

Crystal moved in with her daughter, Rosemary O’Hara who was now 24, married and living in Ecorse Township, located south of Detroit along the shores of the Detroit River in Wayne County. In the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 12, 1952, Crystal left her daughter’s house to do some shopping. Included on her shopping list was a note to “buy some laces for baby,” referring to her 2-months-old grandson, Lawrence O’Hara. 

Crystal did not return that evening. The next morning, shortly before noon, two boys who were trapping in a wooded area found Anderson’s body. In a panic they ran to a nearby factory to summon help. 

Detectives said her head was nearly severed from repeated long slashes from what appeared to have been a heavy knife. 

Rosemary O’Hara told police that her mother had been in fear of her life but could not give any clues as to why. 

A newspaper article stated: “‘Mother told me she was afraid of what this person might do if she learned she was out of prison,’ Mrs. O’Hara told Wayne County sheriff’s officers.”

Police stated there was no connection between the death of Ora Bunton and the murder of Crystal Jasper Anderson. They stated that he had no known relatives. However, that wasn’t factual. Ora and his wife, Jean (Prothero) Bunton, who died in 1935, had seven children, two sons and five daughters. Jean also had a daughter from a previous marriage. In 1952, only two of the children had died, daughter Thelma at age 2 in 1920 and Robert at age 29 in 1943.

A Jan. 26, 1953 United Press article reports on the arrest of 26-year-old V.C. Callahan, a punch press operator. Callahan was held by police after he confessed to murdering Anderson in a fight over a pint bottle of whiskey. 

“Until one of Callahan’s neighbors reported him to police early Sunday, officers had theorized that the victim, Mrs. Crystal Andreson, 52, had been slain by some prison acquaintance,” the article reports. 

“The killing occurred last Dec. 12. Mrs. Anderson had been released only a few days earlier from Detroit House of Correction after serving a 10-year term for manslaughter.” She had actually been released almost two months prior. 

“Police said Callahan has served time for larceny and car theft, but never at the Detroit institution. His role came to light when the neighbor, Mrs. Helen Pierce, who had known about it for weeks, went to police.

“‘It got on my nerves and I just had to report it,’ she said.

“She said that when Callahan came home after the slaying, she and his wife, Evelyn (also called by her middle name, Winnel), 29, held a flashlight and watched for police while he washed the blood off his car, although Mrs. Callahan had to leave because it made her ill.

“Callahan said he had killed a man, Mrs. Pierce said, until the Anderson slaying came out in the newspapers.

“Mrs. Pierce said she and her husband were playing cards early Sunday with some friends who started discussing the Anderson case.

“‘It just started driving me crazy,’ she said. She ran from the house, hailed two police officers and said she feared for her life because she knew a man who had killed a woman. 

“Callahan, confronted with Mrs. Pierce’s story, readily confessed.”

Callahan told police he met Crystal Anderson in a bar where he bought her a couple of drinks and agreed to her suggestion that they buy a bottle of liquor and go for a ride.

“They parked near the woods, he said, and talked for awhile when she suddenly said, ‘I’m going and I’m taking the whiskey with me.’

“She got out of the car, he said, and he followed her. She swung on him with the half-empty bottle and he slapped her and ‘blacked out.’ 

“The next thing he remembered, he said, he was standing over her body with a wrench in one hand and a knife in the other.

“He said that after his wife and Mrs. Pierce helped him wipe the blood off the car, he drove it to his hometown in Dalton, Georgia and asked his father to get rid of it for him.”

An AP story, which ran in the Ludington Daily News on Jan. 26, 1953, described Callahan as an auto worker who “some time ago” escaped from a Georgia chain gang. 

“I did it,” he was quoted in the article. “I was drunk and when I drink whisky I go crazy. I guess I feel better now.” 

Detroit homicide detectives also suspected Callahan for the slaying of another woman, JoAnn Gillespie. Callahan had a 4-year-old daughter, Cheryl, with another on the way, and had served time in a Georgia prison for auto theft, an 11-month sentence. He also served a year in an Ohio prison for larceny. 

In March 1953 Callahan pleaded guilty to manslaughter, which was surprising. With the extent of injuries he caused on Crystal, second degree murder would have seemed to have been more appropriate. Information about his sentencing cannot be found. However, he clearly was released from prison at some point because he ended back in Georgia, where he died on March 2, 1974 at the age of 47.

Crystal was 49-years-old. She is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Oakland County. 





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