SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — When Mabel Herman was murdered in January of 1974, the community of Willmar, Minnesota, changed, said resident Bob Larson.
“It changed the town I think,” Larson said. “We (became) more cautious. It got to be a turning point.”
Herman was stabbed 38 times and was found inside home, according to court records. Willmar’s population in 1970 was 12,689. The city has grown to about 19,700 but the railroad lines, lakes, and some local businesses named in 1974 remain.
In 1974, the brutal murder became a frequent topic of discussion during those first few months after February, Larson said.
The police had suspects but there were no arrests. No arrests until July 2020 when a long-time Sioux Falls resident, Algene Vossen, 79, was charged with murder in the second degree with intent in Herman’s death.
Vossen was extradited to Minnesota in September. His next court date in Kandiyohi County is set for Nov. 24.
Willmar is the county seat of Kandiyohi County in Minnesota. There is also a town called Kandiyohi near Willmar.
Vossen is back in Minnesota, where according to court documents, he spent a lot of time back in 1974.
Vossen was questioned about Herman’s death back in 1974, court documents and media reports of investigations that happened since 1974 said.
The sweater Herman was wearing when she died on Jan. 26, 1974, linked Vossen to her death, according to court records.
Willmar Police matched DNA on Herman’s sweater to Vossen through a search warrant signed by a South Dakota judge in July, according to the complaint filed in Minnesota.
He has maintained his innocence in at least three police interviews including in July, according to the complaint.
“I’d chalk this up to good old police work,” Mike Anderson, a captain on the Willmar Police Department, said of the arrest of Vossen.
While Anderson and his colleagues arrested Vossen, there were other police officers who had also tried to solve the 1974 crime.
Anderson said the police had never forgotten the case.
“We had wanted to look into cold cases a couple of years ago…,” Anderson said. But because of staffing issues, there wasn’t the time or the officers to do that, he said.
A pandemic created an opportunity this year.
“Our school resource officers weren’t in school,” Anderson said. Schools were closed because of COVID-19 and that meant resource officers were available to help with regular and cold case work.
“We went over everything with a fine tooth comb,” Anderson said of the Herman case.
An intense look in 2020 resulted in another closer look at a man questioned in 1974.
Police question Vossen in 1974
Vossen told Willmar Police on Feb. 19, 1974, that he had been discharged from prison in Stillwater in May. Vossen said he had peeped through windows twice since he was discharged, the complaint said.
Vossen said on the night Herman was killed, he was at a local bar and supper club, the local American Legion or the VFW, according to the complaint. Vossen said he did not know Herman or where Herman lived.
Vossen’s then girlfriend, Lydia (listed as Olson in the complaint but as Marsh in her obituary), later his wife, said Vossen was late for supper on Jan. 26, according to the complaint. Lydia said Vossen got home at 9 p.m. instead of the usual 7:30 p.m.
Herman’s body was found in her home on Sunday, Jan. 27.
Larson said the VFW and the American Legion still exist in Willmar. The local bar and supper club does not.
After January 1974
During the 46 years since Herman’s death, Vossen lived mostly in Sioux Falls. But he did spend several years in various Iowa towns.
Vossen married Lydia Marsh on Oct. 19, 1974, in Dallas Center, Iowa, according to her obituary.
Dallas Center is about 5 hours and 15 minutes, or about 285 miles, from Willmar. After getting married, the Vossens lived in Johnston, Iowa, in Polk County.
A Willmar Police detective interviewed Vossen on Dec. 21, 1979, in Des Moines, Iowa, which is about 20 minutes, or eight miles from Johnston. The complaint alleges that Vossen’s main concern during the interview was if there was new evidence in the case.
In 1989, Vossen moved north to Storm Lake, Iowa, where he and Lydia managed the Vista Motel, according to Lydia’s obituary.
Two long-time law officers in Storm Lake and Buena Vista County don’t recall Vossen. One retired officer didn’t either. There was some recollection of the Vista Motel.
The complaint against Vossen said Herman was stabbed about 38 times. There were an additional six marks under her chin that did not appear to be stab wounds.
“This is certainly a violent crime,” Anderson said.
The violence involved in Herman’s murder and the 46 years that have passed, “put your spidey senses up,” Anderson said.
Anderson said Vossen had some incidents of window peeping and other incidents but nothing violent to the level of Herman’s case that police could find while investigating the cold case.
Mark Wasson, a reporter for the West Central Tribune, wrote in a Sept. 24 story that Vossen had been convicted of at least two assaults against law officers in Iowa. One in 1982 and another in July 1989.
“We have reached out to (other law enforcement) to follow up,” Anderson said of the possibility of linking Vossen and the DNA to other crimes.
But as of now, it appears that Vossen has not been charged with any other violent crimes in South Dakota, Minnesota or Iowa.
After 1979 interview
The Vossen complaint said Willmar Police interviewed another suspect on Feb. 21, 2003.
The DNA from Herman’s sweater did not match the suspect from 2003 or another suspect from 1974, according to the complaint.
A Willmar detective reviewing the Herman case file in June 2020 noted the report of an unidentified man who got into a tan Chrysler registered to Vossen in a Feb. 16, 1974, window peeking incident. Vossen said in an interview that he had no special fancy for houses that contain older ladies, according to the complaint.
Just over a month later, Vossen was arrested in Sioux Falls where he had lived since 1993 for the murder of Herman.
A museum file
Larson works at the Kandiyohi County Historical Society Museum in Willmar.
The museum has a file on the Herman case. “It’s here along with other crimes at the time,” Larson said.
The Herman file contains mostly newspaper clippings on her death, he said.
There’s been some recent interest in the file. Before that, interest was sporadic, Larson said.
Larson recalled that a Willmar Police officer reviewed the museum’s file this year.
Larson has worked with the historical society since 2007 and lived in Willmar since 1972.
“I was quite aware of the case,” Larson said. He knew Willmar Police had suspects and had been investigating over the years.
“In this last (investigation) it sounded like they eliminated two suspects instantly (with DNA),” Larson said.
“It doesn’t seem so long ago but it’s really been quite a few years ago,” Larson said of Herman’s death.
Forty-six years since that described turning point.
“People started locking their doors at houses. It changed things quite a bit,” Larson said.