'I shot my dad and mother and my brother' -- the mystery of the Flink family murders of 1941
John Flink killed his parents, William and Ida, and his brother Edwin on their family farm. Another brother, Fred, found their bodies.
Editor's note: This is another installment of The Vault series, which examines crimes, missing persons, mysteries and other cases. Information is based on archived newspaper accounts. Warning: This story includes graphic accounts of violence and may not be appropriate for some readers.
HOLMES CITY, Minn.— At the First Lutheran Cemetery outside Kensington, Minnesota, there stands a trio of graves, all belonging to the same family, all with the same year of death given.
Two of the graves belong to William Flink and his wife Ida, and the other belongs to one of their grown children, Edwin.
All three were murdered by another member of the family, son and brother John Flink, and his reason for committing the act — the only one he ever gave — was chilling.
He felt like it.
The scene was discovered on the morning of Wednesday, May 14, 1941, by another brother, Fred, who had been away working at a neighbor's farm the night before. Sheriff Bennie Urness was notified, and John Flink was found walking on a road near the home shortly thereafter, according to newspaper accounts.
The sheriff and his deputy, T. E. Larson, asked Flink if there had been a little trouble over to his place.
"Yeah," John said. "I shot my dad and mother and my brother."
Described as "quiet, apathetic, non-committal," John Flink never denied committing the murders, but never gave a convincing explanation as to why he had committed them, either.
"No, we hadn't had any fights. … Wasn't mad at my folks," he told a reporter for the Alexandria Citizen-News. "I just shot 'em, that's all."
For his part, Flink's brother, Fred, said he had been acting "queerly" all spring and that he had been worrying lately that he might be called in the draft.
A cold-blooded act
The Park Region Echo reported that the family, who lived near Holmes City, had just finished the evening meal on May 13, 1941, when John Flink "got the impulse to do the shooting."
"He went to the next room and picked up a .22 rifle he had under his bed and returned to the dining room," the newspaper reported.
He first shot his brother, Edwin, 25, from a range of less than five feet.
His mother, Ida, 67, pleaded with him to stop, saying he would always be sorry for doing it.
He shot her, anyway.
Flink then walked outside with the gun and saw his father, William, 70, running toward the back of a small chicken coop.
Flink said he shot his father on the run and then ran around behind the coop and shot him again at close range.
When he was done, Flink went back to the house, got undressed and went to bed.
Later, finding sleep difficult, Flink got up and dragged his mother and brother from the house, about 100 feet through soft mud to the far end of a vegetable patch.
The bodies now out of the house, Flink went back to bed and slept well the rest of the night.
He awoke at 5:30 the next morning and went about his daily routine as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. He prepared and ate breakfast, milked nine cows, separated the milk and fed the other animals.
When the chores were complete Flink returned to the empty house and attempted to clean up the blood in the dining room, using a broom to try and sweep it out the front door. Then he got a rag and some water to wash it away, but was unable to do so.
Eventually Flink gave up trying to clean and decided to go to a neighbor's house to try and sell the cows on the farm.
It was on his way there that Flink was picked up by the sheriff and his deputy.
Flink was calm at all times, The Park Region Echo reported.
"He answered questions in a subdued voice, but he was very definite about details and seldom hesitated very long before answering questions," it was reported.
Among the questions he was asked was if he would do it again.
His answer: "I don't know, but I think so."
Three concurrent life sentences
"I'll probably get the electric chair," Flink was quoted as saying by The St. Cloud Times.
However, this was not possible as Minnesota did not have capital punishment at the time.
Instead, a special grand jury was brought in on Wednesday, May 21, 1941, and Flink was charged with three counts of murder in the first degree.
Given the choice of going to trial or pleading guilty and having an immediate sentence, Flink chose to plead guilty.
"Life imprisonment at hard labor at the state penitentiary at Stillwater," Douglas County District Court Judge Anton J. Thompson pronounced.
To be precise, Flink was given three life sentences, to be served concurrently.
"From all appearances of the prisoner, he might (have) said, '10 days in jail, suspended sentence,'" The Alexandria Citizen-News reported.
Flink did express mild remorse, telling the Citizen-News, "I'm kinda sorry I did it," but he said nothing further than that.
There is also nothing further reported of his time in the penitentiary. Flink died on March 16, 1991, almost 50 years after his crime, and is buried at the Kongsberg Cemetery at Fergus Falls.
One of the most perplexing aspects of this story, apart from the fact that it happened at all, is John Flink's non-committal response to it. None of the quotes attributed to him provide any insight into why he did what he did, and nobody else ever came forward with a satisfactory explanation.
Yet, what explanation could ever satisfy the question of why somebody would murder three people — family members, no less?
The sad fact is, some things are just unknowable.
What is known — probably all that can be known — are the facts of the case itself. Anything else is pure speculation. The facts tell us what he did, but not why, and that will have to do.
John Flink caused untold sadness to his family and the people around him, and because of him there are three graves at the First Lutheran Cemetery.
Perhaps that's all we need to know.
— The Douglas County Historical Society contributed information to this report.