Ralph Lobaugh

Allen County, Indiana
Dates of Crimes: 1944 - 45

Ralph Woodrow Lobaugh was sentenced to death for the murders of three women. Within an 18-month period of time, four women were abducted and killed in the Fort Wayne area: Wilhelmina Haaga, 38, on Feb. 2, 1944, Anna Kuzeff, 20, on May 22, 1944, Phyllis Conine, 17, on Aug. 6, 1944, and Dorothea Howard, 36, on Mar. 6, 1945. The murders of these women were all committed during inclement weather. They were possibly the work of a single serial killer dubbed “The Killer in the Rain.” There were some differences between the first three murders and Howard's murder, suggesting a different killer had murdered Howard.

In 1947 Lobaugh voluntarily confessed to the Haaga, Kuzeff, and Howard murders. Police reasoned that he did not wish to confess to Conine's murder because she was killed while still a juvenile. The details Lobaugh gave of the murders he confessed to were inconsistent with the known facts of each crime. Lobaugh subsequently recanted, saying he had a quarrel with his third wife and had confessed as means of committing suicide. Following the recantation, Lobaugh confessed again and recanted again. He pled guilty to the crimes, but recanted the day after his sentencing.

Lobaugh's attorney subsequently produced affidavits from his first wife and her father attesting that he lived and worked in Churubusco until the winter of 1945 and could not possibly have killed Haaga or Kuzeff. As Lobaugh's attorney continued to appeal his case, Lobaugh wrote the sentencing judge in Jan. 1949, asking him not to interfere with his execution scheduled for the following month. The judge, however, did interfere and issued the first of 11 stays that Lobaugh would receive until his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, late in 1950. Gov. Schricker, reviewing the case in 1949, called it “one of the most sordid messes in the history of the state.”

Apart from his confession, no evidence connected Lobaugh to the murders except for a witness, Charles Dodson, who, following Lobaugh's confessions, reportedly identified him as the man who was last with Howard. Dodson later said a detective told him a man had confessed to the crime and showed him a photo of Lobaugh. Dodson merely glanced at the photo and told the detective that the person in the photo looked somewhat like the killer. The detective then left, satisfied with this identification.

A new detective, who doubted Lobaugh's guilt, placed Lobaugh in a line-up and had Dodson and another witness view the line-up. Neither witness could identify Lobaugh as the man who was last with Howard. When Lobaugh was pointed out to them, both were certain he was not the man.

Dodson subsequently implicated another man, Robert Christen, as the man he saw. The other witness also identified Christen as the man who was last with Howard. However, since Howard was found still alive, but battered and incoherent four hours after being seen with Christen, his being the last person seen with her was hardly proof that he was her assailant. Nevertheless, he was convicted of Howard's murder in 1949. Less than a year later the Indiana Supreme Court dismissed Christen's conviction after ruling that it was based on “the acceptance of a mere possibility and upon guess and conjecture.”

In Aug. 1949, the same month that Look magazine called Fort Wayne, “America's Happiest Town,” another area woman, Leona Sparks, 17, was kidnapped and assaulted by a man who attempted to strangle her. The license plate of the perpetrator was traced to 30-year-old Franklin Click. After figuring that he would get life imprisonment for the assault on Sparks, Click wrote to his wife and confessed to the murders of Haaga, Kuzeff, and Conine. He told his wife to report his confession so she would receive a $15,000 reward offered for information on the murders.

Click had worked a few blocks away from Haaga's workplace when she was killed. An investigation by an amateur sleuth, Floyd Moreland, had in 1944 traced a laundry ticket found at the scene of Haaga's murder to a Clifford Siders. Siders, however, died before Haaga, but upon his death his car was repossessed by an agency who sold it to Click four days before the murder. Moreland turned over his results to police, but they failed to follow up on his lead.

Like the attempt on Sparks, Kuzeff had been strangled. Click had lived directly across the street from Kuzeff when she was killed, and had even been a pallbearer at her funeral. Kuzeff's father said that of all the neighbors, Click was the most profuse in his expression of sympathy for the family.

Conine had also been strangled. Click told police that he had stolen a car shortly before Conine's murder and that a trench coat found at the scene of the murder had been in the car when he stole it. After the owner of the stolen car was located, he identified the coat as his own and it fit him perfectly.

Despite Click's corroborated confessions to the Haaga and Kuzeff murders, he was only tried for Conine's murder presumably because Lobaugh had been convicted of the first two murders. After Click's conviction, Lobaugh confessed that he had also murdered Conine. Decades later, in 1975, an investigation by Gov. Otis Bowen concluded that Lobaugh was “guilty of little more than perjury.” Bowen granted Lobaugh clemency in 1977.  [11/08]


References: The News-SentinelThe Innocents

Posted in: Victims of the State, Indiana Cases, Voluntary False Confessions, Triple Homicide Cases, Favorite Case Stories