The lethal marriage of Matt and Frances Grossbier
By Kris Leonhardt
As Judge William Hirth prepared to make his way to the Marshfield opera house that Tuesday afternoon in 1903, his thoughts led him back to the day he married a young couple just five years prior. Frances had been in a previous marriage to a gentleman that worked with the railroad. Both born in Eaton in Manitowoc County and coming from German heritage, they seemed a most likely pair. However, during the months leading up to that moment, the couple appeared more and more like two individuals that were toxic in each other’s company.
After their marriage in 1898, Matt and Frances Grossbier took up residence in Marshfield and settled in a home to begin raising a family. As the couple began their first years together, jealousy and violence began to trickle into the relationship, and tempers began to flare.
By April of 1903, the two had had enough of the rocky marriage and separated. Living on North Central Avenue at the time, it was decided that Frances would stay at their home while Matt would take up boarding elsewhere.
On an early Monday afternoon that May, shots rang out in the Sixth Ward. The sound of a woman screaming drew passersby to the Grossbier home, where Matt Grossbier lay dead. The bullet from a 32-caliber revolver, which Frances kept for protection, had passed through the top side of his heart, causing him to immediately succumb. The weapon had been fired at close range, and a folding knife had been found close by.
In the 24 hours since tragedy, it had been Judge Hirth’s duty as Wood County Justice of the Peace to assemble a coroner’s jury. As Frances and many witnesses of the relationship and aftermath were questioned, the two days that led up to the shooting came into focus.
That previous Sunday, Mr. Grossbier had showed up to a community picnic in the company of another woman. In response Mrs. Grossbier became enraged, went to Mr. Grossbier’s place of residence, and destroyed some valuable property. In retaliation Mr. Grossbier forced open the rear entrance of Mrs. Grossbier’s home in an effort to surprise her, and surprise her he did.
At the opera house, Judge Hirth — along with Wisconsin District Attorney Brazeau and Judge E.C. Pors — would lead a preliminary inquiry with Brazeau representing the State and Pors representing Mrs. Grossbier.
After several hours of deliberation, it was determined in a majority verdict that Frances had acted in self-defense, and she was released from custody.
Frances later remarried.