Nightmare on Holton Street

Schulz murder house

In 1952, a mother and her two young children were murdered in a second floor flat on Holton Street. Carl A. Swanson photo

In February 1952, Arno Schulz walked into a nightmare. Returning from an out-of-town business trip, Arno found the body of his wife, Katherine Schulz, 38. She had been killed by multiple shotgun blasts in the family’s upper-floor flat at 2616 N. Holton St.

He ran from the building to summon police without realizing his son Robert, 11, and daughter Kathleen, 6, were also lying dead in the flat. The boy had died as he crawled under his bed to escape the killer. Police found the little girl huddled in a closet in which she had attempted to hide.

At almost the same time, and nearly 400 miles away, Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers pulled over a driver for speeding. Thinking the man was acting strangely, they decided to detain him and check into his story.

That’s when Arno Schulz’s nightmare took another turn. His 16-year-old son, John Schulz was under arrest in Missouri. He had murdered his mother, then his brother, and finally his kid sister. The cause? An argument over borrowing the family car.

An anguished Arno Schulz told Milwaukee Sentinel reporter Robert J. Riordan, “This has wiped out everything I have been fighting for. His mother, his brother, his darling little sister. But … [John] is my flesh and blood.”

John Schulz graphic

On a cold, gray February day in Milwaukee, 16-year-old John Schulz murdered three members of his family, then attended a high school basketball game.

Although had been in trouble (he had been expelled from school, had stolen money, and was once caught driving a stolen car), John Schulz seemed a normal adolescent. Sometimes he stayed out late, and sometimes he slept in late. He also washed the car when asked, was happy to help paint and repair the flat, enjoyed hunting and fishing with his father, and worked part time at Sperry Candy Co. He earned $44 every two weeks and gave his mother $22 from each paycheck.

Arrested hours after the murders, the young man, a junior at Milwaukee’s Riverside High School, described the events of that fatal day to police. An article by reporter Henry T. Garvey in the February 12th, 1952, Milwaukee Sentinel included the boy’s statement:

“I got home about 1 a.m. Saturday morning after being out Friday night and my mother and I got to arguing,” Schulz told police. “I wanted to use the car to go to the Riverside-South basketball game at Pulaski High School, but dad was gone to La Crosse and my mother wouldn’t let me have the car.”

Schulz had a pattern of returning home later than he should have, so his parents made a rule: getting in late meant spending the weekend at home. Mother and son argued about the basketball game, on and off, all Saturday.

After supper, John went to the attic where his father’s .410 gauge bolt-action shotgun was kept. He fully loaded the gun with three shells in the clip and one in the chamber. He also shoved extra shells into his pocket. Before entering the kitchen, where his mother was washing shirts in the sink, Schulz leaned the gun against the wall.

“I called my mother by her first name and she turned to face me. When I asked again for the car keys she said they were in the house, but she wouldn’t tell me where they were. I said ‘I’ll find them myself,’ got the gun and started shooting.”

The impact of the first shot knocked the woman down, her head hitting the sink as she fell. She was moaning and struggling to get back on her feet when Schulz shot her again.

“Then Bobby yelled that he was going to tell the police on me and ran to the phone,” Schulz said. He fired at the 11-year-old, striking him in the shoulder. Screaming, the boy fled to his bedroom, where a second shot knocked him to the floor. As Schulz paused to reload, the wounded child tried to drag himself under his bed. Schulz stood over him, aiming straight down, and shot him a third time.

John Schulz was especially fond of his kid sister but she was screaming. He shot her twice.

“I had to shut her up,” he explained to police.

“I went to the kitchen,” he said. “I heard a few gurgling sounds so I leaned over my mother and fired point blank at her heart. Then I went back into the bedroom and shot each of the kids once more. After that, there was no noise.”

It had taken 11 shots to kill his mother, brother, and sister.

John found the car keys in a jewel box and pocketed the contents of his mother’s purse, about $75. He then dragged her body into her bedroom and closed the door.

John Schulz and murder weapon

John Schulz, left, is confronted with the .410 gauge shotgun used to murder three members of his family. United Press Telephoto

John called two friends and arranged to drive them to the high school basketball game. On the way, he stopped at a movie theater to attempt to set up a date with a cashier he had dated before. Told the young woman would be working late, John and his friends continued on to the game, arriving shortly after 8 p.m.

A Milwaukee Journal reporter quoted John as saying he enjoyed the game, but “the screams of the crowd made me think of home and I had a hard time keeping it out of my mind.”

After the game, the three stopped for a meal at the Pig ’N’ Whistle Drive-In on Capitol Drive in Shorewood and then spent some time at the Plankinton Arcade. After dropping his friends off, John returned home to the bodies of three members of his family. He shaved, bathed, dressed, and packed a suitcase. Returning to the car he headed south and began a long, meandering journey through Illinois. Once he fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the road, damaging the car’s bodywork. He got the car back on the highway and kept moving.

During the journey, according to the Sentinel, an incident reminded him of his crime, “For a while, I was forced to drive along behind a station wagon,” he said. “There were three children in the back seat and they kept smiling and waving at me. I couldn’t stand it.”

After stopping for lunch Sunday outside of St. Louis, he resumed his westward journey and nudged his speed a little higher. The speeding car attracted the attention of two Missouri state troopers. After an eight-mile pursuit with speeds reaching 80 mph, the troopers forced John Schulz to the side of the road.

John told the troopers he was just out for a ride, but he was young, far from home, and driving a car with fresh body damage. The troopers took him to their barracks at Kirkwood, Mo., and called Milwaukee Police seeking information about the youth. They were told someone would check into it and get back to them.

Minutes later, detectives called headquarters to report a triple murder on Holton Street and a missing person – John Schulz. Headquarters knew exactly where to find him.

Forty-eight hours after the murders, a handcuffed John Schulz returned to Milwaukee. There were hundreds of curious onlookers at the train station awaiting his arrival. His father, Arno Schulz, was at police headquarters. He wanted to be present while his son was booked. He would stand by his son throughout the trial.

“My son is no better than any other person who violates the law – but still, you stick by your own flesh and blood, don’t you?” Arno Schulz told a Milwaukee Sentinel reporter.

A few days later, a handcuffed John Schulz attended the visitation for his mother, brother, and sister at the Heiden & Lang Funeral Home, 3116 Third St. A February 15, 1952, Sentinel article described the strange scene at the funeral home.

Schultz glanced briefly into the open coffins of his mother and younger brother. His expression, the reporter wrote, was one of mild interest. He paused a bit longer at the little coffin containing the 6-year-old.

“It seemed that some emotion might reach the surface. But it never did,” the Sentinel reported. “A moment later, John Schulz was in the sheriff’s car, smoking a cigarette.”

When the funeral started three hours later, Schultz was already back in his jail cell. His father, the newspapers carefully recorded, “sobbed frequently during the services.”

On June 16, 1952, John Schulz received a life sentence for the first-degree murder of his mother and two concurrent 14- to 25-year sentences for the second-degree murders of his brothers and sisters.

Two days later, Sheriff Herman Kubiak and the county jailer drove John Schulz to the state prison at Waupun. On the way, they stopped at Graceland Cemetery on Milwaukee’s northwest side when Arno was waiting for them beside the graves of his wife and children.

For a few minutes, father and son stood together looking down at the headstones. Then John, calm as ever, returned to the car to start his life sentence, his father walking at his side.

Arno Schulz, “red-eyed and visibly shaken,” wrote Sentinel reporter Dorothy Parnell, “looked backward once, back to where a white cross, decorated with daisies and a yellow rose, gleamed in the sunlight.”

Schulz family graves

John Schulz, at 6-foot, 2 inches, is the tallest figure in this photo. He is standing before the graves of the three family members he murdered. His father, Arno, is at his side in the light-colored suit. United Press Telephoto

Carl_sig

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11 comments

  1. Thank you for the article. Do you know if John Schultz is still in prison or did he die there? I believe he would be 80 at this time.

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    1. Thank you for reading! John Schulz was scheduled for an early release hearing a few years after the crime. Prison officials said he was a model prisoner who had been especially helpful working in the prison hospital. I was not able to find out the result of that hearing, or indeed learn anything else about him. It would be fascinating to know the rest of the story.

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  2. Super interesting and well written as always Carl… nice time capsule of the newspaper world and our society at the time too. Now these stories are way too common.

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  3. After this article appeared, a friend of Milwaukee Notebook on Facebook tracked down a little more information on John Schulz. He was released from prison at some point, was married, and died on February 11, 1976, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He would have been 41 at the time of his death.

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  4. He was a serial killer. Hard to even see his dad next to him throughout everything that happend.😟
    Over an argument of a car. Life now as i speak is very crazy. Nothing really changed. Shit just getting worse and all you can do if stay by your famy and protect them in whatever it takes.

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