The next day Ron came and drove me the alley after he had picked up the type of cigars John S. was smoking. It was raining lightly and the garage was closed. No John S. We planned to try the next day and about an hour before it was time, Ron called me to say “He’s there right now.” We drove over and gave him the cigars. He seemed very happy to see us, and this time all four of us just talked for a while. I made up my mind to not bring up anything serious. John S. lit up a cigar as I showed him pictures I had been taking along the river. He told me how he lost his legs. He was in a boat fishing when a blood vessel burst in his lower back. He said it felt like a bolt of electricity. The problem stemmed from his diabetes. They had to take his legs. I asked him if he cooked for himself and how he managed at home? His daughters come to take him shopping and to check on him. Most days he is content to be alone, wave at people passing by, and visit with Harley. Several times he wheeled into the alley and I asked if he was going? He smiled and said no. He just likes to move around a little. He stayed for over an hour. I told him I was leaving in a few days to see Jack and other business in Minneapolis. I asked if Saturday was a day to see him again and ask some of the questions I needed for the book. He said sure. Before he left he wheeled right up next to me and stuck out his hand. “Thanks for the cigars.” I told him that is was Ron who bought them and he thanked Ron as well, A few days later, Ron and I were coming back from seeing Jack. He said that Harley called called him because John S. was wondering where I was. Ron reminded Harley that I would be back on Saturday. Evidently John S. was eager to see me now. I wish I had that effect on everybody.
Saturday rolled around and so did the clouds. It rained all afternoon. Still we went over to the closed garage just to see. Sunday was my last day in Winona. Ron and Tasha ( a friend ) came to get me. As we drove up the alley, John S. was waiting in front of the closed garage. We parked quickly as Ron got Harley from the house and we set up the chairs. Harley came out with refreshments and Tasha took pictures. I signaled John S, to move to the side of the garage so we could have a private chat. When we were out of earshot of the others I told him about my visit with Jack in prison. In a clearer and stronger voice he as asked me how he was doing? He allowed that prison was no picnic. I mustered up my courage and asked him if the documents I had were right, and that he never had sex with his step-daughter. He turned and looked me in the eye and said “Ada framed me.” I asked him why? He replied she wanted to be with Bobby Fort and wanted rid of him. When I asked him his opinion of Bobby Fort, he muttered “He’s a crook, a criminal.” I then inquired if he thought Jack killed his wife? Very calmly he he told he knew Jack did not kill Ada, that we was certain Bobby Fort had her killed. He said that he met a man at the Labor Temple bar who claimed Bobby Fort paid him to kill her. Very soon after that, the man moved to the Twin Cities. He couldn’t remember his name.
I sat there thinking that if the justice system had any real desire to solve her death, there were plenty of people willing to say without a doubt Bobby Fort, not Jack Nissalke, was responsible for her murder. I tried to imagine the jury from Jack’s trial listening to this man in his wheelchair. I sipped a beer as John S. drank one of Harley’s Pepsis, right next to the man whose son is serving a life sentence in prison for the death of his wife. The day after I left, Ron stopped by John S.’s home and gave him a bag of unshelled walnuts. He enjoys feeding squirrels.
This interview is found in the book Murder and Deceit and is available on Amazon.com.
Harley said he and John were long time friends and he is reserved and quiet, and doesn’t like to talk. I asked if he would ask John S. if he would talk to me. Harley said he would, but seriously doubted he would, especially after the paper “fucked him over like they did.” I persisted and Harley said he would ask. Ron and I left thinking, well we had tried.
The next day, Harley called Ron who then called me. It seemed that at least John would meet with me but any talk about the past was off limits. Ron picked me up at the coffee shop and we felt some excitement, why I wasn’t sure. As we turned up the alley, we could see the garage was open and sure enough, Harley sat in one of the three chairs, and there was John Senenfelder, in his wheelchair, smoking a small cigar. I was nervous and so was he. We exchanged an awkward handshake and I pulled up a chair on his right side. Ron and Harley lit up and moved a few feet away. I tried my best to tell him as gently as I could that I was grateful he consented to meet me, and did not want to cause him pain. He nodded in silence and stared out into the alley as cars came by. It was certainly a busy alley. The sun shone on our faces as I outlined the book I was writing and just wanted some background on Ada. There had to be more than I had. What was she like as a wife? I tried to start a conversation but was going nowhere until I asked him if he was from Winona? John replied he was from Iowa. I told him I was in Iowa recently to visit some of my cousins for the first time. He seemed to perk up just a little under neath his shell and asked me where? I told him and we started to talk.
He came to Winona in the late 1960’s after a huge storm had knocked down a lot of trees. He got work cleaning up the town and stayed on. He eventually became a plumber and made “big money”, as he characterized it several times. I asked how he met Ada, and he softly replied it was “through friends”. I asked him to rate his marriage to her and he said there were many good times. I knew that Ada was married to Casmir Flak, and there was three children when he married her. I didn’t know how Casmir died so I asked him. He just said ” cancer”. I was encouraged now and asked what Ada was like? He glanced at me and said she liked to party a lot. At that point he thrust his arms down and wheeled away. I watched him as he went down the alley home. I had really talked to John Senenfelder. Harley said he had never seen him talk so much. Ron and I left there with me thinking I had done my share of harm to a man who seemed kind and gentle, though shielded. Something in me liked this man, a man convicted of molesting his step-daughter. Just before he took off, I sensed I was losing him, and asked if I would come back to see him again? He said yes.
to be continued…
This exchange is found in the book Murder and Deceit – the story of Jack Nissalke and available on Amazon.com.
I wrote this book ten years ago but it needs a new read now in 2020. This is a true story and this man is still in prison, wrongfully convicted.
Murder and Deceit tells the story of Jack Nissalke, a Minnesota man wrongly convicted of murder. Ada Senenfelder was found dead in her home in Winona, Minnesota, in 1985. Dozens of witnesses and potential suspects were investigated and interrogated, but no one was ever charged with the crime. Flash forward 24 years later when Winona gets an ambitious new District Attorney named Chuck MacLean. MacLean decides to close the Senenfelder case once and for all. He offers a $50,000 reward for information about the cold case. Suddenly stories change, new denials are made, memories are hazy, and everyone has money on their mind. MacLean decides to charge Jack Nissalke with the long-ago crime, and wins a conviction after a bizarre trial that includes jury tampering, media tampering, and an incompetent defense.