Wisconsins’s Haunted State Capitol building contains all three branches of the Wisconsin legislature, the governor’s office, the state senate, and the state supreme court. One of the supreme court’s most peculiar cases comes from the late 19th century where the court had to determine whether or not a man could be convicted of a crime on the account of a ghost story.
Eugene Buel had already been a cowboy in Kansas City and a settler in the Nebraska territory when he started a new life near Hayward, Wisconsin. It is said that he originally had to leave Missouri because he was an outlaw that robbed and killed several men as part of a gang. It’s also said that he had to leave Nebraska because his settlement mysteriously burned down. But when he came to Wisconsin, they thought that he’d literally settled down. He found a wife and settled into a homestead. His nearest neighbor was a man named Peter Nelson. Nelson was another homesteader and they became fast friends.
Peter Nelson was young at 24 and, as many young men are, interested in the fairer sex. He ended up falling for a young half-Indian girl, who the newspapers at the time described as a “handsome, comely lass”. So handsome and so comely in fact, that Nelson got her pregnant. When the girl’s father learned of this, he understandably started pressuring young Peter Nelson to marry his daughter. And at the time it was considered “criminal relations”, so a warrant went out for his arrest.
Peter, however, had a different idea about things and decided to get out of dodge. Nelson and Buel both sold their homesteads, but Buel only received $100 for his while Nelson received $400. Buel was with Nelson when he withdrew his money from the bank and they were both on the way out of Hayward to a small town called Round Lake. After that day, Nelson was never seen alive again.
Eugene Buel told everyone that Nelson said he was leaving the region entirely because he was frightened of being chased by Natives and the father of the girl he’d taken up with. This was in the fall of 1896.
The following summer, that same father started to grow suspicious and searched the countryside for Nelson. He testified later in court that he had a vision of Nelson covered in blood with a crushed skull saying, “My god, he has killed me.” They procured the services of a Native American tracker, who found a piece of human skull with animal teethmarks on it. Further on down the trail, they found a body off to the side with it’s skull crushed. They identified it as the corpse of Peter Nelson by his shoes and clothes.
In the meantime, Buel had purchased a farm for $200 as well as spending plenty of money on equipment and provisions. The district attorney eventually brought charges against Buel and he was convicted of the murder.
A few months later though, the Wisconsin state supreme court reversed the lower court’s decision, stating that Buel should get another trial. They said the evidence was circumstantial and you cannot convict a man by ghost story alone.