I looked for a December true crime case from La Crosse to share. I found one that involves one of three police officers killed in the line of duty in La Crosse.
December 5th, 1937, probably started like any other Sunday. Officers Joseph Donndelinger and rookie Granville “Granny” Smith were assigned to a beat car. They saw a car speed through 5th and Jackson, running a stop sign as well.
What the officers didn’t know was the driver, Floyd Wagener, was driving a stolen vehicle. He also just dropped off two people at Sears (located at 5th and King) to crack open the safe. The officers proceeded to pull Wagener over at 5th and Cameron. Officer Smith went up to the car and said they were going to issue a ticket. Wagener was told he needed to go to the police station since he was out of town. He claimed he did not know where that was, and Smith got into the car.
Officer Donndelinger followed the car, and when it headed south on third street, he knew something wasn’t right. He quickly followed Wagener as he weaved through traffic. Meanwhile, another officer, James Christie, had joined in.
While the chase was going on, Wagener pulled a gun on Smith and asked for directions to Minnesota. On the bridge to the Minnesota border, he fired shots at Donndelinger and Christie. Donndelinger remained focused on staying with Wagener while Christie returned shots, aiming for the tires.
Eventually, Donndelinger was able to get next to Wagener and force him to pull over. Donndelinger got out and approached Wagener’s car. When Wagener got out, he had both his and Smith’s gun. Donndelinger yelled to Wagener to drop the weapon and put his hands up. His request was met with gunfire. Donndelinger returned fire, and when it was all over, both men were on the ground, each shot three times.
Donndelinger was seriously injured with wounds to the right arm, leg, and under his heart. Officer Christie rushed him to the hospital, where he fought for five days before succumbing to pneumonia.
Wagener survived and was found guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison. His sentence was eventually reduced, and he was released on parole after serving only 10 years.
Officer Donndelinger was a seven-year member of the police. He was married to Clara, who would never remarry after her loss. They had four children, Betty (10), James (9), Joan (3), and Paul (11 months). They were building a family home on 23rd Street. Officer Donndelinger, like most Wisconsinites, enjoyed hunting and fishing. His favorite game was Skat, a popular card game of the times.