You have probably heard of the murder of a tavern owner in Big Bay which inspired John Voelker’s famous book Anatomy of a Murder and a later movie of the same name starring James Stewart. But, you may not have heard of another murder case worked by Voelker which was perhaps more widely known at the time of its occurrence.
On October 20, 1936, game warden Andrew Schmeltz was on patrol duty with a friend. He decided to investigate rumors that he had heard of illegal traps in the area. When he had not returned by dusk, his friend became concerned and reported Schmeltz missing. Police soon arrived to look for Schmeltz, but gave up at midnight as it was too dark to investigate much. As they were leaving, they heard a dynamite blast. Schmeltz’s friend remained in the area and heard two more dynamite blasts that night.
The next morning, two men discovered pieces of flesh, a spine, 2 legs, uniform pieces, underwear, dynamite powder, and bits of scalp and intestine near Pickett’s Lake in Negaunee. They determined that it was, indeed, the missing game warden Andrew Schmeltz who had apparently been murdered and then dynamited in order to destroy evidence of the crime.
Police soon arrested Raymond Kivela for the crime as dynamite found in his house matched the dynamite at the crime scene. Kivela confessed to the crime but claimed that he only shot Schmeltz because he thought that Schmeltz was a partridge. After realizing that he had killed a human being, he dragged the body into the swamp and returned later that to dispose of it using seventy sticks of dynamite.
Investigators suspected that the murder was in fact planned. Schmeltz, the strictest local conservation officer, was known to have enemies among illegal trappers, and Kivela was known to be an illegal trapper with a temper. Eventually, Kivela admitted that he had met Schmeltz in the woods. Schmeltz had inquired as to whether or not Kivela had a permit to carry a gun, and, after learning that he did not, told Kivela that he would have to arrest him. Kivela then struck Schmeltz and shot him twice.
Kivela claimed that he was insane at the time of the murder, but the court was not convinced. He was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. There, his mental health deteriorated and he was found to be a schizophrenic. Years later, he claimed that he only tearfully confessed because he was too drunk to realize the implications of what he was saying and that he did not really commit the murder. As an old man in a mental hospital, he seemed unaware of why he had ever been imprisoned at all.
The sensationalistic nature of the case meant that articles about it appeared across the country in places as far away as Louisiana, Missouri, and New York City. Many compared it to a Marquette County murder ten years previous of two game wardens who had been killed by a man angry at his arrest for illegally shooting a deer. Their bodies had been attached to bricks and thrown into Lake Superior, where they were later found.
Prepared by Annika Peterson