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Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Carl Ericsson Murder Case

     Norman Johnson and Carl Ericsson attended the same high school at the same time in Madison, South Dakota, a farm town of 6,500. That's all they had in common. Johnson, a member of the class of 1958, had been a popular football star while Ericsson, in the class ahead of him, was a loner and the team's water boy. As high school students, and as adults, these men lived vastly contrasting lives. Norman Johnson married his high school girlfriend and became a pillar of the local community while Ericsson moved away, married, and lived in comparative obscurity.

     After college, Norman Johnson returned to Madison where, for the next 35-years, he taught high school English and coached the football team. In retirement, he stayed active in the community as a playground supervisor, proofreader for the hometown newspaper, and as a part time employee at the local hardware store. He was still married to his high school girlfriend, had two grown daughters, and lived in a modest two-story house in town. He was surrounded by former students who still called him Mr. Johnson.

     After high school, Carl Ericsson moved to Wyoming where he found a low-level job with the federal government. After retirement, he moved to Watertown, South Dakota 50 miles north of Madison. As an alcoholic who was chronically depressed, Ericsson was a surely, difficult man who loved his dog more than people. He lived in a tiny, one-story house with his long-suffering wife. As is the custom with profoundly unhappy maladjusted people, Ericsson did not get along with his father, a successful attorney in Madison, or his younger brother Dick who had followed their father into the law. He also complained and harassed the children in his neighborhood, gave people who irritated him the finger, and once even threatened to kill his younger brother. He was the type of person that psychologists, psychiatrists, and medication can't fix. People avoided him like the plague.

     On the evening of January 31, 2011, Ericsson was seen in Madison prowling around backyards, knocking on residents' doors, and shinning his flashlight into homes. As further evidence he was up to no good, Ericsson was in possession of a Glock 45-caliber pistol with a 17-round clip, one of many handguns he owned.

     At 7:30 that evening, Ericsson pulled his brown Ford Taurus up to Norman Johnson's house, walked up the sidewalk and knocked on his front door. When Johnson appeared at the entrance, he did not recognize the man standing on his stoop with the shock of white hair and full beard. The men hadn't seen each other since high school. "Are you Norman Johnson?" Ericsson asked. Immediately after Johnson answered yes, the former water boy shot the retired teacher in the face--twice--leaving him to die in the doorway of his home.

     The next day, officers with the Madison Police Department took Carl Ericsson into custody. When a detective asked him why he had murdered a man he hadn't seen for 53 years, Ericsson said he had gotten even for a locker room prank Johnson and other students had played on him back in 1957. According to Ericsson, the football players had forced him to wear a jock-strap on his head, a high school humiliation he had brooded over for decades. He had fantasized about getting revenge, and that's what he did.

     Investigators, of course, had no way of knowing if this prank ever took place, or if it had, if Norman Johnson had anything to do with it. As a matter of law and criminal homicide, all of that was irrelevant anyway. But some in the sob sister media, when covering this murder, focused on the bullying aspect of the story, suggesting that being forced to don a jock-strap can turn a person into a depressed, alcoholic, mad-at-the-world loser who will someday erupt into a cold-blooded killer.

     Carl Ericsson pleaded guilty to a South Dakota homicide offense called second-degree murder under circumstances of mental illness. (In many states this is called guilty but mentally ill.) This meant that Ericsson would receive mental health treatment at a state prison rather than in an institution for the criminally insane. Because he knew exactly what he was doing, this defendant was not criminally insane. He was a guy with a drinking problem and a lousy personality who couldn't cope with life. The woods are full of people like him. Fortunately they are not all murderers.

     On June 16, 2012, a judge sentenced Ericsson to life in prison without parole.              

1 comment:

  1. This story has always fascinated me. To hold a grudge for over fifty years has been unheard of before.