1907 MURDER SUICIDE SHOCKS LARAMIE

On October 23, 1907, William Lepper, a one-time Laramie property owner, shot and wounded a man before turning the gun on himself. His victim was popular local lawyer, Judge Charles Bramel who died four days later.

Lepper came to Laramie very early and acquired property in downtown Laramie but left to live in California. Returning to Laramie in the early 1890’s he opened a saloon with Frank Hesse at 107 Grand Avenue. The business was short lived as the saloon closed in June 1893.

Lepper retained the lot and building renting it out to various proprietors. On November, 9, 1896, a fire swept through the south west corner of 1st and Grand, destroying the old Worth Hotel, Lepper’s building and a vacant building on the east side of the old saloon. Lepper returned to California soon thereafter.

Charles Bramel was also a Laramie pioneer arriving in Laramie in December 1869. Although he was involved in the newspaper business on three different occasions and served in the territorial legislative assembly, his main interests were the law and mining.

The former saw him elected to several judicial posts including county prosecutor and district judge. At the latter endeavor, he was seldom successful, losing much money.

Lepper’s rage arose out of what the Laramie Republican called “one of the celebrated cases in Albany County” in a front page article in 1905. It recapped the 1897 law suit brought by Julius Conradt against William Lepper for $3,749.24 owed on a stock transaction in California.

Lepper used his property in Laramie as collateral against the stock transaction and when the stock went south, Conradt demanded to take possession of the lot and building at 107 Grand Avenue.  Lepper went to court to prevent Conradt from seizing the assets.

The 1897 case was first heard before Judge Bramel and he ruled in favor of Conradt. On a technicality, Bramel heard the case again and found for Lepper. The case then went to the Wyoming Supreme Court. The justices ruled that another trial was required and sent the case back to the lower court. The district court eventually and ultimately found for Conradt in 1905. Lepper lost the property.

Lepper appears to have grown angrier over his loss as the months passed. As early as 1902, when the case was winding its way through the courts, he made threats against Laramie attorney Stephen Downey, one of the defense team for Conradt. After the 1905 loss, he threatened two other Laramie attorneys, Downey’s son Corlett and Herman Groesbeck as well as Bramel.

On October 24, 1907, his festering anger boiled over and he decided to take revenge against those who he thought had done him an injustice. He first went to Groesbeck’s office and demanded he file yet another suit against Conradt. Groesbeck refused. Lepper threatened to kill him and stormed out of the office proceeding immediately to Bramel’s nearby upstairs office.

At precisely 2 o’clock, Lepper neared the top of the stairs and entered Bramel’s office.  He immediately attacked the attorney, shoting him three times in the face. Murdock Matheson, who was on the street below with his wife, heard the shots and immediately went up the stairs to see what had happened.

When he reached the landing, he saw Lepper and asked, “What have you been doing up there.”

Lepper replied, “I do not know,” raised the pistol to Matheson’s face and pulled the trigger. Luckily for Matheson, the round in the pistol’s cylinder misfired and Matheson was unharmed. Lepper then put the gun to his own temple, pulled the trigger again and fired the shot that killed him.

Matheson immediately went into Bramel’s office where he discovered the attorney lying in a pool of blood but still alive. Bramel was able to utter the words, “I am shot.” Matheson called to his wife to get medical assistance and Dr. Stevens soon reached the scene of the crime. The badly wounded Bramel was then taken to the county hospital.

At first it seemed that Bramel, though severely wounded, might recover. However, the paper reported that infection set in and after lingering four days, Judge Bramel died.

At the coroner’s inquest, Bramel’s son recounted a conversation he had with his father at the hospital, The judge was able to speak, despite two broken jaws and a badly damaged palate. He said that he had been asleep when Lepper entered the room and had no time to defend himself as the shots rang out in quick succession.  

Matheson also testified at the inquest noting that he had been so close to Lepper that he could hear the cylinder in the pistol rotating to the position where the bullet that killed Lepper was in line with the barrel. He too, said that he had no time to react, in this case to prevent Lepper’s suicide

The coroner reported that Bramel was killed by three shots from a .38 caliber pistol. He also found that Lepper had no known relatives in the area, and that he had little money and no possessions in Laramie.

Bramel was survived by son Bert who lived in Centennial and a daughter, Annie McKee who lived in California but was too ill to attend the funeral which was held on October 28th. Sadly, the paper noted that, like Lepper, Bramel died leaving almost no estate. Like other prominent Laramie men, he had squandered most of his earnings fruitlessly searching for the elusive gold strike which he believed was somewhere in the Medicine Bow Mountains.

Bramel was buried next to his wife Mary, who died in 1878, in Greenhill Cemetery.

Kim Viner

Charles Bramel - Photo from Progressive Men of the State of Wyoming Bowen and Company.