You could drive past the site of Schafer, N.D. many times without realizing it. Today, there's little evidence that a town ever existed at the location of the former seat of McKenzie County.
The town-site is a short distance south of Highway 23 and five miles east of Watford City. One remnant of Schafer is an old stone building that served as the jail, and which played a role in one of the most sensational crimes in North Dakota history.
The Bannons and the Havens were farming families that lived about three miles from each other near Schafer.
On or about February 10, 1930, the Haven family disappeared. Shortly after, the Bannons moved onto the Haven farm, and Charles Francis Bannon, 22 at the time, exhibited a letter purporting to be from Daniel Haven, eldest of the Haven children, saying the family had arrived safely at Colton, Oregon and for Charles to proceed with operation of the Haven farm.
Members of the Haven family were the parents, Albert, 50, and Lulia, 39, and four children, Daniel, 19; Leland, 16; Charles, 3; and Mary, a six-week-old baby. Charles Bannon also let it be known that Mrs. Haven had a "mental condition" and that he was at their home the night before they left and saw Mrs. Haven attempt to trample her baby daughter and assault her husband with a stove poker.
The Bannons moved onto the Haven farm in March and remained there during the summer months. In October, James Bannon, Charles Bannon's father, left by car for the west coast to spend the winter. He later said he also went to Oregon to search for the Havens to give them several hundred dollars of their money he was carrying.
Then Charles was arrested and charged with embezzling four hogs belonging to the Havens and the authorities turned an increasingly skeptical eye on his explanations of the entire situation, bolstered by word from the postmaster in Colton that no Haven family was known there.
Faced with mounting inconsistencies, Charles began to break down. He told investigators where the bodies could be found - buried in and around the farmyard of the Havens - but he said Mrs. Haven had killed the four members of the family, and paid him to take her and Daniel to Williston in their flight from the country.
The four bodies were found where Charles Bannon said they were, and investigators found something else - the lower limbs of the child, Charles, shoes still on the small feet. Long strands of a woman's hair were also found. In a later confession, it developed that Charles Bannon had moved the two bodies to an old cave a few miles away because it seemed to him the earth over the bodies moved as he sat milking the cows.
Charles Bannon told of a veritable hell on earth he had experienced during the approximate 9 months he spent on the Haven farm after the slaying of the family.
Shuddering, he told how apparitions of the persons he had killed appeared before him and plunged him into a mental panic.
"Once, I dreamed Mrs. Haven was standing over my bed with a knife inher hand and I got up with a jump," he said.
"Then I used to lock the house door at night because I was afraid. It seemed to me people were always peeping in and I shivered every time I heard an automobile pass down the road.
"One night, I dreamed a snake got through a hole somewhere and when it came in the house, it changed into a man who looked like Haven. He came and stood over my bed, staring at me for a long time.
"It was a terrible feeling when I would walk over the graves in the barn in the dark."
James Bannon was arrested on December 30, 1930 near Toledo, Oregon, at a tourist camp and both James and Charles were to be arraigned on Friday, January 30, 1931, before a justice of the peace at Watford City on first degree murder charges. All six members of the Haven family had been either shot or bludgeoned to death.
The Bannons were being held in the jail in Schafer. It was thought to be safe enough. Nearly a year had passed since the Havens had been murdered and authorities discerned no threats or hints of violence.
The night before his arraignment, a mob of about 80 persons, all masked and some armed, bore down on the little jail at Schafer. Using timbers, they battered in the door and bound deputy sheriff Peter Hallan. When Sheriff F.A. Thompson, who lived nearby, came to investigate the noise, he also was seized and bound. Then the steel door was battered in.
The fate of Charles Bannon had been decided. With him lay the fate of his father and he pleaded with his captors to spare the older man. He alone was responsible, he said. Trussed outside in the dark, Sheriff Thompson heard only snatches of the conversation.
"Tell the truth, now!" one of the men said to the younger Bannon.
"I am telling the truth," he replied. "Save my dad."
The mob apparently had decided that the elder Bannon would be taken only if Charles said he was guilty too, so they left with only the younger man, and a cvalcade of 16 cars and two trucks wound its way out to the Haven farm. Retribution would be meted out at the scene of the crime.
There they came upon Ed Evanson who had been appointed by the public administrator as guardian of the farm, but he wanted no part of this demonstration, even though he said later, "it looked like there were more than 100 cars."
"We're going to have a party," someone told him.
"If you start hanging," Evanson said, "I start shooting."
The mob left and went to the bridge across the Cherry Creek, about one-half mile east of town. Expertly a hangman's knot was fashioned and Charles Bannon was hanged from the railing of the bridge.
Watford City police chief Hans Nelson had been asked about a rumor a lynching party was forming and the informant said he had seen a number of cars heading for Schafer. Nelson didn't put much stock in this report, but to be safe, he drove to check. Phone wires between Watford City and Schafer had been cut. When he arrived, he found Hallan straightening things.
"It is too bad it had to happen," was James Bannon's stoical comment.
Governor George F. Shafer and most authorities were indignant, however. Schafer termed it "a shameful thing" and launched an immediate investigation. James Bannon later said, "I could put my finger on a lot of fellows in that mob." But none of the lynchers ever was identified.
A change of venue following the lynching was granted James Bannon and he went on trial in district court at Crosby, about 100 miles away, on June 22, 1931. His defense was that he knew nothing about the slayings and that he believed what Charles had told him about the Havens having gone west. He said he himself had gone to Oregon to search for them when he was apprehended.
The state argued that one man could not have committed the crime and that through all of Charles' varying confessions there ran a strong implication that he was trying to protect someone. At one time, Charles had introduced a "mysterious stranger" into the case.
The jury found James Bannon guilty of first degree murder in connection with the slaying, specifically in the death of Albert Haven. Still maintaining his innocence, Bannon said, "I was convicted because I was the father of Charles Bannon."
He was immediately sentenced to life imprisonment and began his term on June 29, 1931.
Bannon was a model prisoner, but late in the 1940s his health began to fail. He suffered from a number of heart attacks and was granted a pardon in September, 1950.
After his release, he told a reporter, "Yes, sir. You bet your life I was innocent. I was railroaded into it." But he added, "I have no feeling of bitterness towards anybody."
At the age of 76, James Bannon, freshly released from the penitentiary took a train from Bismarck to Minneapolis to live out the rest of his life.
The lynching of Charles Bannon was the 12th and last to occur in North Dakota.