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True Crime Series: Local farmer and son murdered in Austin

Photo Caption: Original tombstone of Conrad and son Heinrich Bormann.

Photo Caption: Original tombstone of Conrad and son Heinrich Bormann.

By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —

Photo Caption: Hermann Heinrich Conrad Bormann (Aug. 11, 1824-April 2, 1872).

Photo Caption: Hermann Heinrich Conrad Bormann (Aug. 11, 1824-April 2, 1872).

It was very early in the morning, still dark, but they had far to go. As Conrad gave a final tug on the ropes securing the six bales of cotton in the wagon, he watched his 13-year-old son Heinrich say goodbye to his wife. It would be a long separation for the boy and his mother, two weeks, but the 100-plus-mile round trip to Austin and back from Geronimo would teach the boy many things he needed to know as a farmer. The cotton was good this year, and Conrad was delivering the bales to a William Schuchard who had promised to give him 18 cents a pound for it, very good money indeed. It was worth the trip.

What Conrad could not know was that this was a final good bye. Neither he nor Heinrich would return to the farm.

In the last week of March 1872, Conrad and Heinrich Bormann set out on their journey to Austin. At a rate of about 15 miles a day, it would take them at least three days to get to Swenson’s Farm outside of the city. The farm was founded as a cattle ranch in 1850 by Swedish immigrant Swen Magnus Swenson. It is now the area of Govalle located between Webberville Road and Airport Boulevard. Conrad Bormann and his son were last seen alive camping on the farm on April 1.

On March 29, 1872, William Schuchard met up with S.B. Brush of Austin. He promised Mr. Brush that in a few days he would have six bales of cotton to sell him. They shook hands and Mr. Brush waited to hear from Schuchard about the cotton’s arrival.

As the morning of April 2 dawned, Conrad and son Heinrich made ready to head for home following the sale of the cotton. What transpired is conjecture on the part of investigators. It is supposed that when Schuchard came to the campsite he wanted to take the cotton and pay Bormann the following day. Bormann was no fool and he insisted that the cotton be paid for — cash-on-delivery — as agreed. The meeting went awry. Schuchard picked up an ax and brutally beat in the skulls of both father and son. With the murder done, he claimed the wagon of cotton and contacted Mr. Brush.

Brush went out to Swenson’s Farm that afternoon and met with Schuchard near the location of the Bormann’s campsite. He bought the cotton still loaded on the wagon. Schuchard received $528 in gold — clear profit.

Back in Geronimo, Mrs. Bormann had received a telegram from her husband that he and Heinrich would be back home on Friday, April 5. When the men had not returned by Monday, she sent one of her sons off on the road to seek his father and brother while she went into New Braunfels and sent a telegram to James Davidson, Adjutant General of Texas and Chief of the State Police, to inquire about her husband and eldest boy.

Davidson immediately began an investigation. Finding out that the Bormanns had camped at Swenson’s Farm, he made a thorough search of the area. In an abandoned log cabin, he came across the partially decayed bodies of the father and son. The bloody ax used to bludgeon them lay nearby. The bodies had been concealed under the canvas tarp from the wagon and everything hastily covered with straw and hay. Davidson collected reports and determined that the murderer they were after was indeed Schuchard, an alias for William Byfield. Byfield’s reputation for trouble-making was well-documented and well-known to General Davidson. He began a state-wide manhunt for Byfield.

Oscar William Byfield (alias Schuchard, alias Kellner) was reported to have been born in 1853, in Hanover, Germany. When he emigrated is unknown. He can be traced in Texas through a series of official documents. From July 1869 until May 1870, Byfield was appointed sheriff of Kerr County until his actions got him into trouble. An 1869 muster role for Kerr County verifies he arrived in the area in July of 1869. He appears in the 1870 Kerr County census: age 23, married to a woman with six children, ages 1 year to 11 years (It is unknown whether some or any of them were his). In September of 1870, Byfield served in Captain H.J. Reichardt’s Co. E Frontier Forces until he was ousted in June 1871. Byfield once again enlisted as a soldier in San Antonio on July 14, 1871, but deserted 12 days later. This register gave a good description of William Byfield: age 24, gray eyes, brown hair, fair complexion, 5 feet 10 inches tall.

After almost four years of bouncing between law enforcement groups, William Byfield showed up in Austin in 1872 for the cotton deal with Conrad Bormann and became a murderer.

On Wednesday, April 11, General Davidson sent a telegram to Mrs. Bormann informing her of the murders of her husband and son. Mr. Loose, of the New Braunfels Telegraphic Office, immediately took the telegram to Geronimo to personally deliver it. He returned to New Braunfels and reported a heart-breaking scene as Mrs. Bormann and her nine children received the horrific news. Mrs. Bormann was just over eight months pregnant.

General Davidson continued the hunt for William Byfield who had last been seen in Austin on the day of the murders. It was first thought that he might have taken the night train to Galveston for the train arrived in Galveston at 10 o’clock the following morning just in time to catch a boat to New Orleans. On Thursday, April 4, a man was arrested, but it was not Byfield.

The newspapers reported on April 12 that a man had been arrested in Brenham by police officer Doran and was to be transported to Austin. The man arrested also turned out not to be William Byfield.

Two weeks after the murders, news arrived in New Braunfels that William Byfield had been arrested on the 14th in Castroville. A sizable police detachment was being sent by Chief of Police Davidson in order to prevent “Lynch Justice” and guarantee a proper trial by law. Once again, the arrested man was not Byfield.

Davis, the Governor of Texas, issued a statement offering a $400 reward for the capture of William Byfield, but by then the trail had grown cold. Oscar William Byfield had simply vanished.

There are a few bright spots in this dark story. Conrad and Heinrich share a single grave in Austin’s Oakwood Cemetery, buried in the section for “Mexicans”, “Blacks” and “Strangers.” S.B. Brush sent Mrs. Bormann $528 in gold — the same amount he had paid Schuchard for the cotton. And Mrs. Bormann gave birth to a healthy baby boy, the 10th child of Conrad Bormann.

Today, you can find many descendants of Conrad Bormann’s family intermarried with the other families of the Geronimo area. If you are really interested in the Bormanns, you can visit the Texas Agricultural Education and Heritage Center at 390 Cordova Road and State Highway 123 South. Located on the premises are the Conrad Bormann family kitchen and blacksmith shop as well as son Carl’s home. You can also see Conrad and Heinrich’s original limestone headstone from Oakwood Cemetery on view in the kitchen — they still rest in peace in Austin beneath a new gray granite stone.

Sources: Sophienburg Archives: Bormann and Boenig Family Histories; US Census and Fold3 records; Neu Braunfelser-Zeitung and New Braunfels Herald newspaper collections; The Texas Agricultural Education and Heritage Center; Oakwood Cemetery records; Kerrville Genealogical Society; www.austinmonthly.com; Chas. S Middleton and Son Ranch Sales.