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Beltrami deputy killed in 1912 to be memorialized

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- It was long believed that a single soul had lost his life in the line of law enforcement duty in Beltrami County.

Sadly, it has been discovered another man joins Deputy James Art Wilson in making the ultimate sacrifice.

Wilson was noted as the only man to die in the line of duty in the history of the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office, and his story was featured in the Bemidji Pioneer last year. However, following that article, information surfaced naming Deputy Sheriff Norman Walter Helmer as another slain officer.

Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp wrote to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in October to initiate inclusion of Helmer's name on the NLEOMF memorial. Hodapp received confirmation in February.

"We were unaware of Deputy Helmer's homicide until we came across stories of his death in historical archives at the Beltrami County Historical Center while researching Wilson's death," Hodapp said.

Hodapp will travel to Washington, D.C., for 26th annual Candlelight Vigil on Tuesday, where he will witness Helmer's name added to the memorial. This week is National Police Week, in conjunction with Peace Officers Memorial Day, which is Thursday.

Hodapp said he is fairly certain no other officers have been killed in the line of duty since the office was formed in 1897. Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin said to his knowledge, no police officers have been killed in the line of duty.

Helmer had been a police officer before joining the sheriff's office.

Helmer is identified as being a sworn officer with full arrest powers who was married and killed by felonious assault. Helmer was killed in Nymore at 4:50 p.m. Aug. 8, 1912; he was 34.

Accounts of Helmer's death were told in the Bemidji Daily Pioneer and the Bemidji Sentinel. Three small boys were the only witnesses of a man called "the Finn" shooting Helmer. The Finn and Helmer were engaged in a shootout. Hodapp explained that Helmer was able to disarm the man of his rifle, but the Finn pulled out a revolver and shot Helmer, causing his death. Shots from Helmer's pistol killed his killer.

Historical death data Hodapp uncovered recorded Helmer as being "killed by gunshot wound inflicted by a man supposed to be (with weapon) with intent to kill."

Hodapp was unable to locate any of Helmer's family members; as far as he is aware, Helmer doesn't have any in the area. Helmer was interred in Greenwood Cemetery.

"He was a heck of a cop," Hodapp said. "He was well-respected by his fellow officers."

Hodapp and others in his office have been researching Helmer's life and death. "He was the son of a whiskey smuggler," Hodapp said.

Archives Hodapp discovered detail investigations Helmer was involved in, including a robbery of the Puposky General Store when a safe was blown and a handpump, train car chase ensued. Two years later, Helmer was back at the general store on a stakeout.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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