Niagara, North Dakota: Former Home of a Serial Killer

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota is just off US Highway 2, not quite forty miles west of Grand Forks. It was founded in 1882 by settlers from Niagara County, New York. According to the 2010 Census, Niagara has 53 residents.

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota is the former home of a serial killer, a man named Eugene Butler, a recluse who lived on the edge of town. Butler was committed to the State Asylum in Jamestown in 1904, and he died there in 1911. Four years after he died, an excavation at Butler’s home uncovered a hidden trap door leading to a crawlspace. Inside, authorities found the remains of six people. All had been bludgeoned to death with blows to the back of the head.

Niagara, North Dakota

Since Butler was already dead, he never saw the inside of a prison for his crimes. There weren’t any local people reported missing, so there are many theories about who the victims were–transient farmhands for instance. Their identities remain a mystery today.

An update on the mystery came from WDAY-TV in Fargo in February, 2016. Case files have been lost over the years, and an effort to perform DNA testing on the victims’ remains depends on the authorities ability to acquire bones stolen by looters in the aftermath of the discovery.

Niagara, North Dakota

The Butler murders are a chapter of Niagara’s history that many have forgotten. Today, Niagara has a nice historical complex in their town square but there is understandably no mention of Eugene Butler’s crimes.  Butler’s home was demolished and a workshop (not shown) stands on the site today.

Niagara, North Dakota
Niagara, North Dakota
Niagara, North Dakota

Just as we pulled into town, the wind started to really blow and a light drizzle began… so we didn’t spend quite as much time photographing Niagara as we would have liked. We’ll definitely go back sometime when the weather is better.

Niagara, North Dakota
Niagara, North Dakota
Niagara, North Dakota

There was once an impressive building on the corner of the intersection shown above.  It would have stood where the nose of the pickup is sticking out from behind the fire garage.

Niagara, North Dakota
Niagara, North Dakota

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © Sonic Tremor Media

21 Comments on “Niagara, North Dakota: Former Home of a Serial Killer

  1. This is my hometown. My parents still attend the church in town. My Dad was part of the group of people that replaced the bottom logs in the log cabin and repaired the doors and windows last summer. There are plans in the works to do some repair work on the school next. The city hall was burned down a few years ago just west of the historical village and across the street.

    • My name is Lonnie Berndt even though I moved away in 1969 I will always call Niagara home. My dad bought the bar in 1953,and went to school there until 1961 the last year of the school. I graduated from Unity High School in Petersburg 1963. My brother Gary and his six class mates graduated the last year of school in 1960. Niagara was a great place to grow up,we had a nice place to swim at Niagara Dam,also Bachelors Grove for roller skating on Sunday nites,we even had a carnival on the 4th of July and baseball games. A lot of great memories.

      • Hello Lonnie – I replied yesterday to Ghosts of ND. I thought it was fun to see your name along with Gary. My grandparents whom I lived with owned the Niagara Garage (Neumann). I lived with them after my mother & father divorced.
        I remember so many interesting stories of the places you were talking about as well. Growing up in a small farming community has been a part if my life that I shall cherish. It is fun to hear about “old” days!

        • Hi Linda, What a pleasant surprise to see the comments from you. For your information the little school has a trophy case in it a couple of the trophy’s have Sally’s name on them from when she played basketball at Niagara High. I can remember Karl and Rusty canoeing on Niagara Dam. My heart will always be in Niagara North Dakota. The state of Washington will never replace that.

          • I haven’t looked at this website in such a long time and discovered that you replied. I hope all is well with your brother Gary as Uncle Karl turns 80 this month and lives in Arkansas and has 1 daughter. Thanks for the information about the basketball pictures and trophies, I think Mom (Sallie) actually donated some of the pictures. Mom is buried at the Niagara cemetery.
            I think we all learned how to canoe and swim (dog paddle) in the Niagara dam! Sink or learn to swim! Ha
            Best to All….

  2. My great grandparents went west in the 1880’s by covered wagon with others from Niagara County NY from which Town was named. Farming was hard, Great Grandpa Jake lost crops to locust, weather etc. He took a job on the Great Northern Railroad as a Blacksmith then worked at Elk Valley Ranch when the railroad hit the Rockies. WE heard stories of visiting with the Indians and Great Grandma Emma binding hay and my grandfather Frank with the horses at the age of 5. Would love to come and reminisce and see where their sod house was .

    • Hi Sherry, I would like to contact you or others from early Niagara years. My great grandmother, Anna McLean, kept a diary of Niagara from 1909 to 1935. She was a midwife for many years so I have lots of information, births, deaths, letters, daily life. Your parents are probably mentioned in her diaries. What was their name? Find me on Face Book, or Carol Ferguson; 1604-220 High St. E. Moose Jaw, Sk, Canada.

        • I can’t find anything with names of people in Niagara, I do know my great grandparents had a house in town for the winter and the farm during the summer. They lived in a sod house but no pictures. Uncle Dan also owned a farm which he rented out then sold to Russians. As far as names, no one person is even named in any of the letters I have here. Sorry.

          • Sherry, Thank you for the message. I was actually trying to reply to clfergusonblog before. But Thank you.

  3. North of the grain elevators along the tracks was a row of trees that the rail riders hung out. It was called Bum Jungle.

    • I remember the interesting times also growing up in Niagara, a very young girl. We seemed to always have fun. I remember the friends of my Uncle Karl Neumann (as I lived with my grandparents) some may remember my name – Linda Helling (Mother – Sallie Neumann-Helling)
      The town has surely changed – but – it is part of my heritage – glad to be part of the experience.

  4. What is the name of the workshop located where Eugene Butler’s farm once stood?

  5. I worked with Sallie at Martin Marietta in Denver in the early 80s. I didn’t realize she was also from Niagara until I mentioned my mother Eleanor Larson…it turned out that Sallie had once made a beaded purse for her! Good memories.

    • Karren, Do you still live in Denver?
      It is a small world – working with my mother Sallie at Martin Marietta days, she worked for almost 23 years. She’s buried in the Niagara cemetery – she’s been gone 10 years! I didn’t know that Mom made beaded purses, the only thing I remember are the beautiful hand-made leather tooled bags. I’m fortunate enough to have several to pass on to the next generation. It was nice to hear your comments. Best, Linda

  6. My mother was born in Niagara in 1915. Family were farmers. We visited Niagara in 1994. What a wonderful tittle town. Population at that time was 82. A small cafe was being run in town at the time. Mom connected with a few folks there. Great grandparents were laid to rest at nearby cemetery. Glad I found your website. Stay safe and well.
    Thank you.

  7. My name is LaVonda Haahr Kollman, maiden name Larson, I wasn’t blessed to be from your town, but am blessed to have lived here since 2001. Niagara is such a wonderful hometown place to live, and beautiful people that live here. I have gotten to know some of the history and read up on the history through a book that a friend has here. I was fortunate to see the old general store and walk around in there and also see inside the old city hall where theater and dances were held, What a beautiful place it was. I raised my kids here in Niagara, and couldn’t ask for a better place to be or live. I am a volunteer firefighter here, as well as on the Niagara City Counsel. Thank you to you all for building such a wonderful place for others to live and enjoy.

  8. I grew up on a farm between Larimore and Niagara. (Closer to Niagara). I remember as a small child that there was a gas station, cafe, and bar. I think the hardware store may have still been open as well. This would have been in the early 80’s. When I was a teenager my buddy and I would tear through the town on our dirt bikes. I’m sure we impressed the residents – not. My dad always told me to stay away from Niagara Dam as his friend almost drowned when he was a kid. Who knows – probably just being protective. I never heard about the serial killer until reading this article. Very interesting. I love the small towns of ND.

  9. Could somebody please describe, in detail, the location of the former Butler house where the murders took place? What is there now? I would like to see the spot. This article is very interesting but really falls short of documenting the exact place where this happened.

  10. My father, Bob Lind, grew up in Niagara. He was born in 1933 in Grand Forks but his parents lived in Niagara. He lived there until he graduated from Niagara High School in 1950, I believe. His boyhood home is still in town. I’ve seen it, know it’s on the edge of town but not sure of the street name or number. His aunt Clara (Hanson) worked in the Red & White Grocery Store. His dad, Elmer Lind, managed the grain elevator. They all attended the congregational church. I believe family lore has it that the famed Butler house, in which the human remains were found, was at one time occupied by my great-grandparents, George and Alice Williams. Some of our relatives are buried in that lonely, windswept cemetery on the hill outside of town. Niagara is beautiful to me because of all the family memories, and at the same time sad, as so many of those people are gone and the town isn’t the bustling place it once was. I am hoping to write a book or at least a story about my dad’s childhood years in Niagara, and if any of you have ideas to share, I am very interested!

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