6 1961 – April 11 1965
A Grave Memorial
on December 6, 1961 as Dennis Craig
would later be adopted by a family where he suffered abuse and
died at the hands of his adoptive mother.
and Lois Jurgens, who lived in
Lake, Minnesota, adopted Dennis and his name officially became Dennis
Jurgens. The biological parents of Dennis were Jerry Sherwood and her
both teenagers. Though she didn't want to, Jerry placed her baby up for
adoption, trusting that the system would take care of him. The system
Jurgens had problems with
depression and had
spent some time in a psychiatric institution. With an obsessive
personality, Lois had an uncontrollable need to be in absolute control
of everything in her life. The house needed to be spotless at all
the garden needed to be tended to and her life needed to appear perfect
to everyone around her. To Lois, social status was everything.
was unable to get pregnant and
felt this to
be a failure on her part, this drove her crazy because it showed that
was less than perfect. After she was forbidden to adopt due to her
of mental illness, Harold and Lois WERE able to go through a
adoption and into their lives came a child named Robert. Robert was the
perfect addition to the family since he was able to learn early on not
to make a mess or get in his mother way at all. The positive way the
of Robert went, caused authorities to think that maybe the Lois would
able to handle more children.
a little over the age of one year
was taken from the foster home he had been loved and cared for in and
in the home of the Jurgens family with hopes of them adopting him. An
dislike of Dennis was apparent due to the fact that Dennis was a normal
toddler who got into things and made messes. Harold brought this up and
told her that maybe they should not adopt Dennis after all. Lois
that if she gave Dennis back, she would be seen in a bad light and not
be able to adopt any other children. Harold gave in to her, it would be
a big mistake.
a few months after he first went
to live with
the Jurgens family, Dennis was taken to the hospital with first and
degree burns on his genitals. The burns, Lois would say, had been an
and the hospital accepted her explanation and didn't report them.
after that, the process of adopting Dennis was finished. This would
to be a huge mistake on the part of the authorities who allowed it to
her circle of family, friends
Lois was very well know to be an angry woman with a short temper. The
of Dennis was far beyond anything they had seen before. The punishment
that Lois gave out to Dennis for any number of reasons, was said by her
to have been "God's work". She was trying to make Dennis perfect in
way. It's shocking to learn that Harold Jurgens KNEW about the
and just stood by and did NOTHING to help. Though he never
Dennis the way that Lois did, he certainly was an accomplice because he
never stopped it.
suffered on a daily basis at
the hands of
Lois who made him eat any food he didn't like, by putting spicy
on it. Lois would also cut off his oxygen supply which would cause him
to vomit, this would make Lois so angry that she would make him eat his
own vomit. Making Dennis go without food was another way Lois abused
Even though the doctor had told Lois that his weight was fine, Lois
him "sloppy fat" as his nickname and often wouldn't let him eat, trying
to get him to lose weight. In two and a half years, Dennis only gained
became angry when Dennis would
wet his diaper
more often than she thought he should and she decided that in order to
stop that, she should place a clothespin on the end of his penis. Lois
would tie Dennis to the bed at night and also to the toilet in order to
force him to use the toilet instead of his diaper. Quite often when
reached the age of two, he was seen in sunglasses which were to hide
black eyes he was given by Lois. Lois insisted that Dennis was a "bad
and never apologized to anyone for how she treated him. Lois said that
she was as devout Catholic and that she needed to make sure Dennis grew
up right. Dennis was forced to kneel on a broomstick for long periods
time until he could recited the Rosary and pray in the "proper"
Jurgens family appeared to be
going people with the perfect life. The house was always perfect, the
was always perfect and their life, from the outsiders view, seemed to
perfect as well. There were family members, friends and neighbors who
the truth. None of these people reported the wrong doing for fear of
Lois would do to them. In the past, Lois had threatened to kill certain
members of her family if they didn't mind their own business. Medical
teachers and others were not required to report abuse at that time and
no one did.
April 11, 1965 Robert Jurgens, who
was five at
that time, witnessed his mothers abuse of his brother Dennis, for the
time. On the night of his death, Lois was in an extremely bad mood due
to flooding which was filling up the basement with water. Dennis died
evening of Peritonitis due to a perforation of his small bowel. Though
the specific cause of that fatal blow is not known, it is known that it
was Lois who had given it to Dennis.
Coroner found that in addition to
starvation, scarring and bite marks on his genitals, Dennis had old
new bruises and he also had lacerations all over his body. Robert had
a witness to all of the abuse Dennis had suffered, as a child, only
years old, himself, there was nothing he knew to do, as an adult, he
testify against his mother in her trial.
was a thorough investigation
into the death
of Dennis, however, at that time, the mid 1960's, child abuse was not
that was thought of as it is today. There was overwhelming evidence to
show that Lois had been the one to kill Dennis, however, since it would
have been hard to prove, the death was listed as "deferred". Some
believed that the brother of Lois, Jerome Zerwas, who was a Police
destroyed evidence that would have helped convict Lois.
Lois got away with the murder
of Dennis, not
being charged at that time, Robert was removed from the Jurgens home
went to live with his paternal Grandmother. Robert stayed with her for
a little over five years. At that time, Lois was trying to regain
of him. Robert was taken to the hospital and admitted with Pneumonia.
in the hospital, there was fire at his grandmothers home, which killed
her. Suspicion fell on Lois having set the fire since Lois has
to burn the homes of others.
was returned to the home of
his adoptive parents
and somehow Lois and Harold were eventually allowed to adopt four more
children, who were siblings. Lois was even more unable to control her
and because of this, she and Harold took their five adopted children
moved to Stillwater, Minnesota. It was rumored that this was an attempt
to get away from the stories about her murdering Dennis.
would be placed in a psychiatric
though not before she was able to abuse the other children. Beatings
a regular thing as well as slamming their heads into nails in the wall,
making them stand barefoot in the snow and much worse. Robert and his
adoptive siblings were able to run away one day and received help from
neighbors. The children were able to convince authorities that they
being abused and at that time, all five were taken out of the custody
the Jurgens. Harold and Lois were informed they would NEVER be
to adopt any additional children and they would also not be able to
Sherwood, the biological mother
tried to find him in the early 1980. At this time, she was in late
Jerry assumed that at this time in his life, Dennis would be a young
Having had four more children with the biological father of Dennis, she
hoped that he would want to meet his siblings. When her search for
ended in her finding out he had died, she did some checking and made a
phone call to Lois wanting to find out what had happened. Lois was nice
to Jerry at first and told her she would send her some things that had
belonged to Dennis. When she never received the items, Jerry called
and found out that the Jurgens had changed their number and it now
of this, Jerry decided to
do some further
investigating. Jerry found the death certificate of Dennis and it still
said that his death was deferred, which meant the case was still open.
Jerry contacted the White Bear Lake, Minnesota Police Department and
media. Since the case was still open, that meant someone could still be
charged with his murder.
October 12, 1986, the St. Paul
Pioneer Press ran
a first page story all about the investigation. Harold and Lois were
mentioned in the story, however, people suspected that the people who
being spoken about were them. Jerry kept on investigating and this kept
the story in the news and out in the public.
arraignment of Lois Jurgens, who
was then in
60's, was a happy day for Jerry Sherwood. With the testimony of Robert
came the prosecution of Lois Jurgens for third degree murder. The case
involving Dennis has since been considered a landmark in the history of
child abuse law.
by the testimony of the
Jurgens’ other adopted
son, Robert, the prosecution saw Lois Jurgens (now in her 60's),
of murder in the third degree and sent to prison. The investigation,
and conviction of Lois Jurgens are considered landmarks in the history
of child abuse law.
Jurgens served ONLY
of the original sentence, before she was released for good behavior.
lives in Stillwater, Minnesota as a widow. Harold Jurgens died in the
2000. There was suspicion at the time of his death that Lois has
him. An investigation ruled that theory out.
could someone who had killed
their child and
abused all of the children in her care, be considered for early release
on something called good behavior? People who abuse and kill children
spend the rest of their lives in prison!
movie was made about this story,
called: "A Child
is buried in Saint Marys of
the Lake Cemetery
in White Bear Lake, Ramsey County, Minnesota.
On November 17, 2011, I received a post to my guest book from a woman
claiming to be the cousin of Dennis.
She asked that I tell their side of the story, this woman left no
e-mail address for me to reply to her, I will post what
she said here and hopefully she will contact me with an e-mail address:
I am writing on behalf of Dennis Jurgens, my
adopted cousin who perished at the hands of my Mother's sister - Lois
I know for certain my parents Richard and Donna Norton, along
with my Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Donna Zerwas, did everything they could to
get the system to pay attention to the abuse Dennis was being subjected
Their attempt to save Dennis
fell on deaf ears. No matter how
hard they tried they could get no one in the system to listen. Rather,
the efforts to save Dennis only infuriated Lois. In retaliation, Lois
Jurgens attempted to start our house on fire in the early morning
hours. Lois - in an attempt to 'punish' my parents, also tried, on more
than one occasion, to abduct me when I was just a small child.
I know for certain my parents
had everything to do with
getting Robert taken away from Lois and that they hired an attorney in
an attempt to block the adoption of the four children Lois and Harold
adopted from Kentucky five years after Dennis's death. The system
failed over and over again. It didn't help the family clergy wrote a
glowing recommendation letter for the Jurgens's to be able to adopt
again - even though he knew about what had happened to Dennis.
What is written makes it look
as though no one cared about
Dennis or the other children adopted by Lois Jurgens. That could not be
further from the truth, I know my parents cared and fought for Dennis
and to stop the Jurgen's from adopting again. It has to be acknowledged
my parents had the strength and courage to speak out about the abuse in
the Jurgen's home. The problem was - no one listened. Social services,
law enforcement, the judicial system all let this beautiful child die.
My parents fought for them at the risk of their own family.
My heart breaks
knowing so many children
suffered at the hands of this woman and by the complete disregard of
Harold. Please give credit to those who have the courage to speak out,
even when no one is listening.
Death Occurred in the state of Minnesota
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