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Murder of Mary Fridley Price

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"Fear for Pet Costs Her Life"

Mary Fridley Price, 1910–1914. From "Fear For Pet Costs Her Life," (Minneapolis Sunday Journal, November 29, 1914). Image reproduced from microfilm.

The November 1914 death of Mary Fridley Price made the front page of the Minneapolis Journal: “Woman Killed in Attempt to Save Pet Dog.” Her grieving husband, Fred Price, told police she had fallen off a Mississippi River bluff in a vain attempt to keep her dog from going over. But by January 1916, that grieving husband was at the center of a sensational murder trial, accused of shoving her off the cliff for her money.

On November 28, 1914, Mary Fridley Price, thirty-eight, lay by the rocky shore of the Mississippi River, still dressed in the fine blue tailored suit and furs she had worn to a play that afternoon. It had been the final matinee performance of the comedy-musical The Prince of Pilsen at Minneapolis’s Metropolitan Theatre.

Now it was after 6 pm on a chilly fall night. Fridley Price sprawled on her back with a halo of blood around her head.

About an hour before, she had shared the roomy backseat of her 1913 Cadillac with Chum, the Cocker Spaniel she loved like the child she didn’t have. Her husband, Frederick T. Price, was at the wheel, with his friend and sometime business partner Charles D. Etchison next to him.

Etchison and Price had accompanied Fridley Price to the play. In fact, Etchison had turned up with the tickets that morning and suggested the outing. After the show ended, Price proposed that the three of them motor to St. Paul. Mary, the husband suggested, could collect Chum at the apartment and bring him along.

It was during that drive from their Minneapolis apartment near Loring Park to scenic East River Road that the Cadillac’s engine seemed to stall. Price pulled over. Since he and Etchison would be tinkering under the hood for a while, Price said, why shouldn’t Mary take Chum for a walk?

Mary Fridley Price’s decision to give her dog some air was her last. Just beyond the parkway’s thin fringe of trees, the land dropped off. Somehow, within minutes of exiting the car, both woman and dog toppled some forty feet to her death.

Fridley Price died on the way to the hospital, the fracture to the left side of her skull proving fatal. Chum died later, when police located the severely injured dog and shot him.

The police and coroner agreed with Price’s and Etchison’s story: that Chum had bolted through the trees only to find a drop off, and Mary, in an attempt to save him from going over, had lost her footing and gone down with him.

Mary Fridley Price had been the granddaughter of Abram Fridley, the Minnesota pioneer and state legislator for whom the town of Fridley was named. Her father, David Fridley, was a wealthy landowner. He was generous with Mary—and suspicious of her traveling salesman husband. Fridley had ensured that during the marriage his daughter had kept her accounts, bonds, and land holdings under her control.

With his wife’s death, Fred Price became the administrator of her estate. And he was free to marry Carrie Olson, the stenographer he had been seeing since 1913.

David Fridley did not believe his daughter’s death was accidental. With another son-in-law, William Dye, he hired private investigator John P. Hoy, the former Minneapolis police detective who had helped solve the infamous Harry Haywood murder case in 1894.

Hoy investigated Price for ten months. The detective made his way to Price’s hometown, Neenah, Wisconsin. There he learned that a local boy who had fallen off a roof and lain unconscious for hours had grown into a teenager who beat a neighbor woman senseless with a stick of wood for the sheer “deviltry” of it. That teenager was Price. Hoy also built a case against Etchison, who, after swooning and praying to God, confessed that his friend had murdered his wife for her money.

In January 1916, newspapers from different parts of the country covered Price’s Minneapolis murder trial. Etchison, the state’s star witness, testified that Price had plotted his wife’s murder for months. That night in 1914, he had shoved her off a steep cliff in Minneapolis and thrown her dog after her. Only Fridley Price hadn’t died in the fall. So Price, after nearly an hour of scrambling, found his way down and stove in the semi-conscious woman’s head with a rock. He paid off Etchison for being his witness to the “accident.”

Price was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in Stillwater Prison. David Fridley never got over his daughter’s murder. In 1926, he hanged himself. Inmate Price, employed in the prison’s twine-making business, died four years later of pneumonia and complications from diabetes.

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Aamodt, Britt. "Murder Cliff: The Death of Mary Fridley Price." MinneCulture, episode 31, KFAI Minneapolis.
http://ampers.org/mn-art-culture-history/ep-31-murder-cliff-the-death-of-mary-fridley-price/

“Alone in Home David Fridley Hangs Himself; Brooded Over Murder.” Anoka County Union, March 31, 1926.

“Defense to Picture Price as Maligned, Abused, Misjudged; Line of Testimony Next Week Intended to Show Him Innocent Victim of Plots.” Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, January 9, 1916.

“Etchison and Price Both May Get on Stand This Week.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, January 10, 1916.

“Etchison’s Story Is Unshaken Under Severe Grilling; Says He Gave False Account of Woman’s Death in Civil Suit.” Minneapolis Journal, January 11, 1916.

“Fear for Pet Costs Her Life; Killed by Fall Over Cliff.” Minneapolis Sunday Journal, November 29, 1914.

“Frederick Price Dies in State Penitentiary.” Brainerd Daily Dispatch, April 8, 1930.

“Freddie Price Falls from Roof.” Neenah Daily Times, June 29, 1885.

“Goes to Waukesha; Fred Price Sentenced Today.” Oshkosh Northwestern, December 3, 1894.

“The Guilty Found and the Innocent Exonerated.” Neenah Daily Times, November 26, 1894.

“Haunted by Horror of Murdered Woman.” Leadville Herald Democrat, January 11, 1916.

“Jury Finds Price Guilty; Minneapolis Man Killed Wife by Throwing Her Off a Cliff.” New York Times, January 16, 1916.

Mary Fridley Price, death certificate, November 28, 1914, certificate no. 1914-MN-023748. State Archives collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

“Mary Fridley Price Was Member of One of First Families of Minnesota; Early Fur Trader Grandfather of Tragedy Victim.” Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, January 9, 1916.

“Mrs. Price Slain, Doctors Testify Over Protest; Court Refuses to Rule Out the Testimony.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, January 8, 1916.

“Price Case Likened to the Famous Hayward Trial.” Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, January 9, 1916.

“Price Cool as His Wife’s Death Is Told in Court; Smiles as Jury Inspects Scene of the Tragedy.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, January 7, 1916.

“Price Denies Etchison’s Story, Piece by Piece, That He Killed Wife.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, January 13, 1916.

“Price Is Found Guilty of Murder; Verdict in First Degree Returned by Jury; Means Imprisonment for Life.” Minneapolis Journal, January 15, 1916.

“Price Unshaken as Etchison Tells Story on Stand; Witness Is Called Unexpectedly; Says Killing Long Planned.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, January 11, 1916.

“’Price Wanted to Get into My Bank Roll,’ Says Father of Tragedy Victim; Defiance Cast by David Fridley at Price in Court.” Minneapolis Journal, January 12, 1916.

“Price Weakens as He Sees Skull.” Grand Forks Daily Herald, January 7, 1916.

“Price’s Fate Is Submitted to Jury.” Minneapolis Journal, January 14, 1916.

“Twin City Deaths: Fred Price.” Post Crescent (Appleton, WI), April 9, 1930.

“Woman Killed in Attempt to Save Pet Dog.” Minneapolis Sunday Journal, November 29, 1914.

“Woman’s Fatal Fall Told by Husband in Action Against City.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, October 29, 1915.

Related Audio

MN90: The Price of Murder | Details

Related Images

"Fear for Pet Costs Her Life"
"Fear for Pet Costs Her Life"
Fred and Mary Price in their Cadillac
Fred and Mary Price in their Cadillac
Mary Fridley Price and Fred Price
Mary Fridley Price and Fred Price
Jurors chosen for the trail of Fred Price
Jurors chosen for the trail of Fred Price
Jurors inspecting the site of Mary Fridley Price's death
Jurors inspecting the site of Mary Fridley Price's death
Charles Etchison on the witness stand
Charles Etchison on the witness stand
David Fridley
David Fridley
Fred Price
Fred Price
Carrie Olson Price
Carrie Olson Price

Turning Point

On December 5, 1915, just over a year after Mary Fridley Price’s “accidental” death, husband Frederick T. Price is indicted for her premeditated murder.

Chronology

1907

On October 2, thirty-one-year-old schoolteacher Mary Fridley marries Frederick T. Price, a twice-divorced traveling salesman from Neenah, Wisconsin.

1913

Fred Price meets and falls in love with Carrie Olson, a stenographer working for his wife’s brother-in-law.

1914

On a cold, dark Saturday evening on November 28, Mary Fridley Price and her dog topple off a steep river bluff in Minneapolis. Her husband and his friend are witness to what is determined to be a fatal accident.

1914

For the death of his wife, Fred Price claims $7,500 in damages from the Minneapolis Park Board in December. He says if the board had installed lights and a guardrail along East River Road, his wife would not have fallen.

early 1915

Mary’s father and brother-in-law do not believe her death was accidental. They hire Minneapolis private detective John P. Hoy to investigate her husband.

1915

Price marries his fourth wife, Carrie Olson, in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 12.

1915

Price’s lawsuit goes to court in October. He abruptly drops the suit when it comes out that the divorce to his first wife was never completed, and therefore he has no legal right to make a claim on third wife Mary’s behalf.

1915

In Minneapolis, a grand jury indicts Price and his friend Charles D. Etchison for the first-degree murder of Mary Fridley Price on December 1.

1915

Police arrest Etchison in Washington, DC, and deliver him to Chicago, where, on December 4, he confesses that Price murdered his wife for her money.

late 1915

Mary Fridley Price’s body is exhumed from Minneapolis’ Lakewood Cemetery, to be examined by a coroner.

1916

The Fred Price murder trial begins in Hennepin County District Court on January 4.

1916

Lawers make closing statements in the murder trial on January 14 and leave Price’s fate with the jury.

1916

After nineteen hours of deliberation, the jury finds Price guilty of first-degree murder on January 15. He is later sentenced to life in Stillwater Prison. State witness Etchison is set free without a trial.

1926

Mary’s father, David Fridley, found dead in the cellar of his new home on March 25. He had hung himself. Obituaries describe a man who never recovered from his daughter’s murder.

1930

Fifty-year-old Fred Price dies in prison on April 8.