The Lacey-Bunker Tragedy

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“Probably the most awful tragedy in the state, occured about five o”clock in the afternoon of Sunday, October 22, 1893, just outside of the eastern limits of the City of Sioux Falls.

Harry Lacey, a man known to all the residents of the city, shot his mother-in-law Mrs. Lydia Bunker, his wife Clara, and himself, all three dying within a few minutes, and before any of the neighbors arrived at the place where the terrible deeds had been committed.

Harry Lacey came to the City of Sioux Falls in 1882, and commenced the practice of law. He was quiet and unassuming, but it was soon known he was a man of considerable ability. He obtained a good standing in the community, and although he soon abandoned his profession, he was always occupied in some business enterprise. His mother-in-law, in 1889, sold her farm east of the city (except a few acres where the tragedy took place) for quite a large sum of money, and invested fifteen thousand dollars of this sum in a phonograph enterprise, and lost it all. Mrs. Bunker charged Lacey with this loss and Lacey denied his responsibility in the matter. Soon after the sale of the farm, Mrs. Bunker came to the city and resided with the Laceys. It was known among their neighbors that family matters were not running smoothly, but not until the early part of December, 1891, was there an open outbreak. At this time there was a serious disturbance in the family, and all three of them bore marks of a personal combat. Mrs. Lacey had Mr. Lacey arrested for assault and battery, and immediately brought a bill for divorce. After a few months she told the writer, that she could not live without her husband, and soon after, the divorce proceedings were abandoned, and they commenced living together again. It did not prove a happy re-union, and they lived apart and together, as they could agree, until the spring of 1893, when Mr. Lacey secured rooms a short distance from Mrs. Bunker”s place. During the summer there were frequent quarrels, and Mr. Lacey grew more and more dissatisfied and unhappy, and one thing more than anything else that seemed to trouble him was the fact that his little children were under the influence of Mrs. Bunker.

On Sunday, the day the tragedy occured, he was in Sioux Falls and went home late in the afternoon. Shortly after he walked over to the Bunker house. In less than thirty minutes after he had been seen going to Mrs. Bunker”s, his two little children, aged four and seven years, who had witnessed the terrible deed of their father, came to a neighbor by the name of Jones, the eldest boy saying: “Papa Jones come over; they are all dead. Papa has shot grandma and ma, and went out in the yard and shot himself.” Mr. Jones went immediately to the house, and found them all dead. Mrs. Bunker and Mrs. Lacey were both shot in the back part of the head, near the base of the brain, and were lying but a little distance from each other in the kitchen. Lacey was lying in the yard, a few feet from the house, where he evidently fell and died without a struggle, after firing a bullet into his own head. Mr. Lacey was an expert marksman,and knew where the vital spark could be most quickly extinguished, and whether with the coolness of a wicked, desparate hate, or the frenzy of a man who thinks that nothing but blood can atone his wrongs, he brought his skill and knowledge into action, and committed the fearful tragedy with wonderful precision and fatality will never be known. He completed his work, and left nothing to be done but to bury the dead.

The foregoing is sufficient to outline the incidents connected with one of the most horrible tragedies that ever occured in a civilized community, and one which undoubtably will never be paralleled in Minnehaha county.”

Dana R. Bailey, History of Minnehaha County, South Dakota, (Sioux Falls: Brown & Saenger, 1899) pp. 232 – 233.

Lydia Bunker and Clara Lacey were buried next to each other in Block 25 – Lot 13 of the cemetery. Harry Lacey was buried in another part of the cemetery. In 1957 Harry”s remains were disinterred and reburied between the graves of his wife and mother-in-law.