McKenzie County State’s Attorney Dennis Edward Johnson wrote the true story "End of the Rope," a book about the disappearance of the Haven family and the vigilante lynching of Charles Bannon—the last lynching in North Dakota.
Dennis Johnson passed away at age 65 on Thanksgiving Day, November 25th, 2021, just three months after filming wrapped on the feature film based on the book which shares the same title. Filmed in McKenzie County and produced by the North Dakota-based production companies Canticle Productions and D&N Cinematics, it is expected to be released this year.
> Click here to see the showtimes across the state of North Dakota.
The story begins February 9th, 1930, when Albert Haven, his wife Lulia, and their four children: Daniel, 18; Leland, 14; Charles, 2; and Mary, their 2-month-old baby, disappeared without a trace. The family lived on the farm for over ten years. Their disappearance didn't raise any alarm until after their mail began piling up and relatives from Minnesota started inquiring about their whereabouts.
At this time, McKenzie County Sheriff William "Bill" Jacobsen began investigating their disappearance.
Upon visiting the farm, Sheriff Jacobsen found the family's hired hand, Charles Bannon, living on the property and taking care of the farm's activities. When asked about the family's whereabouts, Bannon said that he drove them to the train station where they boarded the train heading west to Colton, Oregon. Investigating Bannon's claims, Sheriff Jacobsen learned that the ticket agent at the train station had no recollection of selling tickets to the Haven family. Furthermore, the postmaster in Colton, Oregon, indicated that no such family lived in the area. The State’s Attorney filed a complaint for larceny against Charles Bannon after he had sold livestock and property from the farm.
On December 12th, 1930, Charles Bannon was arrested. Authorities found Albert Haven's winter clothing, the children's toys, and other family belongings on the farm. The Havens disappeared in February, a cold month in North Dakota when no one would ever think to venture out without their warm clothes. Also found was a crumpled letter from Charles' father, James. The letter was postmarked from Colton, Oregon.
In it, James stated he could find no evidence that the Havens had ever arrived in Colton. Since rumors were already spreading about foul play and believing Bannon would be safer outside McKenzie County, Charles was moved to the Williston Jail in Williams County.
In Charles Bannon's first confession, he stated that Mrs. Haven was mentally ill and had gone insane, killing the entire family. He drew a barnyard map showing where he helped her bury the bodies. Bannon's attorney took his confession and the map to the authorities claiming Bannon was covering for a murder committed by Mrs. Haven. Along with Bannon's attorney, his mother, and the minister, officers met at the Haven farm, where they uncovered the bodies of the Haven family. Also found was the matted hair of Mrs. Lulia Haven—proof that Charles had lied once again.
Confronted with his lies, Bannon broke down and made a second confession. He admitted involvement in the murder of the Haven family and dragging the body of Mrs. Haven out to a wolf's den behind the house. Later that same day, Sheriff Jacobsen and the County Coroner recovered Mrs. Haven's and young Charles' missing remains. After three additional confessions, Bannon admitted to accidentally killing Daniel and murdering the rest of the Haven family because he was scared.
In his confession, Bannon stressed that he acted alone in the killings and that his parents knew nothing about the murders. Authorities later tracked down James Bannon in Oregon, where he was extradited back to North Dakota to face charges of complicity in the murders. Although Charles testified to his father's innocence, authorities kept James in custody. James and Charles Bannon were relocated from Williston to the stone jailhouse in Schafer to await trial for the murders.
Details of the murders spread quickly throughout McKenzie County. Locals became concerned that Charles Bannon would be taken to Williston and would not be convicted. On January 29th, 1931, a crowd of at least 75 men, all wearing masks, converged on the stone jail in the small town of Schafer. Deputy Sheriff Hallan was in the jail that night with Charles Bannon, James Bannon, and a confessed thief named Fred Makie. Deputy Hallan refused to let the mob in, after which they battered the door with large timber. They demanded that he open the door to Charles's cell. Hallan once again refused.
After considerable effort, the mob eventually busted down the door. The crowd dragged Charles to the Haven farm, where they intended to get the truth out of him. Public Administrator Evanson, who had been staying at the Haven farm, confronted the men facing them at gunpoint. He convinced them to take their business elsewhere. Complying, they took Bannon to a nearby bridge that crossed Cherry Creek. The men tied Bannon's hands behind his back, placed a noose around his neck, and forced him to stand on the bridge railing. They began shouting at him, "jump!—jump!" Bannon reportedly replied, "you boys started this. You will have to finish this." Initially, no one stepped forward to push him from the bridge until one man finally stepped from the crowd, shoving him to his death.
Governor Shafer called the murder of Charles Bannon "shameful," ordering an investigation into the incident and sending a special investigator to investigate and identify those responsible for the murder of Charles Bannon. Investigators concluded that the lynching was well-planned in advance and that three or more leaders kept the mob organized and under control. However, the investigation yielded no leads that would identify the responsible parties. The community was a hush, and the men’s identities remain a mystery to this day.
Charles Bannon’s father was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison for the Haven murders. James’ attorneys appealed the conviction, arguing that he was not involved and that the evidence did not support the charges against him. The North Dakota Supreme Court upheld his conviction. James Bannon was later released due to a terminal illness and died shortly after on September 12th, 1950.
To learn more about the story or to get a copy of the book End of the Rope by Attorney Dennis Edward Johnson, visit the Pioneer Museum of McKenzie County or call them at 701-444-2990. If you’re interested in watching the film, there are several showings across the state.
Showtimes and Locations of the End of the Rope Film
March 24 at 4:00 PM
March 25 at 4:00 PM
Six Shooter’s Theater
March 31 at 7:00 PM
April 1 at 7:00 PM
Chester Fritz Auditorium at UND
April 14 at 7:00PM
T&J Agnes Grand Theater
April 15 at 3:00 PM & 7:00 PM
Oak Park Theater
April 21 at 7:00 PM & 8:00 PM
April 22 at 7:00 PM & 8:00 PM
April 28 at 7:00 PM
You can purchase Premiere Tickets at endoftheropefilm.com.
*Special VIP Movie Experience Package is available as an add-on at checkout for April 22 showings.