Death takes a holiday

By Pete Ehrmann on December 19, 2018
Death takes a holiday
"I’ll never fight again," said Lou. "I’m going to work. I’m going to take care of my mother."

News reports said he was nuts about boxing and wanted to be a fighter. Family members said he had a bad temper…

Lou Warner had six fights as a professional heavyweight boxer and won two.

Lou Werner was lethal with his dukes outside the ring.

They were the same guy. Werner was the name he was born with, and the one in screaming headlines 90 years ago when Lou killed his brother with one punch during Christmas dinner.

Both Lou, 18, and his 22-year-old brother Alois were military servicemen who’d returned home to Milwaukee because their father died on December 11, 1928. Lou took a hardship discharge so he could support his mother and young siblings. News reports said he was nuts about boxing and wanted to be a fighter. Family members said he had a bad temper.

When Lou and Alois got into an argument at the dinner table, Lou challenged his brother to step into the alley outside and settle it with their fists. “If you go out there, you are no longer my sons,” wailed their aggrieved mother. They went anyway. Lou hit Alois on the button with a right hand. Alois fell and his head bounced off the pavement. A few hours later he was dead from a skull fracture.

Charged with fourth-degree manslaughter, Lou faced a prison sentence of up to two years. The day after Christmas his mother went to the jail, but not to see him. She wanted back the suit of civilian clothes she’d bought Lou to wear at his father’s funeral. She didn’t want him back. “He is no son of mine,” she said. “My good son has been killed.”

Her heart thawed by the time the “Fist Slayer,” as headlines now referred to Lou, was arraigned on the fourth day of 1929. “He didn’t mean to kill his brother,” cried Josephine Werner on the witness stand. “It was just a friendly argument. They wanted to see who was best in a fight… Alois even fixed his false teeth so they wouldn’t fall out while they were fighting.”

The trial started January 8—and abruptly ended when Lou’s mother again tearfully testified that he was “a good boy” who loved his brother. After her emotional appearance the prosecution announced it was dropping the charges.

“I’ll never fight again,” vowed Lou. “I’m going to work. I’m going to take care of my mother. It’s a big job I’ve got ahead of me because I’ve got to make up for what she lost in (Alois’s) death.”

Less than a year later he fought again—with boxing gloves, and as Lou Warner. Whose idea it was to alter his last name, and why they thought just changing the first vowel was better than calling him Smith or Jones, is anybody’s guess. In late ’29 he won his first amateur bout by knockout. He lost two fights in 1930—and at the end of the year was back in the news as Lou Werner when his mother told police he was “prone to fits of anger” and had stolen her car. He denied it.

Lou Warner won the Wisconsin Golden Gloves heavyweight championship in 1932. Later that year he lost a decision to a Chicago amateur named John Pacek, who later fought as a pro as Johnny Paychek and was knocked out by Joe Louis in a heavyweight title fight.

As Lou Warner continued to box as an amateur over the next few years, Lou Werner continued to get in trouble out of the ring. In 1935, his 21-year-old wife Esther filed for divorce and disclosed that her estranged husband had put “several sticks of dynamite and bullets” in her kitchen stove, and sawed halfway through eight rungs of the ladder she used to put up storm windows. Lou admitted it, but said he still loved her. They reconciled, but a year later Esther divorced him for “jarring her with uppercuts and jabs.”

“What could I do,” shrugged Werner in court, “when she walked into my right?”

Lou Warner won his second Golden Gloves heavyweight title in ’36. The middleweight champion that year, Milwaukee’s Henry Pomeroy, was also a notorious former “fist slayer.” Four years earlier when his name was Henry Jakubowski he killed a boy in a street fight and did a stretch for manslaughter.

After losing his first pro bout by decision on May 26, 1936, Lou Warner won two in a row by knockout. “His odd style, deadly seriousness and fancy fighting trunks have amused ringsiders, but they have learned to respect his terrific punching,” noted The Milwaukee Journal. But then three straight losses ended the boxing career of Lou Warner.

Lou Werner apparently had an unremarkable life up to his death in 1982 with one exception: he and Esther reconciled again. They’re buried alongside one-another in a south side Milwaukee cemetery. Lou’s mother and father are there, too. If Alois is, his grave is unmarked.

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  1. Springs Toledo 05:24pm, 01/06/2019

    Christmas noir—Ehrmann’s work is good enough to set aside Saki’s and that’s going some.

  2. Bob 06:42pm, 12/20/2018

    Another gem of a story by the master raconteur.

  3. Bruce 08:43am, 12/20/2018

    Brother Ehrmann scores again, with another interesting tale of ring lore.

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