This story was first published in the Aug. 27, 1915, Winona Republican-Herald:
Father L. M. Lesches, a demented priest, shot three times this morning at Rt. Rev. Patrick R. Heffron, bishop of the diocese of Winona, as he was celebrating Mass at 8:40 o’clock alone in the private chapel of St. Mary’s College, inflicting one serious wound through the right side of the chest, the lung being penetrated.
The first shot fired struck the bishop in the left thigh from behind, and as he turned around the second shot was fired, inflicting the serious wound.
A third shot went wild.
The would-be assassin was so close when the second shot was fired that the bishop’s vestments were blackened with the powder.
While the lung wound is serious, conditions are considered favorable for the bishop’s, recovery if no complications set in. Drs. H. F. McGaughey and E. D. Keyes of Winona are attending the bishop, and Dr. William J. Mayo of Rochester was called in consultation this afternoon.
While the bishop was alone in the chapel when the shooting took place, the discharge of the firearms attracted other priests in the college hastily to the shot. The bishop, after the shooting, was able to walk out into the hall where other priests came to his assistance and helped him to walk to his residence adjoining on Terrace Heights.
Aid quickly summoned
Medical aid was then summoned and the authorities were notified to come and arrest the would-be murderer, to which request no time was lost in responding.
Immediately after the shooting, the would-be assassin left the chapel on the second floor of the college building and went down to room 135 on the first floor, which he had been occupying and locked himself in.
It was 8:50 o’clock when Sheriff Parr received the notification that the bishop had been shot, and he took instant action. Sending his son Willis Parr out to get an automobile, he phoned to Chief of Police George Huck and within a few minutes all three were speeding toward St. Mary’s College, making the trip there in the record-breaking time of six minutes.
On arrival, a priest met them and said the bishop was shot and that the would-be assassin had locked himself in his room on the first floor. The officers entered the building and went up to the corridor to the room door, revolvers in hand, Willis Parr being sent outside to watch the window to see that escape wasn’t made through there by the man.
Sheriff Parr rapped on the door three or four times he standing opposite the knob and Chief Huck on the left side of the door. Finally the man opened the door and immediately Sheriff Parr and Chief Huck shoved both of their revolvers into his face and crowded in on the man. Contrary to expectations, no gun was in his hands. Chains or “come-alongs” were put on his wrists and he was led away to the car and rushed back to Winona. By 9:25 he was lodged in the county jail.
The would-be assassin was dressed in a Prince Albert suit when arrested and was in a very nervous and excited condition, as he naturally would be following the entrance of two revolvers into the neighborhood of his facial property. He did not deny the shooting but stated that he was about to reload the revolver in his room and was perhaps intercepted in this by the arrival of the authorities.
The prisoner made no resistance during the time he was being brought in. He pulled his hat down to shade his eyes and did not say a great deal.
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At the jail he was searched — $5.12, a pocketbook, knife and a few other minor articles being found on him. The regular khakhi jail suit was put on the prisoner.
Sheriff Parr and Chief Huck then returned to the college to investigate. They found the revolver in a traveling bag which was lying open on the bed. It was cocked but on being opened was found empty. Three shots had been fired but no shells were found. Persons at the college say they heard the toilet in the man’s room was flushed shortly before the authorities arrived and it is thought the shells were disposed of in that manner. A shot gun was found in the man’s trunk. The traveling bag was full of a collection of divers and sundry articles.
Attacking priest was demented
That Father L. M. Lesches was demented when he made his attack on Bishop Heffron seems to be clearly established. According to statements from those near to the head of the Winona diocese Father Leaches has not been in his right mind for several years, and during that time, has not been placed in charge of a parish, it being considered that he was mentally unfit for such work. He has, however, visited around among the different priests of the diocese and assisted them in Mass and in other duties of their priestly office. He has always had official standing in the priesthood. He was generally regarded as harmless, although demented. Had there been any idea that he could have undertaken anything like the deed of today, he would have been treated differently and likely have been placed in some asylum, where today’s developments seem to indicate he belongs.
Lescbes was seen this noon at his cell at the Winona County Jail, Sheriff W. E. Parr accompanying the representative of The Republican-Herald there. He was lying in his cell when the reporter reached the outside of his door and on being invited to make a statement complained that his stomach was bothering him, and said he had pains in his back. He talked disconnectedly.
Short and thick set and with a heavy beard be has a strong French accent, sustaining his contention that he was born in France. He says that since 1893 he has made bis home in the U.S. and was regularly ordained to the priesthood. When asked his reason for shooting the bishop, he declared it was because the bishop had yesterday refused to give him an appointment or work in the Winona diocese and had told him he did not care anything for his soul.
He continued: “I fired the first shot; I walked, from my room to the chapel when Bishop Heffron, with his back turned towards me, was saying Mass — the Mass which I wanted the right to say in my own church, which has been denied me for many years — and with my arm outstretched I fired at him through the dimness of the chapel. All I can remember after that was a cloud of smoke which arose before me. I did not fire the other two shots that they say I did.”
Lesches’ written statement follows:
“L. M. Leeches, of the diocese of Winona applied for help to the Bishop, asking for clothes, board and shelter. He was notified that he would not be allowed on the premises. Father Leeches answered, “I cannot go further, I have no money, clothes nor friends.” “I don’t care,” the Bishop answered, “I’ll see that you get out of here.”
Lesches gave back the pencil and pad of paper; covered his face in the blanket on his bed and turned to the wall.
Suddenly he turned again toward the reporter.
“I admit that my mind is not right,” he said, “but I only fired one shot at the Bishop. I know that positively. Lesches added that he often forgets incidents in his everyday life, and that whole days will be forgotten to him for long spaces of time.
When asked concerning his previous work, he declared he had served charges at different places in the Winona diocese, and mentioned Fairmont, Rochester, Mankato and Mapleton. The. priests, he said, all knew him and that was sufficient, after which he again lay down on his cot and declined to talk further.
Bishop Heffron recovered from his wounds and went on to lead the Winona Diocese until his death from cancer at age 68 in 1927.
On Dec. 1, 1915, Father Lesches stood trial for the shooting. A Winona County jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. He was subsequently committed to the St. Peter State Hospital, where he would remain until his death at 84 in 1943.