Undersheriff George Burnau

Undersheriff George Burnau

Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, Kansas

End of Watch Thursday, April 29, 1920

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George Burnau

Undersheriff George Burnau suffered a fatal heart attack while involved in a foot pursuit of a mental subject.

He and the sheriff located the man seated in a wagon on the Oskaloosa Williamstown Road, but the man fled on foot as they approached. Undersheriff Burnau ran into a wooded area as he tried to flank the subject. He collapsed in the woods and his body was not until several hours later.


  • Age 46
  • Tour Not available
  • Badge Not available

Incident Details

  • Cause Heart attack
  • Weapon Person
  • Offender Not available

EDP, foot pursuit

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George Burnau was born 7 Aug 1873, one of five children of John M Burnau,and Edith W. (Graves) Burnau. The elder Burnau was superintendent of the county poor farm and a Civil War veteran of Company F, 156th Ohio Infantry. George Burnau's siblings included two older brothers, Charles and Albert, and an older sister, Eliza, who became a teacher.

From the time of John Burnau's death in 1891 until her own death in 1909, Edith Burnau lived with her son, George.

During his early adulthood, Burnau worked at a variety of jobs, including day labor, serving as cook as a local lunchroom and owning a shoe repair shop.

He often was appointed by the probate court to care for people adjudicated insane from the time of their appearance until they were taken to their final destination, a position he held under Sheriff's Swallow, Riley & McCain. In a July 24, 1913 article in the Oskaloosa Times, Burnau spoke about that job.

"I have often been asked if I did not fear them. I can truthfully say that I do not. There is no reason to fear them if you care for them properly. Practically all of the patients go with me to my room for the night," Burnau said, adding "I can sleep just as soundly with him as I ordinarily do."

By 1916, Burnau had enlisted in the military and was active in the formation of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, Kansas National Guard. A roster listed in the Jefferson County Tribune of July 15, 1917 listed him as a corporal. An Oskaloosa Times article of May, 18, 1916 noted that Burnau, who was living and working in Tonganoxie during that time was visiting his brother, Albert, in Okkaloosa "and as he expected to be called to the Mexican border any day, made this a farewell visit." A memorial published by the Larner-Segraves American Legion post indicated that Burnau had seen service on the Mexican border. An article in the Jefferson County Tribune on Nov. 10, 1916, noted that Burnau and four other members of the unit were on a 48-hour furlough from Fort Riley, KS, and that members of the unit were expecting to be mustered out in the very near future.

In October, 1917, Company B, 3rd Kansas National Guard became Company B, 139th Infantry. Later, during World War I, Burnau saw service in Europe with the 110th Ammunition Train.

In a very brief article, the Oskaloosa Independent of May 23, 1919, noted that that Sheriff M. E. Rindom had appointed Burnau "late of the A. E. F. (Allied Expeditionary Force), as undersheriff. A list of claims allowed by the Board of Commissioners in the July 25, 1919, Jefferson County Tribune noted that Burnau and fellow deputy Carrie Steffey were paid $50 for the previous month while Sheriff Rindom's salary was $150.

Civically, Burnau was active in the organization of Larner-Segraves American Legion Post.

Undersheriff Burnau suffered a fatal heart attack on April 29, 1920 while searching for a mentally ill man who had been paroled from a psychiatric hospital in Oklahoma and didn't want to be turned to that facility. The man went to a psychiatric hospital in Topeka, KS on his own after Sheriff Rindom and Undersheriff Burnau unsuccessfully tried to take him into custody.

The memorial published by the Larner-Segraves American Legion post indicated that Burnau, a life-long bachelor, was survived by one brother and the brother's family.Census records from 1920 indicate that Burnau's survivors included his brother, Albert, a sister-in-law, two nephews, one of whom was a World War I veteran, and two nieces.

Gail DeGeorge

May 18, 2019

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