Freaky Flint History with Joe Schipani - Murder of the Water Commissioner October 8th, 1916

Flint is well known for its modern violent crimes but Flint's history is filled with little known stories that read stranger than fiction. Gruesome murders, weird accidents, and violent deaths. Join us every Thursday as Joe Schipani details some of the odd but true deaths he found in Flint's archives.

Murder of the Water Commissioner
October 8th, 1916

Neil Berston was born in Cumberland, Maryland in 1857. He dropped out of school at a very young age due to his father’s early death.

With little education, Neil had to learn to use his best assets, his charming personality and good looks, to make a living.  He went into sales and became an instant success.

Neil decided to move out west-first to Illinois, then South Dakota. In 1897 he took a sales job with the Appleton & Sons Company in Flint, Michigan.

Shortly after arriving in Flint, Neil started investing in real estate. He bought large pieces of land in the north end of the city. It wasn’t long before he was the largest real estate dealer in Flint.

Around the turn of the twentieth century he became the director of the Industrial Savings Bank of Flint followed by becoming a member of the water board of commissioners.

One Sunday afternoon in early October, Neil went to his office on Durant Street as he did every Sunday.  On Sundays he collected rent on the properties he owned in the north end.

All morning, people would come and go, paying their bills as he sat at his desk working on other projects.

Around four in the afternoon John Goodenough went into Neil’s office to make a payment on the property he was purchasing from Neil.

When he entered the office he found Neil in his office chair with blood flowing from his chest.

John then ran to Officer Ed Robertson’s home a few blocks away for help.
Robertson phoned police headquarters and headed to Neil’s office.
Officer Robertson determined that Neil had been shot and robbed. 

His pockets were turned inside out and some loose change littered the floor.

The coroner determined that Neil had been dead for about an hour before being found.

The coroner noted that there was no sign of a struggle and that Neil had probably been shot before being robbed.

Neil’s attorney arrived shortly after. Without going over the books he had no idea how much the thief might have taken.

On Sundays Neil usually collected one to four hundred dollars from twenty to fifty people. Most of the factories in the area paid employees on Saturdays so they paid their debts on Sundays.

After talking with the neighbors the police had little to go on. The only piece of evidence they had was a rare pistol found in Neil’s office

No one heard gun fire. One person claimed to have seen a strange man leaving the office, looking nervous as he hurried down the street. The only description given to the police was that he “looked foreign”.

The police chalked it up to a business deal gone bad.

A reward was offered in exchange for information about the shooting, but that never lead to anything useful. The murder remains unsolved.

Neil was laid to rest at Glenwood Cemetery.

~ Joe Schipani is the Executive Director of the Flint Public Art Project and the FFAR Project Assistant at the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.  Find him on Facebook at 

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