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Do you know 'The Pumpkin Lady?': Documentarian exhibits Fond du Lac's resilience after girl's murder

Posted at 6:12 PM, Nov 01, 2023
  • Jean Herbold, a Fond du Lac native and documentarian, is producing a documentary on "The Pumpkin Lady."
  • Nine-year-old Lisa French was killed in 1973 on Halloween night.
  • The city considered canceling Halloween, until a radio party hosted by "The Pumpkin Lady" encouraged kids to be home before dark.
  • Herbold is interviewing people for the documentary about their memories of The Pumpkin Lady.

Another Halloween is over in Fond du Lac, but Jean Herbold is still asking the question: Do you remember the Pumpkin Lady?
Herbold is a documentarian who was a toddler in 1973 when 9-year-old Lisa French was sexually assaulted and killed while trick-or-treating in Fond du Lac.

"Everyone was a bit off-kilter by the whole thing and didn’t know how to respond,” Herbold said. “That's why they decided, ‘Okay, maybe we need to like shut down Halloween.’"

But the city didn’t shut down Halloween the following year, and Jean said it was largely because Loula Beckman stepped in. She created a radio party on Halloween with the persona of “The Pumpkin Lady” in 1974. She gave kids a reason to listen on Halloween night, giving away prizes, including a trip to Disney World.

"[It was] to give that impetus to get the kids home early to listen to the show,” Herbold said.

Children filled out raffle tickets at school and had to be at home when the Pumpkin Lady drew names on Halloween night in order to win. The idea was that kids wouldn’t be out after dark, easing the community’s fears around trick-or-treating.

That’s why in Fond du Lac, trick-or-treating occurs during the day, and now happens on the Saturday before Halloween.

Herbod, now living in Washington, was reminded of this tradition during Halloween 2020 when people were uncertain if the holiday would continue due to COVID-19.

“I saw people finding unique, fun ways to still engage and enjoy Halloween and not be scared at a time that was pretty scary,” Herbold said. “It took me back to the whole Pumpkin Lady's story.”

Herbold now wants to share the Pumpkin Lady’s story with the world through a documentary, and no one remembers the Pumpkin Lady Better than her daughters.

“She loved Fond du Lac and she loved the kids,” Pam Minsch, Loula Beckman’s daughter, said.

Herbold is looking to interview people from Fond du Lac about their memories of this time and hopes to have her documentary completed by next Halloween—fifty years after the Pumpkin Lady show premiered.

"I'm so proud of Jean for doing it; she’s worked so hard the last couple of years,” Kim Patt, Loula Beckman’s other daughter, said.

People can send memories of the Pumpkin Lady, along with photos, videos or audio recordings to show through Herbold’s website, as she continues to paint a picture of the Pumpkin Lady’s legacy.

"It has given a lot of people a lot of happy memories and nostalgia from that time,” Herbold said.