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One of the most bizarre murders in Chicago history was the “Sausage Vat Murder. ‘ Louisa Luetgert , the wife of sausage maker, Adolph Louis Luetgert, disappeared on May 1, 1897. Adolph told his children that their mother had gone to visit her sister on the previous night but never came back. After a few days, Louisa’s brother, Diedrich Bicknese went to the police to report her disappearance. Luetgert then claimed to the police that she ran away with another man.
This case was one of the first trials widely covered by the media. Newspapers from Chicago would report on it daily and some of them would try to eavesdrop on the jury deliberation. At the time, the case was called the celebrity case and is credited with putting murder trials in the media. This case also was one of the first to use forensic experts to solve a crime.
Today, the factory still stands on the south side of the 1700 block of West Diversey Parkway; however, it has been converted into condominiums similar to the other town homes and condominiums which now are beside it.
Chicago Tribune, May 16, 1897
Chicago Tribune, October 19, 1897
Luetgert, king of the sausagemaking industry, has been the object of talk and speculation for the last five years. His unique personality, his queer habits, his half wild dogs. his giant stature, and the millions of pounds of sausage that were carted away from his great factory at Diversey and Hermitage avenues made the Germans and Poles of his neighborhood call him a king.
They gave him a wide berth when he went along the sidewalk with his Great Dane dogs panting after him. When he spoke to them they pulled off their hats. He employed more men than any one for almost a mile around, and the neighborhood looked on his factory as the place where all the money in circulation originated.
Miillions of pounds of sausage were carted away from the huge brick buildings and sent all over the country, and the people about the factory conceived wild ideas of Luetgert’s wealth. It was told around that he was a millionaire. His wealth was piling tip so fast he did not know where to put it, they said.
These people never had heard that Luetgert put every cent he owned into his big plant and that he had borrowed money to complete it. The Polish and German laborers in the neighborhood did not know that to sell millions of pounds of sausages requires thousands of dollars of capital.
Luetgert built the best house in the neighborhood, but no one appeared to envy his wife. Luetgert’s employes noticed that in spite of the domestics who worked at the house Mrs. Luetgert tolled early and late and spent little of her husband s earnings. She saved with him that his business might prosper.
During the twenty years since Luetgert and Louise Bicknese were married in St. John’s Lutheran Church, La Salle avenue and Ohio street, where her gold wedding ring was first worn, Mrs. Luetgert had toiled with her husband and had planned with him. Luetgert was a prosperous saloon-keeper when they were wedded, and Louise Bicknese was a pretty German domestic, who knew scarcely a word of English.
Thrifty and Not Happy.
Luetgert’s saloon business was highly profitable. He and his wife were thrifty. They were not happy, but both were anxious to get rich, and Mrs. Luetgert scrubbed, and was content to live in small rooms over the saloon while the profits piled up. The saloon was located in Webster avenue. This was in 1880.
At last Luetgert and his wife had saved enough money to buy out a meat route, and Luetgert gave up his saloon. The family went to live over the market, and this prospered better than the saloon had done.
Luetgert began by peddling meat at the back doors of his friends’ homes. He saw possibilities in sausagemaking, and gradually he went into the business of making summer sausages. At first this was carried on in a back room of the market. After a while it outstripped the regular meat business, and Luetgert saw business and profits come in almost faster than he could take care of them. The factory was located then in Sheffield avenue, near Diversey.
Six years ago Luetgert and his wife, by hard work and scant living, had saved $80,000. The sausage business was still growing. and both had visions of a business that would rival the Armours.
Differ on Business Plans.
Luetgert and his wife had widely different notions as to how large a sausage plant ought to be built. Luetgert had visions of a six-story building, with railroad tracks running to it and loaded cars at the doors. Mrs. Luetgert wished her husband to invest $40,000 in the new plant and the balance of their savings in some other investment. Luetgert had his own way.
Five years ago the land at Diversey avenue and the Northwestern railroad tracks was secured by Luetgert, and the largest sausage works in the country erected. The huge six-story brick building at that time loomed up on the prairie for several miles around and became the center of a cluster of small frame houses. Luetgert’s sausage-making was transferred to the new plant, and he bounded into an immense business at the start. His competitors through the country also denominated him the “sausage king.”
During the year of the World’s Fair Luetgert cleared $75,000 from his sausage business. At that time he was reputed to be worth about $300.000. Mrs. Luetgert, it is said, never ceased to chide her husband for putting all his savings in the plant, even when profits piled up with dazzling swiftness.
When Luetgert bounded into his great business he also bounded into popularity in the neighborhood. He was pointed out as the most prosperous German in the northwestern part of the city, who had made all his money in fifteen years. and as he relaxed from his frugal habits he found plenty of friends willing to help him relax still more. His popularity was not confined to his own sex.
Trouble in Family.
Mrs. Luetgert, with the most comfortable house for a mile around, was not envied, however. When she saw the change In her husband’s habits she fretted and chided, till Luetgert finally went to live among his dogs in the factory. He fitted up a sleeping-room in his office, and his bulky frame never was seen in the house except at meal times.
Luetgert had invested practically every penny he and his wife saved in his sausage plant. He borrowed almost as much more to complete it, and as most of his business was done on credit, when the hard times came he had no capital with which to go on. When he was obliged to borrow right and left, Mrs. Luetgert lost no chance to remind him that if he had followed her advice he would have been all right.
Luetgert’s Evil Eye
26 August 1897
Last February Luetgert’s factory closed down. When profits ceased to pile up Mrs. Luctgert’s scoldings and the family jars increased. Mary Siemering had in the meantime come to live with the Luetgerts and Luetgert’s fondness for her, it is said. increased the bitterness between him and his wife.
Luetgert’a employees at the factory were. in the main ignorant Poles and Germans, most of them unable to speak English. The grocery and retail market which were run in connection with the sausage factory, however, gave employment to a number of intelligent men, among them Fred Mlller, Mrs. Luetgert’s nephew.
Financial ruin stared Luetgert In the face by the middle of April. The sausagemaker and his wife saw that the factory was almost certain to pass into the hands of the Sheriff, for notes were falling due, there was no income to pay them from. and butchers and market men who were in Luetgert’s debt were unable to help him out of difficulty in the hard times. Mrs. Luetgert. who had seen her advice thrown to the winds, and her dire predictions all come true, lost no opportunity to scold her husband for his folly. The reports of the Luetgert family disturbances increased throughout the neighborhood and were the object of many conferences among Mrs. Luetgert’s relatives.
Luetgert’s social habits,in which, it was said, his wife was not included, were believed to be at the bottom of all the difficulty. His friendship for Christine Feldt, Mary Siemering, and Mrs. Agatha Tosch, it is said, had changed his wife into a petual scold.
Here are some of the interesting parts of the chronology and history of the Luetgert case:
- May 1, 1897—Date of murder.
May 8—Reported by Bicknese to the police.
May 8 to 15—Searches in the river, clayholes, in Kankakee, Wheaton, and Elgin by the police.
May 15—Rings found in the vat and Mary Siemering arrested.
May 17—Defendant arrested at 2 p.m. on warrant issued by Justice Kersten. Habeas corpus proceedings before Judge Chetlain for release of Mary Siemering. Petition dismissed.
May 18—Defendant arraigned before Justice Kersten.
May 18, 19, and 20—Habeas corpus proceedings before Judge Huchinson finally dismissed.
May 22 to 29—Hearing before Justice Kersten. Held to grand jury.
June 4 and 5—Hearing before grand jury.
June 6—Indictment returned.
June 9 to 20—Habeas corpus proceedings for bail before Judge Gibbons. Bail refused.
August 23—Trial before Judge Tuthill.
October 11—At noon, evidence concluded. Arguments begun.
October 16—Submitted to jury.
October 21—Jury disagreed and discharged, Number of days, 61; of hours, 182.
November 24—Case called for second trial before Judge Horton. Change of venue taken from Judges Horton and Baker. Sent to Judge Gary.
November 26—Case called before Judge Gary.
December 13—Jury completed and sworn.
December 16—Juror Boasberg challenged and discharged.
December 17—Juror Anners impaneled: opening statements made.
January 31—Evidence concluded.
February 1 to 9—Arguments from both sides, and case submitted to jury. Number of days, 72 of hours, 324 1-3. Luetgert was on stand for 18½ hours, was asked 1,771 questions by Mr. Harmon, 1,238 by Mr. Deneen. Total number of witnesses, 140. Total number of pages in record, 4,629.
Luetgert made the following answers the number of times stated:
- “I don’t recollect”—116
“I don’t know”—54
“It is possible”—47
“I don’t remember”—18
“I guess so”—10
“Not to my knowledge”—9
“I won’t put any time on it”—6
“I won’t be positive”—5
February 9—Verdict of guilty returned. Sentence, life imprisonment.
Chicago Tribune July 28, 1899
Adolph Louis Luetgert, the sausage-maker convicted of wife murderer and serving a lifetime sentence in the State penitentiary at Joliet, died suddenly yesterday of heart disease. He expired in his cell at the breakfast hour. He never uttered a word after he was seized with the choking at his heart, and he died five minutes later as the gong was sounding for the convicts to turn out of their cells to their daily tasks, that begin at 7 o clock. Mr. Luetgert had not complained of feeling ill. He seemed to be in good health when he emerged from his cell at 6 o’clock and when he returned to it in half all hour later carrying his breakfast in a pan as did the other convicts. He must have been seized with the fatal malady soon after entering his cell, for he did not eat any of his breakfast.
The body of the big prisoner still rests on a slab In the little morgue In the prison yard nnd a fellow convict stands sentinel by the winding sheet. It is expected the remains will be brought to Chicago taken either to the house of William Charles at 443 Diversey boulevard or to some undertaker’s place. The funeral probably will take place tomorrow or Sunday and the interment will be in Waldheim, where the decedent had bought a family lot and in, which his first wife was buried about twenty years ago.
Cheering Letter Comes Too Late.
One hour after Luetgert died a letter reached the prison whose coming a day sooner might have prolonged the sausage-maker’s life. It was from Lawrence Harmon, his attorney, and it contained the information that the order of the Probate Court appointing Diedrick Bicknese guardian of his two children had been set aside on Wednesday. The appointment of Bicknese, who Was the brother of the woman for whose murder Luetfert was sentenced, and who was the most active of the prosecuting witnesses, was a source of grave annoyance to the prisoner. To make it worse, Luetgert was informed that Bieknese had induced the boy, Louis Luetgert, to sign a statement that his mother was dead, so as to establish a reason for the appointment of him as guardian. This terribly enraged Luetgert, and the distress of mind he suffered recently is said to have been the immediate cause of his death. The letter from Attorney Harmon that came too late contained the most cheering news of any letter sent to him since he went to prison, for it
also contained the assurance that the money necessary to appeal his case to the Supreme Court would be obtained in a few days.
Find the Prisoner Dying.
The first intimation that Mr. Luetgert was suffering in the morning was when Keeper Giessler was attracted to his cell by the sound of groaning. The keeper ran along the balcony to locate the sound until he came to Luetgert’s cell, which is next to the end. Looking in, he saw the big prisoner lying on his cot and moving his arms and legs convulsively. The pan containing his breakfast—some Irish stew and three slices of white bread—was on the floor. Keeper Blone and other keepers hastened to the cell and carried the man out. His face was purple, and he was apparently In violent agony. He was carried in a hurry to the infirmary and Dr. O’Malley was called, but when Luetgert was laid on a lounge in thle he sighed once and was dead. An inquest was held at 9:30 by Coroner Downey of Will County, and the verdict rendered was that death was probably due to heart trouble.
Afterwards Dr. O’Malley. assisted by Dr. F. W. Werner. made an autopsy. and then reported to Warden Murphy that death was due to angina pectoria. Dr. O’Maliey said the autopsy also showed that the liver was greatly enlarged. . The heart was not only enlarged. but in such a condition of degeneration that mental strain would have caused his death at any time.
Uncle and 5on Arrive.
Warden Murphy sent telegrams to Arnold C. Luetgert, son oF Mr. Luetgert by his first wife, and to Arnold Luetgert, a brother living at 5017 Justus street. The brother went to the prison at 2 o clock, accompanied by H. Nolting, an undertaker at 4829 South Ashland avenue. As the son had not arrived, the brother decided he would not take charge of the body. He was one of the last to visit the celebrated prisoner among his relatives. He saild he often had heard his brother say he would die of heart disease. The inference that suicide was the cause of death he vehemently repudiated.
Arnold C. Luetgert, the son, arrived on the 6 o’clock train from Chicago. accompanied by Lawrence Harmon. his father’s attorney. They went directly to the p;rison to take charge of the remains. Young Luetgert said he would make ail of the arrangements for the funeral, and he resented the idea of his uncle coming with an undertaker.
“He did not do much for him while he was living,” said the son, ” and he need not bother himself now that my father is dead. I wili make the arrangements for the funeral. I will know some time tomorrow. The interment will be In Waldheim, I suppose, next Sunday.”
Regret of Attorney Harmon.
Attorney Harmon said he had just completed arrangements to have the record in the case prepared for the Supreme Court and would have begun work on it in a short time.
“I believed he was innocent,” said Mr. ‘Harmon, “and I believe it. I would have fought that case to the end, but it is ended sooner than I expected. I had just got a friend of Luetgert to put up the $1,500 necessary to prepare the record. and everything pointed to a hearing by the Supreme Court soon.”
Chaplain Matlack and Deputy Warden Luke. who had become well acquainted with the prisoner, said he never had lost an opportunity at any time of telling them he believed his wife was living. It is not known that he ever wavered from this statement while in prison. Whatever were his great life secrets, they will go with him into the grave of convict 5,969. for he kept his secrets as well as when he was Adolph Louis Luetgert, the sausagemaker and the “King of the Subdivision.”
Deneen Talks of the Death.
“I am sorry Luetgert is dead for more than one reason.” said State’s Attorney Deneen. “We were anxious that the case should go to the Supreme Court and be passed on there, and had been doing all we could to help the defense secure a record of the case for that reason. The trial attracted so much attention over all the world, and the chain of circumstantial evidence was so unusual, that, If it had gone before the Supreme Court and appeared in the records of that tribunal, it would have become one of the most important legal records in existence. A decision on some of the points involved would have been of great value in criminal cases. As for the other aspect of Luetgert’s death, there isn’t anything to be said. Mrs. Luctgert is dead. There is no doubt on that score. We were convinced of that before he was ever put on trial, from his own implication.”
It is hinted that Mr. Deneen has many secrets of the Luetgert trial that he may make public soon. Ho was asked if it were true that a friend of Mr. Luetgert had told him the big sausagemaker had confessed to him that he killed his wife.
“I do not care to drag in the names of men who are still alive,” Mr. Deneen replied.
Assistant State’s Attorney McEwen said: “I am not likely to forget the two trials in a hurry. They were the hardest kind of work and full of excitement and sensations. By the way, here is something strange: we had cards in that trial that were never played, reserve ammunition that we did not use. Did not, because we dared not. Yes, sir, we had knowledge of things and circumstances most momentous in their bearing on the case and yet so hampered and so undefined. I might say, that we dared not introduce them. I could talk for hours on the secrets of the Luetgert case—the things that never were and never may be revealed.”
Career of A. L. Luetgert.
Adolph L. Luetgert, five years ago, was the greatest sausage manufacturer in the United States. He was one of the best known characters in the northwest section of the city, as much from his unusual personality as from the fact that his factory was the greatest affair of the kind in the country. His queer habits, the half-wild dogs with which he always was surrounded, as well as the millions of pounds of sausage that were carted away from his great factory at Diversey and Hermitage avenues, made the less conspicuous German and Polish residents of the neighborhood call him a King.
When the hard times came Luetgert had no capital to continute his business. The money he had borrowed his profits to disappear, and in February, 1897. the factory closed down.
Luetgert’s domestic difficulties had increased in the meantime. Mary Siemering, a comely relative of Mrs. Luetgert, had come to live with the family as a servant. and Luetgert’s admiration for her caused Mrs. Luetgert, who was not comely, to increase her scolding. Her husband also was friendly with Mrs. Agatha Tosch, wife of the saloonkeeper opposite, and Mrs. Christine Feldt, a widow with considerable property. Mrs. Luetgert lost no opportunity to chide him for these acquaintances.
Disappearance of Mrs. Luetgert.
On the night of May 1, 1897, Mrs. Luetgert disappeared. No one saw her go. All that was known was that Luetgert was with her about 10 o clock that night at the house. They were said to have left together in the direction of the factory about that hour. Mrs. Luetgert wore only a light house wrapper and slippers, although the night was cold and rainy. It never was shown that she had taken with her any of her belongings.
Luetgert did not report her disappearance to the police, and her relatives did not learn of it until almost two weeks later. Diedrich Bicknese. Mrs. Luetgert’s brother, living near Elgin. then learned she was missing and reported it to the Sheffield Avenue Police Station. Captain Schuettler and Inspector Schaack supposed she had committed suicide, and the North Branch of the river was dragged and the prairie searched wherever was a possibility of the body.
Sept. 13, 1897.
Evidence in the Vat.
In the meantime, suspicious circumstances connected with the night Mrs. Luetgert disappeared began to leak out. Luetgert’s indifference to the search for his wife, and the fact that she had last been heard of going In the direction of the factory, led the police to search the big buildings. The first trace that led to Luetgert’s arrest was found in a big wooden vat in the basement. In several inches of reddish fluid two of Mrs. Luetgert’s finger rings were found. The was later analyzed and discovered to be the solution of crude potash that originally must have been strong enough to have dissolved human and crumbled human bone.
Under the vat were found the partly dissolved fragments of human teeth. A more extended search under the vat and in one of the smokehouses disclosed what were afterwards identified as parts of human bones, part of which evidently some one had tried to burn. All these bits of evidence took on a peculiar light when Luetgert’s employees, Odorfsky and Levandowsky, told of emptying the vat and scrubbing up bits of flesh and bone the second day after Mrs. Luelgert vanished. The testimony of these two employes and of old Frank Blalk that Luetgert had something in the vat all night on May 1 finally caused his arrest.
Luetgert’s preliminary examination took place on May 22. His former friends. Mrs. Tosch and ‘Mrs. Feldt, told how he had on various occasions wished his wife were dead. Mrs. Tosch testified that he had threatened to make way with her.
One suspicious circumstance was the fact that Charles Maeder, who was with Luetgert the night Mrs. Luetgert vanished and who was supposed to know more of his doings that night than any one else, mysteriously vanished and went to Europe. Maeder refused to come back.
Indictment and Two Trials.
Luetgert was Indicted on June 3 and brought to trial before Judge Tuthill on. Aug. 23. The first trial lasted eight weeks. Probably no murder trial in history ever attracted such attention. People talked of it in out of way places the of Europe and waited anxiously for the verdict. At the end of eight weeks the jury, after being out almost four days. falled to agree, principally through the determination of two jurors. The second trials followed about a month Inter, and, after dragging through a longer time than the first, ended in conviction and a life sentence. in both trials much depended on expert witnesses—and anatomists.