Chamblee54

The Sausage Vat Murder

Posted in History, Library of Congress, Undogegorized by chamblee54 on January 21, 2020


The case of Adolph Luetgert is mostly forgotten today. In its day, the story was a sensation. “Adolph Louis Luetgert (December 27, 1845-July 7, 1899) was a German-American charged with murdering his wife and dissolving her body in acid in one of his sausage vats at the A.L. Luetgert Sausage & Packing Company in 1897. … After the news of the trial became public, rumors spread that Luetgert had actually turned his wife into sausage and sold the “sausage” to unknowing consumers.”

Is it possible to explain what is in sausages without making it erotic? A twitter thread got PG thinking about a sausage story he read in 1989. The Fairy was in Gaily, Gaily, by Ben Hecht. The story originally appeared in Playboy. “In a 1962 article for Playboy collected in his rollicking 1963 memoir Gaily, Gaily — the legendary Chicago reporter Ben Hecht recalls a murder case that sounds suspiciously similar to the Adolph Luetgert case. Hecht describes an story that apparently occurred sometime during the five years after he began working as a reporter in Chicago in 1910. He writes: “Fred Ludwig, a popular North Shore butcher, went on trial before Judge Sabath for the murder of his wife. The wedding band with its romantic inscription had turned up in one of the sausages manufactured by Ludwig and sold to one of his customers, Claude Charlus, a well-known financier and epicure.” In the Hecht story, Mr. Charlus was the bf of Mr. Ludwig. When it was time to execute Mr. Ludwig, young Mr. Hecht went to a whorehouse, to borrow a makeup kit. Mr. Ludwig painted his face before he went to the gallows.

“Adolph Luetgert (originally Adolph Ludwig Lütgert ) came to New York in around 1865 or 1866 when he was about twenty years old.” … “He married his first wife, Caroline Roepke, sometime between 1870 and 1872. She died on November 17, 1877. He married his second wife Louise Bicknese, two months after Caroline’s death, on January 18, 1878. Luetgert had six children—two with Caroline and four with Louise. Only three of his children survived past the age of 2.”

“Louisa Bicknese was an attractive young woman who was ten years younger than her husband. She was a former servant from the Fox River Valley who met her new husband by chance. He was immediately taken with her, entranced by her diminutive stature and tiny frame. She was less than five feet tall and looked almost child-like next to her burly husband. … As a wedding gift, he gave her a unique, heavy gold ring. Inside of it, he had gotten her new initials inscribed, reading “L.L.”. Little did he know at the time that this ring would prove to be his undoing.”

After a while , the couple started to bicker. “Despite his coarse appearance (one writer vividly describes him as a “Falstaffian” figure with “a face of suet, pig eyes, and a large untidy moustache that was a perfect host for beer foam”), Adolph was something of an womanizer. … Claiming that he needed to keep a round-the-clock eye on his factory, he had taken to spending his nights in a little room beside his office, equipped with a bed that he frequently shared with his twenty-two-year-old housemaid, Mary Siemering, Louisa’s own cousin. … He was also conducting a surreptitious courtship of a wealthy widow, Mrs. Christina Feld, sending her amorous letters in which he rhapsodized about their rosy future.” (During the murder trial, “Mrs. Christina Feldt, … testified that Luetgert often expressed his hatred for his wife and intimated that he would get rid of her.”)

“At around 10:15 on the evening of Saturday, May 1, Louisa was seated in the kitchen, chatting with her twelve-year-old son Louis, who had attended the circus that evening. The boy was excitedly describing some of the wonders he had seen—a giant named “Monsieur Goliath” and a strongman who juggled cannon balls—when Luetgert appeared and told his son to go bed. Precisely what happened between the two adults after Louis retired to his room is unclear. Only one fact is beyond dispute. After the boy bid goodnight to his mother at about 10:30 P.M., she was left alone in the company of her husband.” … “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.”

“When questioned by his sons, Luetgert told them that their mother had gone out the previous evening to visit her sister. After several days though, she did not come back. Finally, Diedrich Bicknese, Louisa’s brother, went to the police. The investigation fell on Captain Herman Schuettler, … “an honest but occasionally brutal detective”.

“Frank Bialk, a night watchman at the plant … saw both Luetgert and Louisa at the plant together. Apparently, Luetgert sent him out on an errand that evening and gave him the rest of the night off.” There is another version of the Bialk story. “Frank Bialk … testified … Luetgert instructed him to bring down two barrels of caustic potash and place them in the boiler room, and that Luetgert then poured the contents of both barrels in one of the vats. The watchman was instructed to keep up steam all night and at 10 p. m. he was sent by Luetgert to the drug store after some nerve medicine.”

“The police also made a shocking discovery; they came across bills that stated that Luetgert bought arsenic and potash the day before the murder. … the detective was convinced that Luetgert had killed his wife, boiled her in acid and then disposed of her in a factory furnace.”

“… Luetgert’s night watchman, Frank Bialk, approached the police and told them that, on the night Mrs. Luetgert disappeared, his boss had been acting suspiciously, busying himself with one of the large steam-vats down in the factory basement. Following up on this tip, investigators checked out the vat, which—despite having been cleaned two weeks earlier—still contained a residue of a thick, greasy fluid, reddish-brown in color and giving off a nauseous stink. When the fetid slime was drained from the vat, the detectives discovered tiny pieces of bone along with two gold rings, one of them a wedding band engraved with the initials “L. L.” More bone fragments, as well as a false tooth, a hairpin, a charred corset stay, and various scraps of cloth turned up in a nearby ash heap.”

Luetgert was arrested, and charged with the crime. “On October 18, the case was submitted to the jury and after deliberating for sixty-six hours they failed to agree, nine favoring a conviction and three voting in favor of an acquittal. On November 29, 1897, the second trial began. … The trial resulted in a conviction and on May 5 Luetgert was sent to the Joliet State prison for life.”

“July 27, 1899, Luetgert left his cell and returned shortly afterward with his breakfast in a pail, but just as he was about to eat it, he dropped dead from heart disease.”

“… Frank Pratt … asked Luetgert if he wanted his “hand read.” The latter consented and Pratt told Luetgert that he possessed a violent temper and at times was not responsible for his actions. Pratt stated that Luetgert then virtually admitted that he killed his wife when he was possessed of the devil. … It is said that Luetgert also made similar admissions to a fellow prisoner.” Pictures for this true crime story are from The Library of Congress.

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