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Friday, November 20, 2009

Louise Luetgert - The Sausage Vat Murder

Adolph Luetgert was known as the “Sausage King” of Chicago. He owned the A.L. Luetgert Sausage & Packing Company and when business was booming, he was a successful, highly regarded family man. But when the business turned bad and money was scarce, he and his wife Louise were constantly fighting. On May 1, 1897 Louise was reported missing. Adolph claimed she had walked out on him but the police had other ideas. They accused him of killing his wife and dissolving her body in a vat of boiling potash.


Date: May 1, 1897

Location: Chicago, IL

Victim: Louise Luetgert

Cause of Death:  unknown - body dissolved in potash

Accused: Adolph Luetgert

Synopsis:

Adolph Luetgert emigrated from Germany to the United States around 1865, a young man of 20 with thirty dollars in his pocket. By age 45 he owned a successful meatpacking firm and was one of the largest producers on sausages in Chicago. He had devised a way to manufacture sausages in summer as well as winter - something other sausage makers were not able to do - and became known as the "Sausage King."

He married his first wife, Caroline Roepke, in 1872 before he started in the sausage business. They had two children, one of whom died before his second birthday. Caroline died in 1877 and two months after her death Adolph married Louise Bricknese. Like Adolph, Louise was an immigrant from Germany; in Chicago she worked as a domestic servant. She was pretty and petite—five feet tall, weighing 115 pounds. He was 32, she was 23.  They had four children together but only two lived past the age of two.

The sausage business grew rapidly, reaching a high point in 1893 when the A. L. Luetgert Sausage and Packing Company supplied frankfurters for The Columbian Exhibition in Chigago. But when the world's fair ended, Chicago's economy was hit hard by the depression that had already engulfed the rest of the county. Sausage orders fell drastically and many of Leutgert's customers could not pay in full for orders already received. He tried to sell the business but was defrauded by a potential buyer. Between the swindle and Chicago bank failures, Leutgert was left with nothing.

Adolph kept the news from Louise for as long as he could. She had been quite happy with her husband's success and had grown used to their high standard of living. When she learned of their true financial condition Louisa began fighting with Adolph about money. According to the neighbors, the arguments were loud and sometimes violent. Several people recalled Louisa saying that she was planning to leave him.

Rumors began circulating that Adolph had not been faithful to his wife. He kept a private office, with a bed, at the factory and would often sleep there. The family housekeeper, Mary Siemering, made the bed at Adolph's office and the two had been seen kissing by one of the factory workers. Christine Fields, a wealthy widow, had also allegedly been courted by Adolph Luetgert.

On May 1, 1897 Louise Luetgart left her home and never came back. Her brother reported her disappearance to the police, suspecting foul play, but Adolph claimed she had just made good on her promise to leave him. She had probably gone back to Germany, he said, probably with another man.

The night before, Adolph had been working late in the basement of the factory. He had the night watchman help him turn on the steam then sent him to a drug store to buy some patent medicine. The next day he had some workers clean in and around a large vat in the basement. It contained some thick, foul smelling, reddish scum and the same substance was spattered on the floor of the basement. The watchman was suspicious and went to the police, who had the vat drained and inside they found what appeared to be pieces of bone. They also found some metal corset stays and two rings, one engraved with the initials L. L. The police discovered that Luetgert had recently purchased large amounts of arsenic and potash, a powerful alkali used in making soap. The following morning Adolph Luetgert was arrested for the murder of his wife Louise. Police believed he had murdered her and dissolved the corpse in a vat of boiling potash.

Trials: 1. August 1897,  2. January 1898

Adolph Luetgert's trial in August, 1897 was a spectacle from the beginning. Over a thousand spectators filled the courtroom every day. Women especially flocked in to get even a glimpse of the killer. Reporters came from newspapers all across America, including Julian Hawthorne, son of author Nathanial Hawthorne, writing for the New York Journal.

The prosecution faced a number of challenges in their case against Leutgert. First was the absence of a corpse. They claimed Adolph had completely and permanently disposed of the body, but the defense claimed that Louise was not dead, she had just left her husband. They were confident she would turn up at and save Adolph. In fact, there had been dozen's of sightings of Mrs. Luetgert throughout America. Most were proven to be hoaxes, the rest were found to be insane or alcoholic women seen wandering alone.

The second challenge was proving that the debris in the bottom of the vat actually constituted the remains Louise Luetgert. The prosecution had bone experts testifying that the fragments found were from the bones of a small woman. The defense had experts who testified that it was impossible to say they were even human. Each side did its own experiments, dissolving cadavers in vats of potash; each side proved its own assertion.

In the end the prosecution was not able to convince twelve men of Luetgert's guilt. The trial ended in a hung jury.

The second trial began in January 1897. This time the expert testimony of George Dorsey, anthropologist at Chicago's Field Columbian Museum was convincing. Though Adolph Lueggert, through direct and cross examination, testified in his own behalf for 18 1/2 hours, the jury returned a verdict of guilty.

Verdict:  1. Hung Jury, 2. Guilty of murder


Aftermath:

Adolph Luetgert was given a life sentence at Joliet Prison. He died of heart problems on July 27, 1899.

Though it was proven that Louise Luetgert's murder had nothing to do with the manufacture of sausages, sausage sales in Chicago, by all makers, suffered during Adolph's arrest and trial.




Sources:
Websites:
Forensics Story

Books:

Loerzel, Robert. Alchemy of Bones: Chicago's Luetgert Murder Case of 1897. New York: University of Illinois, 2007.

Duke, Thomas Samuel, Celebrated criminal cases of America. San Francisco, The James H. Barry company, 1910.



2 comments :

Anonymous says:
August 6, 2011 at 3:17 AM

maybe he killed her in a sasage maker

Caroline says:
March 1, 2012 at 3:49 PM

I have a pretty strong stomach - I can handle some pretty gruesome stuff - but this does it for me. I'm glad I'm already a vegetarian because I could never eat sausage after this one. Just too creepy.

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