The tragic love affair between Charles Kring and Dora Broemser ended in one maddened instant—he asked her to leave her husband, she refused, he shot her dead. The prosecution of Charles Kring for the crime of murder lasted eight years, included six trials and required a ruling by the United States Supreme Court.
Date: December 31, 1874
Victim: Mrs. Dora C. J. Broemser
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Accused: Charles F. Kring
Charles Kring came to America from Germany in 1866. He had studied pharmacy, and with backing from his father he opened a drug store in DeQuoin, Illinois. The business prospered for a time, and Kring married and began raising a family. But before long the business failed, and the marriage proved to be an unhappy one. Kring moved his family to St. Louis and with his father’s help opened another drugstore. He never made enough money to offset the losses from the first venture and the St. Louis store closed as well.
In September 1872 Kring took a position at a drugstore that was run by Jake and Dora Broemser. The job didn’t last very long; Jake Broemser had insured the store for more than it was worth and that October he burned it down to collect the insurance. Broemser planned to open another store in Rock Spring, Illinois, and asked Kring to be his partner. Kring was reluctant at first, but after Dora Broemser personally pleaded with him to join them, he agreed, investing money from his father.
They managed to keep the affair secret for more than a year, but Jake Broemser had his suspicions and one night he caught them together. Broemser took $10,000 from the store and left Kring with the debt. He also told Kring’s wife about the affair; she left her husband and moved the family back to St. Louis. Two households had been destroyed.
Kring and Dora moved to Nashville, Illinois, and lived for a time as husband and wife. But they were unable to make a living so when Jake Broemser returned with a plan for opening a patent medicine concern they agreed to join him. Once again, Kring went to his father for capital. And once again Dora returned to her legal husband while still seeing Kring on the side. The business was not doing well; Kring was shouldering the debt but seeing none of the revenue. He confronted Broemser for settlement, and was surprised to see Dora take her husband’s side. The business was dissolved and they parted company.
Kring remained hopelessly obsessed with Dora Broemser. Dora, now living with her mother-in-law, was several month’s pregnant and everyone knew the baby was Kring’s. On December 31 1873, he went to the house with a message for Dora, and she came outside with her sister-in-law, Amanda. He asked Dora if she would become his wife. Kring later described her response:
“’And if say “No,” will your heart break, Oh! I pity you big fellow!’ she answered. Her words tantalized me; her cruel mocking taunts drove me to madness—to fury.”Kring recalled all the shame and financial ruin she had caused him and in an instance became convinced that she had only been playing a part. She had feigned love to get his money.
He asked her again if she would become his wife. With a smile she said “no.” Kring pulled out a revolver he had purchased earlier in the day and shot her twice. He then pointed the gun at his own heart and tried to fire, but the gun did not go off.
Kring went to the police station and turned himself in.
At first Kring wanted to plead guilty and denounce Jake Broemser from the scaffold, but his attorneys convinced him to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. A doctor from Illinois testified that Kring had shown “symptoms of epilepsy and catalepsy,” several witnesses testified that Kring acted oddly at times and that his father was eccentric with a violent temper, and that his half-sister “was either an imbecile or subject to melancholia.”
The jury did not buy it. They deliberated for 16 hours then, on December 25, 1875 Kring was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to hang. The verdict was appealed on the grounds that appearing in handcuffs had unduly prejudiced the jury against Kring. The Supreme Court of Missouri granted him a new trial.
In the second trial, beginning May 20, 1878, a juryman became ill and no conclusion was reached. The third trial, beginning January 29, 1879 ended in a hung jury.
The fourth trial began on November 11, 1879. There was a delay due to the difficulty in finding a jury of twelve men who had not read the newspapers and already formed an opinion of the case. Kring’s attorneys refused to proceed until they were paid some of what they were owed, but Kring’s resources were exhausted. He decided to plead guilty of second degree murder, he had agreed to a deal with the prosecutor and expected to get a sentence of two to five years in prison. The judge accepted his plea but sentenced Kring to twenty-five years in the penitentiary.
Kring entered a motion to withdraw his guilty plea to second degree murder and reenter his plea of not guilty to first degree murder. The motion was granted and Kring was given a new trial in May, 1881. This time he was found guilty of first degree murder and again sentenced to hang. This verdict was appealed and upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court.
There were no more trials. In May 1883, Kring was released on bail. It was believed there would not be enough evidence left to convict him of murder. When Kring had entered prison eight years earlier he weighed 190 pounds; on his release he was a “mere skeleton,” feeble and consumptive, he did not live much longer.