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Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Wrong Victim.

Little Murders
Matt Rollinger.
Matt Rollinger and his wife Abbie separated in the fall of 1895 and Matt moved out of their home on Mohawk Street in Chicago. Though Abbie allowed Matt to visit their three children, in her mind the separation was final and by Christmas had rented out a room in the house to Fred Mueller, a bicycle maker from Germany. Mueller had been in the house less than one day when he gave his landlady a new tablecloth as a Christmas present. During the winter months Mueller took Mrs. Rollinger to masquerade balls and other entertainments.

Matt Rollinger was a cabinet maker who had grown up in Luxembourg. He did not view the separation from his wife as permanent and when he learned of the attentions Mueller was paying Abbie he became intensely jealous. In the early hours of February 4, 1896, after being out all night, Matt Rollinger came up with a plan to make things right again. He shaved off his mustache, put on one of his wife’s dresses and with a shawl over his head and a pistol in his hand he waited outside of the Mohawk Street house for Fred Mueller. In the twilight of dawn Rollinger saw a shadowy figure emerge onto the street. He sprang to life and shot, killing the man he thought was Fred Mueller. But it was not Mueller, it was John Belwo, Matt Rollinger’s best friend who had an apartment in the same building. Rollinger made no attempt to flee and was arrested for Belwo’s murder.

In the five months between his arrest and his trial, Matt Rollinger made eight attempts to take his own life by hanging. His jailors took the suicide attempts seriously and watched Rollinger as closely as they could, but the newspapers were not convinced, saying that Rollinger’s “pretended” suicide attempts were always loud enough to be stopped in time.

Insanity was Rollinger’s plea when the case went to trial. Several doctors testified that Rollinger was insane, and one related that, on the dates when other prisoners were to be executed, Rollinger imagined that he was to be hanged and dressed himself for the gallows. But a prosecution witness, Mrs. Maggie Connors, testified that Rollinger told her that he was not insane but was acting crazy to be acquitted or at least get a lighter sentence.

In the end it did not matter. Though the jury thought Rollinger was insane, they found him guilty and he was sentenced to fourteen years in prison. One juror later said that if Rollinger had killed the man he intended and had been tried for first degree murder he probably would have been found not guilty by reason of insanity. In this case, however, the jury thought it was not safe to release him and prison was their only option.


Christian, J. Sanderson, M.D. Crime and Criminals. Chicago: The W. T. Keener Company, 1897. "Prisoner Tried to Hang Himself." Daily Inter Ocean 6 Jun 1896: 7.
"Rollinger Jury is Secured Frank Miller Tells of His Relations with Mrs." Daily Inter Ocean 22 Jul 1896: 8.
"Rollinger Murder Case." Daily Inter Ocean 21 Jul 1896: 8.
"Said Rollinger Was Shamming." Daily Inter Ocean 25 Jul 1896: 7.
"The City in Brief." Daily Inter Ocean 5 Feb 1896: 8.
"The City in Brief." Daily Inter Ocean 26 Jul 1896: 8.


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