Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Kaiser Conspiracy.

 On a road outside of Norristown, Pennsylvania, on October 28, 1896, Frank Mancil and his daughter came upon an agitated man shouting, “Murder! Help!” The man was bleeding from his arm, and, in a buggy nearby, a woman lay prostrate.

The man, Charles O. Kaiser, Jr., told Mancil that he and his wife Emma had been attacked by highwaymen who shot them both then left with their watches and her purse containing $53. Mancil thought the woman was only unconscious, so they went in two carriages to the office of Dr. Mann in Bridgeport. Dr. Mann could see right away that Emma Kaiser had died from a bullet wound to the left temple.

They returned to Norristown and reported the crime to the police. Kaiser told them the highwaymen snatched a diamond stud from his shirt and in the process pulled two buttons off his vest. He said a highwayman shot his wife as she was drawing her watch-chain over her head to hand it to him. The highwayman meant to shoot Kaiser in the head as well, but he raised his arm, and the bullet hit him in the shoulder.

The Norristown Police were skeptical of Kaiser’s story; his grief seemed overblown. Frank Mancil led detectives to the crime scene, where a search of the area uncovered Mr. Kaiser’s watch and Mrs. Kaiser’s empty purse hidden under a stone. About 60 yards away, they found a .32-calibre revolver with two empty chambers. Kaiser’s vest buttons were found 180 feet from the attack.

The autopsy on Emma Kaiser determined that the bullet could only have been fired by someone close to her on the buggy, not out in the roadway. An investigation revealed that the Kaisers made a joint will two months earlier, each naming the other as beneficiary, with a peculiar clause providing both bodies be cremated. Within the past five months, Kaiser had also taken out life insurance policies on his wife and himself, totaling over $10,000. Some of the premiums, amounting to $54, were about to fall due, and Kaiser would probably have difficulty meeting them.

For several hours, the police questioned Charles Kaiser then informed him he was under arrest for murdering his wife. Kaiser replied that he would commit suicide before he would be locked up and quickly pulled out a penknife and lunged at his throat. Two detectives overpowered him before he could injure himself. The following morning Kaiser appeared to have several epileptic fits; detectives said he was shamming.

Charles Kaiser was 24 years old at the time of the murder; his wife, Emma, was 32. They met two years earlier in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he worked as a crayon artist, living in a hotel where Emma worked as a waitress. Charles fell ill, and Emma nursed him back to health; they fell in love and married in Philadelphia. Eventually, they settled in Norristown, where Charles opened a store.

Prior to the murder, witnesses saw Charles Kaiser together with an unknown couple; a well-dressed man and a woman in a black dress (whom the press would dub “the mysterious woman in black”). When Charles and Emma left on their buggy ride, the afternoon of October 28, witnesses saw the mysterious couple following them in a buggy.

By the time of the inquest, the couple was identified. The man was insurance agent, James Clemmer, and the mysterious woman in black was Lizzie De Kalb. The coroner’s jury determined that Emma Kaiser was murdered by her husband in conspiracy with others. A reward was offered for Clemmer and De Kalb, who were still at large.

In February 1897, Charles Kaiser was tried and convicted of first-degree murder. That July, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to hear Kaiser’s appeal for a new trial. In November, as Kaiser awaited their decision, the police arrested Lizzie De Kalb. She was living in Bristol, Pennsylvania, where “a sneaking lover” betrayed her for the reward.

De Kalb was ready to confess. “I do not propose to put my neck in a noose,” she said. “I mean Clemmer.”

When first arrested, she said that Clemmer jumped out of the buggy as they neared the Kaisers and left her with the reins. Kaiser held his wife as Clemmer approached with the revolver, but Clemmer appeared to lose his courage. Then Kaiser hissed, “Shoot, dog, or I’ll kill every one of you.”

After meeting with an attorney, Lizzie De Kalb issued a statement—21 typed pages—that was significantly different than her original one. James Clemmer, she said, had hypnotic powers, and she was under his spell. He spoke, and she obeyed. Lizzie had no prior knowledge of a conspiracy to kill Mrs. Kaiser. 

Clemmer jumped off the buggy, put on a black overcoat and false whiskers, and walked toward the Kaisers. Lizzie had no idea what he intended to do. She heard two shots in the distance but did not see what happened. He came back to the buggy, and they sped away. In Norristown, they took a trolley to Philadelphia, and after they checked into a hotel, he told her what happened. After her arrest, Lizzie confessed to being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Following Lizzie De Kalb’s confession, Charles Kaiser dropped his appeal for a new trial and made a confession of his own. He, too, was under James Clemmer’s hypnotic power. Kaiser was upset upon learning that his wife had been untrue, and Clemmer came up with the insurance scam and the plot to kill her. He convinced Kaiser that, since Clemmer would pull the trigger, Kaiser would not be guilty of murder. 

James Clemmer was arrested on November 26, 1897, in Trenton, New Jersey, after responding to a decoy personal ad purporting to be from Lizzie. He agreed to return to Pennsylvania, where he was tried and convicted of first-degree murder in July 1898. He would hang on May 18, 1899.

Charles Kaiser was sentenced to hang on September 6, 1898. On August 18, Warden Gotwals of the Norristown Jail met with the Board of Prison Inspectors to discuss placing a death watch on Charles Kaiser until his execution. When they went to question Kaiser, they found him dead on the floor. He had cut both wrists with a broken bedspring and strangled himself with bedsheets.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Mrs. Halliday in Handcuffs.


In 1894, Lizzie Halliday was sentenced to death for murdering her husband and two others and. A state commission judged her insane and commuted her sentence to life in an asylum. Though she exhibited all the signs of a woman who was violently insane, many believed that Lizzie was merely a gifted actress.

At Mattawan State Asylum, she killed her favorite nurse with a pair of scissors. No one disagreed when the press dubbed Lizzie Halliday “Worst woman on earth.”

Read the full story here: The Worst Woman on Earth.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Rogers Murder.

The morning stillness on East 12th Street, New York City, was shattered on December 31, 1869, by cries of “Murder!” Charles M. Rogers lay bleeding on the sidewalk in front of his house as two men were seen running from the scene.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Rescue of Ameer Ben Ali.

This week’s guest post from Howard and Nina Brown of Jack The Ripper Forums - Ripperology For The 21st Century ( continues the story of Ameer Ben Ali (aka “Frenchie”) who was falsely convicted of the 1891 murder of Carrie Brown. "The Rescue of Ameer Ben Ali" focuses on the evidence that led to his release.


In the last Murder by Gaslight article of ours, along with the photograph of Ameer Ben Ali, an article was transcribed which featured a prominent stage actor proclaiming he had been told by Ali's court interpreter that Ali had confessed to being in the same room as murder victim Carrie Brown and inferring that he had committed the heinous crime. 

Whether Ali stated that he committed the crime is irrelevant since he didn't murder Carrie Brown.  He didn't have the key which was necessary to lock the door to Room 31.  Within days a handful of people associated with the real killer's employer knew that and it would not be until a decade passed that this miscarriage of justice would be resolved resulting in the pardoning & exoneration of the Algerian.  There were three efforts towards pardoning Ali; one following the sentencing, another in 1897, and finally in 1901.

The proof of his innocence all along was the key to Room 31 at the East River Hotel taken by the killer and left by the same at the residence of his then employer, 51-year-old George Damon of Cranford, New Jersey.

Damon was the proprietor of a printing firm at 44 Beekman Street, Manhattan, which was not far from the Brown murder site.  Damon was also a pillar of his community in Cranford, situated in Union County 18 miles from Manhattan.  Damon, in addition to his printing firm, dabbled in real estate, held patents, & was a member of the Chamber of Commerce.  This photo is of the Damon residence as it looked 100 years ago. 


Saturday, January 30, 2021

A Murder in Pantomime.

Lizzie Lochner returned home from a night on the town sometime after midnight the morning of June 2, 1894. Her husband Joseph, who stayed home with the children—4-year-old Rosa and her infant brother— berated Lizzie for her for coming in so late. They began to loudly argue the matter as they had done many times before.

Their lodger, Gus Englund, was used to being awakened by the Lochner’s arguing but this night was different. The voices grew to a crescendo followed by a few minutes of silence, then the sound of a gunshot. Joseph Lochner burst into his room and said, “Oh, Gus, Gus, I have done it. I have killed my wife.” He then ran out of the building by the back door.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Murdered Alice Brown.


Read the whole story of Alice Brown's mysterious, 1897 murder in Boston here: 15 Corning Street.

Illustrations from Boston Post, November 6, 1897.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Good News! Three Cheers!


The Hangman, a newspaper dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment, celebrated the commutation of Orrin DeWolf’s death sentence on September 9, 1845.

Did this young, drunken, diseased, conniving, duplicitous, murderous, libertine deserve mercy? You decide: Orrin DeWolf

Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Mabbitt Mystery.

Luella Mabbitt.
Luella Mabbitt and Amer Green made a handsome couple. 23-year-old Luella was an attractive,   well-formed young lady—“of the blonde type of beauty and very winning in her ways.” Amer Green, 34-years-old, was tall and good-looking with manly features. But Luella’s father, Peter Mabbitt, did not approve of his daughter’s suiter, so, reluctantly, Luella told Amer that they had to break up. She would return his letters and he was to return hers.

On August 6, 1886, Amer Green, with his friend William Walker took a buggy ride to the Mabbitt home in Wildcat, Indiana. Her parents saw Luella leave the house with the letters, but she never came back.

Peter Mabbitt believed that his daughter had been kidnapped by Amer Green. Green and Walker were questioned by authorities, but both denied any knowledge of Luella’s whereabouts. In the days that followed search, parties were organized in the area around Wildcat Creek. Peter Mabbitt hired a private detective and offered a reward of $500 for the apprehension of his daughter’s kidnappers.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Mrs. Minnie Walkup.

The beautiful Minnie Wallace Walkup, married at 16, widowed a month later, may have gotten away with murder...three times.

Read her story here: Vamp of New Orleans.

Picture from National Police Gazette, November 14, 1885.