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.


Howard Brown says:
February 27, 2021 at 10:16 AM

This occurred within a mile or so from my house ! I never heard of it before....thanks Bob !

JS1044 says:
July 30, 2021 at 3:41 PM

I came across this story while building my family tree in 2017 Since that time I am trying to find out what happened to Lizzie De Kalb...did she ever marry, when and where did she die, where is she buried? Any replies would be much appreciated.

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