Excerpt from “Woman Slugged; Left for Dead”

On November 14, 1912, a man and a woman checked into Chicago’s Saratoga Hotel under an assumed name. That evening, hotel detectives discovered the woman dead and the man nowhere to be found. The only clues were the weapon, which turned out to be purchased in Chicago, and the woman’s clothes, which had labels from Cincinnati stores…

Cincinnati Enquirer illustration, December 21, 1912
Cincinnati Enquirer illustration, December 21, 1912

Chicago police were reported to have gained the cooperation of police in Detroit and Cincinnati as the search for the woman’s identity entered the third day. Halpin sent Detective Matt Zimmer and Sergeant John O’Keefe to Cincinnati with the umbrellas and several pieces of the victim’s clothing: a pair of shoes marked “Kasson” and a coat marked “B.S.&S. Quality of Style,” both made in the Queen City.

emmaZimmer and O’Keefe took the items to Cincinnati police headquarters on the morning of November 20. As it happened, former patrolman Ed Westerkamm soon arrived. Although no longer on the police force, he had been sitting at home reading the newspaper with a description of the dead woman’s clothes. The description sounded a lot like that of his former landlady, Mrs. Emma Kraft, who suddenly sold the house and moved to Kansas City-–or so everyone thought. A 24-year-police veteran, Westerkamm decided to follow up on his policeman’s hunch. He arrived at headquarters moments after the Windy City detectives and just as famed Sergeant of Detectives Cal Crim was regaling the out-of-towners with a story of how a pair of shoes had helped break the case of Pearl Bryan, the legendary Northern Kentucky murder victim whose head was never found. Westerkamm walked straight to the pile of clothes in the corner of the room and said, “Yes, Sergeant, I guess this umbrella will help us out. I think I know it. Let me see the rest of these things.”

The Saratoga European Hotel
The Saratoga European Hotel

Westerkamm carefully studied each item one by one. He rose, then said, almost as if to himself, “That’s her alright.”

To the detectives, he said, “Wait a while and I’ll bring you two women who will make sure of this thing.”

A half-hour later, Westerkamm delivered Emma Kraft’s niece, Anna Kloker, 2810 Sidney Street, and her 17-year-old daughter Florence, who immediately identified the cheap umbrella as Aunt Emma’s. Both women fainted, then wept as they confirmed that the umbrella and other items belonged to their friend.

Jack B. Koetters
Jack B. Koetters

“I know who murdered my aunt,” Mrs. Kloker said. “It was a man who promised to marry her and who at one time obtained $800 from her by extortion. My aunt was a business woman and managed to save a little money. This man tried to get it all away from her, and he murdered her for her money.”

Born Emma Thiele, the victim had married Martin Kraft in 1881, both German immigrants and shrewd in business. The newspapers also show that he had been arrested several times for running a “policy shop” or numbers game. They accumulated several properties before he died in 1908 at age 58.

In the years since, she was known as a staid, respectable widow. She gave to the poor, serving as a neighborhood angel for the ailing and distressed people in the Wade and Elm street neighborhood. She ran a small grocery there and was known for showing charity to families in need. People knew her as a rather prim and proper woman of strong, stoic German heritage.

Then in the spring of 1911, a year and half before her death, she met John B. Koetters, 36, a gambler and all-around shady character known in his Camp Washington neighborhood as “Handsome Jack” who was more than two decades younger than her. In fact, when police began questioning neighbors, many of them thought that Jack was her son.

“While we never asked Mrs. Kraft about her personal affairs, we often wondered who the tall, dark man was that often stood at the window of her home,” said Minnie Jennings, who lived across the street from Mrs. Kraft’s fourth-floor apartment. Jennings and another Elm Street neighbor recognized the man from a photo, except that he was now wearing a stubby black mustache.

After she met Koetters, Kraft became obsessed with trying to seem less than her age, her niece said, changing the way she dressed and the way she wore her hair and put on her make-up, the way she comported herself generally. She sold some of the properties she had inherited from her husband for $4,870 (over $100,000 in 2015 dollars) and on November 1, 1912, went to live in the Palace Hotel. Still, she was a frugal woman, so her relatives believed that she probably still had a considerable amount of money when she went missing.

Police had a complaint on file from Mrs. Kraft complaining that she had loaned Koetters $800 on December 13, 1911. She claimed he had jilted her, and she wanted the money back. She said he was in Detroit. Koetters was well-known to Cincinnati Police and Chief of Detectives Crawford advised her to go to Detroit and sue him. She suddenly changed her mind, but then on March 18, 1912 wrote a letter to Bernard Koetters, Handsome Jack’s father, telling him his son had wronged her and had forced her to take a lien on her house.

“He made me ten years older in the past three months,” she wrote, telling how he tried to get her to go to Detroit on the promise of marriage but wronged her. The letter said that Koetters had put ads in the newspaper trying to sell Mrs. Kraft’s home and furniture or renting rooms.

“He put an advertisement in the newspaper every day for my rooms and furniture, only keeping away from the house when the people came. Then he would always say he was glad no one ever saw him. That looks so suspicious. He called me up almost every day. He gave me no rest until he had my money. His conscience can never be clear for the wrong he has done me.”

The letter said that Mrs. Kraft was forced to wear “poor clothes” and that she could no longer afford to be as charitable as she once was.

Mrs. Kloker and other relatives told her they strongly opposed her marriage and did everything they could to prevent it, but Aunt Emma would not allow them to utter a word against Koetters and soon announced that they would be married.

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Deleted Scene: Adult Sewing Class

After the death of Louise Bergen, however it may have happened, Edythe Klumpp tried to maintain an air of normality. So that evening, she went to Woodward High School to teach her regular Thursday adult sewing class, where most of the students knew her as “Mrs. Bergen.” What the students did not know is that the dead body of the real Mrs. Bergen was in the back of Edythe’s ’56 Chevy while she helped them make doll clothes.

In this deleted scene from Cincinnati’s Savage Seamstress: The Shocking Edythe Klumpp Murder Scandal (2014, History Press), we look at just how normal the evening was…

Adult Sewing Class

Carol Schwindt, one of the other home economics teachers in the adult education program, was in no great hurry to get started with her class at 7:15 as most of the women hadn’t arrived yet. They were all housewives and working mothers and tended to straggle in. Schwindt wasn’t sure how many would make it since it was the night before Halloween and there were costumes to be assembled at home.

A girl from the office came into Schwindt’s classroom asking where to find Mrs. Klumpp, who had forgotten to pick up her attendance card. She had it and wanted to give it to her. Schwindt gave the girl directions and got started with her class.

Anna Meily, a 33-year-old housewife who had just moved to Cincinnati from Chicago, was also late that night, arriving around 7:30. She came in right behind the teacher she knew only as Mrs. Bergen, who didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry and lingered in front of a bulletin board near the front door.

“I saw her coming in… and I went right on up to class and she stayed in the hallway a little bit,” Anna Meily said. “When a teacher came in (the classroom) and asked if she was there, someone said no. I didn’t pay any attention because I knew she was downstairs… so I didn’t think it necessary to say, ‘Well, I saw her’ or anything like that.”

Mary Riesenberg pegged Mrs. Bergen’s arrival in the classroom at precisely 7:30.

“I looked at the clock when she walked it,” she said. “She wasn’t there and we wanted to get started on the work and didn’t know what to do next and I was talking with a friend of mine and she said she wished she’d get her.”

“She said to bring my little girl’s doll and she would help me with the doll clothes,” said the friend, Judy Kimmey. “I was just hoping there wasn’t another teacher because we wanted her to help us with so many things, and she was going to help us make patterns for doll clothes.”

Riesenberg, who was a repeat student, jokingly scolded her: “You’re late!”

“Yeah, I had some car trouble,” Mrs. Bergen said, and they laughed about it.

Kimmey told police that they were just glad she had shown up and wanted to get right to work. They never asked her what the trouble was.

The office worker, who’d left the attendance sheet in Edythe’s classroom, came back, saying Mrs. Klumpp wasn’t in yet. She didn’t realize that most of the girls in the class knew her as Mrs. Bergen. Only the few who had had Edythe for classes in years past knew she used to be Klumpp.

Schwindt said she would be glad to take Edythe’s class, and the girl said that would probably be okay, but to stay put until she checked with the principal. A few minutes later the girl called Schwindt on the intercom and said they couldn’t reach Mrs. Klumpp.

Schwindt went to get Edythe’s students, but as she got to the classroom, Edythe greeted her at the door.

“Klumpy, they don’t think you’re in tonight,” Schwindt said. “Didn’t you check in at the office?”

“No,” Edythe said. “I was in such a hurry, I didn’t.”

“You better hurry up and get down there,” Schwindt said. “They’re concerned about this.”

Police would later interview everyone who was in the classroom that night, and the consensus among them was that Edythe arrived at 7:30 p.m., was calm and collected, did not smell of gasoline and had no scratches or blood on her.

At the class session on Nov. 13, Edythe was particularly chatty, Meily said, when one of the other students asked her if she was related to the murdered woman.

Meily said she wasn’t paying a lot of attention to their conversation, but they were sitting close to her and she couldn’t help but overhear them. She gathered that Mrs. Bergen’s husband was going to have to pay for the funeral of his ex-wife, and that her family was about to get much larger:not only would her stepdaughter be moving in with them, but Mrs. Bergen was pregnant and she was taking care of a foster child full time.

The two students chatting with Edythe were Mary Riesenberg and Judy Kimmey. Riesenberg said she also talked about the police nosing around.

“She said they went over the car with a fine-toothed comb and scraped something off the seat,” she told police. But Mrs. Bergen said she wasn’t worried about it because a little boy she babysat had gotten a nose bleed and sprayed blood all over the car.”

Riesenberg thought Mrs. Klumpp was “a wonderful person” who had brought in clothes that her children had outgrown and was a good sewing teacher. She would consider her a friend except they never did anything socially together. In fact, she and Judy Kimmey had called Edythe up during the summer to see if she would be teaching again because if she were, they would sign up for the class.

“We learned so much from her and she treated us so nice,” Kimmey said. When she or Mary Riesenberg would slip up and call her “Mrs. Klumpp” she would not answer.

“She wanted to be called Bergen,” she said. “So we did.”

History Press website