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

The Canned Heat Party Murder

The True Crime of Perry John

“Squeezing” is the practice of straining cans of Sterno through cheesecloth to take out some of the poisons. Apparently, it doesn’t take them all out and a lot of people have killed themselves getting drunk like that, but it was a cheap way to get a buzz during Prohibition.

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The Klameth News (Klameth Falls, Oregon), February 10, 1929 and March 29, 1929.

 

Officer Sponsel Slain; 3 Convicted

HAMILTON – William Hobbs was passed out drunk when company started arriving.

The Smith Street house was dark when Charles Vincent Rose, 24, came calling at 11 p.m. He was family, the first cousin of Hobbs’ common-law wife, Helen Schindlebower, so he started to climb in a bedroom window. Hobbs roused at the intrusion and gave Rose a key and told him to go around to the door. Formerly of New Miami, Vince Rose had hitchhiked to Hamilton from his home in Metamora, Indiana, where he worked on his stepfather’s farm. He had come to visit with a bottle of whiskey. Rose sat up with him. The cousins, who were raised together by Rose’s mother, talked and played the phonograph while Hobbs slept in the next room.

Schindlebower said that she and Billy had spent the afternoon and early evening of April 11, 1937, drinking beer in a Hamilton saloon. Around 7:30 or 8 p.m., they went to visit Hobbs’s sister Pearly Farthing and her husband on Lane Street drank some more beer. Hobbs also took the occasional hit off a pint flask of whiskey. By the time they left at 10 p.m., Hobbs was so drunk that his brother-in-law had to help him to the curb. Schindlebower took him home and put him to bed.

Shortly after midnight, John Agnew, 34 and a father of three children, arrived. He and Hobbs had been planning a burglary and he was angry that Hobbs was asleep. “Don’t be so lazy,” he chided the sleeping fellow. “Get up and we’ll go out and make some easy money.”

Hobbs, 32, dragged himself out of bed and went into the kitchen, Agnew close behind. Rose and Schindlebower could hear them talking, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. Hobbs walked back into the front room and told Rose to put on his coat, they were going to take a ride and make some easy money. Hobbs returned to the bedroom to get dressed while he and Agnew argued some more, Agnew objecting to taking Rose with them.

“The kid’s alright,” Hobbs said angrily. “I know him and we need a third man.” That put an end to that argument, but then Schindlebower started in on him. He was still drunk, she complained; he didn’t need to be going anywhere. Hobbs ignored her.

“We should take a gun,” Agnew said. Hobbs told him his place had been broken into a couple of weeks prior and someone stole his shotgun, so his .32 revolver was at a friend’s house for safekeeping. Rose said that he had a gun, but Agnew ignored him, saying they’d go get Hobbs’s.

They walked over to Walnut Street where Agnew had parked his car and rode to Rose Bolser’s house on South Eighth. Hobbs retrieved his gun and 18 cartridges in a tobacco bag. He loaded his gun and handed the rest of the bullets to Rose. They all had several drinks of whiskey while they were there and Rose bought a pint to go from Bolser, who had a record of moonshining and selling untaxed liquor.

When they got back to the car, Agnew explained they were going to the National Dairy out on Middletown Pike. They had a safe that was small enough for three men to carry out and open later. On the way, Agnew pointed out other places that were easy enough to knock off, including Mike Vertich’s Café.

When they got to the dairy, the lights were on. They hadn’t been expecting that, so they kept driving and talked about the other places they had passed. They decided to go back to Vertich’s Café at 548 North Third Street, where they could break in through a back window. Agnew parked the car on Vine Street and stayed at the wheel while Rose and Hobbs went to check things out.

They stood on the cellar door to open the back window, but it was locked. The two started to open a gate to get to the other side of the building where they could try the other windows and maybe even the front door if they had to. Just as Hobbs pushed open the gate, we saw a car stop suddenly and a man jumped out with a flashlight in his hand and started toward us,” Rose would later testify as a state’s witness. “He yelled and I ran toward an abandoned automobile which was standing on the lot and then headed up an alley. I heard four shots from a heavy caliber gun and three from a lighter gun as I was going through the alley.

“I made my way back to where the car was parked and Agnew asked me what had happened. I told him there had been some shooting and urged him to drive away. He asked me what had become of Hobbs and I said he probably had been shot. We waited for about a minute and a half and as we were starting to drive away, Hobbs ran in front of the auto and hopped in.

“Agnew drove out the Middletown Pike and on the way, Hobbs said that he had fired three shots and asked me if I had done any shooting. I told him no and he broke open his gun and emptied out three shells… Hobbs remarked that he believed he had shot someone but had not looked to see who it was. Hobbs said that after he shot, the man ran like a turkey. Agnew laughed.”

The three men drove around a while longer, then parked and drank the whiskey Rose had bought from the Bolser woman. When the bottle was empty, Agnew dropped the others off a few blocks from Hobbs’s house.

“You don’t know me, kid,” Agnew said as Rose got out of the car.

The engine was running

Hamilton City Police Patrolmen Herschel Seward and Levi Justice finished their shift at about 4 a.m. on the morning of April 12, 1937. They were taking Cruiser 6 to the city garage, Seward driving and Justice following behind in his private car.

They saw fellow officer Arthur Sponsel’s car parked in the middle of the street near Vertich’s Café. The left front door was open and the headlights on. Sponsel had gotten off duty a couple of hours earlier, had delivered Cruiser 8 to the city garage, a block further to the north at 2:45 a.m., and picked up his own vehicle.

“When I saw Arthur’s car, I believed he had run out of gasoline and that he had probably returned to the garage,” Seward said, but he was not there when they dropped off Cruiser 6. “After leaving the police car at the garage, Justice and I returned to Sponsel’s auto.”

The car engine was still running. They noticed the beam of a flashlight low in the parking lot, about 25 feet east of North Third Street. It illuminated a .38 caliber police revolver. Four feet beyond, in the darkness at the side of the building, they found Patrolmen Sponsel face-down, slain, a bullet through his heart.

Built his home

Sponsel, ArthurPatrolman Arthur Sponsel was a World War I veteran, having served in England and France. He was known as an “air bird,” although he had never flown on any missions. The war ended before he finished his training. He worked as a carpenter after the war and built the family home on Forest Avenue. He joined the police force on March 19, 1931. He would have been 37 on his next birthday.

Police Chief John C. Calhoun said that the department lost “one of its most efficient officers.”

“Arthur was a gentleman both on and off duty and none was more fearless in the face of danger,” the chief said. “Every member of the department respected Sponsel as an officer and a friend.”

He left a wife, two sons, his mother, one brother and five sisters.

Just three weeks before his death, he’d had a close call at the Blue Goose Inn at Dixie Highway and Minor Avenue when a 23-year-old man pointed a shot gun at him and told him to raise his hands. Instead, Sponsel took two shots at the suspect, wounding him in the left shoulder and taking him and a companion into custody.

“Patrolman Sponsel was one of the finest officers in the department,” said City Manager Price. “He was efficient, used every precaution in the performance of his duty but he never flinched in the face of danger.”

Forced off the road

Patrolman Sponsel’s gun contained four spent cartridges. A search of the scene uncovered only one meager clue: a .32 bullet embedded in the side of the restaurant, on the northeast corner. There was a stripped automobile in the parking lot.  Police considered the possibility that Sponsel had noticed someone stripping the car and went to investigate.

In interviewing witnesses, including a pair of night watchmen at the nearby Niles Tool Works, police first surmised that six shots had been fired. The newspaper reported that police were looking for a man taller than the 5-foot, 10-inch patrolman as the bullet entered the body near the heart, piercing that organ and the left lung, before traveling downward and coming to rest lodged in the left hip. They also considered the possibility that the shooter might have been a fugitive from justice, or that Sponsel had interrupted a hold-up. None of these theories would prove to be true.

Alexander Thomson, chairman of the Champion Paper Company and president of the Chamber of Commerce offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of the man or men who killed Patrolman Sponsel. The Butler County Commissioners and other citizens contributed until a pot of $5,850 was at stake.

Police soon began receiving tips, many of them false leads but some pointing toward William Hobbs, a local thug. Hobbs was known as a small, mean man who stood 5-foot, 3-inches and weighed all of 115 pounds. On Wednesday, Chief John Calhoun put a shadow on Hobbs night and day. On Sunday, an officer followed him to Rose’s house in Metamora when Hobbs and Schindlebower got a ride there from a friend named Ralph Baines. Baines and Rose Bolser would both lay claim to the reward money. Further tips implicated John Agnew and Vince Rose, but Hobbs was pegged as the shooter, and police wanted to make sure he still had the gun.

Bolser would testify that Hobbs had come back to her house late Monday morning after Sponsel’s death to return the gun and ask her to keep Rose’s revolver, too. He had been awakened by a friend named Bob Beaver, who told him that–as early rumors had it–a night watchman had been shot. Bolser had heard about the shooting, too, and refused to take the guns. Hobbs had already been drinking, and apparently knew he was in trouble. He buried his gun in the backyard of a home in the Belmont addition, where he had helped build some houses, and returned the other gun to Rose.

When Hobbs went to Metamora the following Sunday, he told Rose to ditch his gun. “My gun hasn’t done anything,” Rose told him and said he was keeping it in his dresser drawer.

The next afternoon, Monday April 19, one week after the murder of Arthur Sponsel, Hobbs loaded up Baines’s car with his belongings and headed south on Dixie Highway to Mansfield, Kentucky. Police were ready for him and made chase, a posse of nine officers in two automobiles, Chief Calhoun himself driving lead. They overtook Baines in Fairfield and Calhoun forced Baines off the road. Officers swarmed the car and arrested Hobbs, Schindlebower and Gaines, and confiscated Hobbs’s .32 revolver. At the same time, other officers were on their way to Metamora to arrest Vince Rose and to John Agnew’s house, where he was apprehended.

Hobbs and Rose readily confessed to the crime, saying that they didn’t know that Hobbs had killed a cop until they read about it in the papers.

Vince Rose did not testify in Hobbs’s trial, but was a state’s witness in the trial of John Agnew, who was found guilty by a jury. Rose pled guilty to second degree murder. Both were sentenced to life in prison. Hobbs, the shooter, would pay the ultimate price for his crimes.

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The last mile

William Hobbs spent his last day on earth constantly and calmly smoking cigars, pausing long enough to take a last meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn. He had gained 52 pounds during his confinement. Sitting on his bunk, he had just lit a fresh cigar when guards notified him that it was time to “walk the last mile,” 8:45 p.m., July 6, 1938. He merely shrugged and hopped off the bunk. Two death row inmates greeted him as he passed, but Hobbs ignored them. He just puffed on his cigar all the way into the death chamber. He kept his eyes downcast, not looking at the witnesses, handing his cigar to a guard as two others strapped him in. Three jolts from Old Sparky ended his life, making him the 209th murderer to be electrocuted in the state of Ohio.

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Sources:  The Hamilton Journal-Daily News, April 12, 1937, to July 7, 1938.