Generation Why Podcast

Edythe Klumpp – 123 – Generation Why

Thank you, Justin and Aaron, for having me on your show!!!

Edythe Klumpp. In Cincinnati, Ohio, Bill Bergen is living with another woman after separating from his wife, Louise. As time goes on he begins expressing a desire to patch things up with her. Edythe, his live-in lover, does not approve and Bill is caught between the two. When Louise’s badly burned body is later discovered, Edythe becomes the obvious suspect in her murder. To help dissect this mysterious and intriguing case, we will be joined by author Richard O. Jones.

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Deleted Scene: Field Trip

After a trio of young duck hunters stumbled upon the charred body of Cincinnati resident Louise Bergen near the beach at Cowan Lake, November 1, 1958, suspicion quickly fell on Edythe Klumpp, a 40-year-old divorcee who was living “as man and wife” with the victim’s estranged husband, Bill Bergen. Edythe confessed to burning the body, but claimed Louise’s death was an accident. On the first day of the trial after jury selection, June 12, 1959, the court made a field trip to the relevant scenes of the crime: The dead-end street where Edythe said the accident took place, the Klumpp home in Mt. Washington, and to Cowan Lake in Clinton County, where Louise Bergen’s body had been found.
In this deleted scene from Cincinnati’s Savage Seamstress: The Shocking Edythe Klumpp Murder Scandal,  (History Press, 2014), we travel with Edythe and the court:
Cincinnati Post, June 10, 1959
Cincinnati Post, June 10, 1959

Edythe’s attorney Foss Hopkins passionately objected to the jury going to Clinton County.

“We do not believe Lake Cowan has anything to do with this case,” he said. “Our client did take Mrs. Bergen’s body there in an auto trunk, poured gasoline on it and did try to cremate and disfigure the body. We are not denying it. It is a horrible, despicable situation. This is a first degree murder case and something that happened afterward, such as taking the body to Clinton County, I don’t believe has anything to do with premeditation or deliberation. I believe you will do irreparable damage to her by having the jury view the place where the body was burned. We will not object if the prosecutor can tie in the burning with the premeditation charge in the indictment.”

Judge Gusweiler overruled the objection, but warned the jury to not play detective or search for new clues.

“It is not the function of the jury to try and gather evidence,” he said. “The purpose of the visit is so that the jury might better understand the evidence and testimony it will hear later.”

On Friday morning, the trial of Edythe Klumpp began in earnest with the field trip. First they went to the courthouse basement to view Edythe’s ‘56 Chevy. Hopkins had objected to their seeing it since its seats had been removed and “it looks like a truck.” But the judge ruled that it was OK if there had been changes to the car since the crime was committed as long as the jury was informed of those changes.

Edythe stood back some 15 feet from the car, her back to a wall, and when the bailiff threw back the tarp that covered it, she showed her first sign of emotion in public, daubing tears from her eyes. She looked away from the jury when it walked by her after studying the car.

A large crowd gathered outside the courthouse to see them off. Edythe seemed to be pretending they weren’t there.

Cincinnati Post, June 12, 1959
Cincinnati Post, June 12, 1959

The defendant rode in an unmarked Sheriff’s car driven by a city detective. It was her first time in the outside world since she had been jailed in the middle of November, but she told reporters, “I don’t feel good.”

Her driver told reporters that she was “shaky” during the first leg of the trip and wished he had brought some smelling salts. As they visited the scenes, she seemed to lose the composure she had shown throughout the jury selection. She trembled and seemed close to tears at the Swifton Center. She refused to get out of the car when the tour stopped at Caldwell Circle, but sat inside and sobbed aloud. Hopkins tapped on the window and asked her if the car was parked where the jury was standing.

“No,” she said, “it was over this way farther.”

When the jury left, Hopkins asked her to get out of the car, and in calm, hushed tones she pointed out the place where the car was parked, “just about here, half way on the cement.”

When they got to her former home in Mt. Washington, she rode to the top of the hill in the deputy’s car while the bus transporting the jurors, unable to negotiate the dead end, dropped the jury off at the bottom. It turned out to be quite a slog for some of them; they were an elderly group for the most part.

Edythe said she was feeling better but stayed in the car and was soon sobbing furiously again. She had sold her share of the house to her ex-husband Bob Klumpp, who was now living there with their children. No one was home during the inspection.

Edythe did not make the long ride to Lake Cowan, with the judge’s permission, and returned to jail. Hopkins continued on the tour.

1959 0613 post clip
Cincinnati Post, June 13, 1959


It was “a pleasant day for a drive in the hot sun,” he wrote. A group of swimmers and sunbathers paused in their play to gawk at the jurors as they disembarked, marching behind Prosecutor Hover toward the charred stubs of willows where the body had been partially cremated. They paused for a moment, then without a word from anyone, they all seemed to turn in unison and started walking back toward the bus. State Highway Patrolman Robert Dunbar was also on the scene. He was the only police officer still working on the case whose involvement began with the discovery of the charred body on the beach, although his role was now much diminished. He did not speak and no one spoke to him. After driving around other key spots–where the glasses case and shoe were found–the air conditioned bus went back to Cincinnati and the jurors were set free for the weekend.

Available at or your favorite on-line bookseller.


Featured Photo: Cincinnati Enquirer, June 13, 1959.

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

Edythe Klumpp featured in Dark Hearted Women

My colleague Jane Anne Turzillo has published one of my “lost chapters” from Cincinnati’s Savage Seamstress on her blog Dark Hearted Women.

Check it out: Edythe’s Divorce.

When a trio of young duck hunters stumbled upon the charred body of Cincinnati woman Louise Bergen one drizzly fall morning in 1958, suspicion quickly fell upon her estranged husband’s live-in girlfriend, the 40-year-old divorcee Edythe Klumpp. In Cincinnati’s Savage Seamstress: The Shocking Edythe Klumpp Murder Scandal (The History Press), True Crime Historian Richard O Jones details the elaborate lies that Edythe told in her embroidered confessions and tells how her attorney and the governor of Ohio attempted to get to the truth and find justice for Edythe in spite of herself. The author deleted the following scene of the demise of Edythe’s first marriage from the original manuscript to meet the publisher’s word count, but shares it here in this Dark Hearted Woman exclusive to provide further insight into the defendant’s pattern of behavior.


Read the excerpt HERE on the blog Dark Hearted Women… 


True Crime for the one you love

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