A “lost chapter” from Cincinnati’s Savage Seamstress: The Shocking Edythe Klumpp Murder Scandal by True Crime Historian Richard O Jones, now available from History Press.
On a cold, drizzly fall afternoon in 1958, a trio of duck hunters stumbled on the charred remains of Cincinnati resident Louise Bergen. When investigators learned that her estranged husband was living with an older divorcée, Edythe Klumpp, they wasted no time in questioning her. When she failed a lie detector test, Edythe spilled out a confession. Before her trial started the following summer, the local press got wind of a little jail-house scandal involving the famed alleged "torch murderess."
The Draper Affair
There was no direct physical contact between men and women in the Hamilton County Jail, but Edythe Klumpp still managed to enter into a torrid “jail mail” love affair while awaiting trial.
Detectives Wilbur Stagenhorst and Eugene Moore learned about the affair when George Draper, a tall dark and handsome 35-year-old ex-Marine from North Carolina with a history of alcoholism and mental illness, was picked up in late February for defrauding an innkeeper. Arresting officers relieved him of a stack of letters he was carrying. He was extremely drunk, but he said the famed torch murderess sent them to him when he was locked up around the holidays.
While the women were on the seventh floor and men on the sixth, they could exchange love letters, the women by dropping them over a wall surrounding their sun porch, and the men by putting notes in matchboxes and throwing them up over the wall from their sun porch. It was a common practice between the men and the women prisoners. Indeed, the fellow that told Draper about Edythe’s interest in him had been carrying on a similar romance.
There were other methods and occasions by which they could see one another from a distance, when one or the other had kitchen duty, for instance. They once spoke through a dumbwaiter from different floors of the jail.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, Draper serving a three-month sentence, also for defrauding an innkeeper. He heard from another inmate that Edythe Klumpp had seen him and wanted to correspond with him. She didn’t want him to know who she was, though, so if he wrote to her, to address it to “Peggy.”
At first, Draper said it was a way to relieve the boredom of being in jail. But even though he was married with a wife and toddler at home in North Carolina, he started writing to “Peggy,” more as a way to pass time than anything else, but he found himself falling in love with her.
“After we had been corresponding about a week, I told her in one of my letters that I knew who she was and it didn’t make any difference.
“I felt very sorry for her and I felt like we tried to help each other and I did think that I was in love with her and I thought she was in love with me. We talked about my getting a divorce from my wife and we planned on getting married when she got out.”
During the course of their romance, Draper said they would exchange letters three or four times a day, whenever they had a chance to get to the wall, and that he received several hundred letters from Edythe until he was released from jail in the first week of February. She also gave him a photograph of herself and a lock of her hair. Some he destroyed and some he lost, but kept some with him.
Although they never had physical contact, some of the letters were pretty racy, some of them blotted with lipstick prints:
My Dearest Darling,
I’m all ready for my big date with the man in my life. I’ve had my shower and have sweet smelling dusting powder all over me so I will smell nice & fresh and clean for my love. Kiss? Mmmm!! Oh Boy.’ That was good and so real and Darling you do have tingling all over. Every part of me is tingling and throbbing for you. I want you so. I want you to take my shirt off me, and then while you kiss my eyes, my ears, my neck my breasts, I want your hands to gently caress me all over. And Darling tonight I’ll help undress you, as I slip your clothes off piece by piece my hands will gently caress every part of your body, and as I slip your tee shirt over your head and you step out of your shorts I’ll press my body to yours and you’ll draw me closer & closer to you until our bodies are one. Oh Darling! Kiss me! Mmmm! ! Oh (sigh) that was so real, I could feel your arms holding me so tight and your lips pressing to mine. Oh darling how I do love you and want you and needyou. It’s early but lets get into bed and love each other until we are so exhausted we can’t stay awake and We’ll go to sleep in each other’s arms. I’m going to turn off the light now and you take my shirt off and I’ll take your clothes off like I said, then we’ll get into bed and Darling I’ll kiss you and caress you all over, every part of you. I’ll caress your most intimate parts so gently, round and round, up and down and fell from throbbing with love for me. The you kiss & caress me all over and feel my great love for you in every part of my body, and then rub your body against mine, so gently at first until the heat of our passion is more than we can bear and you put your instrument of love in me and our bodies will sway back and forth in perfect rhythm (ok) until we reach that divine moment of ecstacy and you fill my womb with your love. Then my darling we will lay in each others arms and whisper of our great love to each other. Then we will kiss and caress each other until our passion is aroused again or until we fall asleep. Oh my Darling I love you so. [all sic]
The detectives were interested in the hope that Edythe might have let slip some clue that would shed light on the mystery. Even though they had a signed confession, no one believed her story was true. Although the evidence they had did not support her story, the evidence did not point to any definitive alternative.
“Mainly she insisted it was an accident,” Draper said when the detectives asked him what she said about the death of Louise Bergen. “However, at one time she told me that if it wasn’t an accident would I still love her and would it make any difference in our affair… She said police had told her or someone had told her that she had struck the woman with some kind of instrument. She said she didn’t recall doing it, but that she had blacked out.”
Since none of the letters they recovered nor anything else that Draper could recall about those that he had lost or destroyed shed any light on the case, Prosecutor Hover and Foss Hopkins both shrugged the “romance” off as irrelevant. Officials were concerned, however, about one letter in which Edythe signed off as “Your Wife.”
The sheriff’s investigation into that revealed that it was a reference to a mock wedding ceremony that took place one afternoon as Draper and Klumpp finished their chores in the jail kitchens in which they both shouted “I do!” from their respective sun porches.
“All the inmates knew about it and thought it was a big joke on the jailers,” one courthouse official said. “Someone told one of the jailer and he interrupted the ‘ceremony’ and dispersed all the prisoners.”
In one letter, she wrote about how she used to pray for the death of her husband Robert Klumpp.
“She said she drove her car around on some occasions hoping to meet him,” he said, “and she said if she did, he had such a hatred for him she knew she would run him over.”
She also asked Draper that when he got out of jail if he would contact William Bergen and ask him to change his testimony about how he wanted to go back to his wife.
“Which of course I wouldn’t think of doing,” he told police.
Edythe also told Draper that she took off the rings that Bergen gave her. She encouraged him to overcome his alcoholism through faith, one of several references to religion.
“It never fails,” she wrote. “Go kneel in m church and gaze for an hour at the stained glass windows. You will be cured.”
(Edythe also conducted daily Bible classes in jail and threw “quite a tantrum” at one point when two women refused to attend her class, saying they had their own religious ideas.”)
Draper continued to write to her after his release and return to North Carolina. He said he only went there to ask his wife for a divorce, but he didn’t mention Edythe. Then he started drinking and ended up back back in Cincinnati, where his father lived. Jail inmates said that when he came back to town, he would stand at the corner of Central Parkway and Sycamore Street and wave a handkerchief toward the jail window from which Edythe waved back, swarmed by a cluster of female inmates.
After he left, his wife received two letters Edythe wrote in reply to his. He didn’t know what was in those letters, and he admitted he was pretty drunk when he spoke to his wife on the phone about them, but the gist of it was that she couldn’t understand why he would leave her for a murderer. She told him Edythe was mad because he went back home when he told her he wouldn’t.
After a few days in jail again, Draper sobered up and wrote his wife, asking her to take him back.
“I hope I can go back and renew my marriage with her and get things straightened out at home and live a decent life,” he said.
He remained in jail on the new charges and was convicted in mid-May, but there was no more contact with his new love as they kept him a different part of the jail.
Prosecutor Hover confiscated from Edythe the notes, along with a photo and a lock of hair, that Draper had tossed over the wall.
“He told me not to tell anyone what was in the notes,” he said.
By the time the press got wind of the story in late May as a sort of prelude to the coming trial, Draper said, “Now as I look back, it’s all very ridiculous. I felt I wouldn’t get out until April and by that time I would be completely estranged from my wife and baby. (Edythe) wanted to cheer me up. She said my letters did. Some of them were pretty hot.”
Edythe, through her lawyer, said that the letters were all a joke, a way to pass the time, preying on gullible young men who believed they were irresistible to women. Other women would help her write them, making them steamier and steamier.
Joke or no joke, the letters contained a lot of insight into the daily life of prisoners in the jail and Edythe’s own life story.
She wrote about feuds among the other prisoners, what it was like to work in the laundry and kitchen. In one, she wrote a complete autobiography, describing how she was a beauty queen at Mt. Healthy High School and that her father used to call her “Little Princess.”
Virginia Draper, the 33-year-old young wife and mother of his baby he left behind, was not amused. She was in ill health and needed her husband and an operation. She said she’d take him back “if he ever gets out of this mess.” The name Edythe Klumpp left her with a bitter taste in her mouth.
“I hope she hangs,” she told the Enquirer, “or whatever they do to people like that up there in Ohio.”
Photos and clips from the Cincinnati Evening Post and Cincinnati Enquirer, May 15, 1959.