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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