EXCERPT: 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.

Emma Kraft

Zimmer 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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Belvidere Daily Republican: Escaped Murderer Taken in Seattle, May 5, 1922.

Chicago Daily Tribune: Woman Slugged, Left for Dead in Saratoga Hotel, November 15, 1912; Hotel Slugging Still Mystery, November 16, 1912; Hotel Slugging Proves Murder, November 17, 1912; Asks All U.S. to Hunt Murderer, November 19, 1912; Hunt Fiance as Slayer of Woman in Saratoga Hotel, November 21, 1912; Board of Strategy Plans Capture of Saratoga Slayer, November 22, 1912; Sure to Capture the Saratoga Slayer, November 23, 1912; “Handsome Jack” Seen in Chicago, November 24, 1912; Arrest Koetters for Hotel Death, February 12, 1914; Koetters Ready to Return, February 13, 1914; “Handsome Jack” Asserts not in City Day Kraft Was Slain, February 25, 1914; Identifies Koetters as Saratoga Hotel Guest, February 26, 1914; Complete Jury in Koetters Case, March 24, 1914; State Surprises Koetters Thrice, March 25, 1914; Love Letters to Mrs. Kraft Read at Murder Trial, March 26, 1914; Love Letters of Mrs. Kraft Read, March 27, 1914; Koetters Tells of Waning Love, March 28, 1914; Malato Demands Koetters Hang, March 29, 1914; Koetters Guilty; Penalty in Doubt, March 31, 1914; Life Term for J.B. Koetters, April 1, 1914; “Handsome Jack” Koetters Tires of Prison Life, September 17, 1919; Hammer Killer Who Escaped is Ready to Return, May 6, 1922.

Chicago Inter Ocean: Revenge Blamed for Hotel Crime; Identify Woman, November 16, 1912; Saratoga Murder Mystery Deepens, November 18, 1912; Hotel Victim’s Slayer Thought Cincinnati Man, November 21, 1912; Seek Koetters in Cincinnati Saloon Haunts, November 22, 1912; Police Unable to Find Koetters, November 23, 1912; Letter May Solve Woman’s Murder, November 24, 1912; Hunt for Murder Clew in Planters Hotel Mystery, November 25, 1912; Detective Leaves for Koetters today, February 13, 1914; Koetters Identified by Hotel Employe [sic], February 25, 1914; Koetters Faces Grilling by Captain Halpin Today, February 26, 1914; Koetters’ Counsel Retire, March 11, 1914; Painter from Hotel Identifies Koetters, March 25, 1914; Love Letters Read at Koetters Trial, March 26, 1914; Climax is reached in Koetters Trial, March 27, 1914; Koetters Severs Links in State’s Case Against Him, March 28, 1914; Koetters Alibi is Weakened by Hotel Receipt, March 29, 1914; Koetters is Guilty; Gets Life Sentence, April 1, 1914.

Cincinnati Enquirer: Victim of Hammer Wielder in Chicago Hotel was a Queen City Woman, November 21, 1912; “Love Triangle Figures in Murder,” November 22, 1912; Charms of Women Will Lead to Capture of Koetters, Police Now Believe, November 24, 1912; Police Net Fails to Catch Koetters, November 25, 1912; Man Hunt May Be At an End, November 26, 1912; Chicago Sleuths Returned to that City After Failing to Land Koetter here, December 6, 1912; Credit Given Special Cop, February 13, 1914; Alibi, February 14, 1914; Haunted, “February 16, 1914; Ready to Tell Story to Jury, March 17, 1914; Hanging Demanded for Koetters, March 21, 1914; Mystic Influence is Exerted, March 24, 1914; Excluded from Koetters’s Trial, March 25, 1914; Handwriting in the Love Letters, March 26, 1914; Letters of Mrs. Emma Kraft Will be Referred to a “A Voice from the Grave”, March 27, 1914; Koetters Denies His Guilt, March 28, 1914; Koetters Criminal of the Age, March 29, 1914; Jury has Koetters case, March 31, 1914; Life Term for Koetters, April 1, 1914; Koetters in Joliet, May 12, 1914; Captured in Seattle, May 6, 1922.

The (Chicago) Day Book: Man Tries to Force Way into Saratoga Death Room, November 21, 1912.

San Francisco Chronicle: Held for Brutal Chicago Murder, February 12, 1914; “Handsome Jack” falls into trap,” February 13, 1914; Think Koetters Insane, February 17, 1914.