At about 2:30 on the afternoon of June 23, 1894, two 15-year-old boys, Samuel Cole and Charles Barr, went to their hiding spot in the lumber yard of J.B. Dopps on Gest Street in Cincinnati to change clothes.
They had hidden their swimming trunks under a stack of lumber that was held up a foot and a half off the ground by large logs. It was a remote and convenient spot for them to change their clothes, halfway between their home and the duck pond they went to swim in. It was about 10 minutes before 4–they had to be home at that hour so were keeping close track of time–when they went past again to hide their trunks and change back into their street clothes.
When they reached the huge pile of lumber, Barr stooped down to stash his trunks, then sprang to his feet. There was a girl covered with blood under there, he screamed to his companions. Cole took a peek, too, then they ran off to spread the alarm.
Neighbors identified her as 12-year-old Emma Littleman who lived nearby on Gest Street.
Her father, Herman Littleman, drove a wagon that delivered firewood to the city’s bakers and prepared his wares at one end of the Doppe lumber yard. Emma was his oldest child, not yet 13 but already a bright little woman, a pretty blond with big blue eyes. When other children played games in the street, she sat on the front porch with her baby sister. She was too much of a lady to play in the street.
Earlier that day, a Saturday, Emma had been helping her mother clean the house. Herman didn’t take the team out, but was working around the lumber yard. He came home for dinner around 2 p.m., and Emma fixed his meal. Afterward, he left to do some business while Emma washed the dishes and the rest of the housework was caught up, so Emma said she would go down to the lumber yard and get some wood chips for kindling.
Mrs. Littleman said that it was much too hot for that, the child would burn up in the sun.
“Oh, I’ll put on my sunbonnet and I’ll be all right,” Emma said as she put on her blue gingham bonnet. As she was leaving the house, her mother asked what time it was. She told her it was 3 o’clock and said she’d be back in a little while.
She was wearing her worst dress, a torn blue gingham thing she wore to do housework in, black stockings and black slippers, and a skirt of a different color yachting cloth.
The last anyone saw her alive was walking down the north side of Gest Street toward the lumber yard. It was barely three-quarters of an hour later that the two boys came around to hide their swimming trunks.
Police at first thought that she had fallen from the big pile of lumber and somehow caused an avalanche of boards that partly covered her body. Coroner L.A. Querner, however, did not accept that. There was no way by which she could have fallen, so that her body would have been half under the lumber pile and the other half exposed to the view of passersby. He ordered an autopsy, which revealed two distinct blows on the head and a third injury over her throat, and two scratches, possibly fingernail, on the left side of her neck. Her clothes had been torn, but she was not raped.
Mrs. Littleman told the coroner that she bathed her daughter every Saturday and that there were no marks or scratches on her body. She said the girl never played in the lumber yard, never climbed on the lumber piles, never had fainted, never been subject to dizzy spells.
The coroner’s report was inconclusive: “I am of the opinion that the child’s death was not the result of an accident, but the result of criminal violence. The evidence does not disclose the guilty party.”
Detectives visited the scene repeatedly, scouring for the slightest clue, interviewing and re-interviewing people in the neighborhood. This had not been the first attack on Emma Littleman. The girl suffered from frequent headaches, and the teachers at the First Intermediate School would allow her to sit in the yard when she felt ill. About six months prior, she went out into the yard and in a few moments came running in screaming because a man had chased her into an outhouse. School officials and police investigated but could find no traces of a man fitting the description she gave. Teachers believed that the girl, having a nervous disposition, overreacted “when seeing a colored man.” The girl stuck to her story, however.
Herman Littleman had seen Jacob Weinkamp, the son-in-law of the owner of the lumber yard, in the vicinity of the lumber yard around 3:30 p.m., though Weinkamp said he was not. The girl’s father put a lot of pressure on the police to arrest him, but there was no evidence connecting him to the crime.
Even so, when Weinkamp heard that he was to be arrested for the crime he fled to Kentucky, but no charges were ever filed, against him or anyone.