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Herman DRENTH

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: Harry F. Powers
 
A.K.A.: "Mail-order Bluebeard" - "The West Virginia Bluebeard"
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Bluebeard
Number of victims: 5 +
Date of murders: July 1931
Date of birth: 1889
Victims profile: Asta Buick Eicher, 50, a widow with three children - Greta, 14; Harry, 12, and Anabel, 9 / Dorothy Lemke, 50
Method of murder: Hanging - Hitting with a hammer
Location: Quiet Dell, West Virginia, USA
Status: Executed by hanging at the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville on March 18, 1932
 
 

 
 
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Herman Drenth (1929-1932) was a 49-year old rural resident from Clarksburg, Virginia who constructed a sound-proof concrete underground chamber in his house. He would later confide to police that it gave him sexual excitement to hear his victims' screams from within the chamber at night.

He was suspected of perhaps as many as 50 victims, widowed women who answered his lonely heart ads for courtship and possible marriage.

When the women would show up at his ranch, sometimes with children, he would throw them all down the chamber and send down buckets for them to sign letters withdrawing any money they had in bank and liquidating all other assets they had.

He usually killed the children right away with a hammer and let the women starve or he beat them to death. Postal inspectors caught up with him, and he was sentenced to death by hanging.


Herman Drenth

Using many aliases, Herman Drenth lured countless women to an underground chamber located beneath his garage in Quiet Dell, West Virginia. A classic Bluebeard, Drenth scoured lonely-hearts ads in out-of-town papers and wrote the wome tantalizing letters. If the ladies were willing to come visit Drenth he would swindle away their cash and dispose of them.

Arrested after an anonymous tip, Drenth's murder dungeon was searched and many items found that made it clear that many women had probably not escaped the clutches of the cold-hearted Drenth. Five bodies were soon unearthed from the garden: Aster Eicher and her three children from Park Ridge, Illinios, and Dorothy Lemke from Northboro, Massachusetts. When questioned concerning the small mountain of items who's owners were unknown Drenth clammed up, muttering only "You've got me on five, what good would fifty more do?"

It could never be proved that Drenth killed more than the five buried in his yard. He was sentenced to death and hung on March 18, 1932.


Herman Drenth

A used furniture dealer from Clarksburg, West Virginia, Herman Drenth earned his real money through the operation of a deadly matrimonial racket, spanning the U.S. in the 1920's and '30's. Though legally married in Clarksburg, Drenth traveled widely in search of victims, consoling his wife with reports of his "business trips" from Boston to Spokane, and all points in between...

The "business" he was in, as cops discovered in 1931, was bigamy and murder. Drenth's hobby was attaching himself to wealthy widows, marrying them and bringing them back 'crost the threshold', to his "scientific laboratory" in the woods adjoining Clarksburg. There, he mercilessly gassed his aged brides to death and cashed in their fortunes...

A farmer living in the same vicinity eventually complained to police about the noxious odors emanating from the "lab". Their search revealed two rooms: a killing chamber, where Drenth's hapless victims were bound, and lethal gas piped in; and an adjoining "operations room", where Drenth sat safely behind a plate glass window, gloating (and wanking, most likely) at their final agony. The killing chamber's floor was caked with blood, where Drenth had used a *claw hammer* to savagely bludgeon the three young children of his last victim, Asa Buick Eicher, prior to gassing her as usual.

Arrested for the Eicher slayings and the murder of another widow, Dorothy Lemke, Drenth broke down and confessed after two rotted corpses were found in a ditch near the "lab". He readily admitted deriving sexual pleasure from watching his victims gag to death, commenting, "it beat any cathouse I was ever in"...

The local press christened Drenth "America's Worst Bluebeard", and cops speculated that he may well have snuffed over *fifty* women in all. Our Hero, however, was uncooperative when it came to recovering bodies. "You got me on five", he reminded his jailers. "What good would fifty more do?"

Drenth climbed the gallows on March 18, 1932, taking his total kill tally with him -- straight into Hell...

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans


March 18, 1932: Execution of mass murderer Harry Powers

The story of West Virginia's most famous mass murderer first hit the local newspapers in Clarksburg in the late summer of 1931. It didn't take long for the national press to pick up the story and relate Harry Powers' grisly deeds to a Depression-weary nation.

Powers and his wife ran a grocery store in Clarksburg and lived south of town in Quiet Dell. When he was arrested, police found trunks filled with love letters and the personal effects of one of his victims. They later discovered five corpses, two women and three children, buried in a drainage ditch beside Powers' garage. Upon further investigation, police determined Powers had served time in other states for defrauding widows.

A police investigation found Powers had befriended the two women under the assumed name of Cornelius Pierson. He first abducted Asta Eicher and her three children from their home in Park Ridge, Illinois. Powers reassured suspicious neighbors, telling them the children were in Europe. Dorothy Lemke of Northboro, Massachusetts, was Powers' last victim, because police had traced the name Cornelius Pierson to a Clarksburg post office box.

Interest in Powers' trial was so intense it had to be held in a specially constructed courtroom at Moore's Opera House in Clarksburg. Even though Powers maintained his innocence, it took a jury only two hours to return a guilty verdict. During the trial, prison guards claimed Powers confessed to the murders as well as the killing of a salesman with whom he had worked at a Clarksburg carpet company.

Powers had come to be known nationally as the "Bluebeard of Quiet Dell." He was hanged on March 18, 1932, at the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville.

Harry Powers' story was the basis for a classic novel by former Clarksburg author Davis Grubb. Grubb used the name Harry Powell for the lead character in his book, Night of the Hunter, set in Depression-era West Virginia. Like Harry Powers, Grubb's character played upon the affections of a widow and killed her for money.


Bluebeard dies on scaffold, silent to end

Camden Courier-Post

March 19, 1932

Harry F. Powers Shows No Emotion as He Goes to Death on Gallows

Five murders laid ti W. Va. Letter Wooer

Witnesses Told to Park Guns With Wardens as March Begins

Moundsville, W. Va., March 18- Harry F. Powers, West Virginia Bluebeard, went to his death on the gallows in the state penitentiary here tonight with his lips sealed.

Accused of the murder of five persons- two women and three children- Powers made no effort to talk, although an opportunity was given him at the last second before the trap was sprung.

The official prison announcement said the trap was sprung at 9:00 o'clock. Five physicians declared him dead eleven minutes later.

The murder of which he was convicted and for which he was hanged was that of Mrs. Dorothy Pressler Lemke, of Northboro, Mass.

His life was snapped away in the state penitentiary by a thick bull rope and a five-foot drop before a crowd of nearly 40 persons who pressed forward, tense and nervous, as the trap was sprung.

Displays No Emotion

The modern Bluebeard showed no emotion as he went to his death. A twitching of the lips, a simple twist of his head, a quietly pronounced "no" answering the question weather he desired to say anything before he passed into eternity--these were the only incidents as he stood high up on the platform of the gallows, waiting the drop.

Eleven minutes elapsed from the time the body plunged downward until the five doctors who pressed about him applying stethoscopes announced he was dead. But he had been unconscious, apparently, from the moment the thick rope had snapped his neck, for there was no tremor, not even the slightest movement of the rope.

Moundsville had taken on a holiday festive appearance in preparation for the execution of the man whose crimes startled the world. Outside the prison a crowd gathered along the curbs. Automobiles were lined up for blocks. Inside, state officials, prison officials, doctors, policemen,  even one of the jurors who convicted the man, gathered to await the summons that would take them to the dingy death house in a remote corner of the prison grounds.

Powers had been prepared before the march started for the death house. He was dressed in a black suit with a pin stripe, and wore a rather gaudy blue tie and a white collar.

The grim voice of a deputy warden delivered the first warning that the march was about to begin.

"Any person who is armed will leave his guns at the desk until he returns," he said. Not a man moved forward. The voice rang out again. "Cameras will be left at the desk also". Again not a man in the crowd stepped forward, but if there had been cameras they would have been useless in the cramped space where the audience stood to witness the death plunge there was barely room to move.


Lonely Hearts Murderer

By Mara Bovsun - NY Daily News

Sunday, April 5th 2009

Long before there was a craigslist or dot-com dating, there were places where men and women who were too shy or busy to meet face to face could find romance. Calling themselves "matrimonial bureaus," these organizations were known mostly as the "lonely hearts clubs," and they flourished through the middle of the 20th century.

Such was Detroit's American Friendship Society, which opened its doors in 1927. By 1931, it had earned more than $100,000. The business continued to thrive, even after the country plunged into the Depression.

For an annual fee ($4.95 for men, $1.95 for women), members got a listing of available matches, mostly widows and widowers, with a description of their most attractive features - whether real or not.

Among American Friendship's clients in 1931 was a man who, based upon his written profile, should have had no trouble attracting the ladies.

"Wealthy widower," the ad read, "worth $150,000. Has income from $400 to $2,000 a month." His profession was listed as "civil engineer."

"Own a beautiful 10-room brick home, completely furnished with everything that would make a good woman happy. My wife would have her own car and plenty of spending money. Would have nothing to do but enjoy herself."

Cooler heads might have figured this was too good to be true, but not Asta Eicher, 50, a Chicago widow with three children - Greta, 14; Harry, 12, and Anabel, 9. Eicher's husband, a silversmith, had died eight years earlier, and since his death she had dedicated herself to raising her family.

In a flash, they disappeared

In July 1931, for the first time in years, she had told friends that romance had again entered her life. But other than her new love's name, Mr. Pierson, she offered few details.

That same month, she asked William O'Boyle, a boarder, to find another place to live. The excuse she gave was that the pudgy, pig-faced little Pierson, who had been hanging around the house for weeks, was moving in.

Then she and her children disappeared. No one paid much attention until August, when O'Boyle went back to Eicher's house to pick up some tools he had left behind. Eicher and her children were gone, but the man O'Boyle knew as Pierson was there, and he was emptying the house.

O'Boyle called police, who asked the stranger about the missing family.

The man introduced himself as "Cornelius O. Pierson, of the Fairmont Hotel, Fairmont, W.Va." The Eichers, he said, had moved to Colorado, and had left him behind to settle their affairs. He produced a letter that appeared to be in Eicher's handwriting, saying he had paid her property taxes and mortgage, and that he should tidy up the house to prepare it for renters. But when he could offer no real details on the whereabouts of the family, police decided to probe a little more.

No one in Fairmont, W.Va., had ever heard of him, and it seemed that the trail was about to go cold. Then investigations at Eicher's house yielded a few clues, in the form of love letters.

The letters led them to a small property near a West Virginia hamlet called Quiet Dell, where Pierson lived under the name Harry Powers, with his wife of four years, Luella.

It would soon become known as the "murder farm."

Powers insisted that the Eichers had gone west, but then just a few seconds later, he sputtered that the widow had traveled with him to West Virginia.

The conflicting stories raised suspicions, so detectives kept sniffing around. They learned that two months earlier, Powers had built a garage on the property. When they took a look inside, they found jewelry, clothes and other items that had belonged to Eicher.

Soon after that, the widow and her children were found. On Aug. 28, police dug up four corpses, wrapped in burlap sacks and buried in a shallow grave. A day later, they found the body of another woman in the garage. She would later be identified as Dorothy Lemke, 50, a divorcée from Northboro, Mass. Like Eicher, Lemke had gone missing in July.

So many victims

Inside Powers' home, there was a trunk-load of correspondence from more than 100 love-starved widows and spinsters from all over the country. Letters and photos found in the trunk suggested that he had been operating as a love racketeer for more than a decade. A roll of film left in a camera was developed, yielding images of Lemke and Powers together.

After a brutal grilling by police, Powers confessed to the five murders. After promising marriage, he had driven Eicher and her kids from Chicago to his farm. He locked them up for a few days, then took them to a room where he had suspended a noose from the rafters.

One by one, they were hanged. "I was permitting little Harry Eicher to watch the killing of his mother and the others, but in the middle of it he let out an awful scream," Powers told police. "I was afraid the neighbors would hear it, so I picked up a hammer and let him have it."

Lemke had arrived a day after the Eichers. She was ushered into the garage, locked up and later hanged.

Digging around the farm produced no more bodies, but there was a strong suspicion that Powers had killed before. Asked once how many he had murdered, he shrugged his shoulders and muttered, "I don't know."

Other women came forth with stories of how Powers had wooed them.

Bessie Storrs of Olean, N.Y., told The Associated Press that her wedding had been planned for the day that Powers had been arrested.

Other women said that they emptied their bank accounts when their mail-order bridegroom proposed.

As soon as he pocketed their cash, he vanished, leaving the ladies sadder and wiser, but alive.

Bank accounts held by Eicher and Lemke had been cleared out just before the murders, leaving little question as to a motive.

Quick conviction, then hanging

In anticipation of enormous crowds, the trial, which started on Dec. 7, 1931, was moved from a courtroom to the 1,200-seat opera house in Clarksburg. Powers seemed unconcerned as the trial opened, chewing gum and yawning through the first day. By the time he got on the stand, however, he was in tears. He said that his miserable marriage had driven him to seek out mail-order sweethearts. But he denied the killings, recanting his earlier confession.

After deliberating for one hour and 50 minutes in the opera-house dressing room, the jury found him guilty. The penalty was death by hanging.

In jail, the prisoner produced a detailed confession. And, on the gallows, March 18, 1932, Powers was given the chance, as are all condemned men, to offer a last statement. But for once, the Don Juan who had spewed out thousands of words to women all over the country had nothing to say.

"No," was all he uttered before the trapdoor opened and he plunged to his death.


Harry Powers: Bluebeard of Quiet Dell

Clarksburg Telegram - March 19, 1932

POWERS KEPT IRON NERVE

BLUEBEARD CONFESSED TO DOCTOR

Forty-two Persons Witness Execution at Moundsville Penitentiary

By WILBUR M. SWIGER

Moundsville, March 19. - Displaying the same iron nerve he did during his trial in Clarksburg, Harry F. Powers, mass slayer, went to his death on the gallows at the state penitentiary, at Moundsville last night.

The multiple murderer, who wooed and won women by mail by the matrimonial bureau method, walked up the unlucky thirteen steps of the gallows almost unassisted, according to prison guards. His legs and hands were strapped securely as he stood behind the dark curtain that screened him at first from the gaze of the forty-two spectators. The audience stood beyond the stage-like trap in front of him in the immaculately white death room chamber.

Warden A. C. Scroggins and guards pulled the curtain back and there the mail order Romeo stood. He was dressed immaculately. He wore a dark suit with white pin stripes in it. His bright light blue necktie was tied neatly and he had on a white broadcloth shirt. His face was clean shaven and he appeared in excellent physical condition. So neat was his appearance, that he might have been the bridegroom at one of the many weddings he planned in his matrimonial bureau correspondence with scores of women all over the country.

The heavy rimmed tortoise shell glasses were the only thing that were missing that made the Lothario look different than when he sat upon the stage in Moore's opera house at Clarksburg. Then he told a fantastic story of how two mysterious men were responsible for the death of Mrs. Dorothy Pressler Lemke, of Northboro, Mass., the woman he was convicted of murdering.

LEERS AT AUDIENCE.

He appeared pale in the gruesome glare of the lights of the death trap. For a full minute, it seemed, he leered at those in the audience in front of him. His light blue eyes roamed to the officers whose evidence had brought him to his doom, and to the newspaper men, who wrote many columns about his horrifying crimes. Powers had no love for officers, or the press and his last glances at them seemed to say as much.

But the slayer of Mrs. Lemke and Mrs Asta Buick Eicher and three children, the latter of Park Ridge, Ill., showed no signs of nervousness. He seemed resigned to his fate; it appeared that he wanted to show those responsible for gathering the evidence against him that he wasn't afraid even in death. Standing on the death trap with Powers were Warden Scroggins and several guards. The guards lined up back of the condemned man. The warden was at Powers's left. The prison chaplain, E. M. Giesey, was at his right.

VOICE IS FIRM

Solemnly, the warden asked Powers if he had any farewell statement to make. He hesitated a moment and then answered "No" in a voice that did not have a quiver in it.

"We commit Harry Powers's soul to Thee and ask that Thou pardon his sins," chanted the chaplain.

His eyes weak, because he did not have on his glasses, Powers blinked in the glare of the lights and did not seem to heed the words of the chaplain, although several days ago he expressed belief in a Supreme Being and sought solace in religion. While in the Clarksburg jail he claimed to be an atheist.

A guard at the rear slipped the black death cap over Powers's head quickly. Like a plummet he dropped through the trap to his death at the signal of Deputy E. C. Brill, captain of the prison guards.

Attendants stationed at three buttons pushed them and sprung the trap. None knew who released it.

Powers died without a tremor. Physicians with stethoscopes stepped behind the railing separating the trap from where the spectators stood. One placed an instrument over Powers's heart; another held a stop watch.

DIED IN 11 MINUTES.

Silently the first minutes passed. The warden has asked those in the death chamber to refrain from talking. Finally a guard whispered:

"They usually die in from nine to eleven minutes."

Powers went through the trap at exactly 9 o'clock. He was officially pronounced dead eleven minutes later by Dr. R. A. Ashworth, prison physician, and Dr. O. P. Wilson, the latter's assistant.

Dr. H. H. Haynes, of Clarksburg, who witnessed the hanging, helped the prison physicians to make their examinations, and immediately after Powers's death, the Clarksburg doctor announced that he had a complete confession of Powers's crimes.

After the trap had sprung, exacting society's toll for the murder of Mrs. Lemke, Dr. Haynes disclosed he has Powers's written confession, admitting in detail the murder of five persons.

These five - Mrs. Lemke and Mrs. Eicher and her three children - were killed and their bodies were buried in a narrow ditch near Powers's "chamber of horrors" garage on his wife's deserted farm in sylvan Quiet Dell, near Clarksburg.

FINANCED DEFENSE

Dr. Haynes and Sheriff W. B. Grimm, of Clarksburg, told newspaper men that in the confession Powers described in detail how he killed his victims. With one, he spent eight hours before completing his work of destruction.

Dr. Haynes said he had financed part of Powers's defense and that the proceeds were intended to reimburse him.

A short time after Powers's body was removed from the death chamber, an envelope addressed to Warden Scroggins was opened.

Therein was a letter in which the man about to die had protested his innocence. He assailed capital punishment, which he insisted fails to reduce the number of murder cases.

"There are more in West Virginia than in Wisconsin," he explained.

He reiterated that his trial was "unfair," that it was held in an opera house "where people go to be entertained." He recalled he had twice been menaced by a mob, yet had been refused a change of venue.

COMMUNITY INFLAMED

He said the community was inflamed against him and that falsehoods had been published about him.

Sheriff Grimm said Powers had confessed the slayings a short time after his arrest. He denied the confession had been forced from Powers through a "third degree."

Confronted by evidence, the sheriff said, Powers was asked to sign a confession. He was permitted to study a written statement along in another room.

Not knowing Powers was there, Grimm said he walked into the room and Powers called him to his side. Powers said he would not sign the confession "because it involves my wife and her sister."

Asked if he would sign the paper if their names were omitted, he replied:

"Sure, I'll sign it."

And he did, Grimm asserted.

Fears that Powers would suffer a nervous collapse were expressed an hour before the hanging, when he was visited by the sheriff and the warden.

PROTESTS INNOCENCE

Grimm, trustee for Mrs. Lemke's estate, questioned Powers about what had become of the woman's jewelry.

Powers, sobbing bitterly, staggered from his bunk, crossed to a table on which there was a Bible, and cried:

"With my hand on this Book of God, I swear by the teachings of my mother, that I know nothing about it."

He continued to weep, as the two officials, tears streaming down their faces, left him.

Nearly an hour later, however, those who were to escort him to his death, found Powers waiting calmly.

Whether or not this story, which is to be copyrighted, uncovers any new crimes is unknown, but Dr. Haynes and Sheriff W. B. Grimm say that in it the mass slayer tells in detail how he killed the five persons.

Dr. W. A. Marsh, of Greenlawn, near Adamston, who attended the hanging, declared just before the execution took place that he had it "from a reliable source" that Powers in one statement admitted to the murder of Dudley C. Wade, carpet sweeper salesman, who disappeared so mysteriously, May 10, 1928. Dr. Marsh said he was bound by confidence not to reveal his informant.

Wade and Powers worked for the same carpet sweeper company. Wade disappeared and Powers took over management of the agency here. Company officials, checking up, found a number of sweepers missing here. Powers insisted Wade had sold them and had run off with the money.

The company offered a reward for recovery of the missing sweepers, but got no results. Then a search warrant was sworn out and many of the sweepers were found, with the serial number changed, in Powers's garage on Lynn avenue, Broad Oaks.

Powers was arrested, but blamed the sweeper trouble on Wade. "I had recovered the sweepers and was going to turn them in," said Powers. His ingenious plea won his freedom.

Then Powers sued the sweeper company and got most of the reward offered for the stolen property.

Wade has never been found. Officers feel certain he either is dead or is living somewhere under an assumed name.

CONTRADICTS HIMSELF

T. A. Hoganson, Grundy county, Illinois coroner, told this writer he is convinced in his own mind Powers killed an unidentified woman at Morris, Ill. "He told me in an interview that he had never been in the state of Illinois," declared Hoganson. "In that statement he contradicted himself, for he had many times admitted to being in Illinois. The Eicher family lived at Park Ridge, Ill., and Powers during his imprisonment in the Harrison county jail at Clarksburg never denied visiting the Eichers there.

"The automobile Powers drove to Morris, Ill., corresponded with the coupe Powers owned," continued Hoganson. "The rooming house keeper from whom he rented a garage says she is certain from the pictures she has seen of Powers that he was the same man who rented storage room from her. She says there was a stifling odor in the garage. She told her renter about the odor. Later the body of the woman wrapped in burlap was found beside the highway near Morris."

Powers's body was not claimed by his widow, and will be buried in a few days in the prison potter's field, in dismal Toms Run valley.

 


Harry Powers: Bluebeard of Quiet Dell

Clarksburg Exponent - December 11, 1931

"Just What I Expected", Says Powers of First Degree Verdict

ROMEO FACES NOOSE

Jurors Study Evidence for Hour and 47 Minutes as Vast Crowd Waits.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY PLEADS AND WEEPS

Argue Motion for New Trial in Case Before Judge Southern on Saturday.

The shadow of the gallows today falls full across the pudgy figure of Harry F. Powers, as he sits in the county jail counting the days until he will mount the 13 steps to the trap that will drop him on the end of a rope, choking out his life as he choked life from his victims.

Convicted late yesterday of first degree murder of the New England nurse he lured from her home on the promises of marriage, choked to death to get her life savings, and then buried, with the bodies of four other victims, in a slimy drainage ditch outside his garage in Quiet Dell, the Bluebeard killer tomorrow will seek a new trial from Judge John C. Southern of Harrison county criminal court.

"It was just what I expected," Power told Andrew Moore, deputy sheriff and turnkey at the county jail, when he was locked in his cell a few minutes after he had calmly received the verdict of a jury of his peers.

New Trial Asked

Only the granting of a new trial by Judge Southern, Judge Birk S. Stathers of Harrison county circuit court, or the state supreme court of appeals, can save the matrimonial racketeer from expiating his crime with his life soon after the first of the New Year. The course of what promises to be successive appeals leading to the highest court of the state will begin tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock.

After his white-haired attorney, J. E. Law, had pleaded for "sympathy, justice, and mercy" for the first mass slayer this county has ever known, the state demanded nothing less than a verdict carrying with it the death penalty. The jury remained in its rooms an hour and 47 minutes deliberating the fate of the slayer, the delay being occasioned when some members of the jury considered for a time a recommendation of mercy.

Took Three Ballots

It was reported about the court house that after reaching their room for deliberation the jurors, after electing the foreman, took three ballots. On these three votes, there was said to be sentiment for life imprisonment, but this yielded and the death penalty was finally written after careful consideration of all the evidence, it was learned.

Tears streamed down the cheeks of Mr. Law as he urged the jury to apply the spirit of Jesus to the case, and he paced up and down during the seemingly interminable interval while the talesmen locked in a carefully guarded dressing room of Moore's Opera house, where the trial was held, pondered the fate of the Romeo who wooed by mail.

Powers Unmoved

Powers sat, his back to the crowded theater, almost immovable. At times it seemed he scarcely realized the enormity of his offense or the fact that 12 of his fellow citizens of this county were deciding whether his life should be terminated in the cause of justice 30 years before he reached his allotted "three score and ten".

Once Mr. Law borrowed a paper from the newspaper reporter in the front row and he and the mail order Lothario bent over it, seemingly intent on a perusal of the latest details of the case - then closed beyond recall.

Just as the crowd began to dwindle, there came a stir. Judge Southern came to the bench, and it was believed that court would be adjourned for the night.

Jury Raps Heard

Then came three loud raps from the door of the jury room. Powers looked up, his countenance tinged with a red flush, but his expression unchanged.

The jury walked in, none of its members looking at the man they had just convicted of the most serious crime in the statute books.

"Gentlemen, have you agreed upon a verdict?" slowly intoned Clerk Ben B. Jarvis.

"We have," replied Nathan Richards, Bridgeport farmer, from his seat in the rear row. He handed the folded paper to Mr. Jarvis.

His Hope Shattered

"Hearken to your verdict, gentlemen," said Jarvis, and he read:

"We, the jury, find the defendant, Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson, guilty of first degree murder as charged in the within indictment."

Powers, his hands clutched on the desk before him, seemed to stop breathing as he waited to see if the words "and further find that he be confined in the penitentiary" were added. They were not. His fate was sealed.

Judge Southern, before the jury came in, expressly warned against a demonstration in the court room, and there was none. But seconds later, while the verdict was being read again and the number of the indictment, 10357, inserted, cheers could be heard from the crown outside the courtroom. If Powers heard the gleeful mob, who had been waiting for just such an announcement through four days, he gave no sign.

State police rushed to the stage and surrounded the prisoner, but there was not the slightest excitement. Mr. Law sat motionless, his fight lost against the connected chain of circumstantial evidence adduced by the state. Then he made a formal motion that a new trial be granted and Saturday morning at 10 o'clock was fixed as the time for the start of the argument.

Jokes About Auto

Again manacled and led with a chain, Powers was hustled out to a waiting car. The motor stalled and Powers made his first remark after hearing the verdict.

"You don't have a very good chauffeur today," he said to Sheriff Grimm. And the Bluebeard, whose bespectacled countenance has appeared in virtually every paper in the nation, went silently back to the cell, from which he will re-appear only to go through the ordeal of another trial, or to start on his last journey to the state penitentiary at Moundsville, from which he will never emerge alive.

Closing scenes of the trial, staged under the strangest circumstances that a man ever fought for his life at the bar of justice, were filled with the dramatics which the court and its officers have tried so persistently and successfully to avoid.

While Mr. Law, clutching the sides of a table, talked of the love of man for man, Powers stared at the painting of a church on the back drop on the stage. While he pleaded for the jurors to remain firm in their convictions, the thought of his possible plight overcame the slayer and he wept.

Defendant Tense

While Prosecuting Attorney Will E. Morris and his assistant, William G. Stathers, pounded vigorously on the desk of the court stenographer as they tolled off point after point in the state's well-nigh perfect case of circumstantial evidence, the audience sat tense, imagining every step of Mrs. Lemke's last journey from her Northboro, Mass., home to her execution room in the Quiet Dell murder garage. Even the "crowd noise" of shuffling, nervous feet, coughing, and sharp intakes of breath at a particularly brilliant point, abated as the rival counsel fought over the life of the man who had as many aliases as victims in his rude burying ground.

The defense attorney made no statement regarding his plans for the new trial motion, but it is believed that he will rely principally on the contention that Powers could not receive a fair trial because of prejudice against him. The record is full of exceptions to the ruling of the court on admission of evidence, and these will no doubt be brought up.

May Be Sentenced

If Judge Southern passes immediately on the motion Saturday morning, and does not take time to consider, he will then sentence Powers to be hanged. The law provides that the date of execution must be fixed not earlier than 30 days from the date of sentence.

Should the new trial be refused by the criminal court judge, an appeal will be taken to the circuit court, and if the defendant is still unsuccessful in gaining a reversal of the jury's verdict, it is understood that a stay of execution will be asked for the purpose of seeking a writ of error from the state supreme court.

The case was brought to a close with rapidity yesterday morning. Defense counsel recalled to the stand state witnesses who had attempted on rebuttal to shatter Powers' alibi that he was in Hagerstown on the night the state alleged Mrs. Lemke was slain. He succeeded in having written into the record that there was a rain storm that day when the witnesses said the night when Powers stopped along the Quiet Dell road with a woman in his car to fix a flat tire was clear and "moonshiny." Two state witnesses were recalled for brief examination and at 11 o'clock, Judge Southern began reading the instructions of the court to the jury.

Reconvenes Saturday

Five instructions were offered on behalf of the state and four for the defense, while three general instructions were given by the court. The six possible verdicts were outlined as follows:

First degree murder, death penalty.
First degree murder with recommendation of mercy, life imprisonment.
Second degree murder, 5 to 18 years imprisonment.
Voluntary manslaughter, 1 to 5 years imprisonment.
Involuntary manslaughter, jail sentence or fine or both.
Not guilty.

Argument started at 11:15 with Stathers talking until noon. Law began at 1:30 and quit at 2:45. Morris talked until 3:15 and the jury retired at 3:18. The jury reported at 5:05. Court was adjourned until Saturday morning at 10 o'clock, when it will convene in the federal building. The jury was excused for the term.


Harry Powers: Bluebeard of Quiet Dell

Extract from the Transcript of Record, State of West Virginia v. Felony No. 10357 Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson, Criminal Court of Harrison County, Benjamin B. Jarvis, clerk. West Virginia State Archives Collection.

On another day, to-wit, on the 12th day of December, 1931, the following order was entered: -

State of West Virginia vs. / Upon an lndictment for a Felony No. 10357 Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson.

This day came again the State by her Prosecuting Attorney as well as the defendant, Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson, in person, who was set to the bar of lthe Court in the custody of the Sheriff and jailer of this County and represented by J. E. Law, his attorney; and the motion of the defendant, made at a former day of this court, to set aside the verdict returned by the jury in this action on the 10th day of December, 1931, and to grant him a new trial herein having been argued, by counsel and considered by the Court is hereby overruled and said new trial denied; to which ruling and action of the Court in overruling said motion and refusing a new trial herein the said defendant duly excepted.

And it being demanded of the said defendant if there was anything he knew or had to say why the sentence of the Court should not be pronounced against him, and nothing being urged in delay thereof, it is considered and ordered by the Court that he, the said Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson, be hung by the neck until he is dead, and the execution of this judgment to be done upon him, the said Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson, by the Warden of the penitentiary of this State at Moundsville on Friday, the 18th day of March, in the year Nineteen Hundred and Thirty-two; said execution to take place within the walls of said penitentiary according to law.

The Clerk of this court is hereby directed to deliver a copy of this order to W. B. Grimm, Sheriff and jailer of this County, who shall retain the custody of the said Harry F. Powers alias Cornelius O. Pierson, until a properly authorized guard, sent by the Warden of said penitentiary to receive him, shall convey said defendant, Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson, to said penitentiary; and the Clerk shall also notify the Warden of said penitentiary of the conviction and sentence of the said defendant that he may as soon as practicable be removed and safely conveyed to said institution there to be kept in the manner provided by law until the said 18th day of March, 1932, when the execution of the judgment aforesaid shall be done upon him, the said Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson, And the said defendant expressing a desire to apply for a writ of error and supersedeas to the judgment aforesaid, it is ordered that the execution thereof be, and the same is hereby suspended until the first day of the March Term, 1932, of this court, to enable the said defendant to make such application, and the said defendant hath leave to prepare, tender and have his bill or bills of exception signed, sealed and made part of the record herin within sixty (60) days from the adjournment on the present term of court.

Thereupon the said defendant was remanded to jail in the custody of the Sheriff and jailer of this County.


"We Make Thousands Happy"

Time Magazine

September 4, 1931

Advertisements in cheap, pornographic ("love" and "art") magazines conform to the standard of their fiction and illustrations but often fall a step lower. Pages are packed with announcements of "red hot" photographs, vigor tablets ("Glow of Life"), bust developers, sex secrets, aphrodisiacs ("Essence of Ecstasy"), contraceptives. Plentiful also are the advertisements of so-called matrimonial bureaus which will furnish lists of lonely men & women, object matrimony. Stressed in the advertisements, prominent on the lists are Wealthy Widows. Sample advertisements:

"LONELY HEARTS—Join the world's greatest social extension club, meet nice people who, like yourself, are lonely (many wealthy); one may be your ideal. . . . We have made thousands happy. Why not you?—Standard Club, Box 607, Grayslake, Ill."

"MARRY! New big directory, photos, descriptions, sent sealed, 10 cents.—Cozy Darling, Dept. 10, Kansas City, Mo."

"LONELY HEARTS—Let us arrange a romantic correspondence for you. A club for refined, lonely people. Members everywhere; strictly CONFIDENTIAL, efficient and dignified service—Eva Moore. Box 908. Jacksonville, Fla. I HAVE A SWEETHEART FOR YOU."

"WEALTHY LADIES, RICH WIDOWS, LOVELY GIRLS, want to marry. ('Write for free sealed list)—Mary E. Hill. Monon Building, Chicago, Ill."

"LONESOME FOLKS, DANDY LITTLE LADIES, many wealthy, will marry —Mrs. Budd, Box 753-L, San Francisco, Calif."

"There are more people starving for love and companionship than there are starving for bread," red-inked the American Friendship Society of Detroit, which offered "ABSOLUTELY FREE" lists of wealthy widows to anybody who had the price of a two-cent stamp. In four years the "society" had collected more than $100,000 in "dues." Its president, a Mrs. Olga Plater, and her husband, Albert Browel Plater (who in 1917 had been accused of impersonating a Russian count, a U. S. Army captain), lived in a $50,000 home near Detroit. Last week the American Friendship Society was involved in a sordid, hideous mess. In a shallow grave beside a garage in Clarksburg, W. Va., were found the bodies of two women and three children. In Clarksburg jail cowered a fat, beady-eyed, flabby little man, battered and bruised into a confession of his sadism. Police in many States followed clues to other crimes, other murders, all linked to Clarks burg's "Bluebeard" and the matrimonial societies through which he operated. From his papers it was apparent he had conducted at least 115 mail-order "court ships" with lonely, foolish women. Relatives of Widow Asta Buick Eicher, 50, in Park Ridge, Ill., became suspicious when Harry F. Powers, with whom she and her three children had left home after a mail-order courtship, reappeared to claim her house. Letters from Powers postmarked Clarksburg, W. Va., were found in the house. Clarksburg police went to Powers' home (not far from where famed Lawyer John William Davis once lived) and beside a windowless, cell-like garage dug up the bodies of Mrs. Eicher and her children. The two girls, 9 and 14, had been strangled; the head of the boy, 12, was beaten in with a hammer. The police arrested Powers, pounded a confession out of him. Convicts still digging in the foul trench found the body of Dorothy Pressler Lemke, a grass widow who had withdrawn $1,533 from a bank and left Northboro, Mass, with Powers a month earlier.

Killer Powers was rushed for safety from the city to the county jail while police began to investigate the activities of Luella Struthers, a wife whom he had not killed, who still lived with him and who had paid for construction of the garage. They learned she had been divorced by a man acquitted of murder in 1903, had met Powers through a marriage agency. They sought to connect her with a check forged on Mrs. Eicher's account and with a letter written to relatives of Mrs. Lemke. Police elsewhere, investigating Powers' courtships, learned he had been about to marry yet another woman when he was arrested, that he had stolen from many others. They sought evidence to accuse him of a Washington, D. C. murder.

The police also learned that a Detroit widow, mother of three, had found a husband through the American Friendship Society, had been murdered by him just before he committed suicide. While investigation of the "society" was being pressed, unexpected aid came to Killer Powers. One Barratt O'Hara, a Chicago criminal attorney, flew to Clarksburg and aroused the ire of the townspeople by announcing he would defend the prisoner. He refused to tell who had sent him. Clarksburg authorities, fearing an insanity plea, imported Alienist Edward Everett Mayer from the University of Pittsburgh, had him examine the prisoner.

Dr. Mayer's report: "Powers is a psychopathic personality ... of the hypopituitary type—squat, pig-eyed, paunchy, with weakened sexual powers. He is not insane, but he has been a borderline case all his life. Powers is capable of knowing right from wrong."


excerpted from

THE LITERATURE OF THE AMERICAN SERIAL KILLER

By Patterson Smith

A lonely-hearts killer operating in [Earle] Nelson's time was a man named Herman Drenth, who was known chiefly by his last alias, Harry F. Powers. A traveling salesman based in West Virginia, Powers used matrimonial correspondence agencies to ensnare lonely women, whom he robbed then murdered.

Police estimated that before his arrest in 1931 he had killed fifty victims, although that number seems highly doubtful. He confessed to killing only those five whose bodies were found buried next to his "murder garage," wherein he bound and gassed his victims and watched in delight as they died. The pleasure of the sight, said Powers, "beat any cat house I was ever in."

I have a form letter in Powers' hand which he used to inveigle female correspondents. In it he announces himself "longing for someone to take [my former wife's] place in my heart," and promises that his new wife "can have anything, within reason, that money can buy." The letter begins, "My age is [blank], height 67 inches, have clear blue eyes, medium dark hair." Powers evidently had used the letter as a model for writing to various women, no doubt adjusting his age to fit the year of writing or the age of his correspondent.

The printed legacy of Powers consists of a scarce book by Evan Allen Bartlett, Love Murders of Harry F. Powers: Beware Such Bluebeards (1931) and a scarcer undated contemporary pamphlet of 14 pages, "Love Secrets of Bluebeard. The use of the term "Bluebeard" in the title to denote a murderer of women, the prevalent usage for the last two hundred years, is somewhat interesting, since the original Bluebeard was a fifteenth-century French nobleman named Gilles de Rais who was a homosexual killer of boys.


SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: S MOTIVE: CE

VICTIMS: 50 alleged.

MO: Profit-motivated "Bluebeard" slayer of prospective fiancées lured with lonely-hearts ads.

DISPOSITION: Confessed five murders; hanged for one on Mar. 19, 1932.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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