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Johann Otto HOCH

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "The Bluebeard Murderer"
 
Birth name: John Schmidt
 
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: "Bluebeard" - Poisoner
Number of victims: 15 +
Date of murders: 1890 - 1905
Date of arrest: January 30, 1905
Date of birth: 1855
Victims profile: Women
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Status: Sentenced to  death on June 23, 1905. Executed by hanging on February 23, 1906
 
 
 
 
 
 

photo gallery

 
 
 
 
 
 

Johann Otto Hoch (1855 - 1906) is the most famous and last-used alias of a German-born murderer and bigamist, John Schmidt. He was found guilty of the murder of one wife but is thought to have killed many more. He was hanged.

Early life

Hoch was born John Schmidt in 1855, at Horweiler, Germany. He immigrated to the United States as a young man in the 1890s and dropped his surname in favor of assorted pseudonyms where he began to marry a string of women, frequently taking the name of his most recent victim. He would swindle all their money and either leave them or kill them with arsenic and then begin his pattern all over again.

At age 51 Chicago police would dub him "Americas greatest mass murderer," but statistics remain vague in this puzzling case. We know that Hoch bigamously married at least 55 women between 1890 and 1905, bilking all of them for cash and slaying many, but the final number of murder victims is a matter of conjecture. Sensational reports credit Hoch with 25 to 50 murders, but police were only certain of 15, and in the end he went to trial (and to the gallows) for a single homicide.

Hoch's first and only legal wife was Christine Ramb, who bore him three children before he deserted her in 1887.

Murders

By February 1895, as "Jacob Huff," he had surfaced in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he won the heart and hand of Caroline Hoch, a middle-aged widow. They were married in April, and Caroline fell gravely ill three months later. Called to her beside, Rev. Hermann Haas watched "Huff" administer a potion that Haas believed to be poison, but the minister took no action and Caroline died days later in agony. "Huff" cleaned out her $900 bank account, sold their house, collected $2500 in life insurance benefits -- and vanished. Suicide was suspected, with his clothing, his watch, and note found on the bank of the Ohio River, but no body was ever recovered.

Hoch kept his latest victim's surname -- described by prosecutors as "a warped keepsake stored in an evil mind" -- and moved on to Chicago, finding work in the meat-packing plants when he was not engaged with the business of spent a year in jail for defrauding a used-furniture dealer. Police Inspector George Shippy also suspected Hoch of bigamy, and murder was added to the list upon receipt of a letter from the Rev. Hass in West Virginia. Shippy started digging into Hoch's background, turning up reports of dozens of missing or deserted women from San Francisco to New York City, but solid evidence remained elusive.

In Wheeling, Caroline Hoch was exhumed in a search for arsenic traces, but surgeons found the body gutted, all her vital organs missing. Hoch was released at the end of his jail term, chalking up another 15 wives before his ultimate arrest in 1905.

Aware that Shippy and others were charting his movements, Hoch killed more often and more swiftly while swindling women. Selecting his victims from newspaper "lonely heart" columns, Hoch went merrily about his business by relying on primitive embalming fluids with their high arsenic content to cover any traces of poison in his victims.

On December 5, 1904, he married Marie Walcker in Chicago, killing her at once. Wasting no time, Hoch proposed to his sister-in-law on the night of Marie's death, and they were married six days after the hasty funeral. Amelia Hoch bestowed a gift of $750 on her husband, prompting him to vanish with the cash, and immediately summoned the police.

Modern science was Hoch's downfall. His late wife's mortician employed a new embalming fluid with no taint of arsenic. Medical examiners found poison in Marie Walcker's system and Hoch was charged with her murder, his picture mailed to every major American newspaper. In New York City, a middle-aged landlady recognized "Henry Bartels," a new tenant who had proposed marriage to her 20 minutes after renting a room. At his arrest, police seized a revolver, a several wedding rings with their inscriptions filed off, and a fountain pen filled with arsenic -- which Hoch claimed was intended for himself, a foiled attempt suicide.

Chicago journalist dubbed Hoch the "Stockyard Bluebeard," trumpeting the speculative details of his criminal career. At the trial he whistled, hummed, and twirled his thumbs throughout the prosecutions case, apparently while well pleased with his position in the limelight. On Conviction of Marie Walcker's murder, he was sentenced to hang, telling the court, "it's all over with Johann. It serves me right."

Mounting the gallows on February 23, 1906, Hoch reverted to a claim of innocence, declaring "I am done with this world. I have done with everybody." As the trap was sprung, a local newsman quipped, "Mr. Hoch, but the question remains: What have you done with everybody?" Part of the solution was unearthed in 1935 when human bones were found inside the wall of a Chicago house once occupied by Hoch. It was a meager bit of evidence, the victim unidentified, and Johann's body count, the names and number of his murdered wives, will probably remain a mystery forever.

Timeline of Swindles/Killings

A turn of the century account partially reports on many of Hoch's victims, except where noted:

  • 1881, Austria – marries Annie Hock {alleged}
     

  • 1883, New York – Hoch arrives with wife Annie an invalid who dies several year later {alleged}
     

  • 1888, New York – After arriving from Wurtemburg, Hoch said to have married an immigrant servant girl who "died" prior to two months passing {alleged}. At the time of his 1905 New York arrest it was also alleged Hoch had married and either left/killed women in Vienna, Austria; London, England and Paris, France.
     

  • 1892 Chicago - Mrs. Hoyle Hoch died {alleged}
     

  • 1892, Chicago – May: Hoch under name C.A. Meyer rents flat and has a new wife {wife reportedly died after three weeks} {alleged}
     

  • 1892, Chicago – June: Hoch under name H. Irick rents flat and has a new wife {wife reportedly died a month later} {alleged}
     

  • 1893, Milwaukee – Hoch under name "Dr. James" marries Lena Schmitz-who died {alleged}
     

  • 1893 Milwaukee - Hoch marries Lena Schmitz sister Clara {died} {alleged}
     

  • 1894 Chicago - Under a new alias Hoch rents flat with a new wife {wife reportedly died after two months} {alleged}
     

  • 1895 Chicago - Arrested under alias "C.A. Calford" and charged by Mrs. Janet Spencer with having eloped; married and deserted her with a few hundred dollars of her money; he is identified as abductor of a Hulda Stevans and a participant in a diamond robbery {alleged}
     

  • 1895 April: Under the name Jacob Huff, Hoch marries Karoline/Caroline (Miller) Hoch, widow, Wheeling, WV. She died June 15, 1895. He faked his death, took her surname HOCH and went to Chicago.
     

  • 1895 July 5: Arrives in Chicago
     

  • 1895, July 15: Buys a saloon in Chicago
     

  • 1895, August 5: Aka Jacob Hoch he marries Mrs. Maria Steimbucher of Chicago-she died four months later; Hoch sold property for $4,000. Before dying she makes declaration that she has been poisoned but no notice is taken of her statement.
     

  • 1895 November: Hoch marries Mary Rankin of Chicago; Hoch disappeared with her money the next day. {It is also alleged that about 1895 Hoch aka Schmidt went back to Germany but fled from a warrant charging that he was not only a bankrupt but also owning 3,000 marks}
     

  • 1896 April: Hoch aka "Jacob Erdorf" marries Maria Hartzfield of Chicago; Hoch disappeared with $600 of her money after four months.
     

  • 1896 September 22: Hoch aka "Schmitt" marries widow Barbara Brossett of San Francisco. "Schmitt" disappeared 2 days later with $1,465 of her money; she is so affected by losses she dies afterward.
     

  • 1896: Hoch proposes to landlady Mrs H. Tannert of San Francisco, who refuses him.
     

  • 1896 November: Hoch marries Clara Bartel of Cincinnati Ohio; she dies three months later.
     

  • 1896 a Mrs. Henry Bartel dies in Baltimore {Bartel being a Hoch Alias; It is also alleged Hoch married two other times in Baltimore-to a Mrs. Nannie Klenke-Schultz; Mrs. Henrietts Brooks-Schultz; an unnamed Boston woman married to a "Louis/Charles Bartels" came to Baltimore and seized his furniture}
     

  • 1897 January: He marries Julia Dose of Hamilton Ohio-in Cincinnati; Hoch disappears same day with $700 of her money.
     

  • 1897 July 20 - Hoch aka "Henry F. Hartman" marries in Cincinnati {alleged}
     

  • 1897 December 6 - Hoch marries a woman in Williamsburg New York and disappears with $200.00 {alleged}
     

  • 1898 January 16 - Hoch aka "William Frederick Bessing" marries Mrs. Winnie Westphal in Jersey City-Hoch disappaers with $900.00 {alleged}
     

  • 1898 Buffalo-New York-a Mrs. Wilhelmina Hoch died {alleged}
     

  • 1898 March - Chicago Hoch appears aka "Martiz Dotz" with a wife who died June 1898 {alleged}.
     

  • 1898 June: Hoch aka Adolf Hoch aka Martin Dose arrested Chicago for selling already mortgaged furniture; gets one year.
     

  • 1899 Milwaukee: Hoch marries an unnamed sister of Mrs J.H. Schwartz-Marue; bride dies and Hoch disappears with $1,200 {alleged}
     

  • 1899 Norfolk Va-A Mrs Hoch died suddenly {alleged}
     

  • 1900: Allegedly Hoch aka "Albert Buschberg" married Mary Schultz of Argos, Indiana; Schultz, her 15-year-old daughter Nettie and $2,000 "Disappeared".
     

  • 1900, A "Jacob Hoch" married Anna Scheffries of Chicago (LDS record).
     

  • 1900, December 12 – Hoch aka "John Healy" marries Amelia Hohn of Chicago; deserts her after getting $100.00
     

  • 1901, November: Hoch marries Anna Goehrke; he deserts her.
     

  • 1902, April 8 - Marries Mrs Mary Becker of St Louis; she dies 1903
     

  • 1902 May - Hoch aka "Count Otto van Kern" marries Mrs Hulda Nagel whom he deserts
     

  • 1903 June 18 - Hoch aka "Dr. G.L.Hart" flees after trying to poison Mabel Leichmann-a bride of three days; Hoch flees with $300 worth of diamonds and $200 of her money {alleged}
     

  • 1903 Dayton Ohio - Hoch marries Mrs Annie Dodd {deserts her}
     

  • 1903 Dayton Ohio - Hoch marries Mrs Regina Miller Curtis (deserts her)
     

  • 1903 Milwaukee - Hoch courts Ida Zazuil but leaves her after a quarrel
     

  • 1903 December - Hoch uses marriage license for Zazuil engagement and marries Mrs. T.O'Conner of Milwaukee-deserts her with $200.00 of her money {alleged}
     

  • 1904 January 2: Aka "John Jacob Adolf Schmidt" marries Mrs Anna Hendrickson of Chicago in Hammond Indiana, and disappears January 20 with $500 of her money.
     

  • 1904 June: Hoch marries Lena Hoch of Milwaukee; she dies three weeks later leaving Hoch $1,500.
     

  • 1904 Summer: South Haven-Michigan-young woman body washes ashore-wife of Hoch? {alleged}
     

  • 1904 October 8:Hoch alias "Leo Prager" marries Bertha Dolder of Chicago-he disappears after buying $1,200 of rugs from $3,500 she gives him for a furniture store
     

  • 1904 October 20: Hoch alias "John Schmidt" marries Caroline Streicher of Philadelphia-he disappears October 31, 1904.
     

  • 1904 November 9: Hoch appears in Chicago.
     

  • 1904 November 16: Hoch alias "Joseph Hoch" leases a cottage in Chicago from a bank from November 16, 1904 to January 1, 1905; buys $120 worth of furniture.
     

  • 1904 December 10: Marries Marie Walcker of Chicago-who sells her candy store for $75.00 and gives Hoch life savings of $350.00.
     

  • 1904 December 20: Marie Walcker becomes ill.
     

  • 1905 January 12: Marie Walcker-Hoch dies.
     

  • 1905 January 15: Hoch marries Marie's sister Mrs. Fischer in Joliet Ill, who gives Hoch $750.00; Hoch leaves after Mrs. Fischer sister denounces Hoch as a murderer and swindler.
     

  • 1905 January 30: Hoch alias "Harry Bartells" proposes to his landlady Mrs. Catherine Kimmerle of New York City; she refuses and Hoch is arrested; Hoch claims alias of "John Joseph Adolf Hoch."
     

  • 1905 May 19: Hoch tried and found guilty of murder of Marie Walcker; sentenced to death June 23, 1905.
     

  • 1905 June 23: Cora Wilson of Chicago advances money so Hoch can appeal sentence to Illinois Supreme Court, which sustains lower court and sets execution date for August 25, 1905.
     

  • 1905 August 25 – Hoch execution put off until October session of Illinois Supreme Court.
     

  • 1905 December 16 – Illinois Supreme Court refuses to intervene.
     

  • 1906 February 23 – Hoch is executed in Chicago. After his execution, several cemeteries refused him burial so Hoch is buried in what was referred to a potter's field adjoining the Cook County (Illinois) Farm at Dunning (Chicago). This is the long forgotten Cook County Cemetery on the grounds of the Cook County Poor Farm at Dunning later to become Chicago State Hospital, and then became Chicago Read Zone. A portion of the cemetery has been preserved as the Read Zone-Dunning Memorial Park on Chicago's Northwest side. One article detailing his burial appeared in the New York Times on February 24, 1906.

Other reported victims

In addition to the above, it is alleged that Hoch was involved with a Mrs. John Hicks of Wheeling WV {died}; Mrs. Emma Rencke of Chicago; Mrs. Palinka of Batavia Ill; a Mrs. Fink of Aurora; Natalie Irgang; Hulda Stevens; Schwatzman of Milwaulkee; and a Justina Loeffler of Elkhart Indiana who "disappeared" in Chicago in 1903. Allegedly Hoch married twice in Cincinnati, Ohio under alias of "Henry Bartel" and "Fred Doess".

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Johann Hoch

Johann Hoch was born in Germany in 1855, but came to the United States in his youth, dropping his birthname, John Schmidt. Hoch actually used many names throughout his travels in America, using the last name of one of his early victims, Catherine Hoch, often. Mrs. Hoch had become ill and perished shortly after thier 1895 marriage. Her fate was usually the end result when women made the mistake of marrying the mysterious immigrant bluebeard.

Hoch moved throughout the country bigamously marrying a constant string of single women, many of which he located from newspaper "lonely hearts" ads. Some he simply swindled and skipped town, others he chose to murder, raking in substantial insurance settlements and cleaning out his wives bank accounts. The exact number of women that he murdered is a mystery but the minimum that police felt certain about was around fifteen.

Police in a few jurisdictions were aware that Hoch was up to no good, but could never find the evidence necessary to arrest him. In one instance, exhuming one victim, investigators found that all her vital organs had mysteriously been removed. The embalming procedures of the day also were a problem. Hoch used arsenic to dispatch of his victims. The embalming fluid used often in that time contained massive quantities of arsenic also, rendering any tests on the corpses useless. Finally a new fluid was used on victim Marie Walcker's body. Examiners then found the telltale traces of arsenic needed to help bring Hoch to justice.

Armed with concrete evidence at last, photos of Hoch were circulated throughout the U.S. and he was recognized in New York City as a man living, of course, under an alias. Hoch was arrested along with his arsenic-filled fountain pen and convicted in the Walcker murder. He was hung on February 23, 1906, claiming innocence until the end. Some of the mystery of Hoch's missing wives was resoved in 1955 when a pile of bones were found in a wall of a Chicago home once occupied by the swindeling murderer. The remains remain unidentified and most of his victims bodies were never recovered.

 
 

Hoch, Johann Otto

Born John Schmidt in 1855, at Horweiler, Germany, Hoch immigrated to the United States as a young man and dropped his given name in favor of assorted pseudonyms, frequently taking the name of his most recent victim.

At age 51, Chicago police would dub him "America's greatest mass murderer," but statistics remain vague in this puzzling case. We know that Hoch bigamously married at least 55 women between 1890 and 1905, bilking all of them for cash and slaying many, but the final number of his victims is a matter of conjecture. Sensational reports credit Hoch with 25 to 50 murders, but police were only certain of 15, and in the end he went to trial (and to the gallows) for a single homicide.

Hoch's first -- and only legal -- wife was Christine Ramb, who bore him three children before he deserted her in 1887.

By February 1895, as "Jacob Huff," he had surfaced in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he won the heart and hand of a middle-aged widow, Caroline Hoch. They were married in April, and Caroline fell gravely ill three months later. Called to her bedside, Rev. Hermann Haas watched "Huff" administer a potion that Haas believed to be poison, but the minister took no action and Caroline died days later, in agony. "Huff" cleaned out her $900 bank account, sold their house, collected $2,500 in life insurance benefits -- and vanished. Suicide was suspected, with his clothing, his watch, and a note discovered on the bank of the Ohio River, but no body was found.

Hoch kept his latest victim's surname -- described by prosecutors as "a warped keepsake stored in an evil mind" -- and moved on to Chicago, finding work in the meat packing plants when he was not engaged with the business of swindling women. Selecting his victims from newspaper "lonely-hearts" columns, Hoch went merrily about his business until 1898, when he was sentenced to a year in jail for swindling a used-furniture dealer. Police Inspector George Shippy also suspected Hoch of bigamy, and murder was added to the list on receipt of a letter from Rev. Haas in West Virginia. Shippy started digging into Hoch's background, turning up dozens of missing or deserted women from San Francisco to New York City, but solid evidence remained elusive. In Wheeling, Caroline Hoch was exhumed in a search for arsenic traces, but surgeons found the body gutted, all her vital organs missing.

Hoch was released at the end of his jail term, chalking up another fifteen wives before his ultimate arrest in 1905. Aware that Shippy and others were charting his movements, Hoch killed more often and more swiftly now, relying on primitive embalming fluids -- with their high arsenic content -- to cover any traces of poison in his victims. On December 5, 1904, he married Marie Walcker in Chicago, killing her almost at once. Wasting no time, Hoch proposed to his new sister-in-law on the night of Marie's death, and they were married six days after the hasty funeral. Amelia Hoch bestowed a gift of $750 on her husband, prompting him to vanish with the cash, and she immediately summoned the police.

Modern science was Hoch's downfall, his late wife's mortician employing a new embalming fluid with no taint of arsenic. Medical examiners found poison in Marie Walcker's system and Hoch was charged with her murder, his photograph mailed off to every major American newspaper. In New York City, a middle-aged landlady recognized "Henry Bartels," a new tenant who had proposed marriage twenty minutes after renting a room. At his arrest, police recovered a revolver, several wedding rings with the inscriptions filed off, and a fountain pen filled with arsenic. (Hoch claimed the arsenic was purchased as a step toward suicide!)

Chicago journalists dubbed Hoch the "Stockyard Bluebeard," trumpeting the speculative details of his criminal career. At trial, he whistled, hummed, and twirled his thumbs throughout the prosecution's case, apparently well pleased by his position in the limelight. On conviction of Marie Walcker's murder, he was sentenced to hang, telling the court, "It's all over with Johann. It serves me right." Mounting the gallows on February 23, 1906, Hoch maintained his innocence, declaring, "I am done with this world. I have done with everybody." As the trap was sprung, a local newsman quipped, "Yes, Mr. Hoch, but the question remains: What have you done with everybody?"

Part of the solution was unearthed in 1955, when human bones were found inside the wall of a Chicago cottage occupied by Hoch. It was a meager bit of evidence, the victim unidentified, and Johann's final body count, the names and number of his murdered wives, will probably remain a mystery forever.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers

 
 

CHICAGO'S "BLUEBEARD"

The Serial Murders of Johann Otto Hoch

In order to try and adequately understand the life and crimes of a man who was known by various names, including that of Johann Otto Hoch, we have to begin looking at the end of his criminal career, rather than the beginning. It would not be until the investigation that was started by Chicago police inspector George Shippy that the extent of Hoch's crimes would be discovered. Thanks to his tedious and detailed investigation into the murky past of the killer, Shippy would come to believe that the scores of false names and identities concealed the presence of a single murderer -- a man who had taken the lives of at least a dozen women. It would be after an arrest for swindling that Shippy would be able to reveal a devious criminal who was then unequaled in the annals of American homicide.

Johann Otto Hoch, who married and murdered for 19 years before his capture, was born John Schmidt in Horweiler, Germany in 1862. He married for the first time to a woman named Christine Ramb and he deserted her and three children in 1887. While investigating a charge of bigamy and another charge of swindling a furniture dealer, Inspector Shippy first came into contact with Hoch in 1898. At that time, he was using the alias of "Martin Dotz".

The inspector had no way of knowing that Hoch / Dotz has murdered a dozen women from all over the country but he became suspicious of him when he received a letter from Reverend Herman Haas of Wheeling, West Virginia. Reverend Haas had recognized Hoch's photograph in a Chicago newspaper and he sent along to the police another photograph of a man who was suspected of killing a Mrs. Caroline Hoch in the summer of 1895. There was no mistaking the fact that the man in the photo and the man in the police station holding cell were the same person. The problem was that the man in the photograph was supposed to have committed suicide in the Ohio River three years before! Shippy attempted to pursue this lead but realized that it was going to take a lot of time. He needed to keep Hoch in jail so he turned his efforts to the swindling charge instead. He soon had enough for a conviction and Hoch was sentenced to a year in the Cook County jail. Shippy then turned his attentions back to Hoch's other illegal activities and acting on a tip, began to search for what became a dozen missing wives. He started in West Virginia.

Hoch first appeared in Wheeling in February 1895 and used the name "Jacob Huff". He opened a saloon in a German neighborhood and became a popular man in the community. He also began to seek out marriageable widows or at least divorced women with money. One of those he found was Caroline Hoch, a middle-aged widow. The couple married in April and the service was performed by Reverend Haas, who had alerted Inspector Shippy to the identity of the man he had in custody. It was the minister who had discovered Caroline dying in agony after he had spotted her husband giving her some sort of white powder. He did not act however, and the woman died a few days later in great pain. Huff (as he was known) insisted that his wife be buried right away. He then collected on Caroline's life insurance, sold her house, cleaned out her bank accounts and disappeared.

Haas later explained to Inspector Shippy what he believed happened next. Huff walked to the nearby Ohio River on the night of his disappearance, stripped off his clothes and walked into the water. Hoch placed his good watch, with his photo in the locket, and a suicide note on his pile of clothing and then, holding a heavy sack over his head, walked into the river to a rowboat. He climbed into the boat, which he had earlier anchored there, and dressed in the clothing that had been hidden there. Afterwards, he rowed up the river, only pausing in the deep water to drop the bag that he had carefully carried with him. He continued on to the Ohio side of the river, set the boat adrift and then continued on with his journey. He was no longer Jacob Huff but Johann Otto Hoch, taking the last name of his victim.

For almost a year, Shippy followed Hoch's strange trail across the country and he found a score of dead and deserted women, from New York to San Francisco, with most of the victims being in the Midwest. Years later, he would unearth even more -- as many as 50 or even more than that --- in St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Philadelphia and beyond. Incredibly though, Shippy could not produce enough hard evidence to convict Hoch of anything and the man was soon due to be released from jail. Desperately, he contacted the authorities in Wheeling and begged them to exhume the body of Caroline Hoch and to look for signs of arsenic poisoning.

The request was carried out and the coffin was exhumed from the cemetery. However, officials were stunned when the lid was opened and it was discovered that all of the cadaver's vital organs had been surgically removed. It was later decided that this must have been what was in the weighted bag that Hoch carried with him and then dumped in the middle of the river. The body could not be examined, which meant there was no real case to be made against Hoch for Caroline's murder. At the end of his term for swindling, Hoch was released, much to the dismay of Inspector Shippy. He was convinced the man would murder again.

From 1900 to 1904, Hoch, using various names, married and murdered as many as 15 more women. Prior to his prison term in Chicago for swindling, Hoch would marry women and then slowly poison them to death, calling in doctors who he knew would innocently diagnose his wife's ailment as a disease of the kidneys, for which there was no treatment. He took his time, spending patient months and murdering his wives very carefully. After his release from the Cook County jail however, Hoch's careful method fell to pieces. He began killing in record time, marrying rich widows and then within days of the wedding, heavily dosing them with arsenic. He murdered some of his wives within a week of their nuptials. He married his last victim, Marie Walcker, in Chicago on December 5, 1904 and he poisoned her days later.

On the night of her death, the victim's estranged sister, Amelia, appeared at her home. As his wife lay dying, Hoch embraced and kissed Amelia and asked her to marry him after the death of her sister. Amazingly, she agreed. Marie was buried a day later without being embalmed and Hoch married Amelia six days after the service. The killer had received $500 from Marie's life insurance policy and Amelia gave him another $750. He disappeared immediately after and Amelia went to the Chicago police. Inspector Shippy immediately had Marie Walcker's body exhumed and the poison was found in her organs. The search was now on for the devious killer!

Shippy sent photographs of Hoch to every major newspaper in the country and a short time later, a landlady and widow in New York, Mrs. Katherine Kimmerle, recognized the likeness as being that of her new boarder, Henry Bartels. She recalled him so vividly because the strange man had proposed marriage to her only 20 minutes after he had taken the room. The authorities soon had Hoch in custody.

When he was arrested, Hoch claimed that he was being framed and the "truth" about him was misrepresented. Discovered in his room was $625, several wedding rings with the inscriptions filed off, a loaded revolver and a fountain pen that contained 58 grams of arsenic. Hoch claimed that he had planned to commit suicide with the poison. He was soon on his way back to Chicago. Inspector Shippy was waiting for him when the train arrived in the station.

During his trial, the killer hummed, whistled and twirled his thumbs in court. Until the very end, he insisted that he was innocent. When he was finally convicted of Marie Walcker, Hoch only whispered: "It's all over with Johann .. it serves me right." He clung to the hope that he would be released until the very hour of his death. He remained awake all night before the day of the execution, eating huge meals and demanding more and more food. Every now and then he was smile at his guards and say: "Look at me, boys. Look at poor old Johann. I don't look like a monster now, do I?" The guards did not reply.

Hoch finally went to the gallows on February 23, 1906. He once more declared his innocence and then nodded for the sheriff to place the noose around his neck. "I am done with this world," he declared. "I have done with everybody." Moments later, the trap was sprung and Johann Hoch went to his death.

Inspector Shippy came to believe that Hoch married at least 44 women (and perhaps more) in his career as a bigamist and a swindler and he murdered an unknown number of those. Oddly, Hoch was a middle-aged, balding and burly man with light-blue eyes and a handlebar mustache. There was nothing about him to suggest that he would be so attractive to the fairer sex that they would agree to marry him within days of an introduction -- and yet many of them did so. Hoch did have a set of rules that he lived by in which to make women fall in love with him. He imparted them on the Chicago Sun newspaper just a short time before he was executed:

 6 WAYS TO WIN A WOMAN TOLD BY "BLUEBEARD" HOCH
- Nine out of every ten women can be won by flattery
- Never let a woman know her own shortcomings
- Always appear to a woman to be the anxious one
- Women like to be told pleasant things about themselves
- When you make love, be ardent and earnest
- The average man can fool the average woman if he will only let her have her own way at the start

Good advice or bad -- it certainly makes you wonder what Hoch had that made him so irresistible? And it was not always just women who felt that way. Remember that Reverend Haas failed to act against the man, even when he suspected him of poisoning his wife. It was not until Hoch was long gone that he decided to act on his suspicions. Others were not so easily won over though, namely Inspector Shippy, who sensed that Hoch was wrong from the start. And it's lucky for the scores of other women who might have followed his previous wives to the grave that he did!

 
 


 

The Lady-Killer

A tale of bigamous Johann Hoch (if that was his name), of the follies of wealthy widows, and of the dreadful discoveries of a parson who suspected the worst

By A.I. Schutzer

AmericanHeritage.com

Just before dawn of a Monday early in July, 1895, a middle-aged man appeared on the hank of the Ohio River near Wheeling. West Virginia, and set a bulging gunny sack on the ground. His lace boasted side whiskers, a chin beard, and a mustache. He wore a derby. Behind a pair ol goldrimmed spectacles stared light blue eyes, the IeIt distinguished by a drooping lid. His teeth, as described by one ol his admirers, were “large and well-kept.”

The man removed his derby and looked around cautiously. Satisfied that he was alone, he began to undress. Alter stripping down to the bare skin, he made a neat pile ol his clothes and placed a suicide note on top. Then, to make sure the police would know beyond any possible doubt who had done himself in, he put an old silver pocket wauh ol German make, with his photograph inside the lid, on top of the note and the clothes.

Now, gunny sack in hand, he walked barefoot into the river, leaving his footprints in the mud right down to the water’s edge. He wanted the police to be absolutely certain that he drowned himself.

Once in the water, however, he turned north and walked fifty yards upstream to a pile of rocks where he had previously cached a spare suit of chlothes and a boat. He dropped the gunny sack into the boat, dressed, shoved the boat into the water, and started rowing across the Ohio River.

When he was halfway across, he shipped hisoarsand let the boat drift. Then he dumped the contents of his sack, letting—we must be blunt—the entrails of ;i human female, riddled with arsenic, slide beneath the surface of the dirty water to settle to the bottom.

Then he picked up his oars again, heading for a deserted stretch ol bank above Martins Ferry, on the Ohio side of the river. As he disappeared into the mist, he was confident that he had successfully covered the tracks of still another of an astonishing number ol murders, and that he had written oil as a suicide another of the many personalities he had chosen 10 represent.

Who was the killer? He had been, in turn, Jacob Schmidt, Johann Hoch, Albert Huschberg, Count Otto von Kein, Jacob Erdorf, Henry Martels, Dr. L. G. Hart, Martin Dotz, Jacob Duss, C. A. Meyer, H. Frick, Dr. James, C. A. Calford, Jacob Huit, DcWitt C. Cuduey, Henry F. Hartman, John C. O. Schulze, Heinrich Valtzand, and many others besides. He was ultimately known to the police, the newspaper readers of his time, and the families of his victims, as Johann Hoch. He was the American Bluebeard—the equal of anything England, France, or Germany has produced in ihe highly specialized field of classic crime—right up Io the moment when—but we will come to the climax later.

In his specially, wife-murder, Hoch apparently never wasted time. On the very night (January 12, 1905) that his penultimate victim had breathed her last in an upstairs bedroom at 6034 Union Avenue in Chicago, the killer was downstairs in the kitchen courting lier sister, whom he married four days later. The event was not unique in his career. Over a span of eighteen years he married between forty-three and fifty women, alxjut a third of whom he murdered with systematic doses of arsenic. The exact number of his victims cannot be determined. His operations were too complex, his victims too many and too often permanently silenced, the trail he left too obscure, and his own version of his altairs too contradictory, for an exact total to be compiled.

In terms of technique, Johann Hoch was a GermanAmcrican counterpart of Landru, the Frenchman who seduced and murdered lonely, middle-aged women who answered his matrimonial advertisements in Paris newspapers in the years 1915—19. In terms of his attitude toward the opposite sex, Hoch was a male Helle Gunness, as untouched by the dismal fate of his victims as Kelle was by the sordid end of the string of husbands she slaughtered in her cellar abattoir at La Porte, Indiana, around 1905. In terms of number of victims, Hoch was almost a peer of H. H. Holmes, ihe dandy who asphyxiated or strangled an estimated fifty women in his multiroomed crematory and murder castle in Chicago in the years 1892—94.

For a little more than a decade Johann Hoch married, swindled, and either abandoned or murdered his victims with time-clock regularity—without arousing the curiosity or inierest of anybody at all. The first man to peel back a few of the layers of lake personality and catch a glimpse of the killer underneath was, strangely enough, a mild-mannered clergyman, the pastor of St. Matthew’s German Lutheran Church in Wheeling in 1895.

Early in February of that year the perambulating merchant of death turned up in Wheeling, posing as a wealthy man named Jacob Huff. He opened up a saloon at 4728 Jacobs Street, where he catered to the local German immigrant populaiion with beer, spirited zither playing, and an old-country delivery of Heidelberg drinking songs. If he had stuck to saloonkeeping and Heimatslieder, Hull’s path would no doubt never have crossed that of the Reverend Herman C. A. Haass, a local parson. What got the publican in trouble with the parson was his unconcealed talent with the ladies—especially with well-heeled German-speaking widows who were members of Haass’ congregation.

Huff’s romantic technique was of the scatter-shot variety. He proposed marriage to just about every wealthy widow in the neighborhood. “He wanls Io settle clown,” the minister later remembered one of his Hausfrau parishioners telling him. “He said he needs a woman to care for his home,” she continued. “And he said he would be willing to provide for me.”

To each of the widows who came to him for advice, Haass suggested caution. He distrusted Hull and urged delay until the stranger was better known, lint in spile of the minister’s opposition, Hull was a quick success. Mrs. Caroline Hoch, a widow with a nice house, $900 in lhe bank, an insurance policy for $2,500 on her life, and a mind of her own, decided to take the plunge. was an old story, really. If she waited too long, Mrs. Hoch no doubl reasoned, she wotdcl lose her ardent suitor to one of the other widows of the congregation —and then where woidd she be?

On April 18, 1895, (he Reverend Mr. Haass reluctantly performed the marriage ceremony. Hull moved into the widow’s house right after the wedding. In short order the widow, who had been a plump, healthy beauty all her life, was stricken ill and look to her bed. She got worse fast.

On June 14, 1895, Haass was summoned to the sickroom, where he watched Huff close his wife with a white powder. To his now suspicious mind it seemed that the widow was afraid of her husband and look the powdered medication with reluctance. By lhe time he lel’i the sickroom, he was convinced that the saloonkeeper was poisoning his wife. But he needed proof. How and where was he to get it before it was too late?

The pastor stewed over his problem lor a few days. He considered going to the Wheeling police; but there was always the possibility he might be wrong. The widow’s illness might be perfectly legitimate, and a lalsc accusation would not only hurt the parson’s reputation but would also be an unpardonable sin against an innocent man.

What he needed before he took any overt action was professional advice from somebody who could tell what was actually ailing the widow. Haass turned Io a young local physician, Dr. Gregory Ackerman. He took the doctor back to the sickroom with him, only to run into resistante. Huit hovered over his wife like a jealous rooster. She was already under medical care, he maintained. “Dr. Ford is treating her,” he said.

Ackerman hesitated, for there was a matter of professional ethics involved. He had no right to interfere in Dr. Ford’s case without the specific rc(|uest of that physician. Ackerman bowed himself out of the sickroom and out of the case. Ten years later, when lie described his visit in an interview with the New York American, he made medical ethics look foolish in many eyes. The woman, he said, had been dying when he saw her. Her hands were swollen and her stomach was distended; she vomited continually. Either she had peritonitis or she had been poisoned—but Dr. Ford was the regular attending physician, and that meant Ackerman could not interfere.

At three o’clock in the morning following Ackerman’s visit the widow died. Two hours later Haass was notified that Mrs. HuIf was dead. When he reached the widow’s house at 8 A.M. he found the body unattended. Thoroughly indignant, he scoured the town until he found HuIf in a barbershop. The bereaved took one look at the furious parson and began to weep. Eut the minister’s suspicions were not allayed.

By early afternoon of the following day, Airs. HuIf had been buried at Red Men’s Cemetery on the outskirts of Wheeling, and shortly thereafter Haass began an investigation.

Soon he learned that Hull had been in financial (rouble. The saloonkeeper was heavily in debt to a brewery, and the saloon had been shut down. Now Haass concentrated on the white-powder meditation. Where did Huit get it? What was it? The pastor methodically visited all of the drugstores in Wheeling and fotmd that Huff had brought in no prescriptions (o be filled. Dr. H. T. Ford, the attending physician, had not written any: he had believed that the widow was suffering from nephritis, a disease of the kidneys, for which there was then no treatment.

Pastor Haass next made a surreptitious trip to the sickroom to see if he could get sonic of that white powder for analysis. He found that all traces of it had disappeared. For the first time it occurred to him that Hull was aware of his suspicions and was taking steps to cover up his trail.

At about this time the pastor fell ill, but by the second Sunday following Mrs. Huff s death, he was up and around again. That same day, while at dinner with his wife, he heard a noise in his bedroom, directly over the dining room. Rushing upstairs, he found Hull in his room. The pastor asked for an explanation of this strange visitation. Huff replied weakly that he had been looking for the pastor in order to have a talk with him, but it could wait. Why the bedroom? Why so furtive? Huff backed out of the room without saying—and that was the last Haass saw of him.

Fearing that Hulk might have tampered with his own bottles of medicine, in open view over the fileplace in the bedroom, the minister emptied the bottles down the drain—and immediately regretted it. Of course it would have been wiser to have had their contents analyxed.

The next day Pastor Haass learned just how uncomfortably warm his investigation had been making it for the saloonkeeper. He was notified by the Wheeling polite that they had found Hull’s clothes, his derby, an old German silver potket watch with his picture in it, and a suicide note lie had written, on lhc banks of the Ohio. Footprints led down to the water. Evidently he had committed suicide, the police said, in a fit of depression over his wife’s death.

For two days the police dragged the river at the point where Hull had left his clothes, but they found nothing. During this time it was discovered that Mrs. Hull’s grave had been tampered with. obody could figure out why, and the matter was soon forgotten. The explanation for the opening and dosing of the grave would not become apparent for almost three years.

Just one week after Huff’s supposed suicide, a drummer in religious articles called on Haass and told the pastor that he had seen Huft—or Johann Hoch, as he was now calling himself—very much alive on the other side of the river, in Jancsvillc, Ohio, with a middleaged woman on his arm. The pastor sent a description of Hoch to the Jancsville police and warned that he was dangerous and a swindler, but there was no reply, the use of the name [ohann Hoch demonstrated a curious side of the killer’s personality. He had a penchant for adopting as an alias the name of the deceased husband of the widow he had most recently married and murdered or abandoned.

From the moment when he knew that Huff-Hoch was still alive, the parson stuck to his trail like a bloodhound. Haass was a devoted reader of newspapers, both English and German. He was a fine-print man, and took a professional interest in (hose columns of a newspaper normally skipped over by the casual reader: the obituaries and routine birth and marriage notices. Thus, as time went by, he frequently thought he caught sight of his quarry, flitting in and out of the newspaper columns when he married under a recognixable name, when a former widow suddenly died and her husband disappeared, or when a husband abandoned his wife shortly after the marriage ceremony with all of her portable assets except for her whalebone corset.

In the course of his meticulous scanning uf the many newspapers he subscribed to, the parson spotted an item about one Otto Hoch who had married a woman in Dayton, Ohio, and deserted her a few days later, taking her savings. In 1897 he scissored out a clipping describing the mysterious death in Cincinnati of a Mrs. Clara Bartels, who lasted for three months after her marriage to pudgy, zither-playing John Schmidt. Parson Haass next found a three-line item in a German-language newspaper, describing a Jacob Otto Hoch who married in Milwaukee. This time the minister fired oft a letter to the police of that city, but Hoch had already absconded, leaving one wife dead and another swindled out of her savings.

It would have been difficult even for Scotland Yard to have kept a perfect score card on Johann Hoch in the years 1895-98. The parson missed a Mrs. Janet Spencer of Chicago, who married and lost $700 to C. A. Calford two months after the wedding late in 1895 he did not hear of Mis. Minnie Rankin, who married a Mr. Warneke in January, 1897 no word reached him of Callie Charlotte Andrews, who was deserted two hours after the nuptial ceremony in 1897 by one DeWitt C. Cudney and $500. And there were many others.

In 1898 Haass’ newspaper detective-work finally began (o pay olf. Hc found his man, or one just like him, in between wives, in Chicago. According to the newspaper accounts, the Chicago police had collared a man who claimed his name was Martin Dotz. He had been arrested on two counts, one of bigamy and the other of having swindled one F. J. Magerstadt, a Chicago used-furniture dealer, out of some merchandise. What caught the minister’s sharp eye was the physical description of the culprit, his height, weight, beard, side whiskers, mustache, drooping left eyelid, and large teeth, all of which tallied exactly.

Haass now wrote at once to Captain Luke Colleran, chief of detectives of the Chicago police. The pastor said he believed the man the police were holding was the very same he suspected of murdering Mrs. Caroline Hoch in Wheeling. Would the police check their prisoner against the photograph he was enclosing? It was a copy of the picture the killer had left behind in his pocket watch.

The pastor’s letter and the picture were turned over to Inspector George Shippy, who confronted Hoch with the photograph. Hoch admitted it was his picture without realizing he was incriminating himself. He denied, however, that he had ever been in Wheeling.

The inspector next visited the businessman who had brought charges against Hoch. Magerstadt had furnished Hoch’s new Hats alter several ol his marriages. His records went back to June, 1891, when Hoch had married under the name of H. Frick and furnished an apartment at 418 Franklin Street in Chicago tor $115. There were two or three entries each year, and each time Hoch came in to the Möbelhaous with a new wife, his new name was the former married name ol the widow he had most recently married and buried.

It was Magerstadt’s unique role, according to his laborious explanation to the inspector, to be introduced to each one ol the new wives, listen to her trill of her new romantic bliss, and help her select the furniture for the new love nest. In turn the doomed brides confided the intimate details of Hoch’s courtship to Magerstadt—the musical background of Schubert on the either,the groom’s assurance that mutual loneliness would now be ended, the asserted need for the companionship of a woman, the old, old song. “With my money,” one of the women had told Magcrstadt, “and his brains, he’ll make a fortune for both of us.”

It once occurred to Magcrstadt, who seems to have been rather slow on the uptake, to ask Hoch why he married under so many different names. “Women wouldn’t like to marry a man,” Hoch had replied logically, and with what may have been a mordant sense of humor, “if they knew he had been a widower so many times.”

Magerstadt, out of curiosity, had actually gone to the funeral of one of Hoch’s wives, a Mrs. Julia Steinbecker, who had married Hoch in iHt)| and lasted for two months after the wedding ceremony—about par for the course. There had been a fuss at the cemetery. The deceased’s family turned up with the coroner and tried to stop the funeral. They claimed she swore on her deathbed that Hoch had poisoned her with a white powder. Hoch produced a death certificate, signed by the attending physician, which stated the woman had died of natural causes. He outbluffed the coroner, and his wife was buried.

In the course of his researches, Inspector Shippy interviewed Mrs. Martha Hertzfeldt, a German widow, who had been married in 1894 to Hoch, who was then posing as one Jacob Erdorf, a religious worker. He had told his wife that the bank where she had savings was about to fail. She withdrew her $1,800, and her sister withdrew $800 she had on deposit. Hoch took the money and said that he would put it in another bank under his own name in order to protect it. The sisters were still waiting, in 1898, for him to return from his trip to the bank.

Inspector Shippy’s investigation alerted the Chicago police to the fact that they probably had a murderer on their hands. They believed, however, that too many years had passed for them to be able to dig up enough concrete evidence to convict the man of murder. The best chance of bringing the killer to book lay, it seemed, in Wheeling, and in the clergyman who had been on Hoch’s trail.

On November 1, 1898, the Chicago police sent the following letter to Haass:
In reply to your letter relative to Jacob Adolph Hoch, serving a year’s sentence here for bigamy under the name of Dotz or Doesing, I desire to inform you that I sent an officer with the photo you sent me to the Bridewell, and Hoch, or Doesing, acknowledged at once it was his, but denied knowing any person in Wheeling. Now we learn from a cousin of his deceased wife that he kept a saloon at No. 4728 Jacobs Street, your city, where he married his wife. Friends here are positive he poisoned his wife to get her money. He is said to have married several women to get their money. Lay the whole matter before your Chief of Police and have him hunt all criminal evidence in the matter. Obtain indictment, if possible, for murder. Forward papers to us and we will turn him over to the chief.
Yours truly,
L. P. COLLERAN, Chief of Detectives.

Pastor Haass now took his suspicions, his scrapbook dossier, and his correspondence with the Chicago police to State’s Attorney William C. Meyer, Wheeling, West Virginia. The decision was made to exhume the body of Mrs. Caroline Hoch for autopsy.

On November 14, 1898, Mrs. Hoch’s grave was opened. The coffin was hoisted out to ground level and its lid pried off. The men leaned over and peered into the pine box. Where the widow’s mid-section should have been, there was a gaping hole. She had been tidily cut open by a party or parties unknown, her vital organs removed, and along with them any poison they might have contained.

Some time before, the Reverend Mr. Haass had remembered that Hoch had claimed to have come from the town of Hoexter in Westphalia. The parson had written a letter of inquiry to the mayor of that city, and two weeks after the exhumation he got a reply from Herr Rung, the prosecuting attorney of Mainz, Germany:
Replying to your inquiry of the 4th November, 1898, to the Mayor of Hoexter, Westphalia, we return photo and answer you that the police of Hoexter, Brackel, and Driburg had no success in finding a man as described in your letter and photo. However the police of Bingen-on-the-Rhine are positive that it is that of merchant Jacob Schmidt from Herrweiler, near Bingen-on-the-Rhine. Schmidt was born there on November 10, 1862. He is the son of Adam and Anna Elizabeth Schmidt and he married Christine Phillippine Ramb, by whom he had four children. He left his home and country, January 5, 1895, and has since that time been pursued under a warrant charging him with being a fraudulent bankrupt.

This letter temporarily confused the chronology of killer Schmidt-Hoch’s activities which the minister had been working out: the German authorities had the killer emigrating in 1895 to the United States, and the Chicago police, from information supplied by Magerstadt, the furniture dealer, had Hoch marrying and murdering at least four years earlier—in June, 1891, in Chicago. It remained for Haass, to whom Hoch had become an all-consuming obsession, to iron out any question as to where Hoch had been operating at any particular time. The minister’s research, done entirely by correspondence, worked it out this way.

Hoch had been born the son of a German preacher. Apprenticed as a metalworker, he had switched to the study of pharmacy and worked in several chemist’s shops in Germany, where he got his knowledge of drugs and poisons. He married his first wife, name unknown, in Vienna in 1881 and buried her in 1883. Shortly thereafter he took wealthy Christine Ramb as his wife. He sired four children, and then skipped with Christine’s savings to a neighboring town where he married again. He used the dowry obtained from this last marriage to finance his trip to America in 1888. (It must be reported that Pastor Haass missed a romance enjoyed by Hoch on the boat coming over. In 1905, Frank Weninzer, an employee of a brewery in Chicago, revealed that he came over on the same steamer with Schmidt-Hoch in 1888. Hoch courted an immigrant servant girl aboard ship, married her as soon as the boat landed in New York, absorbed her miserable savings, and buried her two months later.) Shortly after his arrival in Chicago, Hoch commenced work seriously on his marriages, murders, and swindles. Late in 1894, posing again as a religious worker, Jacob Erdorf, he swindled the Hertzfeldt sisters out of their $2,600 and used this money to finance a trip back to Germany. In Herrweiler he speculated in barley futures and lost heavily. When a note for 3,000 marks fell due, he fled the country a second time—in January, 1895. A little over a month later he turned up in Wheeling as Jacob Huff, opened the saloon and began the campaign that won him the Widow Hoch.

On June 30, 1900, this fantastic man was released from jail in Chicago and taken to Wheeling, to face a murder charge. Without the widow’s vital organs, however, the situation was hopeless. Two weeks after his arrival in police custody, Hoch was freed for lack of evidence. The parson had brought him extremely close to the point of no return, but not all the way.

Immediately after his release Hoch journeyed to Argos, Indiana, where he introduced himself to a brand-new widow, Mrs. Mary Schultz, as Albert Buschberg, a millionaire Chicago druggist. He married the widow, collected the $2,000 insurance policy on her late husband’s life, and prevailed upon the widow and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Nettie, to go back with him to Chicago where both mother and daughter disappeared, along with $1,500 in savings. This was the first in a new streak of murderous triumphs.

At this point, one question begs for an answer: why didn’t Hoch give up his career in wife-murder after the law and the Reverend Mr. Haass came so close to fitting his neck for a noose in Wheeling?

One can only speculate. It seems doubtful Hoch possessed an arrogance so monumental that he believed he could murder without end and never run afoul of the law. More likely murder had become a habit. Wife-killing was his trade. He could make a living at nothing else.

Whatever the reason, Hoch plodded remorselessly on. In 1901 he had hardly buried a Widow Loughken in San Francisco when he began to court the young daughter who had inherited her baking establishment —and this while he was in correspondence with a woman in western New York, had become engaged to a St. Louis woman by mail, and was writing fervent love letters to a Mrs. Sophia Reichel in Chicago. Always the pot was kept boiling.

Late in 1901 Hoch took a mail-order course in hypnotism given by a “professor” in Jackson, Michigan. He stuck with the course long enough to earn a diploma certifying him as a “Graduate Hypnotist.” He immediately went to work on a widow named Mrs. Marie Elizabeth Goerk, whom he met through a room-wanted advertisement he placed in the German-language Abendpost in Chicago. He married her in three weeks and tried to hypnotize her into taking out a large insurance policy on her life. The widow was a stubborn, strong-willed woman, one of the few in Hoch’s career. When she fell ill she refused Hoch’s offer to nurse her and medicate her with his white powder. Either she got well fast, the widow warned, or she was going into a hospital. Hoch took the hint. He packed his bags and left. There would be other prospects, he was sure.

And there were. As the Count Otto von Kern of Bavaria he swindled the widow Hulda Nagel out of $3,000 in St. Paul in May of 1902. As John Schultz, he married Mrs. Mary Becker, a widow, in St. Louis, insured her life, and attended the funeral two months later when she succumbed to a sudden illness of two days’ duration.

On June 18, 1903, a strangely familiar and pudgy little man, travelling under the name of Dr. G. L. Hart, married Mabel Leichman, a burlesque queen of German extraction, in Milwaukee. He took her to a Minneapolis home he had rented and unsuccessfully attempted to chloroform her. After a quick getaway in the middle of the night, Dr. Hart, operating once more under the name of Johann Hoch, worked his way for the balance of 1903 and 1904 through a succession of widows that ranged the alphabet from Mrs. Ada Dodd to Mrs. Ida Zazuil, the former in Dayton and the latter in Milwaukee.

Then, late in November of 1904, Hoch returned to his old hunting grounds in Chicago. The move was to prove fatal for Mrs. Marie Welker, a widow who answered an advertisement that Hoch ran in the Chicago Abendpost on December 3, 1904. “MATRIMONIAL,” the advertisement invited the unwary Hausfrau, “German, with his own income, own home, wishes acquaintance of widow without children. Object, matrimony.”

Nine days after the ad appeared, Hoch led Mrs. Welker to the altar. The afternoon of the wedding he borrowed all of the blushing bride’s ready capital, $475, to furnish their new rented home at 6034 Union Avenue. His own capital, he said, was all tied up in investments and real estate.

Overnight the widow fell ill. She was soon being treated in tandem, by a Dr. Reese, for what he diagnosed as nephritis, and by Hoch with a white powder for only he knew what. As the widow’s condition rapidly became worse, a sister, Mrs. Emilie Fischer, who was a widow too, came to visit her. At first the sisters got along well, and Mrs. Fischer mentioned that she had a thousand dollars saved that could be used toward paying the medical expenses.

Hoch, having better things to do with a thousand dollars, rejected the offer. Somehow his sick wife got the idea that her sister had put the net out for Hoch and that a romance had begun. “I’ll soon be dead,” she told Emilie Fischer, “and then you can have him.” A bitter argument developed, and it was midnight before it ended. It was too late for Emilie to go home, and she went down to make her bed on a couch in the kitchen, where Hoch came to visit her and apologize for his wife’s accusations. By five thirty in the morning they were old friends, and Hoch slipped into his coat and went to fetch the doctor for his wife, whose imprecations seemed to be raining down on their heads with less and less strength.

Mrs. Welker was dead when Hoch and the doctor returned. The date was January 12, 1905, one month to the day after the marriage of Hoch and the widow. Hoch wept noisily in the kitchen, and Mrs. Fischer had her hands full comforting him. “Now I am a widower again,” he cried, “and all alone in the world. I would have spent my entire fortune to have saved her life.”

Hoch courted Mrs. Fischer through the funeral and steadily for the next four days. “If Marie had not insulted you with her accusations,” he told her, “I would have mourned six weeks for her.” Under the circumstances, he insisted, they should marry right away. They would open a hotel together and make a fortune.

On January 16, 1905, four days after the death of her sister, Mrs. Fischer demurely consented to be Hoch’s bride. The thousand dollars she had mentioned in her sister’s sickroom was already burning a hole in Hoch’s imagination. It would come in handy now, he said. He had an eighty-one-year-old father in Germany who was in feeble health and was about to leave him an estate of $15,000. Didn’t Emilie think he should go over and protect their interests?

Less than a week after the ceremony Emilie advanced $750 to Hoch. That night he disappeared. Emilie thought it over for a couple of days and began to wonder if maybe there wasn’t something odd about her sister’s death after all. She went to the police, and by one of those remarkable coincidences that plague master criminals, was ushered into the office of Inspector George Shippy, who listened in complete fascination to her story. On January 22, 1905, a court order was obtained for the exhumation of Mrs. Marie Welker Hoch’s body. An autopsy was performed, which showed that the unlucky woman was stuffed with enough arsenic to fell a brewery horse.

The search was now on in earnest. This time the Chicago police had a fresh corpse, and they intended to make the most of it. The case hit the newspapers, and overnight Hoch was a national sensation as more and more of his living ex-wives and the relatives of his dead ones suddenly learned about each other and began telling their stories to the police and reporters.

Hoch, however, had disappeared. Calling himself Henry Bartels, he turned up in Manhattan at a boardinghouse at 546 West Forty-seventh Street in answer to a room-for-rent advertisement in the German-language Das Morgen Journal. He rented a hall bedroom and commenced peeling potatoes for the landlady, Mrs. Catherine Kimmerle, a widow of German extraction, within twenty minutes of his arrival. The next day he proposed marriage in the kitchen while Mrs. Kimmerle was washing the breakfast dishes. Mrs. Kimmerle, not wishing to offend her new boarder, countered by offering to introduce him to the members of the three widows’ clubs to which she belonged, some of whom were anxious to take the marital plunge.

On Monday morning, January 30, 1905, Mrs. Kimmerle took a trolley ride downtown. The man sitting opposite her was reading the New York American. On the page facing Mrs. Kimmerle was a picture of the “Bluebeard Murderer” all America was talking about. It was Mrs. Kimmerle’s star boarder.

She notified the New York police. That night at ten, four detectives tiptoed up the stairs of Mrs. Kimmerle’s boardinghouse and into Hoch’s room, where they found him calmly rocking himself and smoking a cigar. He did not resist arrest. Among his possessions the police found six one-hundred-dollar bills, five fives, loose change in every pocket, a handkerchief that was heavily soaked in cologne, a wedding ring on his finger and a spare in his trunk with the inscription effaced, a dozen suits with the labels cut out plus one suit with a Cincinnati label and another with a San Francisco label, a loaded revolver, one empty new trunk and two suitcases, and a hollow fountain pen containing a white powder that turned out to be some fifty-eight grains of arsenic.

The prisoner was taken to the West Forty-seventh Street station house, where he was subjected to roundthe-clock questioning. He denied emphatically that he was Johann Hoch, the wanted murderer, claiming that it was a case of mistaken identity. He insisted that he was Henry Bartels, a drummer in Rhine wines for a vintner with home offices in Frankfort on Main. This pose lasted until a Chicago newspaperwoman brought one of his living victims, Mrs. Anna Hendricks Schmidt, to New York to identify him. This was too much even for Hoch. He admitted his identity and unburdened himself of an extraordinary statement.

“I am Hoch,” said the man who had married some fifty women and murdered at least a third of them, “and I am a much abused man.”

Hoch-Bartels-Schmidt was extradited to Chicago for confrontation by those of his wives who were still among the living—an experience that left him unmoved. “Believe me,” he told the newspaper reporters, “all those women married me, not because they loved me, but because they thought I was wealthy … they gave me their money because they thought they would receive it back with more.”

One man who felt he had come to the end of a long trail with the arrest of Hoch was the Reverend Mr. Haass, who had left Wheeling to become pastor of St. Matthew’s German Lutheran Church in Utica, New York. Mr. Haass, who was dubbed “Hoch’s Nemesis” in the newspaper headlines, gave a lengthy interview to the Hearst papers, telling how the death of Mrs. Caroline Hoch in Wheeling had put him on the murderer’s trail and how he had pursued the villain doggedly ever since. Pastor Haass closed his interview with this stern judgment on his long-time adversary: “No punishment that can be meted out to this man Hoch will be too severe. I have followed him for ten years and I know him to be the biggest scoundrel of the century. Certain it is, whatever may be proven, he is a murderer, and a multi-murderer. …”

Hoch went on trial for the murder of Mrs. Marie Welker Hoch on April 19, 1905, and was found guilty exactly one month later. The first words he uttered after getting the verdict were these: “It serves me right.”

While awaiting execution Hoch actually received several proposals of marriage. Fortunately the inexorable processes of the law saved the authors from their own folly. The multiple murderer was hanged in Chicago’s county jail on February 23, 1906. The legacy that Hoch left us, based on his travail as an experienced husband, was summed up in a terse bit of personal advice he gave to a reporter after his arrest. “Women are all right in their place,” Hoch said, “but marry only one at a time.”

A.I. Schutzer is a free-lance writer whose work has appeared in many national magazines. He has completed one juvenile book on the microscope for G. P. Pulnam and is presently at work on another on the Civil War.

 
 

American Bluebeard

The gruesome saga of serial killer H.H. Holmes was still fresh in the minds of Americans (he had been executed less than a decade before) when news surfaced that another man with ties to Chicago was also very likely a mass murderer.

Johann Hoch was a German immigrant who arrived in the United States by way of London, Paris, and Horrweiler, Germany, sometime in the 1880s. Hoch claimed it was in 1885, but others place his arrival in 1881. Regardless of the date, Hoch was known to have been in Chicago around the same time that Holmes was actively killing.

Hoch’s modus operandi was remarkably similar to that of Holmes, who had a knack for luring gullible women to his murder castle and then dispatching them after stealing their money.

Holmes told authorities that he had an accomplice named “Hatch” who assisted him in his crimes. Investigators, however, believed Holmes acted alone — that is until Hoch appeared on the scene.

It is really just idle speculation to surmise that Hoch was Hatch. Hoch denied it and Holmes never revealed if Hatch was simply a nom d’mort. Besides, if Hoch was so close to Holmes, why did Holmes use another man to carry out the swindle that cost him his life?

Even if Hoch, who did live near Holmes’s chamber of horrors in Englewood, never knew Holmes, the German’s own murder spree is worthy of inclusion in The Malefactor’s Register. Overshadowed by his fellow Second City serial slayer, Hoch has never been given the study he deserves.

While Holmes’s body count is probably higher, Hoch was more audacious. Holmes was a spider who waited until a victim stumbled into his web while Hoch was a marauder who crisscrossed the United States in search of targets.

By the time Hoch’s career came to an end on the gallows in Chicago, an estimated 60 women had been swindled by him. He liked to place advertisements in German-language newspapers looking for single women — divorced or widowed, it made no difference — who were looking for a successful mate. Then he would court the ladies following his tried and true rules:

  • Nine out of every 10 women can be won by flattery.

  • Never let a woman know her own shortcomings.

  • Always appear to a woman to be the anxious one.

  • Women like to be told pleasant things about themselves.

  • When you make love, be ardent and earnest.

  • The average man can fool the average woman if he will only let her have her own way at the start.

He would also ply his marks with such sweet nothings as “If you only feel toward me as I feel and could bring one-half your love to me as I to you, how lucky I would be. If you could wed your heart to mine for the rest of our days I would be the luckiest man alive.”

The formula apparently worked, because after his arrest, the bigamist admitted to at least 13 marriages and police suspected at last another dozen. Authorities assumed that many women conned by the short, balding Bluebeard simply were too embarrassed to come forward.

His scams are remarkable for their temerity. Portraying himself as Count Otto von Kern, he arrived in St. Paul, Minn., and romanced Hulda Nagel. After a brief courtship they were married in May 1902 and “Count von Kern” convinced the new “countess” to liquidate some of her real estate so that they could travel in luxury back to the family castle in Germany. While Hulda was purchasing some clothes for the trip, Hoch went into the city to purchase tickets for the voyage. Hulda never saw her “husband” again.

Another woman was conned with the same scam but while she was out shopping and Hoch was out purchasing the tickets, their $3,000 nest egg was “stolen.” Shortly after the break-in, Hoch vanished.

“My husband told me he was heir to an estate in Germany,” one victim told police. “A few hours later he hurried in from downtown with a cablegram which read ‘Father is dead. Your brother, William.’ He told me I must prepare to leave for Germany with him the next night. He told me he had no money for the voyage and asked how much I had. I told him $500.

“He asked me to draw it out and give it to him for our trip,” she continued. “Just to show me that he was on the square, he made his will in my favor. Then he hurried away to buy the tickets. That was the last I have ever seen of him.”

Police in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, Cleveland, Buffalo, Milwaukee and a dozen other cities reported similar scams. In once case, Hoch appeared twice before the same Justice of Peace in one year with two different wives.

The number of women whom Hoch murdered is also speculative, but 14 women with connections with Hoch ended up dying under mysterious circumstances.

Hoch was only charged with murdering one woman, Marie Welcker-Hoch, a wealthy Chicago widow and operator of a confectionary store. Hoch found Marie when she answered one of his ads and after a short romance, they were wed. Hoch induced her to sell her store, telling her that he would invest it for her.

Ten days after the December 10, 1904 wedding, Marie became seriously ill. A physician diagnosed nephritis, a kidney problem. Had anyone known, at least two of his previous wives were fatally stricken with an identical complaint. Several others simply “died suddenly” shortly after their wedding day.

By January 12, Marie was dead. Her doting husband was the only person with her when she passed.

Within hours of Marie’s death, Hoch turned his affections to Emelie Fisher, her sister who had just finished preparing her sister’s corpse.

“I am an unfortunate man,” he told her. “I was married before and my first wife was an invalid. I am lonely and have no means. You are a good woman and a good housewife and I want you to marry me.”

Not surprisingly, Emelie was aghast.

“I resented his proposal and told him so,” she testified at Hoch’s murder trial. “January 15 I rode with him to the cemetery and over his wife’s grave he asked me to marry him.”

Despite her initial reluctance, Emilie quickly surrendered to Hoch’s wishes when he promised to bring her children over from Germany.

“The following Wednesday he came to my home and I consented to become his wife,” she continued. “He told me we would go out of town and no one would know of it until my sister had been dead a long time.”

That evening, Emilie and Hoch traveled to Joliet and were married.

The next morning, they went to her bank and Emilie withdrew $750 which Hoch said he needed to pay off a mortgage on some property he owned.

“Then he disappeared,” Emilie said.

Emilie was not like Hoch’s other victims and when she realized she had been duped, she began to wonder if Hoch wasn’t more than a simple con man. She convinced authorities to have Marie’s body exhumed and the autopsy revealed a large amount of arsenic.

The chase for Johann Hoch was on. From across the country, reports filtered in about three-score women who had been gulled by Hoch. He was arrested within days in New York City and returned to Chicago to face a throng of women who wanted a piece of him.

Hoch admitted his bigamy, but denied having anything to do with Marie’s death.

“Arsenic? Pooh!” the papers reported him as exclaiming. “It was her kidneys that killed her. She was sick.”

In May 1905 Hoch was condemned to death. He took his sentence with aplomb and only uttered the confusing response, “Another one?”

The press reported that “several women” who had been awaiting the verdict fainted in the courtroom.

Hoch fought his death sentence with the same vigor in which he pursued women. He managed to put off his punishment for nearly a year — an unheard of delay at the time, and even offered up the then-unique argument that the 14th Amendment demanded that he be granted a writ of habeas corpus because of the unconstitutionality of the death penalty.

The judge who heard his case was the Hon. Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who would go on to become the first commissioner of major league baseball. Landis had no sympathy for Hoch.

“My oath of office demands that I do what I consider right,” he told Hoch’s attorneys. “I do not think that I would be complying with my oath if I delayed the execution.”

Landis then told the deputy sheriff, “I have refused to do anything in the Hoch matter. You need not delay the execution on my account.”

Hoch, however, had other ideas.

The death warrant was good until 2 p.m. on February 13 and Hoch told authorities he would put up a fight if he was taken from the holding cell before 1:30 p.m.

The sheriff granted his wish and at precisely half-past one, Hoch began what the newspapers called the “death march.” He ascended the scaffold, proclaimed his innocence, and was hanged.

Afterward, his minister told reporters that Hoch admitted his bigamy and swindling, but denied being a murderer.

MarkGribben.com

 

 

 
 
 
 
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