Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Sausage-Vat Murder Trial Of Adolf Luetgert

Louisa Luetgert disappeared on May 1, 1897. When asked where his wife was, Adolf Luetgert said he didn't know, that she had gone to visit her sister.

Petite and attractive, Louisa was ten years younger than Adolf Luetgert, a meatpacker who had immigrated to Chicago from Germany in the 1870's. Adolph Luetgert made sausages in his factory at Diversey and Hermitage. (The building is now converted to condominium lofts.)

In the police search that followed, authorities learned that Louisa and Adolph had been known to have violent arguments. A sausage factory employee recalled seeing Louisa enter the factory around 10:30 in the evening on May 1, and the night watchman at the plant confirmed his story, adding that he had seen Luetgert with his wife that night at the factory.

Soon enough, the police drained one of large rendering vats in the basement of the factory. Along with a tiny fragment of a human skull, the police found a heavy gold ring with the initials "L.L."--a fact that boded poorly for Luetgert's future defense team, since Luetgert had given his new bride a heavy gold ring inscribed “L.L.”

Louisa's body was never found. Although no witness to the murder ever came forward, Luetgert was charged with his wife's murder shortly after she disappeared. His first trial ended in a hung jury.

While awaiting retrial, Luetgert wrote a newspaper article in which he theorized that Louisa was "wandering about in a distracted condition, in utter ignorance of the fact that her disappearance has caused me to lose all of which she was once so proud." Luetgert failed explain how her ring ended up in the sausage vat.

At the second trial at the old criminal court building (on Hubbard between Clark and Dearborn, now converted to offices), Luetgert was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

One of the illustrators at Luetgert's trial was John Francis "Frank" Holme (1868-1904), one of the founding members of the P&C. Holme was a brilliant courtroom sketch artist, who worked for different Chicago newspapers, including the Daily News and the Post, in the 1890's. The sketches here are by Holme. I found them at a website devoted to the Luetgert murder.

In addition to founding the P&C, Holme founded the The School of Illustration and taught drawing courses by mail. Among the instructors at Holme's school in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue were the Leyendecker brothers and F.W. Goudy, a pioneering type-face designer. Will Carqueville was another instructor at The School of Illustration; Carqueville was another of the founding members of the P&C. Another early member of the P&C who was an instructor at Holme's school was W.W. Denslow.

Holme lived on Elm Street and Chestnut Streets during his time in Chicago; he and his wife were known as Mr. and Mrs. Bandar-logs after a saying in Kipling's Jungle Book. In 1895, Holme published Just For Fun, the first book from Bandar Log Press--which consisted of him and his wife. The Bandar Log Press books are known today for their artful typography and printing.

Holme died of tuberculosis in 1904, after having moved to North Carolina, Arizona, and Colorado in search of more healthful weather.


Anonymous TheMom1951 said...

Nice synopsis of the events and trials. Louise Bicknese Luetgert was my g-g-grandfather's sister.

July 28, 2007  

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