Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Sausage Vat Murder

While searching for a good ghost story to talk about in today's blog, I came across a story about the killing of a Mrs. Louisa Becknese Luetgert, by her husband Adolph Luetgert, the owner of a sausage and packing company. In May of 1897 Louisa disappeared for several days (Adolph stated that she was visiting family in Kenosha, WI) and her younger brother became worried and notified the police. It turned out that the police had already been investigating Adolph for other situations that had arose form Adolph's hot temper and sexual involvement with several women.
The Chicago Police Department placed Captain Herman Schuettler as the lead detective of the case. After questioning Adolph's employees, Schuettler learned that Louisa was last seen entering the sausage factory around 10:30 PM on May 1st but was never seen exiting the building. Investigators began searching around the factory for clues, focusing primarily on a 12 foot long, 5 foot high vat in the building's basement where meat was smoked. Poking around the vat, two gold rings were found, one which bore the initials L.L.. Soon after, bloodstains were found on the couple's bedroom door and fragments of skull were found in the factory smoke shaft.
Detective Schuettler suggested that Adolph strangled his wife, boiled her in the factory acid, and disposed of the remains in the smoke shaft. Further evidence that supported this theory was Adolph's suspicious purchase of some several hundred pounds of potash and arsenic, both chemicals which would aide in the decomposition process.
After two trials, Adolph was sentenced to life in prison where he continued to proclaim his innocence. Adolph often stated that his wife would return and he spent his later years babbling uncontrollably to himself up until his death. His defense attorney, Lawrence Harmon, was so moved by his client that he spent thousands of dollars of his own money searching for Louisa. Eventually his search drove him mad and he was committed to an asylum.

This story somewhat reminded me of both The Jungle and H.H. Holmes. Adolph Luetgert was considered the sausage king of the north side of the city and his factory resembled many of the factories in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of the meatpacking industry. Although Sinclair may have been exaggerating when he spoke of men falling into the vats, Louisa's death in the meat smoker vat was no made-up story. Luckily for the people of Chicago, Luetgert had closed his factory temporarily at the time and no meat was distributed. The meat factory also resembled Holmes' death palace mostly because of the dark, ominous presence it held within the neighborhood. I wonder, mostly because of Adolph's history of violence and womanizing, if maybe Louisa was not the first person he had murdered in his factory. Unfortunately, we will never know.

As for the presence of a ghost, the sausage factory was torn down eventually and the neighborhood itself is primarily covered in empty lots and dirty factory buildings. Some people say though that there have been sightings of Louisa roaming the sidewalks of the area...

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