Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chief Armstrong and 100 degrees of separation...

ChiefArmstrong1 In 1911 Denver Police Chief Hamilton Armstrong stated he believed the murders in Colorado Springs had been carried out by a woman.  Why?  I have no idea.  Chief Armstrong had been appointed in 1908 in an effort to clean up the Denver Police Department.  This was not his first stint in that position and it was a promotion from Chief Detective.  Hamilton Armstrong has the distinction of being the first sheriff of Denver county, which in 1902, the year of his appointment, was the same position as Chief of the Denver Police.  In 1904 the sheriff became an elected position and he won the election but was later removed due to some technicality.  He became the chief license inspector for the city & county of Denver until his re-appointment to Chief of Police in 1908.

Hamilton Armstrong was a first generation U.S. citizen born to Irish parents in Jackson, Mississippi.  He was a bookbinder by trade and moved out to Denver in 1880.  In 1892 he won a term as state senator and when his term was up in 1894 he began his first, short term as police chief, resigning in June of 1895.  He went to work at a newspaper in the bookbinding department until 1897 when he was appointed chief detective.  Nothing in Armstrong's background made him particularly qualified for his law enforcement positions but that was very common in those days.  His assessment of the crime scene in Colorado Springs  would certainly be considered reckless today and might have been seen that way in 1911 if the case weren't so botched already.  Besides his brief involvement in the Colorado Springs investigation, Chief Armstrong had a loose connection with the crime in Villisca.  If you recall in my post about the Pfanschmidt murders two of the investigators on the Villisca crime traveled to Illinois in order to ascertain whether the two crimes might be related.  Well, in 1892 Hamilton Armstrong married Mary Jennie Ruckman, formerly of Quincy, Illinois.  Kevin Bacon has nothing on me.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tragedy in Harrisonville...

Early in the morning of June 10th, 1913 Mr. Bagshaw was awakened by a tapping at his bedroom window.  He looked out and saw his neighbor, Ida Keller.  He opened the door and she told him an intruder had killed her husband and oldest child with an axe.  She was carrying in her hand the bloody axe and a lantern.  He allowed the woman to use his phone in order to call a doctor and she left, taking the axe and lantern with her.  Neighbors arrived at the Keller house about ten minutes later and found Arthur Keller lying in bed gasping for breath, his skull smashed.  Ida Keller was kneeling beside her seven year old daughter, Margaret, bathing her face.  Arthur Keller died a few hours later and Margaret would die the following evening. 

Ida recounted how she had been woken up by a loud "slamming" sound, like a door might make.  As she sat up in bed she saw a man carrying an axe walking into her room from the room her husband and daughter were sleeping in.  He swung the axe at her but she was able to catch the handle and redirect the blow to her bed frame.  She then struggled with the intruder until he finally gave up, released the axe and fled through the kitchen door, first unlocking it then re-locking it behind him.  A burning "paper hat sack" illuminated the room where her Arthur and Margaret lay and in this light Ida was able to make out the intruder was:

[wearing] a black hat, had a red handkerchief tied over his face, that his hands were those of a white man and that he wore brown socks.

When investigators took note of the crime scene they found a burned paper sack sitting in a chair in the husband's room and the kitchen door locked with key still in the lock on the outside of the door.  The key was attached to a key ring with many other keys on it.  A piece of the bed frame where Ida had slept had been broken off, apparently where the killer's swing had missed its mark.  When asked how it was she could see the color of the man's socks in such low light, Ida responded the socks were those of her husband's and she knew them very well.  Hard as it might be to believe, the case of this homicidal sock thief would get weirder.  Have a safe and happy Halloween - lock up your axes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

12k plus!

Whoa!  According to my little web counter thingamadoodle I have had over 12 thousand visits!  Why?  It has to be an accounting error right?  Must be a lot of bored people out there or maybe it's the Halloween season and people are just searching scary stuff like axe murder?  If you are someone who found this place on purpose, make sure to look around and don't be too shy.  For those of you doing a word search I have an upcoming post on an axe murder in Missouri that didn't involve anyone named Moore.  For now I'll just get back to building my balloon.  Boy I hope to fly to Colorado Springs in it one day :)  Anyway, if those numbers are correct; thank you.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Another axe murder in Colorado

On Friday December 4, 1908, Nicholas Fernandez returned a wagon to the home of Cosmo Garcia. Fernandez had borrowed the wagon earlier in the day. He had knocked on the door repeatedly receiving no answer and apparently there had been some arrangement made for the use of the wagon because Fernandez borrowed it anyway, assuming the family was still asleep. Upon returning the wagon, Fernandez noticed the cabin looked as quiet as it had in the morning so he broke into the house, assuming something was wrong; he was right.

Cosmo lived in a remote cabin with his wife, Viviana, and two daughters, Maggie and Toribia. Maggie was the younger of the two at fifteen. Her sister was twenty-five. A friend of the family, 60 year old Luz Garrule was also staying with the Garcias at the time. Two weeks prior Cosmo had hired a man named Francisco Martinez to help about the place and he lived with the family. Cosmo and Viviana were laying in the front room, both beaten to death with an axe that lay next to their bodies. In other rooms were found Toribia and Luz. It was apparent that the two women were killed in their sleep and the parents were killed when they came out of their room to investigate. Maggie was gone as was the hired man. The murders had been committed on Wednesday night, December 2nd.

Now this case was pretty cut and dry. A posse tracked Francisco Martinez to a canyon roughly thirty miles away from the Garcia cabin. Martinez shot at the posse and shielded himself with his hostage as he began to take her up a rocky trail too narrow for horses to follow. He was cornered in a remote canyon by the posse but before a move could be made on him he killed the girl then himself.  

I discovered this crime while systematically searching for crimes similar to Colorado Springs in the area. Now the Garcia cabin is near Colorado Springs the same way Tallahassee is near Miami; that is to say they’re in the same state. The area where the crime took place is so remote, the place names are known only to the locals and no pictures exist of the area, at least for public viewing. This was a pretty typical mass murder crime. The killer may have had some idea he could get away with the crime but he was fully prepared to end it all if he became cornered. It’s hard to say what the Midwest axe murderer would have done if he had been successfully tracked. The methodical nature of the crimes suggests he had no intention of being caught.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You don't know Pfanschmidt...

As I have said in comments, a major problem with the investigation of these crimes was the use of detective agencies. The federal agency that would later be called the FBI was only three years old and, just as today, didn’t come into a state case unless asked. I have picked a crime which occurred a few months after Villisca to highlight what I feel is illustrative of this problem. The Montgomery County, Iowa officials asked the Burns National Detective Agency to work on the Villisca case and Burns sent C.W. Tobie, later to be manager of the agency’s Chicago office. Already in town was Detective Thomas O’Leary of the Kirk’s Detective Agency and so the competition was on. The reward in Villisca was growing and professional and amateur detectives were descending on Iowa.  

In September of 1912 a fire was discovered at the home of the Charles Pfanschmidt family outside of Quincy, Illinois. The fire completely destroyed the house and when the metal roof was removed, the bodies of three females were discovered lying on a blood soaked mattress in what would have been an upstairs bedroom. The bodies were those of Matilda and Blanche Pfanschmidt and Emma Kaempen. Matilda was the wife of Charles and Blanch was their fourteen-year-old daughter. Ms. Kaempen was a school teacher in Quincy who boarded with the family. All three women had been bludgeoned with an axe while lying in bed. In the cellar of the house was found another body: 

Also found in the cellar was an axe head with, what was later identified as human blood, “baked” onto it from the intense heat of the flames. The handle of the axe had been completely burned off.

The Attorney General of Illinois requested help from the Burns Agency and Detective Tobie decided to assign himself to the case. Montgomery County continued to pay Tobie for this investigation in order to see if the two crimes might have been connected. Thomas O’Leary also went to Quincy for the same purpose. Before either detective had arrived, the Adams County sheriff arrested the Pfanschmidt’s son, Ray. Ray had moved out of the family house in August to commence work digging out a location for a train switch on the Burlington (C. B. & Q.) Railroad. He had established a work camp near the location for him and his helper to live at. The main evidence against Ray was a set of buggy tracks leading from the Pfanschmidt barn to this work camp. A set of bloody clothes was found and Ray’s “girlfriend” identified them as belonging to Ray. Charles Pfanschmidt owned considerable amounts of real estate and his wife, Matilda, also owned large shares of land from her father which would, upon her death, pass to the children so Ray stood to gain a large inheritance (over $100,000 today) from the death of his family. In the weeks prior to the murders, Charles’ bank sent a note stating that his account had gone overdraft, twice. The checks had been written by Ray and Charles had supposedly complained to a friend about Ray’s spending.

O’Leary immediately decided Ray Pfanschmidt was guilty of killing his family in order to gain the inheritance and declared the two crimes to be unrelated. Detective Tobie saw things differently. After meeting with the Burns detective, Ray Pfanschmidt hired Tobie as an “expert witness” to testify the murders could have been carried out by a roving axe maniac who had killed twenty-four people in four states. So while Detective C.W. Tobie was being paid by Montgomery County, he was hired by the man he was being paid to investigate who stood to gain financially if acquitted. No conflict there! Ray was tried and convicted of murdering his sister in March of 1913 and scheduled for the gallows in October of that year. He won an appeal by the Illinois Supreme Court in February 1914 on the argument his request for change of venue should have been granted and that certain evidence, including the letter of overdraft from the bank, was not admissible. He was retried for the murder of his sister and found not guilty. He was then put on trial for the murder of his father and found not guilty. The case for the murder of his mother was dismissed and authorities didn’t try to convict him again. He took his inheritance and left Adams County. My opinion; Ray got away with it.  But this would not be the last time a Burns detective would throw an investigation off.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The serial mass murderer…

"To me killing people is like ripping open a duvet. Men, women, old people, children, they are all the same. I have never felt sorry for those I killed. No love, no hatred, just blind indifference. I don’t see them as individuals, but just as masses." - Anatoly Onoprienko

Anatoly Onoprienko was dubbed the “Beast of Ukraine,” and killed entire families in remote villages of the Ukraine from 1989 to 1995. I bring him up because serial mass murder perpetrated by an individual is almost unheard of. Usually such actions are carried out by a group of people (The Manson Family), a government (Camir Rouge) or an ideological faction (Al Qaeda). When studying the Midwest Axe Man investigators don’t have much precedent to look at. What drives a person to not only kill an entire family but to actively seek families as their victims? In the case of Onoprienko it was revenge. Revenge for his father abandoning him to an orphanage; revenge for his mother dieing while he was a young boy and allowing his father to take the action he did. He would burn down the houses after killing the occupants because he didn’t want to just kill the family, he wanted to destroy it. To Anatoly the concept of a family was a cruel joke played on him by society.

So why do I bring this up? Mostly for comparison; in the next few posts I am going to be comparing a few crimes with similar characteristics, mostly as an academic exercise, in order to shed light on the possible psychology of the Midwest Axe Man. I’ll try to be careful because I could easily get into trouble with this kind of analysis and I will add the caveat (again) that I am neither a criminal profiler nor am I a criminal investigator.

Onoprienko’s actions indicated clearly he hated his victims, or at least what they represented to him. He wasn’t killing people; he was killing “family,” literally and symbolically. His preferred weapon was a sawed-off shotgun except when it came to females. In two different crimes he used the more personal bludgeoning weapon (in one case an axe, the other a hammer) on the female victims. With the Midwest murders this hatred isn’t evident except in one crime scene, Ellsworth. In contrast, he covered his victims and this is just one signature element present at all the crime scenes. As I’ve said before, covering the body shows a certain amount of remorse, whether for the victims, the crime or both is what is hard to ascertain.  

Thursday, July 2, 2009

From the comments...

Inspector: Paola was never as tightly attached to the other murders as the trio of Colorado Springs, Monmouth Ill. and Ellsworth. I could never see why that was the case. I was impressed by the second potential victim in Paola. That the killer did not seem to be satiated by one murder always seemed to me to be an interesting link among the murders. This double event was true with out question
in Colorado. Both Paola and Ellsworth shared a similar link though it was only
an attempted break-in. I don't know of such a second event in Monmouth but I
haven't studied that case to any depth. Villisca also had a potential second
event although it was largely ignored by investigators. At 2:10 A.M.
(after the murder had probably been committed) a young telephone operator was resting at her upstairs switchboard when she heard someone quietly climbing her stairs. She heard this stranger enter her hallway and saw him try her door. Finding it locked the stranger crept down the stairs. I have always wondered if it could have been the serial killer looking for another victim just as he had at some of the other murders. Ed Epperly

(Emphesis mine)
When it comes to the midwest axe murders the Hudsons deaths really are an after thought. Why is this? Why didn't the investigators at the time link the Paola crime to the those that came before and the one that followed? I have a few ideas and none of them have to do with linkage blindness. The first factor was likely publicity. Each of the previous crimes had at least two weeks of follow up and rumor to report. As the crimes contined to go unsolved, demand for authorities to "do something about it" grew as did rewards. By the time Paola occurred it had been eight months since the last (remotely) connectable event had occurred so many people had forgotten about the others. Then five days after Paola, any momentum it may have had in the press was literally swamped by the events in Villisca. A second factor may have been the body count. When Paola was discovered the nation was still transfixed by the sinking of a New York bound passenger ship in the North Atlantic; two deaths compared to over 1500 just wasn't that impressive. The third, and I think this is probably the most important, was Anna Hudson herself. Anna's reputation was very poor, deserved or not, and probably did more to derail the investigation than any other factor. The Kansas City detective on the Hudson case was dealing with a love triangle, plain and simple. The detectives on the other cases where chasing a homicidal hobo (and eventually a state senator). Still, as I said in my reply to the above comment, for all the similarities between the cases, I'd sure like to know the differences.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Affinity or False Love

Miami County Courthouse - Paola, Kansas

"My Dear Sweetheart: I am becoming desperate. You must arrange a meeting. True love cannot be trifled with in this fashion. You know my love for you and I cannot stand this thing much longer. People have been killed for less, and more may follow. Don’t get the idea this is a threat, or that I mean it that way, because it is the real thing. Be true to me. I love you." 


On June 10, 1912, before news of the tragedy in Villisca had spread, a three and a half page letter was discovered on the stairway leading to the local Justice of the Peace’s office. The quote above is taken from the memory of a Judge who read it and once Sheriff Chandler had it in his possession he turned it over to a Kansas City detective. I have never seen the letter in its entirety and as far as I know it is lost to time. The opinion of those who saw it was the writer was uneducated and the letter rambled incoherently for most of its length. The section above is a “recreation” written by the newspaper so it cannot be adequately analyzed for authenticity. The one thing that strikes me as odd is the lack of names. Not just by the writer but the salutation. I would expect, at the very least, the use of pet names. Contrast the letter above with the one below left by Rollin before leaving Anna on May 31st.
Well, I am going to K.C. Leave my clothes and those too (sic) pictures with Charley. I will be back next faul (sic) and get them. You will not be bothered with me eny (sic) more. Good-bye. ROLLIN" 

Even in a rage strong enough to simply pick up and leave (he’d done it before so maybe the rage wasn’t all that strong), Rollin addressed the note to Anna and signed his name. The use of the word “sweetheart” as a term of endearment was fairly generic, even in 1912. To use it twice in reference to different people is very unimaginative. The line “people have been killed for less, and more may follow” is ridiculously cryptic and written for effect. It’s the equivalent of writing in big red letters at the top of the page “THIS IS A DEATH THREAT FROM A MANIAC!”  

So is this letter authentic? As it is printed above I would say no. But that is only one paragraph as remembered by a person who read the letter a couple of times. The actual letter of three and a half pages could very well have been real. If that is the case then how did the letter come to rest on those steps ninety-seven years ago? I suppose a curiosity seeker could have picked it up while touring the crime scene, in fact it could very well be what happened; stranger things have been boosted from victim’s.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A quick wrap up

It has been 97 years since the "worst crime in Iowa History" was discovered by a concerned neighbor.

Just five days after Rollin and Anna Hudson were discovered bludgeoned to death in their home in Paola, Kansas, the Moore family and two Stillinger girls were discovered to have met a similar fate. Go to the Villisca blog or hit their Facebook page and find out more.

In Paola, there was a brief memorial service, attended by hundreds, for the young couple. Rollin Hudson's father, Jonathan, took the bodies back to Ohio for burial. The memorial in Paola included a viewing of the bodies. Investigators began looking for "Hooky" Adams and the stranger who had visited just hours before their murders. They also began a search for an "affinity" letter. George Cole had told investigators Rollin had insinuated he had in his possession a letter or note proving Anna to be untrue. This letter was believed to have been received by Anna on the morning of Decoration Day, May 31st. Hooky Adams turned out to have an air tight alibi but as far as I know, the stranger was never found. Something like an affinity letter was left on a stairway between two businesses with a note on it suggesting it be turned over to the proper persons. I'll get into this letter in another post.

Who was the stranger visiting the Hudsons that night? The description of the clothing would suggest a traveling salesman, likely out of Kansas City. A dark suit and a straw boater were pretty posh items to travel around in at the time. He may have been a friend from Ohio passing through Paola on sales calls and stopped by the Hudson's home on the way to the train station, leaving after a brief visit. The items inside the house were situated in such a way as to suggest some brief reminiscing. A photo album was out on the table as well as a box of letters; the dinner dishes had not been cleared and it looked as if the laundry had been interrupted. This suggests an unplanned, hurried visit. The stranger was invited into the house immediately and may have told Rollin and Anna he was on his way to catch a train. Anna might have thrown together a quick meal and they sat down to look at photographs from back in Ohio. The stranger may have asked about a mutual friend so they pulled out the box of letters in order to find out what city the friend lived in. After the visit the stranger left; Mr. and Mrs. Pryor may not have seen him leave due to being occupied elsewhere or just not paying attention to something that really wasn't all that interesting. The stranger boarded his train and took off to his next location; with the way news traveled (and in comparison to other crimes, Paola received very little press) he may not have known they had been killed for a year or more. It's very possible he didn't know he was the last person, other than the killer, to see them alive.

Could this stranger have been the killer? Sure; was he? Probably not. I think it is safe to assume the late night intruder into the Longmeyer house was the killer of the Hudsons or had something to do with it. If it was our stranger then the scenario gets stupidly complex. Said stranger is invited into the house; he then subdues the couple (investigators thought chloroform may have been used but never explain why), lays them on the bed in a sleeping position and bludgeons them to death with the pick axe he had hidden under his jacket the entire time. He then washes up, steals Anna's robe for kicks and leaves through the back room window. Before leaving he pulls out the photo album and letter box to make it look as if they had been sitting around looking at them the entire time. The album may have been sitting on the table to begin with but it was sheer luck he found the box of letters without needing to ransack the place. Once outside, he decides to go try to kill the next door neighbors so he breaks in through a back window but before he can begin, he drops the chimney, wakes the occupants and flees back through the house, leaving his souvenir from the first murder behind.  Setting aside that it is near impossible to chloroform two concious people back to back, why go through all the other trouble of making the crime look like a burglery but not do anything inside the house to make it look like a burglery.  Typically, when a killer "stages" a burglary-gone-wrong, they tear the place up but fail to take things in plain sight like money and jewelry.  In this case, Anna's jewelry was untouched and the house was in order.  The perpetrator here was of a single mind; kill.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Paola, Kansas - Follow up


So it isn’t a mystery; Rollin and Anna Hudson were found in the afternoon of June 5th dead in their bed. The weapon used had been a coal pick, the comforter was thrown over the bodies and several blows had been struck through the comforter. A coal oil lamp sans glass chimney was placed near the foot of the bed andthe window curtains were pulled closed. The killer apparently had entered by removing a screen and prying up the window of the back room on the east side of the house. Doors were not locked and there wasn’t any evidence of the killer washing up at the scene although there was a laundry tub filled with water in another back room. The weapon wasn’t found on scene and a search of an empty lot found nothing, however there was a coal pick with a broken handle discovered which was eventually identified as the likely murder weapon.

The victimology of the Hudsons, especially Anna, makes this a good candidate for an acquaintance crime. There were events surrounding the murder that are also indicative of this. A few days before the Hudson’s deaths, a stranger was in town asking about their location. He acted as if he were a friend passing through on business and was interested in looking them up. Witnesses also stated that Anna was seen arguing with an unidentified, taller man, on a bridge outside of town and that the man made a threatening gesture towards Anna. That was on the morning of Decoration Day (now called Memorial Day) which was Thursday, May 31st. It is hard to say how accurate these testimonials are. Paola was a hub for two large railroads and a common stopping point on the way to Kansas City so there were many strangers in and out of the little town and it could be the witnesses who reported the scene on the bridge saw a different woman.

About nine o’clock on the night the Hudsons were killed, Mr. and Mrs. William Pryor, the next door neighbors, saw a man in a dark blue suit and a straw boater’s hat walk up to the porch of the Hudson house. This man generally fit the description of the one seen around town in the days before. According to the Pryors he was allowed to enter the house immediately, as if “he were an old friend.” Neither neighbor remembered seeing the man leave but Mrs. Pryor was certain the house was dark around ten o’clock. Around midnight another neighbor, Mrs. Joseph Longmeyer and her daughter, Sadie, were awoken by the sound of shattering glass in the dining room. Mrs. Longmeyer was up in time to see a man fleeing through the back of the house. The source of the glass was a smashed chimney lamp. The intruder had left behind a “kimono” that was believed to have belonged to Anna Hudson. A screen from a back window had been removed in order to gain access to the house. If Mrs. Longmeyer and Mrs. Pryor were accurate then the Hudson’s were killed between ten and midnight on June 5, 1912.

Some conclusions can be drawn about the killer from this crime: The killer had burglary skills; the killer took “souvenirs”; the killer either wasn’t confident enough to face a conscious victim or wasn’t aware there was only a woman and young girl in the Longmeyer home; the killer wasn’t likely the man who visited the Hudsons that night.

Three of those four seem self explanitory; the fourth will require another post.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Hudsons of Paola, Kansas

The Hudsons moved to Paola, Kansas in April of 1912. They had been married a year before in North Industry, Ohio and by all accounts it had been a rough year. Anna was a flirty type and during the stick-up-your-butt years of the Edwardian period that meant you were a loose woman, although there seems to be quite a bit of circumstantial evidence she actually had an affair. Her husband, Rollin, was a year younger than she and was the son of Jonathan and Emma Hudson of North Industry. Jonathan was a Justice of the Peace in Stark County, Ohio and was reported in the papers to have been a prime mover in the Republican party. How likely this is I don't know. A Justice of the peace in Ohio made roughly the equivalent of $26,000 a year in 1910. Rollin worked for a time as a "cone grinder" in an automobile factory and eventually, the factory dust forced him to change professions - to a coal-man - go figure.

The source of most of the young couple's marital problems seem to be a man named Roy "Hooky" Adams, a friend of Anna's from Akron, Ohio. In the short time they were married, Rollin would "leave" Anna three times and they were often seen arguing in public. When they first moved to Paola, they lived with the George Cole family a few blocks from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (the Katy) railroad line and the Frisco coal chutes. Sometime in May the Hudsons moved into a five room cottage across the street from the Cole family and Rollin would overnight with the Coles a few times after blowouts with Anna. Rollin was a hard worker who seldom missed days and was always trying to better his position. But he also had a short fuse and tended to "disappear" for unknown reasons. One day he went to the Frisco chutes to get some coal and disappeared for a week. He had gone up the line to the town of Beagle to take a coal job there and hadn't told anyone. The problems with the marriage were likely two fold; Anna's incessant flirtations and Rollins volatile personality probably made for some interesting conversation among the neighbors and definitely lead to some red herrings after they were found murdered in their bed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Who was Charles Marzyck?

I find people interesting. I like to watch people walking down the street and try to guess their story. Where are they from; what is their job; have they ever been arrested? The primary reason I started this little blog was to talk about the other victims and players in these murders and I’d like to write a little about Charles Marzyck. The only crime I am certain Charles Marzyck ever committed was stealing wheat from James Vopat. Marzyck’s ex-wife claimed he had forged checks, written bad checks and even deserted from the army after a stint in the Philippines. He was never convicted of any of those crimes and I haven’t found anything showing service during the War in the Philippines. The primary question a researcher needs to ask is “would this suspect commit this kind of crime?” As I have said before, I’m not certain Marzyck would have. But let me give you a little background on Charles.

Denver Museum of Modern Art & formerly the "finest bordello in Denver"

Charles Marzyck was born in New York City around 1878. His parents were Charles and Mary and were emigrants from Bohemia (Czech Republic). Charles was one of five children in the family. He had two sisters, Julia who was about four years older, and Annie who was about four years younger as well as a younger brother, Joseph. The family lived in the Manhattan borough and his father worked as a cigar maker. Sometime between 1880 and 1885 his family moved to Denver, Colorado where Charles’ father set up a cigar making factory in the section of town now referred to as LoDo (lower downtown). When I say factory I mean a place where stuff gets made and not a large industrial building with hundreds of employees; the older Marzyck had only five employees and probably had young Charles helping around the place as well. The Marzyck’s lived on Holladay Street and this may well be important. Holladay Street was notorious as a “red light” district. Bordellos, gambling halls and saloons were everywhere. Only “high class” prostitutes operated in the bordellos but “dollar girls” roamed the streets in front of the gambling halls and theatres. At the time young Charles Marzyck was living on Holladay, it was said there were one thousand girls for a man to choose from. The Marzycks did not live in the actual area known as the red light district but they were only a few blocks away. Marzyck’s neighborhood housed mostly railroad workers.

Denver's police department was notoriously corrupt in those days and the city was so  relaxed with regard to prostitution that it wasn't uncommon for a young man with some money in his pocket to head down to  Holladay (later changed to Market street at the request of the Holladay family) and consort with the "fallen doves" of Denver.  There is no evidence  suggesting young Charles ever made that trip; not even his ex-wife was willing to accuse him of that.

In October of 1885, when Charles was eight, his father purchased a bale of Sumatra Tobacco from a man named Waggner for $279.35. Marzyck only paid half of the money but convinced Waggner to allow him to take the tobacco. Marzyck then sold the tobacco to Joseph Benesch who operated his own cigar factory. It isn’t clear what Benesch paid for the tobacco but Marzyck failed to mention to Benesch that the tobacco wasn’t completely paid for. Marzyck didn’t pay the other half to Waggner and somehow pushed the blame over to Benesch. Waggner made a complaint and the tobacco was seized by police. By the time it was over, Waggner and Benesch where both out the money they paid to Marzyck and the bale of tobacco while Marzyck got away without even a slap on the wrist. Whether this “fraud” was intentional or not is unknown.

Records of the young Charles Marzyck disappear after 1885. I don’t know when he married Minnie Kratky or where he went after his trial in Ellsworth; my guess would be Canada. Charles’ mother Mary died in 1903 in Colorado. His youngest brother Joseph married and had his own children and was still corresponding with his brother in 1911. After that, I have no idea. Perhaps someone reading can lend some information?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thoughts and ruminations...

Charles Marzyck is an interesting subject. The common belief of many relatives of the Showman family is that Marzyck killed the entire family because he was secretly in love with Pauline (his sister-in-law) and she did not return the feeling. In a rage of passion he struck the entire family down and then was able to escape justice. The other theory, the one advanced by the prosecution at the trial, was this was an act of revenge on those he felt had wronged him and sent him to prison.

There are a couple of questions that come to my mind here. The first I already touched upon; why did James and Minnie Vopat not show for the trial? I am not a profiler nor am I a psychologist (and maybe I should leave it at that but...my blog, my rules) but it seems to me James and Minnie were genuinely frightened of Marzyck. I believe there was a love triangle involving Marzyck but it was between him, Minnie and James. Marzyck had been involved in a few criminal enterprises before his prison term, all non violent and all the product of a "con." Bad checks, forged checks and a possible event involving the sale of tobacco that wasn't entirely his to sell*. The crime that got him "cheesed" was stealing wheat. The victim was James Vopat. Pauline may have testified against Marzyck in that trial but Will Showman clearly felt Marzyck had been wronged somehow. While in jail awaiting the trial, Will would visit Charles and bring him tobacco and food. While in prison, Will wrote letters and petitioned for his release as well as corresponding with Marzyck. These are not the actions of a man who's wife's life had been threatened.

If Marzyck followed his previous MO then the "theft" was likely that of fraud. A bad check or possibly paying half the money owed for the full order of wheat then selling the wheat elsewhere and skipping town with the money (the scam run with the tobacco in Denver). Minnie may have had enough of her husband's dishonest ways and confessed the crime to Vopat and Sheriff Bradshaw. If this is the case then not only did Minnie betray her husband but then she married the man he had tried to swindle, a double betrayal. This explains the actions of Marzyck during the murder trial. He practically burned holes in the heads of the Vopats during their testimony. Clearly Marzyck's beef was with the Vopats and not the Showmans. But Will Showman was a good and honest man by all accounts and it's hard for me to believe he would have taken up the cause of a person he believed to be a genuine criminal. Not to get to close to tin foil hat territory but the possibility exists that Marzyck was set up by Minnie and James in order to get him out of the way of their relationship. Clearly the authorities believed a piece of evidence, the cigar cutter, was planted. Conveniently this cigar cutter was IDed by Minnie Vopat as belonging to Charles.

I must stress that I DO NOT think the Showman's were killed in order to frame Marzyck and put him away for good. So James Vopat is not a suspect and shouldn't be considered at all; neither should Minnie. But should Marzyck? While his alibi put him in Denver at the time of the Ellsworth murders, it also put him within a short train ride of Colorado Springs. If Minnie is to be believed, then Marzyck also had relatives in Monmouth, Illinois. He represented himself in a trial that if lost, would have certainly lead to his swinging from a gallows so he was level headed. If I were to find out he was a gandy dancer for a railroad I'd say he was a great suspect. But Charles was a "clever" fellow and was a good talker. His crimes relied on his ability to convince others he could be trusted and he was comfortable talking to people. His crimes were that of the lazy man; working hard to con a person out of a few bales of wheat without realizing his talent for selling ice to Eskimos. The killer of the Waynes, Burnhams, Dawsons and Showmans had no such ability. He had to attack his victims in their sleep because he wasn't confident enough to get them while they were awake. Further, Marzyck had no history of violence (although he was said to be a nasty drunk) and the life of the con man is to get the money or items and get the heck outta there. I believe Marzyck was innocent of this and the other crimes but I can't rule him out completely; he's just to tempting a character.

*Turns out this may have been his father

The trial of Charles Marzyck...

Thanks to Lisa Lindsley of Ellsworth for writing up this summary of the Marzyck trial.  I will post my thoughts later today.  One question I will ask right now is: why did the Vopats need to be "fetched" from Blackwolf?  Surely they realized the importance of the trial and their testimony?  Why did James Vopat not show?  I'll ponder on that a'while and you read:

The trial of Charles Marzyck for the murders of Will Showman, wife Pauline and their three children, Lester, Fern and Fenton, was held in the Ellsworth County Court house after his arrest in Canada in April of 1912. Mr. Marzyck had no attorney, he choose to represent himself.

The prosecution questioned Mrs. O.W. Snook first. She reported the Showman’s had been visiting at her house the evening before until around 9 pm. Mrs. Snook testified calling the Showman house many times Monday morning. Finally, she and her daughter walked the two blocks to their home around 5 pm where she found the bodies.

Next, John Herink from Wilson went on the witness stand. He spoke poor English but he said he had met Charles Marzyck many times. Herink stated he saw Charles Marzyck on the corner of Douglas and Main, Ellsworth, at 4 am on the morning of October 16, 1911. The man’s English was very broken and the Judge had to quiet the crowd in the courtroom often as disarray broke out as everyone was trying to understand Herink’s words.

James Vopat, the man married to Marzyck’s ex-wife, was called to the stand next. He and his wife had not come to court that day. James was fetched from Blackwolf and he and his wife, Minnie arrived at the courthouse soon after. Marzyck stared at James during his testimony. His eyes only once turned to his ex-wife once when she identified a cigar cutter said to belong to Charles Marzyck. The cigar cutter was alleged to be found in the Showman’s house.

James spoke of the threats Charles Marzyck had made to the Showman’s while under the influence of the bottle. Marzyck prior arrest for stealing wheat from James Vopat was brought up. Also mentioned were his open remarks at that hearing to claim revenge on his ex-wife Minnie and sheriff Bradshaw who arrested him for that stealing charge. At the previous hearing, it was noted that both Minnie Vopat and her sister Pauline Showman testified against Charles Marzyck. However it was also noted that Will Showman had written to Marzyck while he was in prison and even petitioned for his release. The threats made to the Will Showman family didn’t seem comprehensible but James as well as others had personally heard the threats from Charles Marzyck’s mouth.

Sheriff Bradshaw took the stand next and testified that on the night of the murder, he had heard noises at his back door. After he heard the noise a couple of times he went to the back door but did not see anyone. The next morning, he did see that the screen to his back window had been partly removed as if someone had attempted to break into his house.

Then Charles Marzyck took the stand in his own defense. The prosecutor took great care in trying to trip up his alibi. Charles was clever and was very clear about the places he had worked and stayed while in Colorado during October, 1911. His probable residence in Colorado during the murders took him far away from Ellsworth.

At the conclusion of the trial, John Herink’s testimony was taken lightly. He had such broken English, he wasn’t completely understood. The Judge also ruled that at 4 am with no street lamp it would be difficult to identify a man on the street. 

The cigar cutter being found at the Showman’s house was not allowed as evidence as the authorities suspected it was planted. It was stated that the cigar cutter was not turned into authorities until two weeks after the murders. Charles Marzyck had what seemed to be an iron clad alibi. In the end, there was not enough evidence to convict Charles Marzyck and he was found “not guilty” and released. After the hearing many spoke of how Charles Marzyck had always been a clever man. He was generally a respectable man but when he took to the bottle he did become rather vile. Many speculated that he had been cleverest in his career to come out of the trail with an acquittal. 

Since his arrest and time in prison at Lansing, KS, Charles Marzyck had been charged both in Colorado and Missouri for writing bad checks and forgery. He was even arrested and held in jail in Missouri; however he was released on some small technicality.
Looking back know, one wonders if John Herink was the link that should of put Marzyck behind bars. Another point never stated was if Marzyck’s alibi in Colorado was ever checked out by authorities. Was his employer in Colorado contacted as well as the hotels he frequented?

The ax murders of the Showman family remain unsolved. A private investigation report in April 1917 implicated others but no arrests were ever made partially because the majority believed Charles Marzyck really did commit the crime. Today, the ax murders are referred to as” Hatchet” around Ellsworth and most citizens only have a slight knowledge of the crime which for the most part it is forgotten. The identification of the murderer was buried long ago, along with the memory of Will Showman and his family.

More to come...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A suspect...

If you read any of the articles on the Millers Paranormal website then you know of two of the suspects in the Showman murder. One was a John Smitherton or Smithson or Smith who was passing through on his way to Kanopolis looking for work in the salt mine there. The other was Charles Marzyck, ex husband of Minnie Vopat (Pauline Showman’s sister) and one time wheat thief and forger. Marzyck was the only suspect ever put on trial for the Showman murders and in short was acquitted of the crime. The Ellsworth County Independent published an article about the Showman murders in July of 2008. It is a good rundown of the motive Marzyck may have had for killing the Showman family. The article’s author, Lisa Lindsley has kindly written up a summery of Marzyck’s trial which I will post soon. Marzyck is an intriguing character and I have actually been researching him for a while. There are a couple things we know about Marzyck that makes him a least an interesting suspect. First he lived in Colorado at one time and was reported (indeed it was his alibi) to be living in Colorado in 1911. His brother lived in Denver and it is quite likely Charles lived with his brother and when he and Minnie were married they lived in Colorado where Charles had written some bad checks and forged some other checks. Second, Marzyck had been heard by several witnesses to make threats against those who had helped send him to prison for the wheat theft. Pauline had testified along with her sister in that trial. So he can be placed within a train ride of Colorado Springs in 1911 and made threats of violent retribution towards (in a general way) Pauline Showman. Minnie Vopat also believed Marzyck had relatives in Monmouth, Illinois but that might have been a fib.

Ellsworth County Courthouse - 1908

Was the Showman family massacred out of revenge? Was it a crime of passion incited by the unrequited love of Pauline Showman? The descendents and relatives of both Marzyck and the Showmans don’t like to talk about the crime. Those on the Showman side generally believe Marzyck was a killer regardless of the verdict of the trial. I’ll discuss a bit more about Charles Marzyck and my own opinion after I post Lisa’s trial summery.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

From the comments...

Sherri in comments asks a good question that I haven’t really addressed: Why not Rev. Lyn Kelly? Any of you who have read about the Villisca crime know who Lyn Kelly was and those of you who don’t need to get over the Villisca Axe Murders blog and study. In brief, Lyn Kelly was a tiny, weird little preacher who was in Villisca on the night of the murders. Rev. Kelly was absolutely howl-at-the-moon crazy and had a bit of a peeper’s fetish. He’d been busted in one town for peeking in a window, arrested in another town for trying to hire a young lady to type and pose nude for him and in another town had cornered a young girl and spent the better part of an hour trying to talk her into undressing for him. His relationship with his wife was more like that of a mother and it is believed the two never consummated the marriage. But was Kelly a psychopath?  

Looking at two of the crime scenes you can draw a few conclusions without needing to be a trained profiler. In Colorado Springs the killer acted strangely. Think Jack the Ripper on the night known as the double event. A run-of-the mill breaking and entering crime gone wrong would have the killer fleeing the scene after the first murder and getting away as fast as possible. Instead the unsub went to the neighbors’ house and killed them as well. The risk involved was substantial with houses all around the area, trolleys clanging down the street and men walking to work. Absolute calm had to be maintained through all of it. In Ellsworth, while the chance of discovery wasn’t as great, it was still there. The killer apparently made an attempt to break into another house but was interrupted by the owner (in this case it was Marshall Merritt) but this near brush with discovery did not dissuade the killer at all. With Bill Miller’s axe in hand, the killer walked south among other houses for quite some distance until he came to the Showman house. If the bloodhound trail was accurate, he hid in some bushes behind the house in order to observe. After he killed the family he washed his hands, wiped the axe down and posed Pauline. He then stepped out the front door, hopped a train and left town. In order to do this there had to be an escape strategy other wise the entire getaway would have been based on whether or not a train was passing by. Did he wait inside the house until a train came or did he lounge on the front porch? Or did he have an idea of how long to stay inside before hopping the train?  

Judging by the way Kelly reacted while in jail and during the trial it is clear he couldn’t handle high pressure situations. He shrank in his chair during the trial and while he had some peculiarities with regard to children it seems he just didn’t have the nerves required to break into a house without waking anyone, kill the occupants without waking anyone and then escape unnoticed through town. Now Dr. Epperly knows a lot more about Rev. Kelly than I do and I look forward to reading the upcoming book once it comes out but based on what I know I just can’t see Lyn Kelly as being able to pull any of this off.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Entering Hatchet, part II...

At last I've tweaked my video walkthrough of the Showman house to the point I'm happy...not satisfied, but happy.  Points of contention; pretty certain the sink is placed wrong and the location of the phone is in doubt.  I've explained my reasoning for the demensions of the house so I won't rehash that.  I placed the phone in the front room for one reason, the killer covered it with a dress belonging to Pauline.  Investigators believed this was to muffle the ring in case anyone called so the assumption is the phone was in the same room the family slept in.  I don't think this is the reason he covered the phone but I'll write about that later.  Incidently, the axe on the outside of the house, near the back door where the killer entered, was Will Showman's axe and was untouched.  I'll be talking about suspects next...till next time, enjoy the film.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Entering "Hatchet"...

The old Showman house is gone but the place where it once stood is known to residents as “Hatchet.” Sheriff R. W. Bradshaw and town marshal Merritt speculated the killer must have had some knowledge of the house. A later investigation by The Whitsett National Detective agency out of Kansas City believed this as well but why would this be the case? The house was typical for its time; a two room house that was originally a one room house with a lean-to addition tacked onto the back. The house extended to the back of the hill it sat on with a concrete foundation laid to support the addition. The house itself was about 15 feet wide by 16 feet long (18’ by 18’ at best) and the two rooms were separated by a wall with a door about the middle of the room. On the door was a bracket on which hung an oil lamp. The bracket could be swung in either direction in order to cast light into the front room, the kitchen or both. It was this lamp that was used by the killer and found at the foot of Will and Pauline’s bed.  

Author's representation of the house

In the front room, where the family slept, two beds were arranged side by side at one end of the room. In the picture above, the beds sat on either side of the double hung window facing the camera. In this layout, the sleeping area would have been incredibly cramped and allowed a maximum of two and a half feet of floor space between the two beds (based on a standard size of three and a half feet wide beds). Investigators felt the light thrown from a chimneyless lamp would have been too dim for the killer to have committed the crimes in such cramped space without prior knowledge of the house. The confined space could also account for Pauline waking up as the killer might have swung the axe across her body at a diagonal from the foot toward the head of the bed but that is only speculation.  I arrived at the measurements in two ways; first by using the intuition of Google Sketchup's Photomatch feature and second using the double hung window as a scale.  Sketchup measured the house to be 15' by 17' while the window measured it to be 18' by 18' (based on a standard width of 29").  The 3D model I created measures 16' by 17', 6".  Either way the front room measures just over nine feet wide in order to accomodate the beds being arranged the way they were.  

Monday, January 12, 2009

More on the family and the crime scene...

Will Showman was the youngest son of David and Sarah Showman. David was a veteran of the Civil War and served in Company H of the Maryland Volunteers. He moved his family to Ellsworth County sometime between 1872 and 1880 and took a job as a mail carrier. David died in April of 1898. Pauline Kratky was the youngest daughter of John and Theressia and was born in Ellsworth County around 1884. John and Theressia had emigrated from Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and were part of a burgeoning Bohemian culture establishing itself in the area. The influence of this culture is seen every July when the town of Wilson holds its annual Czech Festival. Will and Pauline were married around 1904 and had three children; Lester, Fern and Fenton. At the time of his death Will Showman was a chauffeur which didn’t pay too much especially in a rural town like Ellsworth. The family was regularly seen at church and Will was an active member in good standing with the local Redmen Lodge. Will was reported to have a kind heart. His former brother in law had been arrested a few years earlier and Will would visit him and bring tobacco and food while he was at the Ellsworth County jail.

As many of you probably read before, it was Laurie Snook who discovered the crime around five o’clock in the afternoon on October 16th, 1911. I have been debating with myself over how much detail on the crime scene to write about since it could very easily cross over into tabloid territory so I’ll give a few generalizations. Will and Pauline’s bed sat in a corner with Will positioned on the inside against the wall. Pauline was on the outside and two-year old Fenton was between his parents. Will was killed first without ever waking but Pauline woke up. She attempted to fend off the attack and in the struggle woke up the children. The children were all killed while sitting up. A bucket of bloody water was found in the kitchen as well as a blood stained piece of cloth. The killer used the water and the cloth to clean off his hands and the blade of the axe. He took a dress belonging to Pauline and hung it over the phone in the kitchen. He pulled the covers up over Will leaving only the top of his head exposed. He leaned the axe against the wall behind the door between the kitchen and the front room. He went about his macabre work by the low light of a coal oil lamp absent its glass chimney. The chimney was found, depending on the source, either under the foot of the bed or under a chair in the kitchen. The lamp was placed at the foot of Will and Pauline’s bed and left to burn out. Out of respect for family members who may be reading or may come across this post I will only say that Pauline was posed by the killer before leaving the scene.

Monday, January 5, 2009

"Ellsworth the wickedest..."

Will Showman

In the former cattle town of Ellsworth, Kansas, Will Showman and his family were visiting the home of W. O. Snook on Sunday, October 15, 1911. Mr. Snook worked nights and usually slept during the day so Laurie Snook was glad for the company in the evenings. Around nine o’clock, Will and his family said good night and walked the two blocks back to their house. The Showman's had lived in their little house for about four years. Will had purchased the property from the county after the previous owners had failed to pay the taxes on the house. It sat perched on a small hill overlooking the railroad tracks which were just a few feet from the front door. The house was originally a one room shack but at some point had been expanded with a lean-to addition on the back where the kitchen was located. The family slept in the front room with beds on both sides of the house. Just to the north of the Showman home lived Bill Miller and his family. In his front yard, embedded in a tree stump, was his axe. A few days before, Miller and some friends had a competition to see which of them could drive the axe head the deepest into the stump. Fred Boyer took the honors after driving it in so deeply the men had to use another axe to remove it, chipping the blade in the process. A few houses away lived the Ellsworth town marshal; his name was Merritt but I have never located a first name. Merritt was sitting in his front room reading when he heard a peculiar noise coming from the back room. It sounded as if an animal were scratching at the back door. The noise stopped and Merritt went back to his reading. The noise began again and this time the marshal decided to investigate so he grabbed his lamp and went to the back room. The noise had stopped again and when it didn’t return, Merritt assumed whatever it was had been frightened off and he left it at that. The next morning it was discovered that the screen had been removed from the back window and an attempt had been made to pry the window open. I’m not going to go into all the detail of the discovery of the Showman’s bodies because the Millers Paranormal folks have the newspaper reports available for you to read so go there.

I have more details about this crime to share and will talk about suspects and hypotheses later. I want to talk about the Showman’s a bit more as well since victimology is an important aspect and this site is more or less about remembering the victims and not just the crimes.  Till next time…lock up your axes.