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.