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The New York Bribery Plot
In the summer of 1897, Captain Herman Schuettler went to New York to investigate a supposed sighting of the missing Mrs. Luetgert in Manhattan. (For more on that story, see the tale of A.W.C. Grottey.) Schuettler had an additional reason for his trip to New York. After spending a week investigating Grottey, he stayed on for another week to look into a scheme to bribe the jury in the Luetgert trial.
A man named August Schmidt, whom police believed to be an close friend of Luetgert’s, had called on Christine Feld some time in July and offered to "fix" the jury when Luetgert came to trial. Schmidt, who believed Feld was still on friendly terms with Luetgert, told her he knew someone in the clerk’s office of the Criminal Court who would make sure that the jury found Luetgert not guilty. A short time later, Schmidt went to New York and wrote Feld a letter.
"Our friend in the Criminal Court will guarantee to get the jury to acquit," he wrote. "He wants $1,000 for himself and $1,800 for the jury. I can raise $1,000; can you get $1,800? Our friend will pay us well when he gets free."
In the letter, Schmidt said "our friend" Luetgert was in a bad fix and that his true friends should do everything in their power to extricate him from it. He said the court employee was a man of his word who would be able to rig the verdict. And Schmidt added that it wouldn’t be sufficient for the first jury to disagree. That would mean a second trial, which would be more difficult to fix.
Schuettler had a New York detective go to the boarding house on 17th Street that matched the return address on the letter. The detective asked for the names of all people living at the house, but Schmidt was not on the list.
The detectives then used a ruse to see if the landlady had told them everything she knew about Schmidt. They sent a registered letter to Schmidt at the boarding house. The landlady accepted it and told the mail carrier, "A few weeks ago a young man called and asked for board and room. I told him I could not furnish him board, as the weather was too warm. He said he wanted to eat where he roomed, but I said I could not accommodate him. Just as he was leaving he gave me half a dollar and said, ‘I’ll have some letters addressed here. Please take care of them for me.’ Several letters came for him, which he got. He said he would call next Saturday."
Schuettler secured a room opposite the boarding house, and the New York detective stayed there, watching out for Schmidt or any mail addressed to him, but Schmidt never appeared.
Schuettler returned to Chicago on August 9, still hoping he might nab Schmidt. However, the newspapers in New York and Chicago found out about the investigation of the bribery scheme and broke the news. Luetgert’s supporters accused the prosecutors and police of fabricating the story to create public sentiment against Luetgert, but Inspector Michael Schaack said, "No, that’s not true. I’ve got that letter myself, and it tells the whole plan. I can’t say anything more. I’m not talking about the case and haven’t said a word since it was started. Where the leak was I cannot say."
Schuettler said the New York detective whom he had hired to stake out the boarding house had sold the story to reporters for a hundred dollars. But as the jury selection in Luetgert’s trial began on August 23, Schuettler still did not know the identity of the Schmidt’s "friend" in the courthouse who was ready to influence the verdict for a price.
© 2003 by Robert Loerzel.
Chicago Inter Ocean, Aug. 11, 1897; Chicago Tribune, Dec. 21, 1897.