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Ben Hecht Borrows From Luetgert Story?
In a 1962 article for Playboy — collected in his rollicking 1963 memoir Gaily, Gaily — the legendary Chicago reporter Ben Hecht recalls a murder case that sounds suspiciously similar to the Adolph Luetgert case.
Hecht describes an story that apparently occurred sometime during the five years after he began working as a reporter in Chicago in 1910. He writes:
Fred Ludwig, a popular North Shore butcher, went on trial before Judge Sabath for the murder of his wife. The wedding band with its romantic inscription had turned up in one of the sausages manufactured by Ludwig and sold to one of his customers, Claude Charlus, a well-known financier and epicure.
The prophecy was fulfilled. It was the errant wedding ring that convinced the jury that Fred had killed his wife, Irma, and disposed of her body by converting it into sausage stuffing.
I covered the trial and thought the guilty verdict a correct finding.
Hecht goes on to recount Ludwig awaiting his execution, when he reveals that he likes to wear women's makeup. Hence the politically incorrect title of this chapter in Hecht's book — "The Fairy." Hecht concludes: "I wrote a lead on a piece of copy paper — 'Fred Ludwig lived as a cowardly man but he died as a brave woman.'"
Although Gaily, Gaily is a memoir based on Hecht's real experiences, and although it does recount many real events and real people and places, it is uncertain whether the Fred Ludwig anecdote is straight history or more of an embroidered tall tale. A search of the Chicago Police Department's homicide index, which covers the time period in question, did not turn up any cases involving a Fred Ludwig. Perhaps Hecht borrowed some gory details from the legendary Luetgert case when he told this story.