Luetgert tells his life story

In the following testimony, taken from Luetgert's second trial on murder charges, he talks about his childhood and the years leading up to the time of his infamous criminal case. During this testimony, Luetgert was questioned by his defense attorney, Lawrence Harmon. Many of the questions have been edited out of this transcript for the sake of brevity.

"I was born on December 27, 1845, in Germany, town of Gütersloh, province of Westphalia. My father's name was Henry Luetgert. I am a twin. The name of the other twin was Fritz Luetgert. He is dead. I had eight brothers and two sisters. Three came to America. One of them returned. One of them is in Chicago, another in Baltimore. He came to the United States about 1867, and disappeared about the year 1869. I have not heard of him since. The brother who is still living in Chicago is Arnold Luetgert.

"My father was a dealer in hides, tallow wool, provisions, et cetera, also part real estate, money matters. I am the third from the oldest of the family. I began going to school — I guess I was about seven... Till I was fourteen years of age... I was sent to school. I got nothing worse than reading, arithmetic and such like. I lived like any other boy. When I left school I was apprenticed to a tanner and worked for two years and a half with him. After leaving him I ramped about the country and worked in many different places and for many men...

"[At fourteen] I went to serve my apprenticeship — to learn the tanning business with Ferdinand Knabel. I worked for him about two years and a half. ... I stayed right there [lived] with the boss: that is the custom in the old country...

"I traveled most all over Germany. ... I walked. ... about three years. Then I went to London, England. I was then between nineteen and twenty, something like that. ... I didn't remain very long; about six months. I did anything I could get hold of. The best work I could find was scrubbing in a restaurant nights...

"I concluded like thousands of my countrymen to come to America. At the age of seventeen I found myself in New York with $30 in my pocket, in a strange land, among strange people and dazed by the sights of a great city...

"I landed in the United States in 1865 or 1866, at New York, and went to Quincy, Illinois, where there were some friends of my oldest brother, Henry — found them. Remained in Quincy about three or four months, then came to Chicago, where I knew not a soul. I had three cents then. I went directly from the depot to the leather stores, there got information and went to the tanneries. They gave me directions to the tannery, then gave me twenty-five or fifty cents, then I got some breakfast. Went to the tannery and found a job with the Union Hide and Leather company, they called it that time, in Elston Road, between Milwaukee Avenue and Division Street...

"I had piece work. If I had sufficient work I could make about $3 a day, but we didn't have quite steady work... The work soon shut down, maybe it was about a month or a month and a half. Then afterward there was not much work...

"I was boarding in the neighborhood of that business there by a saloon and boarding-house kept by Olendorf [Ohlendorf?], a German, Platt Deutscher. ... I stayed there till fall... I couldn't get any work in the tannery at that time; it was all slack. A fellow named Ryan, an Irishman, gave me a job moving houses, carrying blocks and molds. I worked for him till the frost set in; then we couldn't work at that business...

"I worked on Archer Road for the Nash Packing Company. I worked there almost all winter, so long as the killing season was going on. I guess they stopped about the month of March, something like that...

"[After that] I was at a tannery on Archer Road, near what they called the Archer Road slip. ... Engle, Crossley & Co. I worked there till the concern burned down in the winter of 1867-68. In the spring I started there and the next winter they burned down...

"I worked in different tanneries. I worked then for Craig, Clark & Company, near the Halsted Street bridge, on Goose Island, right near the Northwestern junction on Chicago Avenue. I only worked there a couple of weeks. I didn't like the job...

"From there I went to work for the brothers on Elston Road, between Division and Blackhawk streets. I don't remember their names. I worked for them all that winter...  I worked then for Mr. Engle after they burned down. After they shut up Engle started a tannery in the spring. He met me downtown and he says: 'I want you again.' Then he started business with a couple of men, with Craig, Clark and Company. They couldn't dispose of their leather. Engle was a great expert on leather and he took a contract with that company and we finished that leather after that for years. So I stayed with Engle Brothers from that time till '72, I guess...

"I started in business myself ... I had saved about $4,000... I put that in the savings bank and bought property on the corner of A and Dolmak streets from a man named Shipman, who was living at Lincoln Avenue and Orchard Street. It was what they used to call Nicholsonville, because Nicholson used to have a big distiller in that neighborhood. I paid for that lot $750, and I bought from a neighbor a cottage and moved that cottage on that lot."

Q: "Now in 1872, you started in your own business. How much in ready money did you have on hand to being business with?"

A: "I had my property and horse and wagon - oh, say $2,000 in cash."

Q: "What business did you go into?"

A: "The liquor line. I didn't have no saloon. I only bought liquors and sold them again, right at the corner of A and Dolmark streets, in the basement. Afterward I moved to Clybourn and Webster avenues, where I rented a place and carried on the liquor line, combining with a saloon, wholesale and retail. I continued in that business there until October 1879, then I sold out...

Q: "I was married in 1872, in April, to a girl named Caroline Rabker [sic; correct spelling was probably Roepke].

A: "Spell the last name?"

Q: "I ain't much of a speller. You may do it yourself."

A: "Where did you live after your marriage?"

"In my house at A and Dominck streets."

Q: "When you moved to Webster and Clybourn avenues you lived in the premises where the business was carried on?"

A: "When I moved to Webster and Clybourn avenues I rented the whole store, from the bottom to the stop, and there was a cellar to it and a store, and above the store were four or five rooms, and there I lived and rented a cottage."

Q: "When you sold out this liquor business how much money did you have in cash on hand?"

A: "About $10,000, and some real estate."

Q: "In the meantime had any children been born to you and your wife?"

A: "Yes, there was, in the year 1874 — let's see, yes, 1874, 1875, Arnold was born, the oldest one."

Q: "The boy Max, did he live?"

A: "No, sir, he died. We lost him. He was about a year and a half when he died."

Q: "In the meantime, before selling out your business in 1879, did your first wife die?"

A: "Yes, sir. It was in 1877, the fifteenth of November."

Q: "How long did you remain a widower?"

A: "Until the next year, the month of January."

Q: "Where did your little boy Arnold live in the meantime?"

A: "I kept in the store myself and gave the little boy to my mother-in-law. She took care of him. She was living at the time with one of her daughters. It was 1878. I got married to the second wife. She was Louise Bicknese, and I married her in Chicago at the house of her sister, Wilhemina Mueller."

Q: "After your second marriage, where did you and your wife live?"

A: "Clybourn and Webster avenues, where I had my business, until I sold out in 1879 in the fall... From there I moved to North and Clybourn avenues, taking a house in the middle of the block [305 West North Avenue]. I opened a sausage business there and remained until September 1883. ... I lived there from 1879 in the month of December until 1883 in the spring... From there I had a small farm near Elgin, and I went out there in the spring of '83."

Q: "Did you sell out the business?"

A: "No, sir, I didn't. You see, I only manufactured sausage in the winter and I manufactured to about April 1, and then shut down and then sold whatever there was, because at that time I didn't know the process of how to make sausage in the summer; we only made sausage in the winter. The sausage meat was nothing but summer sausage, a staple article."

Q: "Well, you went out in the country for a while?"

A: "I was almost worked down, so I went on my farm, a farm of sixty acres near Elgin."

Q: "What did you pay for it?"

A: "I traded for that farm some of the property I used to have on A and Dominick streets."

Q: "What is it worth now?"

A: "Worth about $8,000 today, because I made big improvements."

Q: "How long did you stay on the farm that time?"

A: "I only stayed there that summer. After building our house my wife didn't like it, so I had nothing to say and went to Chicago and bought property on North avenue and Sheffield avenue, and started building there."

Q: "You left to please your wife, did you?"

A: "Mostly."

Q: "She preferred to come back and live in Chicago?"

A: "You couldn't tie her on the farm if you paid her ever so much."

Q: "Where did you arrange to live together when you came back to Chicago?"

A: "Then I bought that property on North and Sheffield avenues ... and commenced building at once. I came back to Chicago to please my wife. My family went on the farm near Elgin, my wife and my son Arnold and my brother-in-law, Bicknese, a brother of my wife. I hired him that year to run the farm because I didn't know anything about farming. I stayed in Chicago for about a month or a month and a half longer to wind up the balance of the business. Goods had to be sold and matters had to be attended to. After I was through with that I went out to the farm also, although it was necessary for me to come about once a week to Chicago to square up business matters, and the balance of the week I was busy in going around among the neighbors, the other farmers, and asking for their help to draw some lumber...

"One day I was not home, and as I came home in the evening I found some important news at home. I asked them what was the matter. Well, they told me then a story that a crazy man was at the farm... A crazy man during my absence had pursued my wife and greatly frightened her... My brother-in-law came to my wife's assistance, and the crazy man was arrested. It was found that he had escaped from the asylum in Elgin. After that my wife would not stay on the farm for any money. I spent about $3,000 or $4,000 on improvements on the farm, but I could not prevail upon my wife to stay there. So we came back to Chicago. I opened up a sausage business about the first of October. With my family I continued to live at North and Sheffield avenues until 1891. We lived in the upper flats, and the rest of the building was occupied for manufacturing purposes."

Q: "You came back to Chicago in the month of September and built a factory on North Avenue and Sheffield Avenue?"

A: "Yes, sir. I bought there two lots and a corner lot; there was a little building built there after the fire and there was a room, or two added onto that, and we lived in the rooms for about three years... We stayed in that new building then from 1886 until 1891 and occupied the upper flat, and the balance of the building was used for manufacturing purposes...

"In 1891, I bought, in the spring, the property on Howe street for about $7,000 to accommodate my wife. We was living on the third floor, and whenever people used to call they used to smell the smoke of the sausage, et cetera, and it was kind of disagreeable to them, so she preferred to move from there, and at that time I was making lots of money, so I bought that piece on Howe street and moved in the middle of September 1891. It was a nice piece of land there of from fifty to sixty feet frontage, with a nice lawn around the house. I continued business at North and Sheffield avenues...

[In 1892, Luetgert purchased property at the southwest corner of Diversey and Hermitage to build a new factory, buying the land for $30,000 and spending $140,000 on construction.]

"I sold part of that property on Howe street, and we didn't have no house then, and I rented a house on Clybourn Avenue and Church Street. I stayed there from the fall of 1893 to 1894, and then the new house was finished and we moved into the house where we are at present, in Hermitage Avenue, near the factory."