Luetgert's Cellmate, the Murderous Butcher

Adolph Luetgert had an oddly appropriate cellmate at Cook County Jail while he was on trial.

Like Luetgert, Nic Marzen was a butcher accused of murdering someone and trying to destroy the corpse.

Marzen was charged with killing another butcher and cattle buyer. Fritz Holzhueter disappeared on January 30, 1895. The last place he was seen was at Marzen’s saloon at 3517 Halsted Street. Holzhueter had arranged to go on a cattle-buying expedition with Marzen.

On February 27, Holzhueter's partially cremated body was found at 94th Street and Western Avenue in the south suburb of Evergreen Park. Prosecutors theorized that Marzen had murdered Holzhueter in Marzen's barn on Halsted Street and kept the body there for three weeks, before taking it to Evergreen Park and burning it.

Marzen was indicted for murder on March 28, 1895, and tried on largely circumstantial evidence. His trial that lasted almost seven weeks, making it one of the longest trials ever held in Cook County up until then.

The Chicago Daily Tribune described the dramatic scene during closing arguments:

While Assistant State’s Attorney Pearson was illustrating before the jury the manner in which the cleaver — by which he has all along maintained Fritz Holzhueter met his death — may have been handled in dealing the disastrous blow, the head of the implement flew off the handle, sailed over the heads of a dozen people, and struck one of the supporting pillars of the court-room. The edge of the blade was sunk into the hard wood of the pillar half an inch. Near this pillar sat two men. The blade passed between their heads, alarmingly near the face of each.

This episode had scarcely lost interest in the crowd when Nic Marzen fainted dead away and fell forward on the table before him. Judge Smith had begun to read the instructions to the jury, and was explaining the meaning of the term "with malice and a malignant heart" when the incident occurred.

There was wild excitement in the crowded court-room in a moment. Mrs. Marzen shrieked, and her children began to cry. Court bailiffs ran to Marzen’s aid, and he soon recovered…

After only forty minutes of deliberation, the jury reached a verdict. The Tribune reported:

Marzen’s face was pale and there was a frightened expression in his eyes as he was led into court to listen to the verdict. He was given a chair near the north wall of the court-room near the hallway leading to the prisoners’ elevator.

Clerk Remington read the verdict slowly and distinctly. It was as follows: "We, the jury, from the evidence find the defendant, Nic Marzen, guilty of murder in manner and form as charge in the indictment, and we fix the punishment of the said Nic Marzen at death."

As the final words of the verdict were pronounced Mrs. Marzen wept hysterically and her two children crept closer to her and began to cry.

Marzen’s face grew a shade paler, but he made no demonstration…

Marzen was placed in cell No. 11 last night. Acting Jailer James gave orders that a strict watch be kept over the man until he had recovered from the excitement and agitation of his conviction.

The condemned man was utterly dejected. When led to his cell he sat down on the narrow bed and wept. A guard spoke consolingly to the prisoner:

"Don’t give up, Marzen," said the guard. "While there is life there is hope."

Marzen shook his head, threw himself at full length upon the bed and covered his face with his hands. He refused to talk, and was left alone.

Governor Altgeld granted Marzen a reprieve so that he could appeal his case to the Illinois Supreme Court. While waiting for the Supreme Court's decision, Marzen remained in Cook County Jail, where Luetgert become his cellmate.

The two befriended each other. On September 16, 1897, the Illinois Staats-Zeitung reported one of the incidents between the two men: "A dream plagued his cellmate Nic Marzen Tuesday night, causing Luetgert great amusement. Marzen dream that he was chased by a bull, sprang suddenly out of the bed with a shout: 'Achtung! Here he comes.'.

On April 5, 1898, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed Marzen's conviction and ordered a new trial. The court questioned the integrity of the jury. Juror Edward Arkema had been separated from the rest of the jurors one day for 2˝ hours as they took a walk in Lincoln Park.

Marzen received a new trial, but he was found guilty again on Oct. 16, 1898, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He joined Luetgert at the Illinois State Penitenitary in Joliet.

© 2003 by Robert Loerzel.

Picture: Chicago Journal, Aug. 25, 1897.

Cook County Circuit Court archives; Tribune, March 28, 1895, and Feb. 20, 1896; Illinois Staats-Zeitung, Sept. 16, 1897.