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Mrs. Luetgert in New York?
In July 1897, as Adolph Luetgert waited in Cook County Jail for his murder trial to begin, the New York World reported that Louise Luetgert — who was presumed dead — had been spotted in Manhattan on May 7, six days after she’d gone missing in Chicago.
Alexander Carl W. Grottey claimed that he had known the Luetgerts in Chicago, and so he recognized Mrs. Luetgert when he chanced upon her in New York. He said he was well acquainted with her.
In fact, he had known her as Louise Bicknese since before she’d become Luetgert’s wife. Grottey said he’d been an old-time sweetheart of hers, so there was no way he could have mistaken her for someone else.
Grottey said he was walking to Cook’s ticket office on Broadway with two acquaintances, Richard Schulhof and George P. Schinsky, on May 7. Grottey went into the office and, when he rejoined his companions on the street, two women came up to them.
One of ladies, Grottey claimed, was Mrs. Luetgert. He asked her how long she had been in the city, and she said she’d just arrived. Grottey said he introduced her to his two companions and asked her to go with him to dinner. Mrs. Luetgert, who appeared agitated, said she couldn’t go because she was leaving New York, according to Grottey.
On June 2, Grottey told his tale to the New York police, who were skeptical but passed it along to the detectives in Chicago. Grottey wrote a letter to Luetgert’s lawyers, offering to testify. He said Schulhof and Schinsky would also come to Chicago and swear to the truthfulness of his story. And Grottey began doing some investigation of his own.
"At the Broadway Central Hotel, where I lived, was a domestic named Mary Green, or some name like that," Grottey said. "In my room was a photograph of Mrs. Luetgert. Alongside of it I had placed a picture of her which I cut out of a New York newspaper. The resemblance was striking. Mary noticed it, and said to me, ‘Why that woman was at the Occidental Hotel when I was there, and I waited on her.’
"Then she described to me the dress which Mrs. Luetgert wore on that occasion. I had noticed it on her when I met her, and was satisfied that the girl was not mistaken. Her talk gave me a clue, which I followed up, and learned enough to satisfy me that Mrs. Luetgert, or a man who, I believe, was with her, purchased tickets for Europe at the agency of A. Falck & Company, Grand Street and the Bowery."
When Luetgert heard about Grottey’s supposed encounter with the woman on Broadway, he said he remembered the man.
"Why, yes, I know him well," Luetgert said. "He is a pretty good fellow, even if I did have to chase him away when he was getting after my girl. But I know he is a faithful man, and I guess he saw my wife there. I feel sure she has gone to Europe."
Chicago Police Captain Herman Schuettler traveled to New York to track down Grottey’s tale, but he was doubtful that he would find any signs that Mrs. Luetgert had truly been there.
"I didn’t believe she was there, so I went to find out this man’s credit, so possibly if he came here to testify in the case and should perjure himself here," Schuettler said. "I didn’t go there for the sake of finding Mrs. Luetgert, because I didn’t think she was alive. I went there to find out if this man Grottey was, as we were informed, coming here to prove that he had met Mrs. Luetgert on Broadway May 7."
In New York, Schuettler talked to the two men Grottey claimed would corroborate his account of meeting Mrs. Luetgert on May 7.
Schulhof said Grottey was lying. He said he’d seen Grottey talking to a woman on Broadway, but Grottey did not introduce him to the woman. Schulhof remembered, "I was walking along Broadway when I met Grottey, and he said, ‘Hello, there, Schulhof. It is a pity you didn’t come along a little sooner. I could have introduced you to an old sweetheart of mine from Chicago and you could have had a little fun with her.’ That is all he said."
Two or three days later, Schulhof said, he had run into Grottey on the street again. Grottey asked him if he had noticed that woman to whom he was talking. Grottey vouchsafed that the woman was an old girl of his from the West, to whom he used to make love, and that she had had to leave her home and friends because of some unpleasantness. When Schulhof saw Grottey another time, Grottey told him that woman had been Mrs. Luetgert. He said she had gone to Europe.
Schuettler also interviewed Grottey’s other witness, Schinsky, a prominent businessman of "unquestioned reputation and first-class standing," according to the Chicago Tribune. Schinsky was deeply chagrined at having his name connected to the case. He denied everything about Grottey’s yarn except for the fact that he had met a woman on Broadway that day with Grottey.
Schinsky said he’d walked up to Grottey, as Grottey was speaking with a woman. Schinsky came face to face with the woman, which gave him a good chance to study her features carefully. He stood there ten minutes, until Grottey and the woman had finished conversing. Then the woman walked away, going north on Broadway, and Grottey said to Schinsky, "Say, did you see that girl? She worked for me in Troy."
Schinsky’s description of the woman ruled out any chance that it might have been Mrs. Luetgert. The Tribune noted: "This woman, he says, was not over twenty-two years of age, well dressed, buxom and handsome. Mrs. Luetgert was none of the three. She was plain, unattractive, and the sorrows of the last ten years had left lines in her face which made her appear at least ten years older than she really was. There are many women of sixty who look younger than she did."
Schinsky said Grottey had never told him that the woman was Mrs. Luetgert. When Schinsky saw his name mentioned in the New York newspapers as a witness to Grottey’s supposed encounter with Mrs. Luetgert, he was outraged. He said he had never met the other witness, Schulhof, either.
It also appeared highly unlikely that Louisa Bicknese had ever been Grottey’s sweetheart. When Grottey had been married in 1894, he had sworn that he was thirty-one years old. That meant he had been fifteen years old when Louise Bicknese married Luetgert at the age of twenty-three.
The Tribune concluded: "So at the time Mr. Luetgert, then thirty-three years old, was chasing suitor Grottey he was driving a fifteen-year-old boy away from the blandishments of a woman almost twice his age. It is plain, therefore, that Mr. Grottey has either been supersensitive about his age, concealing the true number of years he has been on earth, was a very precocious youth, in fact a Cupid in knickerbockers, or failed to tell the truth when he made his statement to Chief of Detectives O’Brien of New York and to the Gotham newspaper."
Schuettler went looking for the domestic Grottey had spoken with at the hotel. But he discovered no one named Mary Green had worked at the Broadway Central Hotel within recent memory.
The captain also visited Falck’s travel agency to see whether any evidence existed that Mrs. Luetgert had purchased a ticket for Europe. Grottey said he believed Mrs. Luetgert had used the false name Mrs. Brucker, which he said was similar to her maiden name, Bicknese. But Falck’s books showed that Mr. and Mrs. Emil Brucker sailed on the Platia for Europe on May 7, taking a little boy with them. Falck knew the couple personally, and said they had been in the office a week before their departure, inquiring about rates and accommodations. In fact, they had purchased the tickets on May 4.
Schuettler discovered Grottey had a history of seeking notoriety by claiming to have seen and talked with people who had been reported missing to police. Some time earlier, Grottey had made news by purporting to have seen a Colonel Rouse, who was the manager of a whisky company. Rouse had suddenly been called away from New York on business. He sent a telegram to his family telling them of his departure, but for some reason, the telegram never arrived, and Rouse’s family became alarmed. That’s when Grottey appeared, saying he had seen the Colonel, in the company of a lady, on a train going into Buffalo. Grottey claimed to be an acquaintance of Rouse, and said they’d bought each other drinks. The Colonel had told him he was going to Mexico, Grottey said.
After Grottey told this tale, Rouse came home from his business trip. He hadn’t been to Buffalo. He hadn’t been traveling with a woman. He hadn’t had drinks with Grottey. In fact, he had never met Grottey in his life. The newspapers that printed Grottey’s story about the Colonel soon found themselves threatened with libel litigation.
When Grottey reported seeing Mrs. Luetgert to the New York police, he said that he had lived in Chicago, at the "Hotel Savoy, somewhere near the Auditorium." The police were unable to find any record of him ever having lived in Chicago, and they asked him for an address where he had resided. He refused to give one. And it was also said that Grottey owed money to most of the merchants in Troy, New York, where he had in fact lived.
Luetgert’s attorneys, however, refused to discount the possibility that Grottey had seen Mrs. Luetgert.
"I have always said I should not be at all surprised if this woman should walk into court, and I still say the same thing," Vincent said. "Grottey never pretended that he was an old sweetheart of Mrs. Luetgert from a date prior to her marriage. His sworn statement — and I have that statement here in my desk — is that he became well acquainted with the woman seven years ago, and although there is certainly disparity in their ages, that argues nothing."
(Read about another plot Schuettler investigated while he was in New York.)
As Luetgert's defense lawyers presented their case that fall, Grotty was rumored to be in Chicago, preparing to appear in court.
The Chicago Journal reported new revelations that cast further doubt on Grotty’s credibility, however. According to the Journal, a former newspaper reporter named Fred Haines, who was in Cook County Jail on a check-forging conviction, had written letters for Luetgert to Grotty, paying the New York man to make up the story about spotting Mrs. Luetgert.
"I met Luetgert in the old jail and talked to him quite frequently in the corridors while we were exercising," Haines said. "I had written a great many letters for prisoners in the jail, and I wrote a few for Luetgert. He was worried over what his defense should be, and I proposed a scheme which I thought would help him out.
"While a newspaper man in the East, I had been connected with the Carlisle Harris case in New York. Harris lived in Asbury Park. He was tried for poisoning a woman. In that case Grotty, the same man who says he saw Mrs. Luetgert in New York, procured a number of witnesses to swear that the woman of whose murder Harris was accused had frequently made threats to take poison.
"Luetgert did not know Grotty. I said he would be a good man to help us out... I proposed that we write to Grotty and unfold to him a plan to give the newspapers of New York and Chicago a story to the effect that he had seen Mrs. Luetgert there six days after the alleged murder...
"Grotty was told to make some arrangements with the reporter to get a story of his having seen Mrs. Luetgert in the Chicago and New York papers simultaneously. Two hundred dollars was inclosed to be divided between Grotty and the reporter. He was advised to include in the story that Mrs. Luetgert had been seen buying a ticket to Europe, as that would be plausible. The story was printed and resulted as we thought it would. The object in having it get into the papers was to counteract the effect of the stories which had been creating sentiment against Luetgert."
As proof of his allegations, Haines had the notes he had written for several of the letters. Haines said he had given some of these notes to State's Attorney Charles Deneen, and that he would testify for the state in the Luetgert trial.
A couple of days after the Journal published Haines’ story, Luetgert passed Haines’ cell on his way to court. Haines cheerfully called out, "Good-morning, Mr. Luetgert!"
Luetgert looked at him a moment and then broke forth with a string of oaths and denunciations. Haines thrust some manuscript through the bars of his cell. Luetgert grasped the papers and tried to strike Haines with his crutch, but Haines dodged back into his cell.
"I don’t know you," Luetgert shouted, "but you are the ——— who has been writing those lies about my case."
"Read that paper I just handed you," Haines said. "It will explain everything. I was forced into what I have done, but the story they say I told is a lie. I never told it. Read that story and you will understand it all, Mr. Luetgert."
Luetgert continued to rave and swear at Haines as he went to court.
Haines had been having a hard time in the jail, frequently getting into quarrels and fights with the other prisoners, many of whom disliked him. The latest story about him testifying for the state against Luetgert only aggravated the situation, because many of the jail’s inmates were sympathetic toward Luetgert.
During the exercise hour, other prisoners were permitted to go into the corridor, while Haines was kept locked in his cell for his own protection. When guards were not looking, prisoners spat through the iron grating on Haines and dashed cups of water into his cell. His cries for a guard were drowned by the noise made by the men in the corridors. By the time the exercise hour had ended, Haines and his cot were soaking with water and tobacco juice.
Haines now claimed the Journal story about his letter-writing scheme had been "a lie, word for word." He told a reporter for the Dispatch, "I am a newspaper man and know what means are sometimes resorted to to get a scoop."
Haines said he’d told the Journal reporter that he didn’t know anything about Grotty, but the reporter had begged him for information.
"He pleaded that if he didn’t go back to his office with a story he would lose his position," Haines said. "Imagine such talk coming from the representative of a newspaper which claims to relate only facts!"
Despite Haines’ denial that he had ever admitted scheming with Luetgert to concoct the New York story, the Journal insisted its original story had been accurate. Deneen lent credence to its account, saying, "Fred Haines told me substantially the same story as was published in the Journal. I have had two interviews with him and Jailer John Whitman had one."
Deneen considered putting Haines on the witness stand if the defense brought out Grotty. But despite several news stories predicting Grotty’s imminent arrival, he never materialized in court.
© 2003 by Robert Loerzel.
Read about other places where the missing Mrs. Luetgert was supposedly seen.
Initial story on Grottey: Chicago Tribune, July 20, 1897.
Schuettler's trip to New York: Chicago Tribune, Aug. 10, 1897; Chicago Journal, Aug. 19, 1897; Schuettler’s testimony, Chicago Record, Sept. 3, 1897.
The plot involving Haines: Chicago Journal, Sept. 25 and 28, 1897; Chicago Dispatch, Sept. 27, 1897.