False Witnesses at a Veterans Home

As Adolph Luetgert was on trial, facing charges of murdering his wife, prosecutors got wind of a plot involving two old veterans at the Soldier’s Home in Milwaukee.

The two men were supposedly rehearsing false testimony that they’d seen Mrs. Luetgert in June 1897 a month after she had disappeared.

Although prosecutors investigated the plot, they did not reveal it the public until almost two years later, shortly after Luetgert's death. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported the story on July 30, 1899.

Upon hearing about the plot, Cook County State's Attorney Charles Deneen sent Detective George Lang to investigate.

Four or five times, Lang hid in a room above the veterans, listening to their conversations through a stovepipe. On September 5, 1897, Lang brought along a stenographer, who recorded a seventy-page transcript of the old men talking.

Apparently, a female saloonkeeper had visited the Soldier’s Home during the summer and spoken with one of these veterans.

This man, an aged war veteran who was blind in one eye and badly crippled with rheumatism, planned to claim the woman had been Mrs. Luetgert.

"That old woman I talked to that time, where everybody made fun of me, that you was the one that saw me talking to her, and you want to make out that it was Mrs. Luetgert," the man told his friend.

As the stenographer listened, the two men went over the details of the woman’s visit. They planned to say that they’d seen Mrs. Luetgert's picture in a newspaper some time later and made a connection with the woman.

"I want to make out that she was looking for two old soldiers," the first man said. "She had come up from Chicago and had a little trouble with her husband, and left her jewelry and everything with her husband, gave it up to him. At least she had a little row with him on account of a business matter, that his business was closed up and she left him in a hurry, and she came to look for an old soldier."

The first man said he had been in contact with one of Luetgert's lawyers. He said he needed to get more details from the lawyer about Mrs. Luetgert's physical appearance, so he could incorporate it into his testimony.

He said he planned to testify that he’d advised Mrs. Luetgert to go to New York, and then to Mexico, because women were scarce there and she would be able to find a good husband. This veteran had lived in Mexico, and he said that would explain why he had given Mrs. Luetgert such advice.

The veteran said he hoped that he and his friend would get a thousand dollars each for their testimony, although he wasn’t certain that Luetgert's lawyers would agree to pay it. He said he’d visited one of the lawyers and offered to go on the witness stand and say whatever the lawyer wanted him to say.

He said he’d told the attorney, "There is no lawyer can catch me on cross-examination. I lay every word on the scales before I answer. What I want, I want money. I want to start up my business again. I want to go to Mexico. Unless you can do that, you needn’t call on me. You don’t need to write this out unless you can make me a present of $1,000."

He said the lawyer had told him, "I can’t do it. I am an attorney, and you know I can’t make any promises. I might get into trouble. I might get disbarred, the least little thing."

After hesitating, however, the lawyer had said, "You can do it, but I can’t make any promises."

The veteran said the lawyer had written a letter to the governor of Wisconsin for him, urging special "consideration" for him at the Soldier’s Home so that he would not have to work any longer.

"I tell you what I will do," the lawyer had said, according to the veteran. "I will trust you. You can trust me. You will go back to Mexico well-fixed."

After seeing what the stenographer had recorded, Deneen prepared a warrant against the veteran on perjury charges, which he would serve if the man actually decided to testify in the case. The man never appeared, however.

The names of the two veterans were never divulged. Another mystery is the identity of the defense attorney with whom the one veteran claimed to have spoken.

© 2003 by Robert Loerzel.