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"A page turner ... an exceptional example of
the true-crime genre."
"Fascinating ... a remarkable book."
Update: Searching for Mrs. Luetgert's ghost: newly discovered information.
Upate: What happened to the bones from the Luetgert trial, which is chronicled in Alchemy of Bones? The fate of this crucial evidence is a mystery, but now a possible answer has emerged.
"Anyone in love with the history of Chicago ... must have this book." — Leigh Bienen, co-author of Crimes of the Century
"A fascinating and strange tale ... I am still haunted." — John Gilmore, author of Severed
On May 1, 1897,
Louise Luetgert disappeared. Although no body was found,
Chicago police arrested her husband Adolph, the owner of a large sausage
factory, and charged him with her murder. The eyes of the world were still on Chicago following the success of the World’s Columbian Exposition, and the
Luetgert case turned into one of
the first media-fueled celebrity trials in American history.
Newspapers fought one another for scoops, people across the country claimed to have seen the missing woman alive, and each new clue led to fresh rounds of speculation about the crime. Meanwhile, sausage sales plummeted nationwide as rumors circulated that Luetgert had destroyed his wife’s body in one of his factory’s meat grinders.
In this narrative history of the Luetgert case, Robert Loerzel brings 1890s Chicago vividly back to life. He examines not only the trial itself but also the police department and forensic specialists investigating the case, the reporters scrambling for details, and the wider society who followed their stories so voraciously.
Weaving in strange-but-true subplots involving hypnotists, palmreaders, English con-artists, bullied witnesses, and insane-asylum bodysnatchers, Alchemy of Bones is more than just a true crime narrative; it is a grand, sprawling portrait of a city — and a nation — getting an early taste of the dark, chaotic twentieth century.
Winner of the Reader's Choice Award at the 2004 Love Is Murder Writers Conference for Best True Crime Book
Radio interviews with Robert Loerzel are available for listening on the Web from WBEZ, WUIS, WILL and KWGS.
Read articles and reviews from:
of Adolph Luetgert:
Published by the University of Illinois Press.
Web site is a companion to
Alchemy of Bones,
featuring a wealth of information about the people, places and subjects in
the book —
including many stories, facts and
pictures beyond those in its pages. The
author hopes that this Web site will aid people researching the history of
Chicago in the 1890s, genealogy, and topics such as criminology and
This Web page is designed and run by Robert Loerzel. All contents are © 2003 by Robert Loerzel except for those articles and illustrations that are taken from public-domain sources and fair-use quotations from copyrighted sources. Book cover design by Paula Newcomb/University of Illinois Press.