One of the most heinous and gruesome crimes in the history of Chicago involves a murdered wife and a man who made sausage. Although this crime took place in the late 1800s, it is still talked about and murmured about among those who study crime in Chicago. No one can look at a sausage or hot dog and not wonder what is in the encased meat. In the case of Adolph Luetgert, it may have been his wife Louisa.
Adolph Luetgert seemed like a man living his American dream. He came to America by way of Germany around 1865. He arrived in New York, like so many immigrants at the time. He was about twenty when he first arrived on America’s shores. He had little money at the time but he managed to make his way from New York to Quincy, Illinois to meet with friends of his brother. He was there for about four months and then moved to Chicago.
He, at first, found a job at a factory as a tanner. However, times were difficult and he did not have steady work or a steady paycheck from the tannery. He started taking odd jobs and eventually found another job at another tannery. He began saving money with the hope of eventually starting his own business. At first he started selling liquor and then, in 1879, he started his sausage company.
He was married to a woman named Caroline Roepke first. The records are unclear but it seems like they were married sometime between 1870 and 1872 and she died in November of 1877. Shortly after that he married a woman named Louisa Bicknese. They were married only two months after Caroline died. He would eventually have six children between his two wives but none of them would survive past the age of two.
On May 1, 1897 Louisa vanished. Adolph told his children that their mother had gone to visit her sister and had decided not to come back. Louisa’s brother was not buying Adolph’s story, however, and he eventually went to police and reported her as missing. When the police came knocking at Adolph’s door he claimed she had run off with another man.
The police were suspicious and began investigating. They found out that the two had a history of domestic violence and that they fought regularly. Adolph was constantly in financial trouble and he had started looking to rich women to help supplement his financial woes. He had even made plans to marry a rich widow once he was able to get rid of Louisa.
As the police continued to investigate they learned a shocking thing. They found out that Louisa was seen entering Adolph’s factory on the day she vanished. The sighting was confirmed by a watchman at the factory. The police then found out that Adolph had purchased arsenic and potash just the day before the supposed murder. With that thought, the police reached a shocking conclusion: that Adolph had murdered Louisa, boiled her in acid and then used a factory furnace to burn whatever remained.
The detectives searched the furnaces of the factory. They found both unwanted sausages and then, to their horror, the residue of human remains. They found rings Louisa had been wearing and then they found fragments of bone. Adolph declared he was innocent but with the evidence before them the police arrested him.
The trial was one of the biggest in Chicago history at that time. Newspapers covered every detail of the trial and even tried to eavesdrop on the jury room to find out how they were deliberating. Adolph continued to maintain his innocence and despite the evidence, the first jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision.
Adolph had a second trial that started in January of 1897. This time the prosecution used an anthropologist from the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago to testify that the bones found in the furnace were human. This time the jury was unanimous and Adolph Luetgert was found guilty of murder. It was one of the first trials to use a forensic expert in the solving of a crime.
Adolph was sentenced to life in prison. He still protested his innocence but he eventually died in prison in 1899.
Although there were sightings of Mrs. Luetgert after the beginning of the trial, in 12 different states, she was never found. One myth that began at that time said she had been seen boarding a ship bound for Europe somewhere in New York City. None of that was ever confirmed, however.
The factory building still stands, despite legends that it burned to the ground in 1902. It is located on the South Side of the city of Chicago. It is in the 1700 block of West Diversey Parkway. These days the building has been converted into condos.