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A tale of bigamous Johann Hoch (if that was his name), of the follies of wealthy widows, and of the dreadful discoveries of a parson who suspected the worst
October 1964 | Volume 15, Issue 6
To each of the widows who came to him for advice, Haass suggested caution. He distrusted Hull and urged delay until the stranger was better known, lint in spile of the minister’s opposition, Hull was a quick success. Mrs. Caroline Hoch, a widow with a nice house, $900 in lhe bank, an insurance policy for $2,500 on her life, and a mind of her own, decided to take the plunge. was an old story, really. If she waited too long, Mrs. Hoch no doubl reasoned, she wotdcl lose her ardent suitor to one of the other widows of the congregation —and then where woidd she be?
On April 18, 1895, (he Reverend Mr. Haass reluctantly performed the marriage ceremony. Hull moved into the widow’s house right after the wedding. In short order the widow, who had been a plump, healthy beauty all her life, was stricken ill and look to her bed. She got worse fast.
On June 14, 1895, Haass was summoned to the sickroom, where he watched Huff close his wife with a white powder. To his now suspicious mind it seemed that the widow was afraid of her husband and look the powdered medication with reluctance. By lhe time he lel’i the sickroom, he was convinced that the saloonkeeper was poisoning his wife. But he needed proof. How and where was he to get it before it was too late?
The pastor stewed over his problem lor a few days. He considered going to the Wheeling police; but there was always the possibility he might be wrong. The widow’s illness might be perfectly legitimate, and a lalsc accusation would not only hurt the parson’s reputation but would also be an unpardonable sin against an innocent man.
What he needed before he took any overt action was professional advice from somebody who could tell what was actually ailing the widow. Haass turned Io a young local physician, Dr. Gregory Ackerman. He took the doctor back to the sickroom with him, only to run into resistante. Huit hovered over his wife like a jealous rooster. She was already under medical care, he maintained. “Dr. Ford is treating her,” he said.
Ackerman hesitated, for there was a matter of professional ethics involved. He had no right to interfere in Dr. Ford’s case without the specific rc(|uest of that physician. Ackerman bowed himself out of the sickroom and out of the case. Ten years later, when lie described his visit in an interview with the New York American , he made medical ethics look foolish in many eyes. The woman, he said, had been dying when he saw her. Her hands were swollen and her stomach was distended; she vomited continually. Either she had peritonitis or she had been poisoned—but Dr. Ford was the regular attending physician, and that meant Ackerman could not interfere.
At three o’clock in the morning following Ackerman’s visit the widow died. Two hours later Haass was notified that Mrs. HuIf was dead. When he reached the widow’s house at 8 A.M. he found the body unattended. Thoroughly indignant, he scoured the town until he found HuIf in a barbershop. The bereaved took one look at the furious parson and began to weep. Eut the minister’s suspicions were not allayed.
By early afternoon of the following day, Airs. HuIf had been buried at Red Men’s Cemetery on the outskirts of Wheeling, and shortly thereafter Haass began an investigation.
Soon he learned that Hull had been in financial (rouble. The saloonkeeper was heavily in debt to a brewery, and the saloon had been shut down. Now Haass concentrated on the white-powder meditation. Where did Huit get it? What was it? The pastor methodically visited all of the drugstores in Wheeling and fotmd that Huff had brought in no prescriptions (o be filled. Dr. H. T. Ford, the attending physician, had not written any: he had believed that the widow was suffering from nephritis, a disease of the kidneys, for which there was then no treatment.
Pastor Haass next made a surreptitious trip to the sickroom to see if he could get sonic of that white powder for analysis. He found that all traces of it had disappeared. For the first time it occurred to him that Hull was aware of his suspicions and was taking steps to cover up his trail.
At about this time the pastor fell ill, but by the second Sunday following Mrs. Huff s death, he was up and around again. That same day, while at dinner with his wife, he heard a noise in his bedroom, directly over the dining room. Rushing upstairs, he found Hull in his room. The pastor asked for an explanation of this strange visitation. Huff replied weakly that he had been looking for the pastor in order to have a talk with him, but it could wait. Why the bedroom? Why so furtive? Huff backed out of the room without saying—and that was the last Haass saw of him.
Fearing that Hulk might have tampered with his own bottles of medicine, in open view over the fileplace in the bedroom, the minister emptied the bottles down the drain—and immediately regretted it. Of course it would have been wiser to have had their contents analyxed.
The next day Pastor Haass learned just how uncomfortably warm his investigation had been making it for the saloonkeeper. He was notified by the Wheeling polite that they had found Hull’s clothes, his derby, an old German silver potket watch with his picture in it, and a suicide note lie had written, on lhc banks of the Ohio. Footprints led down to the water. Evidently he had committed suicide, the police said, in a fit of depression over his wife’s death.