- Historic Sites
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
For two days the police dragged the river at the point where Hull had left his clothes, but they found nothing. During this time it was discovered that Mrs. Hull’s grave had been tampered with. obody could figure out why, and the matter was soon forgotten. The explanation for the opening and dosing of the grave would not become apparent for almost three years.
Just one week after Huff’s supposed suicide, a drummer in religious articles called on Haass and told the pastor that he had seen Huft—or Johann Hoch, as he was now calling himself—very much alive on the other side of the river, in Jancsvillc, Ohio, with a middleaged woman on his arm. The pastor sent a description of Hoch to the Jancsville police and warned that he was dangerous and a swindler, but there was no reply, the use of the name [ohann Hoch demonstrated a curious side of the killer’s personality. He had a penchant for adopting as an alias the name of the deceased husband of the widow he had most recently married and murdered or abandoned.
From the moment when he knew that Huff-Hoch was still alive, the parson stuck to his trail like a bloodhound. Haass was a devoted reader of newspapers, both English and German. He was a fine-print man, and took a professional interest in (hose columns of a newspaper normally skipped over by the casual reader: the obituaries and routine birth and marriage notices. Thus, as time went by, he frequently thought he caught sight of his quarry, flitting in and out of the newspaper columns when he married under a recognixable name, when a former widow suddenly died and her husband disappeared, or when a husband abandoned his wife shortly after the marriage ceremony with all of her portable assets except for her whalebone corset.
In the course of his meticulous scanning uf the many newspapers he subscribed to, the parson spotted an item about one Otto Hoch who had married a woman in Dayton, Ohio, and deserted her a few days later, taking her savings. In 1897 he scissored out a clipping describing the mysterious death in Cincinnati of a Mrs. Clara Bartels, who lasted for three months after her marriage to pudgy, zither-playing John Schmidt. Parson Haass next found a three-line item in a German-language newspaper, describing a Jacob Otto Hoch who married in Milwaukee. This time the minister fired oft a letter to the police of that city, but Hoch had already absconded, leaving one wife dead and another swindled out of her savings.
It would have been difficult even for Scotland Yard to have kept a perfect score card on Johann Hoch in the years 1895-98. The parson missed a Mrs. Janet Spencer of Chicago, who married and lost $700 to C. A. Calford two months after the wedding late in 1895 he did not hear of Mis. Minnie Rankin, who married a Mr. Warneke in January, 1897 no word reached him of Callie Charlotte Andrews, who was deserted two hours after the nuptial ceremony in 1897 by one DeWitt C. Cudney and $500. And there were many others.
In 1898 Haass’ newspaper detective-work finally began (o pay olf. Hc found his man, or one just like him, in between wives, in Chicago. According to the newspaper accounts, the Chicago police had collared a man who claimed his name was Martin Dotz. He had been arrested on two counts, one of bigamy and the other of having swindled one F. J. Magerstadt, a Chicago used-furniture dealer, out of some merchandise. What caught the minister’s sharp eye was the physical description of the culprit, his height, weight, beard, side whiskers, mustache, drooping left eyelid, and large teeth, all of which tallied exactly.
Haass now wrote at once to Captain Luke Colleran, chief of detectives of the Chicago police. The pastor said he believed the man the police were holding was the very same he suspected of murdering Mrs. Caroline Hoch in Wheeling. Would the police check their prisoner against the photograph he was enclosing? It was a copy of the picture the killer had left behind in his pocket watch.
The pastor’s letter and the picture were turned over to Inspector George Shippy, who confronted Hoch with the photograph. Hoch admitted it was his picture without realizing he was incriminating himself. He denied, however, that he had ever been in Wheeling.
The inspector next visited the businessman who had brought charges against Hoch. Magerstadt had furnished Hoch’s new Hats alter several ol his marriages. His records went back to June, 1891, when Hoch had married under the name of H. Frick and furnished an apartment at 418 Franklin Street in Chicago tor $115. There were two or three entries each year, and each time Hoch came in to the Möbelhaous with a new wife, his new name was the former married name ol the widow he had most recently married and buried.
It was Magerstadt’s unique role, according to his laborious explanation to the inspector, to be introduced to each one ol the new wives, listen to her trill of her new romantic bliss, and help her select the furniture for the new love nest. In turn the doomed brides confided the intimate details of Hoch’s courtship to Magerstadt—the musical background of Schubert on the either,the groom’s assurance that mutual loneliness would now be ended, the asserted need for the companionship of a woman, the old, old song. “With my money,” one of the women had told Magcrstadt, “and his brains, he’ll make a fortune for both of us.”