February 23, 1906
Johann Hoch* (pictured front left) is hanged for murder
(* Hoch was the name he was best known by at the time of his execution. According to newspapers at the time, Hoch used a variety of aliases, changing both his fore- and surnames to suit his needs. These names included, but were not limited to, Count Otto von Kern, Healy, Schmitt, Schmidth, Smitt, Hock, Hoch, Hohe, Hoe, Hoh, Hoff, Hauff, Hauk, Huss, Irick, Praeger, Bustenberg, Bustebergh, Adolph, James, Lucas, Doetz, Doess, Bartel, Mayer, Brown, Braune, Schultz, and Bruescke.)
Hoch was called a “Bluebeard Murderer” at the time of his crimes, named for a French folktale from 1697 in which a wealthy man named Bluebeard marries and murders several women until his final wife discovers his secret and kills him first. Hoch is suspected of marrying over 50 wives (though Hoch himself only confessed to 13 marriages) within a span of 14 years, most of whom were widows with considerable wealth and property. The majority of these women he simply swindled before he fled the area and changed his name to start his scheme anew.
As the number of marriages is unclear, likewise is the number of murders. Some suspect Hoch of killing between 15 to 30 (sources vary), though he was convicted of killing only one: Marie Walcker (or Welker) Hoch.
Hoch and Marie wed on December 10, 1904, though she died suddenly a month later on January 11, 1905. Two days later, Hoch married his late wife’s sister, Emilie Fischer, then stole $750 (roughly $21,700 today) almost immediately and fled. Fischer reported Hoch to police who were suspicious of Marie’s untimely death and had her body exhumed. She was found to have 7.6 grams of arsenic in her system; 100-300 milligrams is considered a lethal dose, making the amount she had been administered between 25 to 76 times the lethal dosage. A warrant was issued for Hoch’s arrest.
Hoch was soon captured after suddenly proposing to his new landlady, with the proposal occurring within 24 hours of the two meeting. This raised suspicion with the landlady who believed her new tenant may be Hoch — who had been featured frequently in the press — and the police were notified.
Hoch professed his innocence, which the Eau Claire Leader reported upon:
“I have been sacrificed,” he said, “to save the reputations of three men — State’s Attorney Healy, Assistant State’s Attorney Olson and Governor Deneen. Justice is all a mockery. If I had been tried on that evidence before the czar of Russia I would have been acquitted. I am innocent as Assistant State’s Attorney Healy [sic] or Governor Deneen, but they have ordered that my life shall be taken to give them reputation. Had I been acquitted or given a life sentence the people would have laughed at them. Never mind; Johann Hoch is not dead yet and he will have justice.”
After making this statement Hoch turned to enter his cell. As he did so he looked back and laughed sarcastically, saying:
“Ha, ha, ha. They are going to hang Johann Hoch.”
Hoch was convicted of Marie’s murder. His lawyers appealed, citing his most recent wife’s testimony could not be used against him in trial. This defense was flimsy considering Hoch was an admitted bigamist and, as his marriage to Fischer was not legal, his reason for appeal was nullified. Though he received a temporary reprieve, Hoch was ultimately denied a new trial.
Hoch went to his execution still asserting his innocence. His last statement was: “Oh Lord, our Father, forgive them all. They know not what they do. They hang an innocent man. I am innocent. Goodbye.”
The press was notoriously more concerned with sales over facts during this time and often embellished the truth, made connections where there were none, or outright fabricated stories. One possible example of this is the idea Hoch was employed as a janitor at H. H. Holmes’ infamous “castle.” Adam Selzer, author of Mysterious Chicago and H. H. Holmes: The True Story of the White City Devil, doubts this connection, noting a jeweler whose building neighbored the castle stated confidently he had never seen Hoch before, in the building or otherwise.
Johnson, Ray. “Johann Hoch hung 110 years ago Today – His last moments on Earth.” Chicago Now. February 23, 2016. Accessed: February 23, 2020. http://www.chicagonow.com/chicago-history-cop/2016/02/johann-hoch-hung-110-years-ago-today-his-last-moments-on-earth/
Selzer, Adam. “Johann Hoch and HH Holmes: Partners in Crime?” Mysterious Chicago. March 20, 2012. Accessed: February 23, 2020. http://mysteriouschicago.com/johann-hoch-and-hh-holmes-partners-in-crime/
“His Last Hope Gone.” The Eau Claire Leader. February 22, 1906
“Remarkable Career of Bluebeard Hoch.” Jasper Weekly Courier. February 10, 1905
“Johann Hoch in Chicago.” The Ada Evening News. February 11, 1905
“A Greater Fiend Than H.H. Holmes Was His Janitor.” The Lima Daily News. January 24, 1904
“[Johann Hoch, accused bigamist and murderer, (on the left in the middle) and four unidentified men].” Chicago History Museum. Accessed: February 23, 2020. https://explore.chicagocollections.org/image/chicagohistory/71/m03z446/ (image source)