February 16, 1906
John Mueller is executed for the murders of his wife and two young daughters
Around 2:30 a.m. on January 11, 1905, neighbors of the Mueller family heard shots and a muffled scream which seemed to end abruptly. One of the neighbors ran to the street where he encountered two detectives whom he flagged down to report, “There’s a murder up there.”
The detectives entered the Mueller apartment to find Annie Mueller (either 25 or 27, depending on the source) with a severe neck injury which had left her windpipe severed. She was asked if her husband had attacked her and, due to her injury, was only able to nod in response. Detectives found the Muellers’ 18-month-old daughter Mary in a stroller in the kitchen, with her clothing on fire. The couple’s elder daughter, 2-year-old Martha, was also injured from slashes to her face and neck.
As the police attempted to remove Martha from the apartment into a neighbor’s, John continued to attempt to “choke out what little life remained in his eldest child” and only released his grasp on her neck when another detective “kicked him on the head and stretched him out senseless.”
Mary died at the scene, from a gunshot wound to her chest and from inhaling the flames from her clothing. Annie and Martha were taken to a nearby hospital where they both succumbed to their injuries. Martha had been shot twice in the body and her face and neck “laid open” with a razor. In addition to her deep throat wounds, Annie had had her thumb shot off and had slashes to her neck and body. A piece of the razor had broken off during the attack and was left embedded in one of Annie’s ribs. Wounds to her scalp and a broken chair in the apartment indicated John had struck his wife in the head to incapacitate her before slashing and shooting the family.
John was also taken to the hospital to treat his self-inflicted injuries, including a gunshot wound to his breastbone and a cut from a razor blade under his chin. He survived.
John first told police the attack was due to jealousy but immediately changed this story to claim he had no memory of the killings. Neighbors noted that Annie was known to be a faithful wife, but John was “attentive to women”; it was speculated his wandering eye may have been the cause of an argument which later escalated into murder.
Another possible motive involved an argument over finances. John’s in-laws recalled John had recently asked to borrow money from his wife’s brothers. He had recently quit his job as a cook at a local restaurant and forced Annie to resign from the same establishment as well, which left the couple with little money. The financial difficulties left John despondent and, three weeks before the murders, he attempted to kill his family and himself by leaving the gas in their home running. Annie was able to stop that murder-suicide attempt.
At trial, John’s lawyer attempted a defense of somnambulism (sleepwalking), and cited an incident 8 months before the murders in which John had been struck in the head. The resulting brain damage, the defense alleged, had been the cause of “somnambulist insanity.”
John echoed the somnambulism claim and testified: “That night my little Martha said: ‘Kiss me papa,’ after we went to bed. I kissed her and then my wife put her arm around my neck and little Martha’s neck at the same time and kissed us both. Then I went to sleep and I remember nothing more. Two days later I woke up in the hospital and saw several policemen. I heard them talking about how I had killed my wife and babies, but I wouldn’t believe it, and I didn’t believe it until my brother came in and told me.”
John was convicted of the murders of his family and sentenced to death. “I am not afraid of death,” he told the court upon hearing his sentence. “It will be a relief to me. There is nothing in life for me. My wife and babies are gone. Let them hang me. I am not afraid.”
I am not afraid of death. It will be a relief to me. There is nothing in life for me. My wife and babies are gone. Let them hang me. I am not afraid.
On the morning of his execution, John was again examined and declared sane, allowing the hanging to continue as scheduled. Once again, John showed little emotion in the decision. “Very well, if that is the doctor’s opinion, I’m ready. I killed my wife and children and am ready to hang for it.”
John was hanged two hours after another triple-murderer. Robert Newcombe had killed his common-law wife Florence Poor (newspapers recorded her name as Poor, Poore, and Force, though her death certificate reads “Poor”) on October 10, 1905. After Poor was shot in the head during a dispute, a man named Walter Blue was shot as well. (Again, newspapers seemed unconcerned with the man’s actual name, with some reporting it as Robert Shaw.) Depending on the source, Blue was either killed as he ran to assist the fallen Poor or had been sought out because Newcombe harbored a grudge against him. The murder for which Newcombe was hanged, however, was that of Sgt. John Shine who was shot twice through a door while Newcombe was resisting arrest following the murders of Poor and Blue.
Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016
Poor, Florence. Illinois Statewide Death Index, Pre-1916. Cert No 00013834. https://www.ilsos.gov/isavital/deathSearch.do
Blue, Walter. Illinois Statewide Death Index, Pre-1916. Cert No 00001534. https://www.ilsos.gov/isavital/deathSearch.do
“Robert Newcombe and John Mueller Hanged This Morning at Chicago County Jail — Mueller Confesses to the Crime.” The Appleton Weekly Post. February 22, 1906
“Negro Murderer Hanged Today.” Palestine Daily Herald. February 16, 1906
“Mueller Doomed By Doctor’s Word.” Moline Daily Dispatch. February 16, 1906
“Shot Woman And Policeman.” Buffalo Evening Times. October 11, 1905
“Sommambulist [sic] To Be Hanged.” The Daily Argus-Leader [Sioux Falls, South Dakota]. August 7, 1905
“Found Guilty; Must Die.” The Inter Ocean [Chicago, Illinois]. August 6, 1905
“Chicago Man Kills His Wife And Babies.” The Leavenworth Times. January 13, 1905