The village of Algonquin is the scene of a murder of unparalleled atrocity. Louisa, the innocent thirteen year-old daughter of Chris. Wollert, lies slain by her fury-maddened stepmother, Mrs. Hanuah Wollert. The murderess peers from the bars of the county jail at Woodstock, self-confessed.
MRS. WOLLERT'S FIRST STORY
The echoes of the village school bell, calling Louisa's happy little comrades to their daily studies, Tuesday morning, had scarce died away when the tragedy took place which left her cold in death. Soon after 9 o'clock Mrs. Wollert, with her six-months old babe in her arms, rushed frantically to the home of her nearest neighbor, Geo. Fox, and in tragic manner told of a burly tramp shooting Lizzie (as the girl was called) and firing the house. Mr. Fox was in Algonquin, and only Mrs. Fox and the hired man, Frank, were at home. Mrs. Fox is a little woman, but has the courage of a lion. She hastened to the Wollert house, tramp, pictured by Mrs. Wollert, who might still be lurking in concealment and bent on fresh murder, she climbed the narrow stairway to the landing, where a feather bed was smoking and smoldering, and soon extinguished the fire.
Meanwhile Fox's hired man had ridden to town and given the alarm. Chas. Wandrack, E.A. Ford, John Johnston, Dr. Nason and others came in hot haste, and Mrs. Wollert's story was heard more in detail. She said that about 8:30 a tramp, about 5 feet 6 inches tall, heavy, with a black mustache and wearing a thick black coat, had appeared at the rear door and asked Louisa for breakfast. The child replied, "I'll ask mother," and turned to go to another room, where her mother sat rocking the cradle. Without warning the tramp whipped out a revolver and fired at the girl, who turned and ran up stairs. The tramp whirled upon Mrs. Wollert. She fell on her knees and with outstretched arms, tried to shield her infant and herself. The man fired and the bullet grazed her forefinger. She said he then followed Louisa to the upper floor and shot twice again, she meanwhile hiding herself and baby in a closet. Louisa came down stairs, tottered to a bedroom opening from the sitting room, and fell, lifeless. The tramp again started up stairs, and Mrs. Wollert seized the opportunity to escape into a nearby woodshed whence, after a brief period of suspense, and seeing or hearing nothing more of the alarm. This is the woman's tale, told calmly and tearless to the first arrivals on the scene.
The bighearted men sprang into quick action. Village Marshal Alvin Dodd mounted a horse and rode far and fast, spreading the alarm. Telegrams were sent to Nunda (now Crystal Lake), Cary, Carpentersville, Dundee, Elgin and elsewhere, and all up and down the river Fox men swarmed with guns and dogs searching for "for the mythical tramp" conjured up by Mrs. Wollert. His life was at stake, and the inflamed crowds would have wreaked summary vengeance could he have been found.
Meantime further investigations were being made at the Wollert residence. A.J. Doig found a woman's waist and skirt stained with blood - witnesses of guilt. The skirt was in the shed, half-hidden beneath cut cordwood. The waist was on the fence, apparently put there to dry. the ends of the sleeves were wet, showing that a hasty attempt had been made to wash out the "damned spot." Suspicion was aroused, Why and when was the waist washed? Whence came the stains? Suddenly some one remembered that murdered girl's body was cold when first found, and yet, according to Mrs. Wollert, only a few minutes elapsed from the time of the shooting until the alarm was given, and the body hastily examined. It should have been still warm. Then Mrs. Wollert began to make slightly conflicting replies to the questions asked her. The searchers found no trail whatever of a man answering the woman's description. The stairway, the floor and walls of the sitting room bore evidence of a fearful struggle, and were splashed and spotted with blood. In some places an effort had been made to wipe out the red stain. The husband, who had been summoned from his work on the river ice field, asked his wife for his revolver. She answered that she had burned it a few days before. A revolver won't burn. The barrel and the skeleton handle could nowhere be found after a careful search. The hate felt by Mrs. Wollert for her stepdaughter was well known. The poor, unhappy girl had been mistreated and abused until she feared to be alone with the woman. Only the night before she fled to the home of P.N. Wollaver, to stay with his daughter, Lillie, of about the same age. Her father found her there, took her home, and gave her a severe whipping.
BELIEVE MRS. WOLLERT GUILTY
The murder took place between 7 and 8 o'clock in the morning. The alarm was given soon after 9 o'clock. By 10:30 o"clock the events told above had transpired and belief in the woman's guilt was openly expressed. Dr. Nason, E.A. Ford and others examined the wounds about the girl's head. Mr. Ford remarked, "That girl was choked to death," an opinion concurred in by the doctor. Mrs. Wollert was standing near when the words were spoken, and an expression of guilt and --(can't read)--------- Still she clung to the tramp story, and went way quietly, shelling corn for the chi-------- hunting eggs, in the barn and rocking the cradle. The man-hunted ------- ------- called. Deputy Sheriff Chas. Wandrack took charge of all articles of evidence found.
At 2:35 Coroner S.C. Wernham arrived from Marengo, also State's Attorney V.S. Lumley, from Woodstock. A jury was at once impaneled, consisting of Dr. Nason, Chris. Koch, Frank Ketcham, John Wandrack, John Bolger and Wm. Swaim. For the first time Louisa's body was moved from the little bedroom where it had fallen, and a thorough examination made. Three bullets had taken effect, but Dr. Nason maintains that the wounds would not have proven fatal. One ball struck the right temple and plowed a deep furrow back across the head. One entered her right arm and found its way into her body near the arm pit, and the wound was probed for eight inches without finding the bullet. Another missile entered her right side, between the fifth and sixth ribs, and was found buried tow inches in the flesh. Across the right side of her throat was a cruel red scar, indicative of strangulation, also the imprint of fingernails and several small scratches. Dr. Nason still held to the theory that the child had been choked to death.
CONFESSES TO BENTHUSEN
The sifting of the evidence was yet in progress, although no witnesses had been heard, and everything was in a state of confusion and mere speculation as to the circumstances of the awful deed, when Detective Benthusen appeared at 4 o'clock. He had been wired from Algonquin and later from Sheriff Eckert at Woodstock, and requested to proceed at once to the scene of the murder. He had been at Richmond and McHenry on official business and took the first train for Algonquin. He had been appraised of the situation and as soon as he reached the Wollert dwelling he asked to see Mrs. Wollert and withdrew with her to an upper room. While he questioned her, others renewed the hunt for the revolver. George Lowe, with a pitch fork, at last fished the weapon from the vault. It was a 32-calibre short. Four chambers contained empty shells - the other two were loaded.
Benthusen was still closeted with the woman. She was the first very stubborn and reticent, and said she had told the story truthfully several times. Benthusen asked that she repeat it is him in her own words. She consented in telling her story she was caught in several conflicting statements, and when these were pointed out to her she again became stubborn, pushed the detective from her several times, and seemed inclined to ignore him. Benthusen changed his tactics time and again. He finally struck a sympathetic chord where he asked her if the girl had not began the trouble. Mrs. Wollert then showed the first sign of weakness since the crime had been committed. Benthusen said to her: "Perhaps Louisa threw a plate or fork at you, and began the trouble?" Mrs. Wollert replied, "No, she didn't throw anything at me, but she kicked me." In reply to further questioning, the woman told the full story of her horrible crime.
She said she had quarrelled with Louisa in the morning, about washing the breakfast dishes. The girl wanted to come to Nunda (Crystal Lake now) on the 9 o'clock train. She came here (Crystal Lake) every Tuesday and Friday to prepare for confirmation on Easter Sunday. Her stepmother insisted that she finish the morning work. The child rebelled. The woman slapped her. Louisa seized a broom in self defense. Mrs. Wollert, succumbing to her anger, tore the girl's apron from her, and twisting it into a huge rope, made a fierce effort to strangle her husband's child. The girl fought with the strength born of desperation, and in the struggle severely bit the woman's finger - which she had claimed to others had been struck by a bullet.
This so infuriated the woman that she became a perfect demon, and rushing to a bureau in the bedroom, pulled a revolver and shot the girl in the forehead, the bullet leaving a four-inch furrow the depth of the skin. Louisa ran screaming upstairs, followed by the now crazed woman, who again pulled the trigger, but missed her victim, and the shot, according to her statement set fire to the bed. She again fired at the girl, and the bullet found its mark. At this point in her confession Benthusen asked her if she did not set fire to the house purposely, to which she made answer, "No, the house belongs to me." Continuing the murderess says the girl ran down stairs, still followed, and the fatal shot was given, the girl sinking to the floor, and finally falling in the little bedroom. As the woman attempted to pass the dead form of her victim, she slipped in the blood, and falling, stained her clothes, which she removed, and to which reference has been made. She then told Benthusen where she had concealed the revolver in the vault.
The detective persuaded Mr. Wollert to make her statement before witnesses, and for the first time left the room and called in Dr. Nason, who heard her confession in substance the same as above. As Benthusen thought it was policy to have a third party hear the story. J.V. Beatty, of the HERALD, was admitted to the room after Nason's departure, and also listened to Mrs. Wollert's admission.
The jury wrote a verdict in accordance with the confession without leaving the house.
TAKEN TO JAIL
Benthusen requested that a closed carriage be in readiness, and after Mrs. Wollert bad attired herself for the trip, she bravely passed through the curious and angry crowd with the detective and they were driven to the C. & N.W. depot. A second of several hundred assembled at the little station to get a glimpse of the woman, but she kept in the background, cloaked, hooded and silent, and at -------- boarded the train, and was taken direct to the county jail at Woodstock by Detective Benthusen.
When first placed in the cell Mrs. Wollert became hysterical and raved about the cell, throwing herself against the grating and calling on imaginary persons to come to her assistance. The sheriff and his deputies found it necessary to use force in restraining her until 11 o'clock, when she was placed under the influence of opiates.
Wednesday morning an indictment for murder in the first degree was found against Mrs. Wollert. She is in solitary confinement, no one being allowed to see her. She lies on the floor day and night, and throws the food offered her out of the door, without eating.
The criminal docket is to be called next Monday, and the state's attorney will endeavor to have the prisoner tried next week. So far as known nothing has been done by her friends, and no attorney has yet been retained to represent her. She has the house in Algonquin, but her parents could give her no pecuniary assistance. There is talk that she will set up the plea of insanity in case any defense is attempted.
On Wednesday it was telephoned to Woodstock and other places that a rope had been found with blood stains on it. The rumor reached Benthusen's ears, he being at Woodstock. He discredited it, believing that the woman had told him a truthful story. To satisfy himself he took another trip to the house immediately, and after a careful and most thorough search he found in a closet, wrapped in cloths, the girl's apron in rope shape, saturated with blood, which bears out the woman's statement in detail. Benthusen still has the apron in his possession, and it will be produced at the trial.
The tragedy is really the end of a bad row which has been going on for years. Mrs. Wollert is about 28 years old, and Mr. Wollert is about 48. He had several children by his first wife when he married the present Mrs. Wollert five years ago last October. She was formerly a domestic in Woodstock. Her name was Hannah Rath. She came to this country at 16 years of age. The tailor who worked for Fred Schmidt here, and was afterward killed by a train at Harvard, was a brother. Her parents live on the river, north of Algonquin.
Mr. and Mrs. Wollert never agreed on anything, and Mrs. Wollert never liked Louisa.
The other day Louisa missed the train to take her to school in Crystal Lake. Mrs. Wollert was insane with rage. She forced the girl to walk the whole distance six miles in a drizzling rain. The child's clothing was crude, soiled, and her shoes were pitifully rough.
Mrs. Wollert was somewhat addicted to the use of morphine, and took a dose after the murder.
The baby's dress and the pillow in the cradle bore the imprints of a bloody hand. The scratches on Louisa's throat were made by herself in the struggle to tear away the choking apron, and the fingernail marks on her neck were apparently made by her stepmother trying to throttle her.
Several weeks ago Mrs. Wollert began divorce proceedings, and left her husband to live with Mrs. Henry Reichoff, but on Friday, after deeding all his property to her, Chris persuaded her to return to him, and the divorce case was dropped.
FUNERAL TOMORROW AT ALGONQUIN
The funeral of Louisa Wollert will be held on Friday morning, at 10 o'clock, in the Congregational Church by her paster, Rev. C. Lohse, and the body will be laid to rest in the cemetery at Dundee, in the family burying ground.
RECALLS ANOTHER MURDER
The tragedy just enacted brings to mind another murder which occurred about three miles from the Wollert house.
Years ago William Frost was murdered by John Stewart, and his body burned to a crisp in a hay stack, leaving nothing but the corner of a small book, with the letters W.M., and the figures 110, it being the remnants of a charred bank book. With only this for a clue, Detective Benthusen captured the murderer within ten days, and in his confession he told where his victim's pocket book and watch were concealed, in a hay stack, together with the revolver with which he shot Frost. Stewart, at that time, plotted against Benthusen's life, but was frustrated. The murdered was sentenced to prison for life, and died in jail a few years ago.
The details of working up this case and Stewart's confession, have never been made known to the people of this county, as we are informed. However, in conversation with Mr. Benthusen, we have secured a partial
Confesses Her Crime
Mrs. Wolloert Murders Her Step-Daughter
Louise Wollert, of Algonquin, the Innocent Victim of a Woman's Hate