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On May 1, 1897, Louise Luetgert disappeared. Although no body was found, Chicago police arrested her husband, Adolph, the owner of a large sausage factory, and charged him with her murder. The eyes of the world were still on Chicago following the success of the World's Columbian Exposition, and the Luetgert case, with its missing victim, once-prosperous suspect, and all manner of gruesome theories regarding the disposal of the corpse, turned into one of the first media-fueled celebrity trials in American history.
Newspapers fought one another for scoops, people across the country claimed to have seen the missing woman alive, and each new clue led to fresh rounds of speculation about the crime. Meanwhile, sausage sales plummeted nationwide as rumors circulated that Luetgert had destroyed his wife's body in one of his factory's meat grinders.
In this narrative history of the Luetgert case, Robert Loerzel brings 1890s Chicago vividly back to life. He examines not only the trial itself but also the police department and forensic specialists investigating the case, the reporters scrambling for details, and the wider society who followed their stories so voraciously.
Weaving in strange-but-true subplots involving hypnotists, palmreaders, English con-artists, bullied witnesses, and insane-asylum body-snatchers, Alchemy of Bones is more than just a true crime narrative; it is a grand, sprawling portrait of a city—and a nation—getting an early taste of the dark, chaotic twentieth century.
Posted August 15, 2003
As a descendant of the murder victim, I was contacted by the author and contributed what little I could toward his research. Of course, Mr. Loerzel contributed far more to my family tree research. Others had written about this case but I was never impressed with their results. It is difficult to make a good case or write a good story if most of the evidence is circumstantial. They didn't have DNA testing back then, so the few bone fragments that were recovered could never be conclusively proven to be those of Louise Bicknese Luetgert. So, where is all the evidence from that trial? No one knows or remembers what has become of it. I'm hoping this book will bring enough attention to this case that someone out there will stumble upon those bits and pieces of evidence stowed away for decades in the attic of the old family home. If any story about this murder can help accomplish that, it's this one. It is written in the style of some of the best murder mystery novels.
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