Johann Otto Hoch


Johann Otto Hoch

Johann Otto Hoch (1862–1906) is the most famous and last-used alias of a German-born murderer and bigamist, John Schmidt. He was found guilty of the murder of one wife but is thought to have killed many more. He was hanged.

Early life

Hoch was born John Schmidt in 1855, at Horweiler, Germany. He immigrated to the United States as a young man in the 1890s and dropped his surname in favor of assorted pseudonyms where he began to marry a string of women, frequently taking the name of his most recent victim. He would swindle all their money and either leave them or kill them with arsenic and then begin his pattern all over again. At age 51 Chicago police would dub him "Americas greatest mass murderer," but statistics remain vague in this puzzling case. We know that Hoch bigamously married at least 55 women between 1890 and 1905, bilking all of them for cash and slaying many, but the final number of murder victims is a matter of conjecture. Sensational reports credit Hoch with 25 to 50 murders, but police were only certain of 15, and in the end he went to trial (and to the gallows) for a single homicide. Hoch's first and only legal wife was Christine Ramb, who bore him three children before he deserted her in 1887.


By February 1895, as "Jacob Huff," he had surfaced in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he won the heart and hand of Caroline Hoch, a middle-aged widow. They were married in April, and Caroline fell gravely ill three months later. Called to her beside, Rev. Hermann Haas watched "Huff" administer a potion that Haas believed to be poison, but the minister took no action and Caroline died days later in agony. "Huff" cleaned out her $900 bank account, sold their house, collected $2500 in life insurance benefits—and vanished. Suicide was suspected, with his clothing, his watch, and note found on the bank of the Ohio River, but no body was ever recovered. Hoch kept his latest victim's surname—described by prosecutors as "a warped keepsake stored in an evil mind"—and moved on to Chicago, finding work in the meat-packing plants when he was not engaged with the business of spent a year in jail for defrauding a used-furniture dealer. Police Inspector George Shippy also suspected Hoch of bigamy, and murder was added to the list upon receipt of a letter from the Rev. Hass in West Virginia. Shippy started digging into Hoch's background, turning up reports of dozens of missing or deserted women from San Francisco to New York City, but solid evidence remained elusive. In Wheeling, Caroline Hoch was exhumed in a search for arsenic traces, but surgeons found the body gutted, all her vital organs missing. Hoch was released at the end of his jail term, chalking up another 15 wives before his ultimate arrest in 1905. Aware that Shippy and others were charting his movements, Hoch killed more often and more swiftly while swindling women. Selecting his victims from newspaper "lonely heart" columns, Hoch went merrily about his business by relying on primitive embalming fluids with their high arsenic content to cover any traces of poison in his victims. On December 5, 1904, he married Marie Walcker in Chicago, killing her at once. Wasting no time, Hoch proposed to his sister-in-law on the night of Marie's death, and they were married six days after the hasty funeral. Amelia Hoch bestowed a gift of $750 on her husband, prompting him to vanish with the cash, and immediately summoned the police. Modern science was Hoch's downfall. His late wife's mortician employed a new embalming fluid with no taint of arsenic. Medical examiners found poison in Marie Walcker's system and Hoch was charged with her murder, his picture mailed to every major American newspaper. In New York City, a middle-aged landlady recognized "Henry Bartels," a new tenant who had proposed marriage to her 20 minutes after renting a room. At his arrest, police seized a revolver, a several wedding rings with their inscriptions filed off, and a fountain pen filled with arsenic—which Hoch claimed was intended for himself, a foiled attempt suicide. Chicago journalist dubbed Hoch the "Stockyard Bluebeard," trumpeting the speculative details of his criminal career. At the trial he whistled, hummed, and twirled his thumbs throughout the prosecutions case, apparently while well pleased with his position in the limelight. On Conviction of Marie Walcker's murder, he was sentenced to hang, telling the court, "it's all over with Johann. It serves me right." Mounting the gallows on February 23, 1906, Hoch reverted to a claim of innocence, declaring "I am done with this world. I have done with everybody." As the trap was sprung, a local newsman quipped, "Mr. Hoch, but the question remains: What have you done with everybody?" Part of the solution was unearthed in 1935 when human bones were found inside the wall of a Chicago house once occupied by Hoch. It was a meager bit of evidence, the victim unidentified, and Johann's body count, the names and number of his murdered wives, will probably remain a mystery forever.
Timeline of Swindles/Killings

A turn of the century account partially reports on many of Hoch's victims, except where noted:

1881, Austria – marries Annie Hock {alleged}
1883, New York – Hoch arrives with wife Annie an invalid who dies several year later {alleged}
1888, New York – After arriving from Wurtemberg, Hoch said to have married an immigrant servant girl who "died" prior to two months passing {alleged}. At the time of his 1905 New York arrest it was also alleged Hoch had married and either left/killed women in Vienna, Austria; London, England and Paris, France}
1892 Chicago-Mrs. Hoyle Hoch died {alleged}
1892, Chiacgo – May: Hoch under name C.A. Meyer rents flat and has a new wife {wife reportedly died after three weeks} alleged
1892, Chicago – June: Hoch under name H. Irick rents flat and has a new wife {wife reportedly died a month later} alleged
1893, Milwaukee – Hoch under name "Dr. James" marries Lena Schmitz-who died {alleged}
1893 Milwaukee-Hoch marries Lena Schmitz sister Clara {died} {Alleged}
1894 Chicago_under a new alias Hoch rents flat with a new wife {wife reportedly died after two months} alleged
1895 Chicago-arrested under alias "C.A. Calford" and charged by Mrs. Janet Spencer with having eloped; married and deserted her with a few hundred dollars of her money; he is identified as abductor of a Hulda Stevans and a participant in a diamond robbery {alleged}
1895 April: Under the name Jacob Huff, Hoch marries Karoline/Caroline (Miller) Hoch, widow, Wheeling, WV. She died June 15, 1895. He faked his death, took her surname HOCH and went to Chicago.
1895 July 5: arrives in Chicago
1895, July 15: Buys a saloon in Chicago
1895, August 5: Aka Jacob Hoch he marries Mrs. Maria Steimbucher of Chicago-she died four months later; Hoch sold property for $4,000. Before dying she makes declaration that she has been poisoned but no notice is taken of her statement.
1895 November: Hoch marries Mary Rankin of Chicago; Hoch disappeared with her money the next day. {It is also alleged that about 1895 Hoch aka Schmidt went back to Germany but fled from a warrant charging that he was not only a bankrupt but also owning 3,000 marks}
1896 April: Hoch aka "Jacob Erdorf" marries Maria Hartzfield of Chicago; Hoch disappeared with $600 of her money after four months.
1896 September 22: Hoch aka "Schmitt" marries widow Barbara Brossett of San Francisco. "Schmitt" disappeared 2 days later with $1,465 of her money; she is so affected by losses she dies afterward.
1896: Hoch proposes to landlady Mrs H. Tannert of San Francisco, who refuses him.
1896 November: Hoch marries Clara Bartel of Cincinnati Ohio; she dies three months later.
1896 a Mrs. Henry Bartel dies in Baltimore {Bartel being a Hoch Alias; It is also alleged Hoch married two other times in Baltimore-to a Mrs. Nannie Klenke-Schultz; Mrs. Henrietts Brooks-Schultz; an unnamed Boston woman married to a "Louis/Charles Bartels" came to Baltimore and seized his furniture}
1897 January: He marries Julia Dose of Hamilton Ohio-in Cincinnati; Hoch disappears same day with $700 of her money.
1897 July 20-Hoch aka "Henry F. Hartman" marries in Cincinnati {alleged}
1897 December 6-Hoch marries a woman in Williamsburg New York and disappears with $200.00 {alleged}
1898 January 16-Hoch aka "William Frederick Bessing" marries Mrs. Winnie Westphal in Jersey City-Hoch disappears with $900.00 {alleged}
1898 Buffalo-New York-a Mrs. Wilhelmina Hoch died {alleged}
1898 March-Chicago Hoch appears aka "Martiz Dotz" with a wife who died June 1898 {alleged}.
1898 June: Hoch aka Adolf Hoch aka Martin Dose arrested Chicago for selling already mortgaged furniture; gets one year.
1899 Milwaukee: Hoch marries an unnamed sister of Mrs J.H. Schwartz-Marue; bride dies and Hoch disappears with $1,200 {alleged}
1899 Norfolk Va-A Mrs Hoch died suddenly {alleged}
1900: Claimed to married a Mary Hendrickson
1900: Allegedly Hoch aka "Albert Buschberg" married Mary Schultz of Argos, Indiana; Schultz, her 15-year-old daughter Nettie and $2,000 "Disappeared".
1900, A "Jacob Hoch" married Anna Scheffries of Chicago (LDS record).
1900, December 12 – Hoch aka "John Healy" marries Amelia Hohn of Chicago; deserts her after getting $100.00
1901, November: Hoch marries Anna Goehrke; he deserts her.
1902, April 8-marries Mrs Mary Becker of St Louis; she dies 1903
1902 May-Hoch aka "Count Otto van Kern" marries Mrs Hulda Nagel whom he deserts
1903 June 18-Hoch aka "Dr. G.L.Hart" flees after trying to poison Mabel Leichmann-a bride of three days; Hoch flees with $300 worth of diamonds and $200 of her money {alleged}
1903 Dayton Ohio-Hoch marries Mrs Annie Dodd {deserts her}
1903 Dayton Ohio-Hoch marries Mrs Regina Miller Curtis (deserts her)
1903 Milwaukee-Hoch courts Ida Zazuil but leaves her after a quarrel
1903 December-Hoch uses marriage license for Zazuil engagement and marries Mrs. T.O'Conner of Milwaukee-deserts her with $200.00 of her money {Alleged}
1904 January 2: Aka "John Jacob Adolf Schmidt" marries Mrs Anna Hendrickson of Chicago in Hammond Indiana, and disappears January 20 with $500 of her money.
1904 June: Hoch marries Lena Hoch of Milwaukee; she dies three weeks later leaving Hoch $1,500.
1904 Summer: South Haven-Michigan-young woman body washes ashore-wife of Hoch? {alleged}
1904 October 8:Hoch alias "Leo Prager" marries Bertha Dolder of Chicago-he disappears after buying $1,200 of rugs from $3,500 she gives him for a furniture store
1904 October 20: Hoch alias "John Schmidt" marries Caroline Streicher of Philadelphia-he disappears October 31, 1904.
1904 November 9: Hoch appears in Chicago.
1904 November 16: Hoch alias "Joseph Hoch" leases a cottage in Chicago from a bank from November 16, 1904 to January 1, 1905; buys $120 worth of furniture.
1904 December 10: Marries Marie Walcker of Chicago-who sells her candy store for $75.00 and gives Hoch life savings of $350.00.
1904 December 20: Marie Walcker becomes ill.
1905 January 12: Marie Walcker-Hoch dies.
1905 January 15: Hoch marries Marie's sister Mrs. Fischer in Joliet Ill, who gives Hoch $750.00; Hoch leaves after Mrs. Fischer sister denounces Hoch as a murderer and swindler.
1905 January 30: Hoch alias "Harry Bartells" proposes to his landlady Mrs. Catherine Kimmerle of New York City; she refuses and Hoch is arrested; Hoch claims alias of "John Joseph Adolf Hoch."
1905 May 19: Hoch tried and found guilty of murder of Marie Walcker; sentenced to death June 23, 1905.
1905 June 23: Cora Wilson of Chicago advances money so Hoch can appeal sentence to Illinois Supreme Court, which sustains lower court and sets execution date for August 25, 1905.
1905 August 25 – Hoch execution put off until October session of Illinois Supreme Court.
1905 December 16 – Illinois Supreme Court refuses to intervene.
1906 February 23 – Hoch is executed in Chicago. After his execution several cemeteries refused him burial so Hoch is buried in what was referred to a potter's field adjoining the Cook County (Illinois) Farm at Dunning (Chicago). This is the long forgotten Cook County Cemetery on the grounds of the Cook County Poor Farm at Dunning later to become Chicago State Hospital and then became Chicago Read Zone. A portion of the cemetery has been preserved as the Read Zone-Dunning Memorial Park on Chicago's Northwest side. One article detailing his burial appeared in the New York Times on February 24, 1906.

Other reported victims

In addition to the above, it is alleged that Hoch was involved with a Mrs. John Hicks of Wheeling WV {died}; Mrs. Emma Rencke of Chicago; Mrs. Palinka of Batavia Ill; a Mrs. Fink of Aurora; Natalie Irgang; Hulda Stevens; Schwatzman of Milwaukee; and a Justina Loeffler of Elkhart Indiana who "disappeared" in Chicago in 1903. Allegedly Hoch married twice in Cincinnati, Ohio under alias of "Henry Bartel" and "Fred Doess";

1906: Johann Otto Hoch, bluebeard
On this date in 1906, still implausibly claiming his innocence, “Johann Otto Hoch” was hanged for the murder of his wife.

Though Hoch died “merely” for that one homicide, he was suspected of numerous others in a prolific career of avaricious bigamy.

Born as Jacob Schmidt in Germany a half-century or so before he hanged, Hoch immigrated to the U.S. in the 1880s and started wife-hopping for fun and profit, recycling names almost as frequently. (Hoch just happens to be the alias he was using when arrested: actually, it was the name of one of his victims, “a warped keepsake stored in an evil mind.”)

It’s a classic scam, really: woo, wed, and walk out — taking the spurned spouse’s assets with. Rinse and repeat. In 1905, Charlotte Smith of the Women’s Rescue League estimated that “no less than 50,000 women who have been married, robbed and deserted by professional bigamists.” (Chicago Tribune, Sept. 5, 1905)

“Marriage was purely a business proposition to me,” Hoch eventually admitted.

Sometimes Hoch was content to vanish with the cash (with nice twists, like a hat left by a riverbank to suggest drowning). Other times, he went above and beyond the standard in the professional-bigamy industry and availed the expedient of loosing the matrimonial bonds (and the purses of life insurers) by graduating himself to widowhood.

Precisely how many women he poisoned off with arsenic isn’t known exactly, but it’s thought to range into the double digits. And when he was on his game, he was known to churn through the ladies at breakneck speed. His last murder victim, and the one he hanged for, was Marie Walcker of Chicago … but as Marie lay dying of her husband’s expert ministrations, Johann, bold as brass, proposed to Marie’s sister Amelia. Those two “lovebirds” married a week later and within hours, the groom had disappeared, pocking $1,250.

Call Amelia doltish if you will, but she went straight to the police. It turned out it was Hoch who recklessly set himself up for capture with this whirlwind double-dip courtship, and the very freshly buried evidence of his recent malignity was easily retrieved from his late ex’s stomach. When arrested in New York, Hoch had a hollow pen full of arsenic.

Naturally, the marriage proposals poured in as Hoch awaited trial early in 1905.

Hoch was actually within moments of hanging in July 1905 when his defense team finally managed to raise the last $500 necessary to lodge an appeal. That’s right: justice with a co-pay. The legislature had considered, but had not passed, a law giving every death-sentenced person the right to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, and in lieu of such a measure, an appellant had to pony up for the privilege.
Also on this date

1629: John Dean, boy arsonist
1942: Boris Vilde, linguist
1885: Not John "Babbacombe" Lee, the man they could not hang
1838: Andrea Rondola but not Peppino

Possibly related executions:

1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer
1951: The Lonely Hearts killers, tortured by love
1923: Nathan Lee, the last public hanging in Texas
1946: Phillip and William Heincy, father and son
1906: Adolph Weber, nervy

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Illinois,Murder,Pelf,Serial Killers,Sex,USA

Tags: 1900s, 1906, arsenic, bluebeard, february 23, johann hoch, marriage, poison, poisoner
One Response to “1906: Johann Otto Hoch, bluebeard”

1 » 1903: George Chapman, Ripper suspect Says:
April 7th, 2012 at 10:38 am

[...] have been many poisoners, but most of the time the murderer has some tangible gain in mind, such as an inheritance or insurance policy. This doesn’t appear to have been the [...]

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