Johann Hoch hung 110 years ago Today – His last moments on Earth

Johann Hoch hung 110 years ago Today – His last moments on Earth
Johann Hoch spends his last full day on Earth in the Death Chamber of the Criminal Courts Building

Johann Otto Hoch or John Schmidt as was his most accepted birth name, was born in 1863 in Birgen, Russia or in 1855 in Horrweiler, Germany.  He had numerous aliases although John Hock was the one he maintained through his execution.

He purportedly came to the United States in 1883 with his first wife (that we know of) Annie.  What followed was almost 25 years of bigamy and murder.  He became infamous for poisoning his wives shortly after taking their money and earned the nickname “The Bluebeard Murderer” after the French folktale published in 1697 in which “Bluebeard” murders his wives.

Johann Otto Hoch alias John Schmidt

Johann Otto Hoch alias John Schmidt

He wed over 50 wives illegally and bilked them out of different amounts of money but murdered anywhere from a confirmed 15 to upwards of 30.

He was finally tried and convicted of only one murder and that was his second to last wife, Maria Walcker-Hoch who lived with him at 6430 Union Avenue.   He supposedly married Maria Walcker on December 10, 1904 in Chicago and almost exactly one month later on January 11, 1905 she was dead of Nephritis or inflammation of the kidneys.  Within five days he married Maria’s sister, Emilie Fischer from Joliet.  Three days later Hoch fled with $750 and Emilie reported him to the police as a swindler and bigamist.  The police became suspicious and had Emilie’s sister exhumed and they found 7.6 grams of arsenic in the body.

Hoch was indicted for bigamy and an arrest warrant was issued.  Hoch had made the mistake of asking his landlady, a Mrs. Kimberly, in New York to marry him within 24 hours of meeting her.  She contacted the police suspecting him to be Hoch and he was subsequently arrested and extradited back to Chicago where he was charged with the murder of Maria Walcker-Hoch.  (On a side note I believe that according to Cook County marriage records Walcker had actually gotten married to Hoch under the name Schippnick.  Who knows maybe she was trying to rip him off.)

The trial started April 19, 1905 and Hoch was convicted of murder on May 20th.  His original death by hanging was scheduled for June 23, 1905.

Hoch had avoided the hanging a number of times while in custody.  Governor Deneen granted him a reprieve until July 28th.  Within an hour of his hanging he was given another reprieve until August 25th.  Before the August 25th date, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear his case but on December 15th handed down its verdict which supported the lower court’s ruling.  The Supreme Court set his date of Execution to be February 23, 1906.

Frank D. Comerford, Hoch's Attorney

Frank D. Comerford, Hoch's Attorney

On the date of Hoch’s execution his attorney, Frank D. Comerford, attempted to make an appeal to the Federal Court on the basis that Hoch’s 14th Amendment rights had been violated because his wife was purportedly coerced by authorities to testify against her husband and commit perjury  (Of course she and 49 others were not his legal wives) Judge Landis denied his petition for a writ.

One day before his execution Hoch was moved to the Death Chamber of the County Courthouse and Jail (Now Courthouse Place Office Building) where he woke up and ate his breakfast sparingly.  He received several visitors on that day.  His first visitor at 9am was his spiritual advisor F.W. Schlechte.  He met the Reverend Schlechte with a military salute and they studied the Bible for about an hour.  His next visitor was a very strange young man who introduced himself as a hypnotist and medical student.  The “hypnotist” had slipped past the guards and told Hoch, “Look into my eyes”.  Hoch told the guards that he was a “crank” and only managed to make him tired.  The crank was removed.  His last visitor was his latest wife Emilie Fishcer-Hoch.  He bid her a fond farewell at about 6pm and retired with a cigar which he smoked until it burned his fingers.  He then reclined in his bed but according to guards did not sleep.

He was supposed to die sometime between 10am and 11am on the 23rd but Jailer Whitman postponed it to as long as 2pm as they waited for Judge Landis’s decision.

The Criminal Courts Building where Hoch was hung is now a landmark and office building

The Criminal Courts Building where Hoch was hung is now a landmark and office building

Upon hearing that Landis had refused a writ of habeas corpus the death warrant was read to Hoch who stepped up to the gallows at 1:32pm.  His final words were, “ Oh Lord, our Father, forgive them all.  They know not what they do.  They hang an innocent man.  I am innocent.  Goodbye.”

The trap was dropped and Hoch died of a broken neck almost instantly.  The body was lowered and handed off to undertaker Ernst Matz.  (The Matz Funeral Home is still in operation)

Meanwhile Hoch’s attorney was filing an appeal to the writ and it was approved even after his client’s death.  Comerford vowed that if the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the denial of the writ that he would bring murder charges against all persons involved in the hanging.

Meanwhile it seemed that no cemetery wanted to allow a murderer to be buried on their property.  Even Waldheim that accepted a number of the anarchists from the Haymarket riots (Spies, Parsons, Engel and Fischer) refused.  In fact officials from Waldheim stated that the burials of the anarchists had brought such unpleasant notoriety to their cemetery that under no circumstances would they ever allow another body of a person executed for a crime to be buried in their cemetery.

A plaque at the Reed Dunning Memorial Park which is in the location of the now defunct "Potters Field"

A plaque at the Reed Dunning Memorial Park which is in the location of the now defunct "Potters Field"

Shortly before noon on February 24, 1906 Hoch’s body was interred in the potter’s field of the Dunning Asylum and Poor Farm in an unmarked grave.  No Cook County official was ever charged with Hoch’s murder.

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