Carl Wanderer Appeals for His Life

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Judge Joseph David, after finding Carl Wanderer guilty of the murder of the Ragged Stranger, sentenced him to be hanged to death on the gallows on June 17, 1921. The courts of Cook County had recently sentenced several high profile cases to the death penalty and Murderer's Row in the criminal courts building was crowded with killers.


April 16, 1921 Chicago Daily News

April 16, 1921 Chicago Daily News


The Wanderer defense team appealed the case to the Illinois Supreme Court but they refused to take up the matter and affirmed Wanderer’s hanging date of June 17, short of a final appeal by Illinois Governor Len Small, a noted death penalty opponent.

Convicted murderer Gene Geary had been sentenced to hang the same day as Wanderer and also had his appeal denied by the court. However in ruling on another motion from the Geary defense team, the Supreme Court ruled that it would allow for a new hearing to determine Geary’s sanity. His attorneys, Thomas Nash and Michael Ahern, used an obscure 1845 law that stated a hearing must be held for any convicted murderer awaiting an execution if there is a possibility that the defendant, even after being declared sane at trial, had become insane in the ensuing time period between his conviction and his execution. In granting the motion for a hearing into his insanity, it was expected to keep Geary from the gallows until at least October as there was doubt that the hearing could be held before the court took its summer recess.

The very next day, Wanderer's defense attorney, W.D. Bartholomew would be in front of the Illinois Pardon Board to file a motion before the court. His motion for a new hearing mirrored the motion Geary's had, that Carl had gone insane after being convicted of  the Ragged Strangers' murder.

Judge David reluctantly granted a stay to Wanderer delaying his pending execution. In reviewing the 1845 law invoked by Wanderer’s defense attorney, the judge ruled;

“Under the law it is mandatory for me to grant his stay. The law itself is an old one, and probably should be amended, but I must obey it as long as it is on the statute books.”


June 14, 1921, Belvidere Daily Republican

June 14, 1921, Belvidere Daily Republican


Court observers noted that the law had only been used once since its writing in 1845 and the attempt had been unsuccessful in securing a positive outcome for the petitioner. According to Judge David, a condemned man may argue before a jury that he has become insane after he was convicted. Not wanting to see the trial delayed, Judge David said he would impanel a jury to finalize the insanity trial.

“I will set this hearing for Thursday and, in the event the jury finds the defendant sane, will resentence him within forty-eight hours.”

Outside the court Assistant State’s Attorney John Tyrell vented against what was becoming a common tactic for defense attorneys.

“In the last two weeks two condemned murderers have taken advantage of the law allowing a man a jury trial when his sanity is questioned. Harry Ward, known as the ‘Lone Wolf Bandit’ indicated yesterday he would plead insanity under that law tomorrow. I suppose all three of the other condemned murderers waiting the noose will ask for insanity trials, too.”

Tyrell was correct. With Wanderer and Geary both successfully obtaining delays to their executions, similar motions and appeals were filed from not only Harry Ward but also the convicted killers Grover Redding and Oscar McGavick.

June 16, 1921 The Decatur Herald

June 16, 1921 The Decatur Herald


With his first hanging date in his past, Wanderer went into court for what would be his third trial. Though this trial would not be to determine guilt or innocence or even his sanity at the time of the murder, but purely his sanity as it stood when sentenced to death on April 16, 1921, barely two months prior. In a critical blow to the prosecution, no mention of his crimes would be allowed at the new trial.

If Wanderer was found to be insane now, he would be remanded to an insane asylum where he would be held until he was found to have been cured which in the early 1920's could mean almost anything as it was still believed some mental illnesses could be cured by pulling teeth or even castration. Knowing such stakes hung in the balance, Wanderer began to rekindle his crazy act from his previous trials. Perhaps, expecting this, Judge David addressed the issue with Wanderer's attorney.

“You are entitled to a jury, but don’t make a farce of this trial. You can’t prove insanity by saying that Wanderer bit a man or that he jumped over that chandelier there. You must confine yourself to insanity evidence since April 16th. Nor must any reference be made to the crime itself for which Wanderer has been convicted. We have tried the case and we will not try it again. No question of the guilt or innocence of the accused nor any question as to whether or not he was sane or insane at the time of trial and conviction is to be considered.”

In guaranteeing that Wanderer would live to see fall, Judge David announced that in the event Wanderer is judged sane by the jury, the judge would set his execution date 10 days after the Supreme court had reconvened for their fall session so that Wanderer's attorneys had ample time to appeal.

June 20, 1921, on the eve of the one year anniversary of the date he killed his wife, Wanderer found himself back in Judge David’s courtroom as jury selection began before his insanity trial. Half of Chicago’s eligible voters would not be eligible to be on his jury however. In another courtroom in the building, Judge Marcus Kavanagh of the Superior Court dismissed a petition that would have seated women on juries in Chicago.

Judge Kavanagh opined that women have the privilege of a higher calling than that of jury duty with those duties being home-care and motherhood.

“If our women fail in the highest of all responsibilities it will not so much matter what else is done by anyone to serve the state. However, the court will admit that to add the aid of feminine intelligence, wisdom and experience to the solution of many of these questions which the courts are called upon daily to decide, might furnish a decided advantage to the administration of justice.”

“Under the constitution of this state women are not eligible to act as jurors, irrespective of their right to vote. The granting of the latter right does not in any way carry with it eligibility for jury service, nor has the legislature the power to confer upon women that right. Until that is done they have not the privilege and burden of sitting upon juries.”

Wanderer again would face a jury made up of 12 angry men.


June 21, 1921 Chicago Daily News

June 21, 1921 Chicago Daily News


A new blog post coming Friday, September 7- The Spirit World on Trial

Latest podcast release Monday, September 3- Podcast Episode #6- Carl Wanderer Goes to Trial for the Murder of the Ragged Stranger


This blog aims to fill in the gaps where there is unknown, correct fallacies where they have branched away from the truth, and most importantly, to entertain and enlighten. It has been sourced from research for my upcoming book Kisses for Julia, Bullets for Ruth: The Mystery of Carl Wanderer & the Ragged Stranger.


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