Post 15 can be read here if you missed it…
After Carl Wanderer had confessed to the murder of his pregnant wife, their unborn child and the Ragged Stranger, public scorn and condemnation of him was rife. When word came out that he had been dating a seventeen-year-old girl before and after his wife’s murder, he was the most loathsome man in town, though that only increased his appeal to a portion of society.
The testimony of the trial will be told in greater detail in the Mystery of the Ragged Stranger Podcast Episode #4- Carl Wanderer at Trial, which will be available on Monday, August 6th, but today’s blog post will focus on events both before and during the trial that will shed some light on a couple competing narratives of the crime that center around a love letter. Testimony at the trial, under oath, and all the newspaper articles written about the trial offer real-time, irrefutable facts of the crime; Who found the letter? And who was it to? Julia? Or James?
Two days after Wanderer had confessed to his crime, seventeen-year-old Julia Schmitt, at her mother’s urging, went to the police and told of how she and Wanderer had been on several dates before and after his wife’s murder.
“I went out with Carl several times before this murder happened. Also, I was out with him afterwards. I had not the slightest idea he was married. I thought of him as a fine young man and liked him very much. When he took me home he called me sweetheart and kissed me. I still thought him a hero when I read of the shooting in the papers. The fact that he was married was a great shock to me. I was greatly disappointed with him. He continued to write. He became more affectionate in the tone of his letters. He said I was his only friend. I allowed him to see me again but I told him I could never think the same of him. After that I saw him 3 or 4 times.”
Reporters raced to Carl to get his statement now that his affair with his young girlfriend had become public knowledge. “I’m sorry these people got brought into it. I liked Julia Schmitt but we were just friends. She was just like a lot of other girls who came into the butcher shop. I just happened to like her better than the rest; liked to go out with her. Liked a few of the others, too.”
Reporters quizzed Wanderer on why he hadn’t told the police or the State’s Attorney about her during his confession. Wanderer, the wife slayer, “affected a noble air and throwing out his chest slightly said, ‘Oh, I’m not that kind of a fellow. I didn’t want to draw her into this. I never told her I was going to marry her. I had no bad intentions. She was only a side issue. I was tired of married life. Why, I never took that little kid seriously. I tell you, she meant nothing to me. What a sucker I was. Just think of all the money I spent on that girl.”
Carl’s twin sister Laura Wanderer had been reached by reporters informing her of the revelation that Carl was having an affair with Julia Schmitt. Evidently it wasn’t a surprise to Wanderer’s twin and she was only too happy to name other old flames of Carl’s. “I know that Carl went with a Grace Horne because I accompanied them to amusement parks on several occasions. I do not know whether he saw her after he was married but she may be able to shed some light on the case.”
Wanderer’s older sister was not shielding her little brother from scrutiny either. “It is hard to believe what he has admitted,” Mrs. Hattie Roth (nee Wanderer) said. “But if it is true, he certainly should be hanged. The fact that he is my brother does not influence my judgment in this respect.”
The day before his trial was to start reporters tried to question him at his cell. “Why talk to a man who’s got a fight for his life on his hands? My attorneys have cautioned me against talking to anybody. Life is sweet and I’m fighting. I can’t talk any more. You’ll get it all tomorrow.”
Owing to Wanderer’s incredible unpopularity in Chicago, it took over a week of jury selection and needing to call in two special venires of 100 men each, to finally get twelve jurors who claimed impartiality. With the jury finally seated, the trial of Carl Wanderer got underway to great fanfare. ‘Murder fans’ were lined up and down Hubbard street outside the courthouse hoping to get a seat at the trial.
Ben Hecht set the stage in that day’s Chicago Daily News; he opened his article about a young woman attempting to gain access to the trial-
The flapper was all excited. Her silver toque, with the blue bird of paradise feather slanting westward from its top, bobbed before a red-faced bailiff outside Judge Pam’s courtroom.
“I must get in. I don’t care to hear any of the evidence. All I want is a look at Carl”
A few minutes later the young boulevard-siren had wedged herself in among the hundreds of kindred souls lining the walls of the courtroom and all looking at Carl, or rather at the back of his head.
Prosecutor James ‘Ropes’ O’Brien, wearing his customary red necktie in a grim nod to a nickname earned for the all the men had sent to death on the gallows, questioned Julia about one of those love letters Carl had written her, when defense attorney Benedict Short objected.
The defense argued that the state could not produce the actual letter and without it, any testimony to it would be inadmissible. The State’s Attorney’s office had to admit that they could not produce the original letter and they believed it had been lost or destroyed accidently. The judge ruled without the letter, talk of it would not be allowed in court. Julia was excused from the witness box.
Ben Hecht again set the scene; “And because so many feminine court fans stared hard at her, Miss Schmitt… nervously fingered the long strand of red beads that went around her throat. She wore a soft blue plush hat and a blue serge suit. She is a petite woman, even frail, and the excitement of the cross-examination had brought bright spots to her cheeks”.
After one of the most anticipated witnesses to testify, Julia Schmitt, had proved to be everything the murder fans were hoping for and more… they came out in droves upon learning that Carl Wanderer would testify in his own defense.
The sideshow feel to the trial continued at lunch when Judge Hugo Pam cleared the courtroom at the noon recess. Word had been passed to the judge from the bailiffs that the murder fans were so insistent that they not lose their seat in the courtroom that they had brought their lunches with them and were eating in their seats in the courtroom.
“There is too much litter, banana skins and bread crumbs spread around here. You will have to eat outside.” Judge Pam ordered.
When court reconvened, the courtroom was electric. The trial had lived up to its billing and had enthralled the murder fans. The number of seats allocated by Judge Pam had come and gone as many snuck in the courtroom past the bailiffs or gone right out and greased their palms. The court was packed shoulder to shoulder so much that Judge Hugo Pam ordered “Let no one else in” as Wanderer took to the stand.
Carl confirmed most of what Julia had testified to, that they had gone out about three or four times before Carl’s wife Ruth’s death and had gone out another three or four times after. Both testified that Carl had never told Julia he was married. Both told of visiting Riverview Park amusement park together and kissing in the back of taxicabs on the way home. Both testified that Carl wrote love letters to Julia.
Knowing that the love letter was damning for Wanderer, the prosecution sought to bring it into evidence in other ways. Rather than discuss the contents of the letter that could not be produced, the prosecution asked Wanderer about the circumstances of it being printed in the Chicago Herald-Examiner.
For a man who planned a triple murder without putting much thought into his crime, the following shouldn’t be surprising but it again is amazing at Wanderer’s naivete at times.
Barely two weeks after his wife’s murder, Carl had written a love letter to Julia though rather than it reaching her, it was published on the front page of the Chicago Herald Examiner, as well as most of the other Hearst papers across the country. The letter was obtained by reporter Harry Romanoff at Wanderer’s request; it was said that Wanderer thought he had been befriended by the reporter to some extent in his first couple days in jail. Wanderer entrusted in Romanoff the secret of the letter and told the reporter he could find it torn to pieces in his dresser in the Johnson house. Wanderer asked Romanoff to retrieve the letter and return it to him so his mother-in-law wouldn’t come across it while he was in jail. His trust in the reporter was obviously misguided as the letter was pasted back together and its contents printed in the paper.
Sweetheart, July 6, 1920
I am very lonesome tonight. I thought I would drop you a few lines as I am ever thinking of you.
The reason I wouldn’t meet you at your house is this. The people would talk about us.
Someday I will tell you a whole lot more. I have been double crossed by some people.
Good night little lover & happy dreams to you.
At trial the prosecutors confirmed with Wanderer that while he was in custody for questioning he had sent a reporter to retrieve the letter from his bedroom.
“You wrote to Miss Schmitt, didn’t you?”
“You wrote her on July 6th, did you?”
“What did you do with that letter?”
“I tore it up, put it in a book, and placed the book in a bureau drawer.”
“Why did you tear the letter up?”
“I didn’t want to send it”
“Is this a true copy?” the prosecutor waved the page in the air as he led it to the witness.
“No- I can’t say. I don’t remember.”
“Did you write the letter as it is written here?”
“I don’t remember”
“Did you ever see that letter pasted together and in the possession of Lieutenant Norton?”
“I don’t know. I saw a letter in his hand- I can’t say that was the one.”
“Well does this writing look like yours?”
“Something like it”
“Did you start your letter to her with ‘Sweetheart’?”
“I don’t remember”
“Did you talk with Harry Romanoff, a reporter, in reference to the torn letter?”
“I may have”
“Did you say in the letter, ‘Sweetheart, I’m lonesome for you’?”
A clipping from the newspaper with a photograph of the letter was produced and given to Wanderer by State’s Attorney Prystalski.
“Objection!” attorney Short shouted again.
The attorney argued that the judge had already ruled that the letter was inadmissible unless the original was produced. The judge sent the jury back to their chambers and again questioned the prosecution about the whereabouts of the original letter. The photograph of the pasted together letter from the newspaper was shown to Wanderer who stated it was not written by him. The judge ruled that the photo of the letter would not be allowed.
In another case where the true story has been perverted in a couple of today’s known narratives, there are several competing stories on this love letter. Some said that Romanoff was sent in search of anything incriminating by order of his editor, Walter Howey. Some said he snuck into, broke into, or worked in concert with Lieutenant Loftus to keep Mrs. Johnson busy so he could surreptitiously gain access to the Johnson house and steal it. It’s been reported that the note was found in Wanderer’s dresser, bureau, desk, bathrobe or garbage can depending on which narrative you believe.
Harry Romanoff is not even the only reporter that has been linked to the letter. There is a widely known narrative that Ben Hecht, through one of the methods mentioned above, was the reporter that found the love letter.
The reality is the letter was first mentioned and printed in the Chicago Herald Examiner which was under Walter Howey’s direction. Romanoff testified that Wanderer had sent him to retrieve the letter, though in court, his true means of finding the letter were not disclosed.
When testimony wrapped up, legal observers of the trial predicted a quick verdict and the noose for the Wanderer. Before that though, defense attorney Benedict Short offered his closing arguments to the jury.
“We have three positions in this defense. First, Carl Wanderer did not kill his wife. Second, his story of her death was secured only by the beating of the homicide squad. And, third, if he did kill her, he was not mentally perfect, but an insane man suffering from dementia praecox.
There is more than a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant and because of this we ask you to acquit him of the crime.”
For the prosecution, ‘Ropes’ O’Brien, wearing a scarlet necktie, gave the closing arguments for the State of Illinois-
Carl Wanderer is guilty of the deliberately planned murder of his wife Ruth and the unidentified stranger. The penalty for the crime is prescribed by the law; death.
It is the most atrocious crime in the history of the state, executed willfully, cunningly, and deliberately by that man sitting there. Have you ever heard of a more abandoned or malignant heart than Wanderer exhibited when he killed the young girl who placed her entire confidence in him? She gave him her all and he took it- even unto death.
In May and June of this year there came into his life that experience that men never forget, the sensation that every father forever remembers- he was going to be a parent. The time when the average man watches every step of his wife, every movement, and exercises every care for her safety.
But there was another interest in Wanderer’s life at this time. Across the street from his store lived little Julia Schmitt with the sweet face. She came to the store. And his thoughts turned towards her. While he should have been spending his time with Ruth, he was expending his emotions by kissing Julia.
He saw a vision of the future. It included the army life and Julia. But in that vision was no trace of Ruth who was soon to be a mother.
Ruth must die.
Kisses for Julia, bullets for Ruth.
The man who killed his wife and unborn babe.
That’s the kind of a man he is. See his calm face.
But a yellow coward, and a murderer.
Send this cowardly, contemptible wretch, who deliberately and cunningly took the lives of his young, trusting wife, her unborn baby, and the poor, innocent, ragged, unidentified stranger, to the gallows. The man who had kisses for Julia Schmitt and bullets for the one he should have loved and cherished most has forfeited all claims to go on living on this earth.
There is abundant proof of this miserable creature’s guilt. You know as well as I do that he has violated every law of God or man. He deserves death. Even death is too good for him. Send him to the rope. Don’t weaken- give him the punishment he deserves.
Blog Post 17 coming Friday, July 27- We Find the Defendant Guilty! But…
Podcast Episode #3 coming Monday, July 23- Who Was the Ragged Stranger?
This project aims to fill in the gaps where there is unknown, correct false narratives that 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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