Wednesday, June 22, 2011

“Wanted Husband’s Soul”: Serial Killer Frieda Trost - 1912

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 4): Philadelphia, Pa., Aug. 13. – Mrs. Frieda Trost and Edmund Guenkle, a bartender in a saloon which the woman conducts in the northern section of the city, where today committed to jail by the coroner to await the action of the grand jury on a charge of causing the death of the woman’s husband, William Trost, who was a widow, was married to Trost on August 1. He died on Aug. 7, and it is charged that the woman, who had incurred heavy debts married Trost to get control of his estate valued of $6,000, and that she poisoned him with the knowledge of Guenkle.

~ Fought on Marriage Day.

Evidence was produced at the inquest to show that Trost died from the effects of poison at a drug store near their home the day before Trost was stricken ill. It as testified that the bride and groom quarreled the day after their marriage and that Trost went to the home of friends who swore that he told them he would not return home; that he intended to get a divorce and that he feared he would be drugged.

~ Saw Poison Mixed.

Servants in the house testified that they saw Mrs. Trost mix white powder in water. Testimony was also presented to show that while Mrs. Trost declared that her husband had been injured in a trolley accident, no such accident had occurred and that Trost himself denied having met with an accident.

[“Widow And Her Bartender To Jail For Murder – Husband Hurt in No Accident, Says Coroner, Where Poison Was Mixed.” Reading Times (Pa.), Aug. 14, 1912, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): Christian Hartmann, brother of the first husband of Mrs. Frieda Trost, who is being held in Philadelphia for the murder of her second husband, talked freely of his accusation against Mrs. Trost regarding his brother’s death at his home, 354 East Eighty-fifth street, last night.

“We always believed that Frederick met an unnatural death, but we did not want to make any false accusations even though we had strong circumstantial evidence. But now that Mrs. Trost is suspected of murdering her second husband I am convinced that she had some part in the death of my brother.

“The same man who is being held as her accomplice in this case, Edmund Guenkle, acted strangely before and after my brother’s death, and I believe he was mixed up in that too.”

After her former husband’s death in February he said he had not heard from Mrs. Hartmann.

This is the letter he sent to the Philadelphia Coroner:

“I read in the papers that Mr. William Trost died and his wife, Mrs. Freda Hartmann Trost, is arrested under suspicion of having poisoned him. Her first husband, Mr. Frederick Hartmann, died very suddenly on February 19, 1911.

“At his death there were quite a number of suspicions aroused, but none dared to say anything, as his wife said she would have them arrested. Her manager, Guenkle, is suspected of having helped Mrs. Freda Hartmann Trost and from the strange way both of them acted after his death I think that if they were forced to tell all they know the cause of the first husband’s death would be very different from what it has been said to be.

“I also want the death of my brother’s three children investigated. I think their deaths unusual too,” Hartmann said.

“We lived in Philadelphia,” Hartmann explained, “up to a few years ago Mrs. Trost used to come and talk about spirits to us. One day she came to me and said that she could do nothing with Fred’s physical self. ‘I want his soul,” she said.

“I told Fred about this. He said nothing, but he came to us before our departure and cried about the way his wife was carrying on with this man Guenkle.

“We were never told that Fred carrying on with this man Guenkle.

“We were never told that Fred was sick until she wired us of his death. We went on and found her with Guenkle. They acted queerly. I was told Fred was taken sick in his saloon, where Guenkle kept the bar. He was sick for four days. She told me he died of typhoid pneumonia. I asked why I had not been sent for. She said she could not find my address.

“Then how were you able to send me the telegram?” I asked her.

“She told me that she found my address just after Fred’s death. People in the neighborhood who were friends of mine told us about her conduct.

Christian Hartmann also told of the death of two of his brother’s children. In the case of one Mrs. Trost had said the spirits would take it and refused to give it medical aid. When the other one got sick she refused to have a doctor, but gave it some of her own medicine. “I understand that the death of the third was also strange,” he said.

The authorities in Philadelphia had not answered Hartmann’s letter last night. Hartmann and his wife are willing to wait and are ready to go to the hearing if they are wanted. Now that the letter has been written they are anxious to aid in prosecuting Mrs. Trost.

[“Hartmann Sure Brother Was Slain - Says Mrs. Trost Told Him That She “Wanted Husband’s Soul.” - Is Willing To Testify - New York Brewer Also Believes Children of Couple Were Killed.” The Sun (New York, N.Y.), Aug. 16, 1912, p. 4]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 4): Philadelphia, Pa., Dec. 14—Mrs. Frieda Trost was today found guilty of first degree murder for the poisoning of her husband, in order to marry an affinity. Trost was the woman's second husband to die of poisoning. She betrayed no emotion when the verdict was rendered and smiled while her attorneys gave notice of appeal.

[“Poisoned Two Husbands - Second Time, Caught,” Logansport Pharos (In.), Dec. 14, 1912, p. 1]


PHOTO CAPTION (Article 4 of 4): This kindly appearing little old lady who apparently is stepping out for an afternoon stroll is Mrs. Frieda Trost. She has just been released from jail at Muncy, Pa., on a parole after serving 26 years for the poisoning of her husband. Once doomed to hanging, her sentence was commuted to life.

[“Freed After 26 Years,” The Daily Mail (Hagerstown, Md.), Jun. 8, 1938, p. 12]



Frederick Hartman, husband #1, died Feb. 19, 1911
3 Hartman children
William Trost, husband #2, died Aug. 7, 1912


New Addition (summary of case published in 1940)

FULL TEXT: Frieda Hartmann Trost was a sort of semi-professional dabbler in spiritualism and widowhood. She seemed to regard the grave as something in the nature of a slot machine. You dropped something in and presto! You got something in return.

Frieda buried two husbands, and each time she got something in return, through the second bereavement – if we may call it that – brought her rather more than she expected. She worked fast – her second husband was a dead man six days after their marriage – but justice worked, too.

The story revolves around a certain ugly brick building on Germantown avenue, Philadelphia. After the murders, people said the place was haunted. Folks would not live there long after they learned the house’s evil history. Once they heard of the strange things that happened there, occupants began to feel the presence of the ghosts that, superstitious neighbors said, were living there in torment.

Frieda was a servant in that house when she met her first husband, Frederick Hartmann, a baker. She was of the pleasant type, short, sturdy, with flat face, rough-hewn features, and dark, somber eyes. Even then, as a young woman, there was something awing about her.

One never saw her smile, she had a way when she was pleased, of tightening the corners of her mouth – that was all. There was no humor in her eyes. They seemed always to be contemplating dark, sinister things.

She married Hartmann when she was in her late twenties and they opened a little bakery not far from the Germantown avenue house. They had three children, but two of the children died. Frieda predicted they would die. The spirits told her so.

When Edmund Guenkle, bartender, in the saloon on the ground floor of the house on Germantown avenue, came into her life in 1910, some nine years after her marriage, Fried persuaded her husband to buy the saloon and move into the rooms upstairs.

She had insisted that there were evil spirits in their last home. Here, she felt, they would be safer.

Five weeks later Hartmann died in agony. The doctor’s certificate stated the man had died died of congestion of the lungs. The widow was left $5,000 insurance and the bartender.

There was talk among the neighbors. It seemed strange, somehow. It was recalled that the two children had not died very natural deaths. Christian Hartmann, brother of the dead man, echoed these whispers. He knew, perhaps, more about Frieda than any one else and he had reason, he felt, to be suspicious. He had lived in Philadelphia, but had lately moved to New York.

It was strange that Fred hadn’t asked for him. Was she sure Fred hadn’t asked for him?

“He never uttered a word about you,” said the widow, but Christian learned otherwise. He learned that Fred repeatedly begged that his brother be sent for, that there was “something he wanted to tell him.” It looked funny to him, he told Frieda.

“If you say anything about me doing anything wrong to Fritz I’ll have you put in jail,” the woman warned him. “And if your wife says anything I’ll have her put in jail, too. Your brother died of typhoid pneumonia. The certificate says he did.”

This being Christian. He had not been very many years in America. He did not know but what it would be a very simple matter for Frieda to send him and his wife in jail. He went back to New York, and the whispersdied – or slept.

Frieda and Guenkle ran the saloon together, then. The widow had a good time wuth the insurance money while it lasted.he lived lavishly, so much so that, 18 months after Hartmann’s death, she found herself in debt. The saloon was bringing in very little. The curse of a strange death had begun to have an effect on the business.


What was the way out? Obviously, marriage and – widowhood.

Frieda selected William Trost, who was also a banker, a simple good-natured clod of a man five years older than the widow, now 39. Trost had saved several thousand dollars through years of faithful toil in the bakeries of the neighbourhood.

Mrs. Hartmann, at the time, was by no means attractive woman, but Trost, who wasn’t any Romeo himself, was flattered when Frieda found pleasure in his society. He began to feel that it wasn’t too late, after all, for love and a wife and, maybe, children.

Step by step she led the guiless baker along the – to him – strange path of courtship until finally the trap closed and he found himself engaged.

The neighbors were surprised. They had thought Mrs. Hartmann would marry her bartender. She certainly seemed friendly enough with with Guenkle. They did not know that Guenkle already had a loving wife and family.

Before the wedding, the trusting Troth made a will in favor of his prospective bride. Frieda insisted on this. She also persuaded him to take out a life insurance policy. But there were no protests from Trost. He was happy. He bought her an automobile, even. What did he care? He was going to be married.

It was a fine wedding. Everybody had a boisterous time, but many of the guests noticed that Frieda treated her new husband rather unpleasantly. And even Trost felt humiliated when he saw the bride  and Guenkle hugging and kissing as the guests were leaving.

The crowning humiliation though, came later when Frieda ordered Trost to sleep on the third floor while she occupied the second.

Trost decided that was too much. He left the house and spent the night with friends. He wept a little when they asked him what happened. Frieda and Guenkle had tricked him, he told them. All they were after was his money. He saw that now.

The next morning he visited a lawyer. What could he do about it? He had been blind. Blind. He had been dazzled by visions of happiness, dreams of having, after all those lonely years, a loving wife, a home with children, his children.

“There is nothing you can do now,” the lawyer told him. “The best course for you to take is to remain with your wife until you have enough evidence to sue for a divorce. You have no case yet.”

“I’m afraid,” Trost said. “There is something in her eyes when she looks at me. They frighten me.”

Finally he did go back. It was a Sunday; they had been married Thursday. He found Frieda, Guenkle and Frieda’s little daughter, Irene, preparing to take a motor trip. They were going to Atlantic City, the bride informed him. He could come or he could stay at home. Again he stalked off.

The next evening he returned again. He wasn’t going to be made a fool of any longer. Talks with friends had bolstered up his backbone. He would have that Guenkle thrown out of the place.

Frieda, this time, was different. She seemed almost cowed by his rebukes.She was amiable, wifely. He wasn’t to believe there was anything between her and Guenkle. Remember, she had known Guenkle a long while – like a brother.

That night Trost fell sick. Frieda had prepared him something nice to eat and not long afterward he was in bed.

When the doctor came Mrs. Trost whispered to him in the hall. Her husband had been drinking heavily. The doctor noted that Trost gave the appearance from having emerged from a debauch. He gave the solititous wife spome advice and wrote out a prescription.

“We don’t need you any more,” she said as the physician was leaving.

Trost grew steadily worse. He was burning up, he said. He cried continually for water. By Wednesday he was half out of his mind.

“I’ve got to get out of here,” he confided to a servant while Mrs. Trost was out of the room. “A while ago she asked me where my black suit is, the one I was married in. She thinks I am gone already. I must get to a hospital.”

Later he fell out of bed and staggered into the street. Two workmen saw him and carried him, babbling, back into the house. He died that night.

Frieda Trost must have been a supremely self-confident, or supremely stupid woman. Or else she was supremely disdainful of the detective powers of Justice.

Dr. George Holthauser, who examined the body, agreed with the widow that Trost seemed to have died of pneumonia. Still, he thought Coroner Knight ought to be notified.

“No, no! I don’t want to have any trouble,” Frieda protested. What did she mean, trouble? “I don’t want to have the business all tied up by an investigation,” she explained.

When the physician insisted, she ventured to ask if he would write out a certificate for, say, $25. He would not. He notified Coroner Knight. It looked like pneumonia, he reported, but the symptoms of pneumnonis are not unlike the symprtoms of something else – arsenic poisoning.

The autopsy revealed 16 grains of arsenic in Trost’s stomach. Fast upon that, it was learned that Mrs. Trost had purchased 20 grains of the poison at a near-by drug store. She had made the purchase Monday morning, the day Trost fell sick. The day after he died when things looked black for the widow, she had gone to the druggist and asked him to erase the record of the sale!

Frieda and Guenkle were arrested and charged with murder in the first degree. Guenkle asked to be placed as far away as possible from the woman. He said she had been trying to interest him, too, in spirits. Freida took her arrest stoically.

“I am innocent,” she said, calmly. “I did buy poison, but it was to kill cats. My husband knew the poison was in the house.”

Then, with Frieda safely behind bars, Christan Hoffman dared to speak.

“I read in the papers,” he wrote the coroner, that Mr. William Trost died and his wife, Frieda Hartmann Trost, is arrested under suspicion of having poisoned him. Her first husband, Fred Hartmann, died very suddenly.

“At his death there were quite a number of suspicions aroused, but none dared say anything, as his wife said she would have them arrested. Her manager is suspected of having helped Mrs. Trost and from the strange way both of them acted after his death I think that if they were forced to tell us all they know, the cause of the first husband’s death would be very different from what it has been said to be.”

Summoned to Philadelphia, the bother-in-law told his story. He told of the time when Frieda’s second baby was born, Frieda had said that the spirits had told her that the baby would not live a week. And the next day the baby died.

“She was always finding spirits in the houses where she and Fred lived,” said Christian. “Once she even found them in our house. She talked so excitedly that we believed her. We asked her what should we do to drive out the spirits. She said she would give us some medicine.

“We gave her $17 altogether for the medicine and pills she brought. One day my wife saw her throw the label of one of the bottles in the stove. My wife picked up the label later. It was cough medicine! The pills were liver pills! After that we didn’t believe her any more.


“Once Fred got sick. He had convulsions, but he got better that time. Another time he came to us and said that Frieda was carrying on with another man. He said he was going to leave her and take Irene with him. But they must have patched things up, because he stayed.”

Frieda used to say that she couldn’t seem to do anything, spiritually, with Fred, said Christian. “I want his soul,” she kept staying.

Detectives, following up the leads furnished by Hartmann, found that Frieda had bought arsenic several times before. Two of the purchases were made about the time one of the children and Hartmann died.

They learned, too, that Frieda had made a rather significant statement to a neighbor not long before her second marriage.

“There’s a baker with a lot of money I could marry if I wanted to do,” she said, “and I would if I thought he would be dead in a week”

The day before the wedding she had gone to a spiritualist medium and asked about her future. Would her husband live long?

“Your husband will live about three months,” said the medium. She didn’t know Frieda!

The trial lasted four days. Frieda sat, stoical as ever, while Justice piled up the great mass of circumstantial evidence. Her lawyer made an effort to show that Trost had found the arsenic himself and committed suicide, but the commonwealth tore that to pieces. It became a foregone conclusion that the woman would be found guilty. The only question was the degree of murder.

“There is no evidence to show that involuntary manslaughter was possible in this case,” said Judge Audenried in his charge to the jury. “There was no intimation, even by counsel for for the prisoner, that there was passion without intent to kill.”

The jury, after two hours, found Frieda guilty of murder in the first degree. At the verdict her face grew a shade darker, but otherwise, she betrayed no sign of emotion. She was sentenced to he hanged, but subsequently the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Guenkle was eventually released.


Frieda entered prison in 1913 in poor health, but the routine seemed to benefit her. In time she came to be regarded as a model prisoner. Repeated efforts were made to obtain a pardon for her.

In 1918 an attorney appeared before the board of pardons and informed them that the prisoner was entirely reformed. He added that a committee of six King’s Daughters had thought her a rehabilitated person.

“Are six King’s Daughters to be the determining agent for eight or nine million people in Pennsylvania?” asked Lieutenant Governor McClain.

Several years later another attorney, appearing in her behalf, stated that Mrs. Trost had fallen away in health, that she would probably die in prison. “Her crime was one of the most brutal in history,” replied Assistant District Attorney Fox, of Philadelphia. “It would have been better for society in general if she had died on the scaffold.”

In 1924 the eastern penitentiary ceased caring for female prisoners and Frieda was transferred to the Philadelphia county prison. She operated a machine in the clothing shop.

She finally won a parole in the spring of 1938. At the Pennsylvania Industrial Home for Women, where she spent most of her years in prison, she had been voted the “best cook” in the place.

[Peter Levins, “When Justice Triumphed – Frieda Trost Lost 2 Mates, Then Liberty,” The Atlanta Constitution Sunday Magazine (Ga.), Dec. 22, 1940, p. 4]












For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.


For more cases of this type, see: Occult Female Serial Killers


1 comment:

  1. Do you know where she lived after she got out of prison and when she died?