FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): William Kowal, 38, was lying unconscious on his blood-soaked bed when police arrived at 8 A. M., minutes after the attack in the couple's comfortable two-family house at 69-44 Elizabeth Ave.
Struck repeatedly on the head with a three-pound mason's hammer, Kowal died at noon in Rockaway Beach Hospital. His wife, Irene, alternately dazed and hysterical, could not give a clear account of the tragedy at first.
After hours of questioning, however, she admitted wielding the hammer after a long and bitter argument in which her husband insisted their children should be put out for adoption, according to Assistant District Attorney Bernard Patten.
~ Kids “Preyed on Mind” ~
Kowal had taken her to a psychiatrist Tuesday afternoon, Patten said. It was not the first such visit, relatives of the family told him. but this time the issue in question was whether the youngsters' safety required separation from the emotionally disturbed mother. According to Rockaway Beach cops who investigated, Kowal had told the relatives that “doctors warned him four months ago his wife might become dangerous.”
On the couple s return home, Kowal kept rejecting her pleas to keep the children, Richard, 11, and Barbara, 10, Patten said Mrs. Kowal told him. The argument raged late into the night, but finally they went to sleep.
“At 7:30 A. M. Patten quoted the mother, “I woke up and looked at him, and the kids started preying on my mind. 1 went to the basement and got the hammer.”
Awakened by the noise, the terrified Richard phoned police, and a second call was made by neighbors who heard the children screaming. Mrs. Kowal was taken to the station and booked on a homicide charge. She will be arraigned today in Ridgewood Felony Court. Members of the family gave 'the children temporary shelter.
[Gerald Kessler and Polly Kline, “Kills Mate With Hammer; Feared Losing Her Kids,” Daily News (N. Y.), Jun. 18, 1959, p. B1]
FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): Niagara Falls, April 27 – A widespread hunt for a Brooklyn woman who a sledge hammer and is now suspected of the ax murder today in the maternity ward of Memorial Hospital here.
Blonde, attractive Mrs. Irene Langhaus, 39, who gave birth to a boy Friday, was being held for New York City detectives.
~ Cops Told of Call ~
Police, who called the hunted woman “dangerous” picked up her trail when she telephoned a friend in Brooklyn after her child was born. The friend tipped off detectives.
Hospital authorities moved Mrs. Langhaus into a detention ward under police guard. She was not told that when she is released from the hospital she will be brought back to New York.
Mrs. Langhaus was found 16 days after her second husband, Milton, 36, was found lying in a pool of blood in their apartment at 1281 St. Marks Ave., in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section. He had suffered multiple ax wounds on his head and left arm. He died in St Mary's Hospital, Brooklyn, eight hours later.
~ Insane in Earlier Killing ~
In June, 1959, Mrs. Langhaus heat mat No. 1, William Kowal, 38, to death with a sledge hammer in Rockaway Beach, Queens. She was found insane and sent to Pilgrim Hospital, Brentwood, L.I.
Two years later, the was released on probation and ordered to report to the probation authorities for the next 15 years. She married Langhaus in March, 1963.
Niagara Falls Detective Chief William Wilson said that the checked into a “honeymoon hotel” here eight days ago.
Assistant Manager Owen Muir said she apparently arrived by bus from Buffalo.
[“Find Killer in Maternity Ward,” Daily News (New York, N. Y.), Apr. 28, 1964, p. 2C]
FULL TEXT: (Article 3 of 3): CAROL PURVIS is a small, humorous-eyed Brooklyn blonde who lives in a hidden house behind a hidden garden and sleeps, quite lightheartedly, in a haunted bed.
A man named Milton Langhaus was murdered in that bed with a hatchet. Police say the killer was his wife, Irene. They also say this wasn't Irene's first go at husband-murder. She did her first hubby in with a 10-pound sledgehammer.
Milton Langhaus, who was 36, and Irene, who is 39, occupied a four-room flat on the second floor of 1281 St. Marks Ave., Brooklyn, a gray-shingled little building set back from the street perhaps 100 feet, with a little front garden, which like the house is pretty well concealed by a long brick store that stands in front of both of them. Milton and Irene tenanted the apartment until the unpleasantness with the hatchet on April 11.
In June, the 35-year-old Carol Purvis and her husband, who is a welder, moved into Apartment 5, which is next to the Langhaus apartment, and it was shortly thereafter that they acquired the Langhaus double bed. Mrs. Purvis, her brown eyes flashing with an elfin laughter that could have been designed to mask her true feelings on the matter, told us of the acquisition over coffee in the brick store, which is a luncheonette which used to be run by Irene Langhaus. Irene isn't running it anymore, of course. She is now in Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminal Insane.
“Someone,” remarked Carol, “said I was a reincarnation of Irene. She's small and blonde and so am I. She had a belly, and I have a belly.”
This refreshingly candid statement was a reference to the fact that Carol was eight months pregnant. Irene was almost nine months pregnant at the time she assertedly buried the hatchet in her husband's skull. “When we moved in.” continued Carol, “the landlord asked us if we wanted some furniture he had available and I said all right. I got Irene's wardrobe and the refrigerator and also her double bed. When the landlord offered me the bed, he warned me that a man had been murdered in it. He told me all about it. I said: 'Thanks very much.'“
~ A Frightened Night ~
Carol shrugged. “Just because someone's slaughtered in it, doesn't bother me. My sister said to me: 'How can you sleep in it? You'll be haunted.” Carol's lips curled. “I should be afraid of a bed? That's stupid.”
The aforementioned sister, who asked that her name be withheld, was having lunch with us and she confirmed her terror of the Langhaus bed. “Just the thought of what happened in it scares me,” she said with a shudder.
At this point Carol herself owned up that she, too, was frightened, but only the first night that she and her husband slept in the thing.
“I was sleeping and I woke up and it was blowing with rain and there was thunder and I looked over the bed toward the window and I said. 'Wherefore art thou, Irene?’”Carol rattled that one off with closed eyes and a sepulchral voice like a Shakespearean ham. and her sister smiled wryly and said, “She sure has a sense of humor, doesn't she?”
The humorist got serious. “Right after I woke up, there was a noise downstairs and I thought it was Irene. I slept badly that night. I kept wondering about her. But now it doesn't bother me a bit.”
We said, “What about Irene's wardrobe? Any clothes in it?”
“No,” said Carol, “but when I opened it, out fell the bloody bedspread. I didn't want that. How can you ever sleep under a thing like that?”
The lady who did sleep under it was, to hear the authorities tell it, a curious combination of icy shrewdness in money matters and a seething hatred “for men.” Just when that hatred began was not determined. If it was with her any length of time it must have been well below the surface because Irene did manage to fall in love and marry.
Her first husband was William Kowal, a 38-year-old railroad freight checker. In June of 1959, when the anger in her first burst through to the top, the Kowals lived with their children, Richard, 11, and Barbara, 10, in a comfortable two- family house at 69-44 Elizabeth Ave. in the ocean-front community of Arverne, Queens.
Irene became emotionally disturbed and Kowal took her to several doctors. He confided to relatives that the doctors had warned him the “might become dangerous.”
He decided, for the safety of the children, to give them up for adoption. Irene objected furiously. On June 16 he took her to a psychiatrist who said the only safe course was to get the children away from her. On the way home, Irene begged her husband not to give up the youngsters, but he was adamant. The quarrel continued in the house and late into the night. Presently they went to bed.
“At 7:30 A. M.,” Irene would later recount to Queens Assistant District Attorney Bernard Patten, “I woke up and looked at him. and the kids started preying on my mind. I went to the basement and got the hammer.”
Kowal was still asleep when she returned to the bedroom. She struck him on the head, repeatedly. The sound of murder awakened her son. Terrified, he phoned police.
They came and dispatched the unconscious Kowal to a hospital, where he died. Irene was dazed and hysterical when investigators first talked to her and was unable to give a clear story of the killing, but after several hours she calmed down and made a confession.
She was indicted on a first degree murder charge, but was allowed to plead guilty to second degree manslaughter. That could have meant 10 years in prison. However, she was adjudged insane and committed to Pilgrim State Hospital on Long Island. Her children reportedly wound up with a relative.
As time passed Irene seemed to recover and on Oct. 8, 1961, after two years' hospitalization, she was released, but with the proviso that she report to probation authorities for 15 years.
She married Milton Langhaus and they moved into 1281 St. Marks Ave. and opened Irene’s Luncheonette. The place thrived. It was right across the street from St. Mary’s Hospital and nurses, doctors and other hospital staffers were having coffee or lunch or dinner there from morning till night.
~ Mystery Cab Rides ~
Irene pinched every penny and her savings mounted. Every now and then, though, she would splurge, taking mysterious and expensive cab rides to Greenwich Village in Manhattan. Neighbors said she bought a leopard skin coat, hut it wasn't as luxurious as it looked: actually it was artificial, one woman said.
“Irene was a strange person,” Mrs. Dorothy Donovan. 52, of 1283 St. Marks Ave., told us. “She seldom ever walked she ran. She'd run down the stairs of the house, and she'd run down the long path leading to the street. Funny thing, though. The morning of Milton's murder, when she went away, she didn't run. She walked calm as you please.”
We said: “Police say they quarreled. Any idea why?”
“If her husband talked to a woman, just serving her in the store, Irene would get jealous. She made a lot of trouble for him.
“One day a neighborhood woman dropped into Irene's for coffee and toast. Irene got so mad she ran out of the store and went to see the woman's husband. She said his wife was trying to “make” Milton. And Milton hadn't done a thing wrong, just tried to be friendly. You have to be friendly to run a business.
“That man opened the store at 6 A.M. and closed it at 10 P.M., every day. seven days a week. Sometimes, when Irene didn't feel like working, he'd have to hire someone to help him. He once asked me to come in and help. But I said no. I said I wasn't going to get into any trouble with Irene.”
Mrs. Donovan was interviewed in her front yard, adjoining the garden at No. 1281, and as she spoke her gaze drifted to the house where Irene once had lived. “When she failed to show up at the store.” Mr. Donovan recalled, “you could hear him holler up to her, 'Irene! Irene! Come down!” But she wouldn't come down.”
In addition to their four-room apartment, Mrs. Donovan said, the Langhauses also rented an adjoining three-room flat (the one now occupied by Carol Purvis and her husband).
“They got the extra flat for their old folks. Milton wanted his parents to live there, and hers. But in the end Irene said no. She didn't want her parents around. She said she thought they hated her. She slid everyone hated her. I told her; “People don't hate you. Dene. You just think so.' She was a strange woman, Irene.”
Mrs. Donovan didn't see Irene leave the morning Milton got killed, but a hospital phone operator did. “The operator was on her way to Irene's for coffee and she met Irene on the street and said she wanted coffee and Irene said the coffee wasn't ready yet. The operator said Irene wasn't running, she was walking.”
The coffee would never be served that morning because Milton Langhaus was dying and Irene would never return. Around 7 A.M., Patrolman Robert Lynch of the Atlantic Ave. police station came along and found the luncheonette door unlocked. He looked in. No one around. Sensing something was wrong, he went around to the back, to the house, and went upstairs. When he reached the Langhaus door, he could hear heavy breathing. He got someone to open the door.
Langhaus lay unconscious in a pool of blood on the floor, beside the bloodstained bed. He had evidently rolled off the bed after he was attacked. He had been struck several times on the head with a hatchet or meat cl-aver. A finger of his right hand had been sliced off. He was carried to the hospital where, in spite of an eight-hour battle by doctors to save him, he died.
~ Murder Hatchet ~
Detectives of the 77th Squad searched the apartment and found the murder weapon, a carpenter's hatchet, under a china closet. When they learned about Irene's disappearance they immediately assumed she was the killer.
They deduced that Langhaus must have been lying with his right hand close to his head when the hatchet swung down. Evidently the hatchet had cleaved his finger before entering his skull. And they were reasonably certain he was attacked as he slept. He was bigger and stronger than his 5-foot-4, DO-pound wife. They believed he would have fended her off if he had been awake.
Police obtained a detailed description of Irene and broadcast it by teletype and radio. Their alarm played up two points, that Irene was in an advanced state of pregnancy and that she was wearing her leopard skin coat. Even if she ditched the liberally spotted coat, they figured, she'd be pretty conspicuous. She ought to be nailed any day.
This estimate of the situation proved over-optimistic. Radio and foot police all over stared hard-eyed at every pregnant woman they saw, but none of them completely answered the description.
Meantime, detectives, asking questions here and there, learned of Irene's penchant for jumping into taxis and riding to Manhattan. They checked cab ranks serving St. Mary's Hospital and found out Irene generally went to Greenwich Village, and occasionally to the neighborhood of 42d St. and Eighth Ave. in the Times Square district. They wore out shoe leather canvassing hotels and rooming houses but, spots and all, the little mother-to-be remained beyond reach.
Stakeouts at the homes of relatives and friends yielded nothing. The cops didn't know it at the time, but the fugitive didn't have to go to friends or relatives for help. She was carrying all the help she wanted, a carefully saved nestegg of $4.600. A neighbor to whom we talked recalled that Irene's coat had capacious pockets and very likely the cash was stashed in them.
~ A Concerned Phone Call ~
The womanhunt was getting nowhere when, a fortnight after the murder, a Brooklyn court attendant got a phone call. The caller was Irene. She was facing a hearing as to her competence and for some reason or other this matter bothered her, trivial as it was compared with the murder rap the police wanted to pin on her. She said she wanted the court to grant her an adjournment as she wasn't home but in Niagara Falls.
The quick-thinking court attendant told her to hold the line. He notified police who told him to keep stalling her on the phone. Meantime, they called on cops in Niagara Falls. It was quickly established that Irene hadn't gone to Niagara on a new honeymoon. She had gone there to give birth to a bouncing baby boy at Memorial Hospital. When police arrested her there, they found that the frugal Irene had managed to bank nearly-all her cash except the money required to pay for her delivery and hospitalization.
Brooklyn Detectives Harold Surbrug of the 77th Squad and John Dornev of Homicide flew up to Niagara Falls to take Irene back. They found her “wild-eyed and tense” but in sufficient possession of her faculties to deny the murder.
Back in Brooklyn she kept denying it. “When I left the house,” she insisted, “my husband was alive.” In other words, someone else had knocked Milton off after she'd gone.
However, at her arraignment before Criminal Court Judge Aaron Goldstein, it seemed, for a few seconds, anyway, that she was changing her story and confessing. “I hit him but I didn't mean to kill him,” she said. “I was in a state of shock.”
“Whom do you mean?” asked the judge.
“I mean the first one,” replied Irene. That would be William Kowal, dead five years.
The court appointed a defense lawyer whom Irene promptly proceeded to ignore. She asked for an adjournment and, apparently unaware of the gravity of the charge against her, demanded that the be released in bail.
“I have no recourse.” Judge Goldstein quietly told her, “but to commit you for observation.”
She was sent to a hospital for psychiatric tests. Meantime, her new son was taken to the home of a relative.
~ Certified insane ~
Irene was certified as insane. That meant she was deemed, from a legal standpoint, unable to understand the nature of the charges against her and to undertake a defense at a trial. She was transferred to Matteawan.
Acting District Attorney Aaron Koota of Kings County said an indictment may be sought so that if ever she is declared to be recovered, she could be brought to trial.
The DA's office may have a long, long wait. Aaron Koota discusses Brooklyn oddity Irene Langhaus case.
[Kermit Jaediker, “The Murder Bed of Irene Langhaus: Woman in a hurry left two husbands dead and her neighbors in Brooklyn some odd memories.” Sunday News (New York, N. Y.), Oct. 4, 1964]
Jun. 18, 1959 – Irene murders William Kowal (38), first husband; Rockaway, Queens, N. Y.
Jun. 1959 – Irene (34) indicted for first degree murder.
1959 – Plea deal accepted: second degree manslaughter.
1959 – Found insane; Pilgrim State Hospital, Brentwood, Long Island.
Oct. 8, 1961 – Considered “recovered,” Irene released with 15 year probation.
Mar. 1963 – Irene marries Milton Langhaus.
Apr. 11, 1964 – 1964 – Irene (39), almost nine months pregnant, Milton Langhaus (44), second husband.
Apr. 23, 1964 – Irene gives birth to a boy in Memorial Hospital, Niagara Falls.
Apr. 27, 1964 – Irene arrested at Niagara Falls.
1964 – Irene is certified insane; sent to Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.
[187-1/3/21; 251-3/4/22; 2391-7/16/22]