The Nack case involved a sensational murder mystery – featuring a headless body – followed by a sensational trial. Augusta Nack was convicted as accomplice in murder of William Guldensuppe. But there was another part of the Nack story involving homicide. She was a midwife and in additional to accidental deaths due to abortions and the induced miscarriages she was known to have murdered a large number of healthy newborns.
FULL TEXT: New York, Sept. 3. District Attorney Olcott made public yesterday a remarkable statement made by Herman Nack, the husband of Mrs. Augusta Nack, who, with Martin Thorn, is charged with the murder of William Guldensuppe. In the statement Nack says that his wife has been killing infants for a number of years.
Nack states that his wife made a living through illegal operations involving the murder of children. He said that she was a so-called midwife, but that she never had a diploma. At one time, Nack states, there were as many as six dead infants preserved in spirits in bottles in his room in their house. He also states that she murdered from two to three children a year.
Nack also alleges that his wife was assisted in the details by a number of physicians. He also drags in undertakers' names, charging all of them, both physicians and undertakers, with complicity with bis wife. He says they aided her in" making away with the bodies of the children.
Nack further alleges that many of the children were born dead, the result of Mrs. Nack’s illegal business.
The statement of Nack was got from him through the persistent efforts of Assistant District Attorney Mitchell.
[“Mrs. Nack’s Crimes. – Remarkable Statement by the Alleged Murderess’ Husband. – Has Killed A Score of Babes. – Nack Declares that his wife made a living through child murder, charges several physicians and undertakers with aiding her.” Harrisburg Independent (Pa.), Sep. 3, 1897, p. 2]
FULL TEXT: AUGUSTA NACK, a woman of striking appearance, was married to a happy-go-lucky husband, who paid small attention to his marital duties William Guldensuppe, a boarder, took up the family tasks where the husband left off and became Mrs. Nark's lover. Martin Thorn, a typical stage barber, became another member of the household and a rival to Guldensuppe for Mrs. Nack's affections. Thorn and Guldensuppe fought; Guldensuppe beat Thorn, and Thorn aroused Mrs. Nack's jealousy by proving Guldensuppe unfaithful to her.
Together Mrs. Nack and Thorn plotted one of the worst murders. New York ever knew, and this is the story of how a white-breasted duck silently led the steps of Justice to the bringing of Thorn to the electric chair.
JUSTICE had some queer allies in untangling the mystery of the murder of William Guldensuppe. A Pekin duck solemnly led the detectives to the scene of the murder when nobody could find the house. A newspaper reporter, seeking a Turkish bath after a long and fruitless night of toll on the mystery, ran bang into the key to the baffling case in the Murray Hill Baths. A bit of red oilcloth bearing a pretty gold design was traced by the detectives to the Long Island dealer who sold it, and at the end of the chase Martin Thorn paid the death penalty for killing Guldensuppe, while his woman accomplice, turning State's evidence, saved herself with a prison sentence.
SOMEWHERE in this vale of team, if Death has rot halted her weird wanderings, there is the ghostly figure of a woman, sitting about from place to place, strangely attracted now and then to return to the scene of her crime, and ever met by the discovery of her identity, and the condemning jeers of her new neighbors. For years she haunted Ninth Avenue, establishing one and then another business only to find herself under the necessity of leaving it when her mask dropped.
Old German residents of the district came to the family supper table to hear the hausfrau tell how she had seen and recognized Augusta Nack as the proprietor of the new delicatessen, and then the small boy of the family, bolting his food, ran to the streets to tell his waiting companions:
"Hey, fellows, the murder woman is back again."
And the small boy aggregation, following the bent of tireless youth, flocked to the place to taunt and jeer until the weary ghost packed her kit and sought a new haven. And still the part of New York where she had plotted one of the worst crimes of her time held her after her release from, prison as a mighty magnet might compel the dancing of attendance on the part of a bit of steel which clicked poles.
~ The Devil's Bait ~
Augusta Nack was a comely woman of twenty-four, large, handsome and dark, when she married Herman Nack at Lauenburg, on the Elbe River in Germany, Jan. 28, 1883. She had learned the business of standing guard when newly arrived souls entered the world, to facilitate the reproduction of the species by the methods of science. Nack, a year older, had ambition to come to America and engage in business. She earned the money that brought the twain from Hamburg to New York.
She financed him in the sausage business in Tenth Avenue, near Twenty-eighth Street. One night when she came home from business on her own account she found a new boss in the shop. Nack, convivial and careless, had sold out without notice and decamped. When his spree was over, he came back, was forgiven, and staked to another shop in West Sixty-second street.
Nack disappeared again. His wife took a couple or rooms in Ninth Avenue, rear Forty-fourth Street. Her happy-go-lucky spouse became the driver of a bakery wagon. One morning in February of 1896 Mrs. Nack hung a Room to Let sign in her front window.
Answering the ad, William Guldensuppe, big, handsome and forty, a rubber in the Murray Hill Baths in Forty-second Street, became an innate of the little flat. Nack, displeased, threw his wife down stairs. That was before the days of the Eighteenth Amendment and such procedure went in Ninth Avenue. Guldensuppe, at the bottom of the steps, rescued the wife and took her to a room in West Forty-third Street, whence they moved to a fiat at Ninth Avenue. Mrs. Nack continued her business sign in the window and the neighbors came to know Guldensuppe as Mr. Nack.
The dapper barber and his woman said took the Thirty-fourth Street Ferry on June 20 and made their way to Woodside, L. I. There they rented a cottage at 346 Second Street. Mrs. Nack paid $15 for the first month, registering at the office as "Mr. and Mrs. F. Braun."
The selfsame night, before Guldensuppe went to his work, she told him that she intended to start a baby farm on Long Island and had rented a place. She added that she would not take it unless he approved the final decision and insisted that he go the following Friday to see it, in order that he might pass judgment upon its convenience with reference to his own work.
"It's all right; I don't care to see it," said Guldensuppe.
~ Death in a Closet. ~
She insisted. So on Thursday night Guldensuppe told his boss that he would be late Friday night, and might not come in at all that night, as "the old woman wants me to see a place she has taken for a baby farm." He was right. He was not to come in at all Friday night nor any other night thereafter.
Before the tour of inspection started, "Mr. and Mrs. F. Braun” went shopping. They bought s-ix yards of red oilcloth, with a pretty gold figure on it, and two pounds of plaster of paris. Thorn, otherwise 'Mr. F. Braun." took the key to the rear door, "Mrs. F. Braun" the key to the front door, when these purchases had been placed in the Woodside cottage.
Guldensuppe came home at 3 o'clock Friday morning. Mrs. Nack aroused him at 8. They went out to Woodside to see the farm. Guldensuppe sat on the front steps of the house.
"It's a good enough place," he opined. "It will do."
"But you haven't seen the inside yet," said Mrs. Nack, "and you might not like it."
Guldensuppe following the example of most men, reluctantly entered, taking that masculine inspection that resembles nothing so much as a cop investigating a speak-easy where the boss sits easily with the Assembly district leader and the Alderman, and is liberal with the weekly assessments.
He was out in a minute.
"It suits me," he grunted.
"But you did not go upstairs," urged the woman. You haven't looked at the closets. You go and look in every room and closet, or I won't take this place."
Now men who are attached to women without marriage formality are vastly more obedient and hog-tied than the conventional husband, and Guldensuppe obeyed. Mrs. Nack remained in the yard.
The last closet to be opened by Guldensuppe was on the east side of the front bedroom. Inside that closet, crouching and waiting the signal of the turning knob, death awaited. Martin Thorn, pistol cocked and levelled, stood behind the door.
~ River Hides Crime. ~
In a few moments Mrs. Nack heard footsteps coming down the staircase. They were not the heavy steps of the giant Guldensuppe, but the cat-like footfalls of the dapper Thorn.
'"It's done," he said simply to the woman.
"I know I heard," she said, referring to the shots that had come, muffled by the closet, to her waiting ears.
"You go home," continued Thorn, "and come back at 5 o'clock."
She went back to the fiat in Manhattan. There she took the faded old yellow roses from her hat and replaced them with rotes of a bright red the one thing that occurred to her as befitting the event.
When she got back, there were only some packages to be seen. Martin Thorn, the slayer
"You take this one," said Thorn. "It only contains his clothes. I'll take this one –
"It's his head," he added as nonchalantly as though referring to a pound of cheese.
They went by trolley to the Astoria ferry. The head had been weighted by a coating of plaster of Paris. Thorn dropped it from the stern of the ferry into the East River. In the flat, Mrs. Nack burned the packages of clothing in the kitchen stove.
The following morning they returned to the cottage at 11 o'clock. Thorn took another package holding Guldensuppe's legs, boarded the Thirty-fourth Street ferry and dropped them in the river. Then he got a drink at a saloon on the Manhattan side and went back to Woodside by the next boat. He doubled on his trail and came to the flat, and the day after went back for the bundle containing the chest and arms of his victim. This time he chose the Greenpoint ferry to Tenth Street, dropping his parcel in the river. There remained the trunk. Ife went back for it, and now switched to the Astoria ferry, landing at Ninety-second Street, Manhattan. Here he made a cardinal error.
~ A Reporter's Bath. ~
For, instead of dropping the package in the river, he threw it in Ogden Woods, just south of Fordham. The package fell into brushwood at a point where 176th Street cuts through the town. Thorn wrote to the baths saying that Guldensuppe was kept away by illness. He signed Guldensuppe's name to the note. He also forged another will to Mrs. Nack in which Guldensuppe asked that his clothing be given to the bearer. A third note to the agent for Woodside cottage, gave up the place with the explanation that Mrs. Braun's illness made it necessary to five up the home.
On the following Tuesday two small boys, playing about the East Twelfth Street docks in Manhattan, fished a package from the river. They opened it and found the chest and arms. Sunday two other small boys, playing in Ogden's Woods, ran smack onto the lower half of the trunk.
The newspapers on Monday buzzed with the yarn. The names of all the missing persons reported to the police were carried in tabulated form. Curiously, no list held the name of Guldensuppe. The town sizzled for three days over the sensation.
Wednesday morning, a newspaper reporter, worn out from a long night on the mystery, went to the Murray Hill Baths for refreshment. He heard two rubbers talking about a missing comrade. The reporter began asking questions when was he last seen? Where did he live? A great light broke over the reportorial mind.
In fifteen minutes he was dressed, had three rubbers in a cab. and was whizzing for the morgue. They could not tell for certain from the discovered parts, but the legs floated to the surface almost at once, and the three rubbers identified their comrade by the peculiar formation of the toes. They had been accustomed to see him barefoot at the baths and the toes conveyed as much to them as a face might to an ordinary man.
~ Three "Laborers.” ~
One rubber knew that a Mr. Nack came to see Guldensuppe sometimes, and the manager reported that his man had gone away to see a baby farm on Long Island with a woman.
In a single hour the police had Mrs. Nack under arrest. By night a Long Island shopkeeper identified the oilcloth as having been sold by him, and Mrs. Nack as its purchaser. They tried the ultimate of the third degree on the woman, taking her to view the dismembered body at the morgue. She never batted an eye nor faltered a moment.
"I don't believe they are Willie's legs," she said coolly.
The police rounded up Nack, her husband, happily and carelessly driving the bakery wagon.
"I've known far eighteen months that she was living with Guldensuppe, she said, and he added, with a convincing air of sincerity, "What's more, I don't care."
He was too open; they let him go.
But Thorn had not been suspected. He owed his fall to a time-honored institution – the absolute necessity of conversation as an attribute to the barber's trade. From the days of Gil Blas it has been an axiom that the best broadcasting station known to man, barring, perhaps, the sewing circle of a small town church, is a barber shop.
Thorn told the story of the crime to John Gartha, a fellow harbor. Gartha. following the ethics of the trade, told his wife. She told the police. The police frightened Gartha into making a date with Thorn to meet him at Eighth Avenue and 125th Street. Thorn kept the appointment.
For an hour before, three overalled laborers of the elevated line had been loafing on the job around the station. They were Capt. Steve O'Brien and two of his detectives. When Gartha signalled Laborer O'Brien that Thorn had arrived, the three la borers got as busy as a man trying to cross Fifth Avenue at 5 o'clock P M. They pounced on Thorn, led him to a drugstore, and took his pistol.
Meantime, the industrious Mrs. Herman Nark, the husband Nack had scrubbed the Woodside flat after the murder and before her arrest to remove all traces of blood.
Whereupon a plain Pekin duck waddled on the stage as a star detective.
Said duck, owned by the village lamplighter, had found a cooling pool. Thorn had left the water running in the cottage all of Saturday and Sunday, thinking that the sewer would carry it off. There were no sewers in Woodside then and the water formed the pool. And when the lamplighter's duck waddled home for food it bore on its white breast the stains of blood.
They trailed the duck bark to its Paul, and the stream of water led the detectives to the house that had been the scene of the murder and a bloodstained saw and knife were found there
Queens County indicted both Thorn and Mr. Nack. On the third day of Thorn's trial, Mrs. Nack appeared as a witness for the people. The Nack defense was against. Manny Friend, then a famous criminal lawyer, engaged for Mrs. Nack, smilingly remarked:
~ Ninth Avenue's Ghost. ~
"It was merely a case of which squealed first, and we beat them to it.”
One juror got appendicitis on the first trial, a mistrial followed and on the second Thorn's lawyers turned the table by insisting that Mrs. Nack committed the murder; that Thorn found her with the windows when he went to help wash windows and then aided her to conceal the crime by taking the part to the river. The jury could not see the plea and it convicted Thorn, Nov. 30, 1897, in jig time.
He was executed Aug. 1, 1898, at Sing Sing.
As for Mrs. Nack, she pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the first degree – a bargain made for her damning story against Thorn – and she got the usual “twenty years to life” sentence. She passed nine years in prison. Then under the beneficent parole system that shrinks a life sentence as a pair of wool socks shrink under hot water treatment, she was released in July of 1908.
Since that time she has been a flitting, shadowy, ghostly figure, ever seeking peace and repose; ever finding exposure and flight. She started a fancy goods store in Ninth Avenue – harking back to the scene of her crime plot by the mysterious, magnetic lure that always brings them back – and the discovery of her identity drove her from the neighborhood of her old flat. Then came a delicatessen shop in Tenth Avenue, under a different name. Again discovery. Again disappearance.
Which is the reason why the old faith in Ninth Avenue today speak of the ghost that haunts the section of the crime’s conception.
[“Turkish Bath Clew Results In Slayer's Conviction – Barber’s Conviction Betrays Him As Murderer of Rival.” Sunday News (New York, N. Y.), Jan. 27, 1924, p. 21]
For more cases of this category, see: Female Serial Killers of 19th Century America