Thursday, April 13, 2023

John Schmidt, aka Johann Otto Hoch thought to have killed over 50 women.

Johann Otto Hoch (aka The Bluebeard Murderer and Chicago Bluebeard) (1855-1906) is the most famous and last-used alias of a German-born murderer and bigamist, John Schmidt. He was found guilty of the murder of one wife but is thought to have killed more, perhaps up to 50 victims. He was hanged in Chicago on February 23, 1906, for one murder. 
Picture of John Schmidt, aka Johann Otto Hoch, (left front) and four unidentified men in a room in Chicago, Illinois. Hoch was accused of bigamy with 11 to 23 wives and was suspected of murdering six or more of his wives. He was convicted of killing his wife, Marie Walcker, by slow poison and was hanged in 1906.

Hoch was born John Schmidt in 1855, at Horrweiler, in the Grand Duchy of Hesse (present-day Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany). He emigrated to the United States in the 1890s and dropped his surname in favor of assorted pseudonyms, where he began to marry a string of women, frequently taking the name of his most recent victim. Hoch used matrimonial ads to find victims. He would swindle all their money and either leave them or kill them with arsenic, then begin his pattern all over again.

Chicago police would dub him "America's greatest mass murderer," but statistics remain vague in this puzzling case. We know that Hoch bigamously married at least 55 women between 1890 and 1905, bilking all of them for cash and slaying many, but the final number of murder victims is a matter of conjecture.

Sensational reports credit Hoch with 25 to 50 murders, but police were only sure of 15, and in the end, he went to trial (and to the gallows) for a single homicide. Hoch's first and only legal wife was Christine Ramb, who bore him three children before he deserted her in 1887.

One of his last wives was a Chicago woman who ran a candy shop near Halsted and Willow. He had slipped her some arsenic shortly after the wedding, thrown a big pity party for himself while she lay in agony, and then proposed to her sister while the coffin was still in the room. Hoch married the sister a day or two later, then took her money and ran.

Hoch was executed in Chicago on February 23, 1906. After his execution, several cemeteries refused him burial (see below),


1881, Austria – marries Annie Hoch

1883, New York – Hoch arrives with his wife Annie, an invalid who dies several years later

1888, New York – After arriving from Württemberg, Germany, Hoch is said to have married an immigrant servant girl who "died" before two months passing {alleged}. During his 1905 New York arrest, it was also alleged Hoch had married and either left or killed women in Vienna, Austria, London, England, and Paris, France.

1892 Chicago – Mrs. Hoyle Hoch died

1892, Chicago – May: Hoch, under the name C.A. Meyer, rents a flat and has a new wife (wife reportedly died after three weeks)

1892, Chicago – June: Hoch, under the name H. Irick rents a flat and has a new wife (wife reportedly died a month later)

1893, Milwaukee – Hoch, under the name "Dr. James," marries Lena Schmitz-who died 

1893 Milwaukee – Hoch marries Lena Schmitz's sister Clara who also died.

1894 Chicago – Under a new alias, Hoch rents a flat with a new wife (wife reportedly died after two months)

1895 Chicago – arrested under the alias "C.A. Calford" and charged by Mrs. Janet Spencer with having eloped; married and deserted her with a few hundred dollars of her money; he is identified as an abductor of a Hulda Stevens and a participant in a diamond robbery

1895 April – Under the name Jacob Huff, Hoch marries Karoline/Caroline (Miller) Hoch, widow, Wheeling, WV. She died on June 15, 1895. He faked his death, took her surname Hoch and went to Chicago.

1895 July 5 – Arrives in Chicago

1895, July 15 – Buys a saloon in Chicago

1895, August 5  – aka Jacob Hoch, he marries Mrs. Maria Steimbucher of Chicago-she died four months later; Hoch sold the property for $4,000. Before dying, she declares that she has been poisoned, but no notice is taken of her statement.

1895 November – Hoch marries Mary Rankin of Chicago; Hoch disappears with her money the next day. {It is also alleged that about 1895, Hoch, aka Schmidt, went back to Germany but fled from a warrant charging that he was not only bankrupt but also owed 3,000 Marks}

1896 April – Hoch, aka "Jacob Erdorf," marries Maria Hartzfield of Chicago; Hoch disappeared with $600 of her money after four months.

1896 September 22 – Hoch, aka "Schmitt," marries widow Barbara Brossett of San Francisco. "Schmitt" disappeared 2 days later with $1,465 of her money; she is so affected by the losses she dies afterward.

1896 – Hoch proposes to landlady Mrs. H. Tannert of San Francisco, who refuses him.

1896 November  Hoch marries Clara Bartel of Cincinnati, Ohio; she dies three months later.

1896 – A Mrs. Henry Bartel dies in Baltimore {Bartel being a Hoch alias. It is also alleged that Hoch married two other times in Baltimore: a Mrs. Nannie Klenke-Schultz; Mrs. Henrietts Brooks-Schultz; an unnamed Boston woman married to a "Louis/Charles Bartels" came to Baltimore and seized his furniture}

1897 January – Marries Julia Dose of Hamilton, Ohio. In Cincinnati, Hoch disappears the same day with $700 of her money.

1897 July 20 – Hoch, aka "Henry F. Hartman," marries in Cincinnati.

1897 December 6 – Hoch marries a woman in Williamsburg, New York, and disappears with $200 {alleged}

1898 January 16 – Hoch, aka "William Frederick Bessing" marries Mrs. Winnie Westphal in Jersey City-Hoch disappears with $900.00 

1898 Buffalo, New York – a Mrs. Wilhelmina Hoch died {alleged}

1898 March – Chicago Hoch appears, aka "Martiz Dotz," with a wife who died June 1898.

1898 June – Hoch, aka Adolf Hoch, aka Martin Dose, arrested in Chicago for selling already mortgaged furniture; gets one year in jail.

1899 Milwaukee – Hoch marries an unnamed sister of Mrs. J.H. Schwartz-Marue; the bride dies, and Hoch disappears with $1,200

1899 Norfolk, Virginia – A different Mrs. Hoch died suddenly

1900 – Claimed to married a Mary Hendrickson

1900 – Allegedly, Hoch, aka "Albert Buschberg," married Mary Schultz of Argos, Indiana. Schultz, her 15-year-old daughter Nettie and $2,000 "disappeared."

1900 – A "Jacob Hoch" married Anna Scheffries of Chicago 

1900, December 12 – Hoch, aka "John Healy," marries Amelia Hohn of Chicago; deserts her after getting $100.

1901, January – Hoch, aka "Carl Schmidt," marries in Columbus, Ohio; after two weeks, he deserts her along with $400.

1901 – Hoch marries Mrs. Loughken-Hoch in San Francisco; she dies "suddenly."

1901, November –  Hoch marries Anna Goehrke; he deserts her.

1902, April 8 – marries Mrs. Mary Becker of St. Louis; she died in 1903

1902 May – Hoch, aka "Count Otto van Kern," marries Mrs. Hulda Nagel; husband persuades wife to convert real estate into cash; while the wife is shopping, her trunk containing $3,000 is robbed on contents and "Kern" deserts wife.

1903 June 18 – Hoch, aka "Dr. G.L.Hart," flees after trying to poison Mabel Leichmann-a bride of three days; Hoch flees with $300 worth of diamonds and $200 of her money 

1903 Dayton, Ohio – Hoch marries Mrs. Annie Dodd {deserts her}

1903 Dayton, Ohio – Hoch marries Mrs. Regina Miller Curtis (deserts her)

1903 Milwaukee – Hoch courts Ida Zazuil but leaves her after a quarrel

1903 December – Hoch uses marriage license for Zazuil's engagement and marries Mrs. T.O'Conner of Milwaukee-deserts her and absconds with $200 of her money

1904 January 2 –  aka "John Jacob Adolf Schmidt" marries Mrs. Anna Hendrickson of Chicago in Hammond, Indiana, and disappears January 20 with $500 of her money.

1904 June – Hoch marries Lena Hoch of Milwaukee; she dies three weeks later, leaving Hoch $1,500.

1904 October 8  Hoch alias "Leo Prager" marries Bertha Dolder of Chicago. He disappears after buying $1,200 worth of rugs from the $3,500 she gives him for a furniture store.

1904 October 20 – Hoch alias "John Schmidt" marries Caroline Streicher of Philadelphia. He disappeared on October 31, 1904.

1904 November 9 – Hoch appears in Chicago.

1904 November 16 – Hoch alias "Joseph Hoch" leases a cottage in Chicago from a bank from November 16, 1904, to January 1, 1905; buys furniture for $120.

1904 December 10 – Marries Marie Walcker of Chicago-who sells her candy store for $75.00 and gives Hoch her life savings of $350.

1904 December 20 – Marie Walcker becomes ill.

1905 January 12 – Marie Walcker-Hoch dies.

1905 January 15 – Hoch marries Marie's sister Mrs. Fischer in Joliet, Illinois, who gives Hoch $750. Hoch leaves after Mrs. Fischer's sister denounces Hoch as a murderer and swindler. Note: Hoch married Fischer under the alias of John "Hock," he is also alleged to have married, swindled, and deserted Anna Frederickson on January 23,1905. John Hock is believed by the police to have murdered ten women and been illegally married many times. 

Hock, accused by Mrs. Emelle Fisher Hock of poisoning her sister two days before marrying herself, was the janitor of the old "Holmes Castle" where so many women were murdered. He had profited by the training of his employer, H.H. Holmes, who was hanged in Philadelphia on May 7, 1896, convicted and sentenced to death for only one murder, that of accomplice and business partner Benjamin Pitezel.

"I believe it possible that this man Hock was the janitor of the 'Holmes Castle,'" said  Lieutenant Storen. "He answers the description of the janitor who disappeared after testifying on behalf of Holmes."

1905 January 30 – Hoch alias "Harry Bartells" proposes to his landlady Mrs. Catherine Kimmerle of New York City; she refuses, and Hoch is arrested; Hoch claims the alias of "John Joseph Adolf Hoch."

1905 February 1 – Two indictments returned against Hoch for bigamy, alleged number of wives to be twenty-nine.

1905 February 5 – Five more alleged wives of Hoch identify him

1905 May 19 – Hoch was tried and found guilty of the murder of Marie Walcker, sentenced to death June 23, 1905.

1905 June 23 – Cora Wilson of Chicago advances money so Hoch can appeal the sentence to Illinois Supreme Court, which sustains the lower court and sets the execution date for August 25, 1905.

1905 August 25 – Hoch execution was put off until the October session of the Illinois Supreme Court.

1905 December 16 – Illinois Supreme Court refuses to intervene.

While awaiting execution, Hoch actually received several proposals for marriage. Fortunately, the inexorable processes of the law saved the authors from their own folly. 
Picture of John Schmidt, aka Johann Otto Hoch, at the defendant's table of his murder trial.
1906 February 23 – Hoch is executed in Chicago.

Chicago Tribune, Saturday, February 24, 1906.
Johann Hich died on the gallows yesterday. The sentence of the court that he should be hanged between 10 and 2 o'clock was carried out shortly before the latter hour. Stoically he stepped on the drop, made a last declaration of his innocence, and his life was given in legal atonement for the murder of Maria Walcker Hoch, one of the many wives whom he was accused of poisoning.

After his execution, several cemeteries refused him burial, so Hoch was taken to the Cook County Insane Asylum at Dunning in Chicago. 

Originally, it was simply known as "Dunning," the family name of the original owners of the town located within Jefferson Township. Future names included the Cook County Farm was established in 1851 and opened in 1854 to care for the poor working on the farm. The Cook County Insane Asylum opened in 1869, the Infirmary in 1882, and the Consumptive Hospital (Tuberculosis) opened in 1899. Although "Dunning" officially closed on June 30, 1912, it reopened the next day as Chicago State Hospital and changed its name to the Charles F. Read Zone Center. In 1970, the Chicago-Read Mental Health Center was established, incorporating the old hospitals.

The unclaimed bodies from the City Cemetery's potter's field were reportedly exhumed and moved to the County Farm beginning in September 1854. The County Farm, also known as the County Poor Farm, located in the township of Jefferson (today's Jefferson Park annexed by Chicago), has a confusing history of its own. The dead buried within these grounds include those who died in the county's "Insane Asylum," 117 unclaimed victims of the Chicago Fire, and others, including "inmates" who lived within the grounds during its various functions. The 
Cook County Cemetery at Dunning became the official cemetery serving the poor and indigent of Cook County, Illinois, from 1854 to well into the 1920s. 

And then... it was forgotten. Hidden behind the fences surrounding the Dunning institution, the cemetery, without markers or headstones, was out of sight and out of mind until March of 1989 when builders attempted to recycle the land into houses and condos.

Johann Otto Hoch's body was moved to Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois, in March 1989 when builders attempted to develop the land. Hoch's body was one of the many bodies that were exhumed and moved to Elmwood Cemetery. 

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. Do you have any more information about his body being moved to Elmwood Cemetery? Why would they have done that and when?

    1. Johann Otto Hoch's body was moved to Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois, in March 1989 when builders attempted to develop the land. Hoch's body was one of the many bodies that were exhumed and moved to Elmwood Cemetery.


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