Ottilie "Tillie" Klimek (or Tillie Gburek)
(1876–1935) was a Polish American serial killer, active in Chicago.
According to legend, she pretended to have precognitive dreams,
accurately predicting the dates of death of her victims, when in
reality she was merely scheduling their deaths. Actually, while
contemporary accounts tell her her cheerfully telling her husbands
(and neighbors) that they were going to die, there is no record of her
claiming to be a "psychic."
Born Otillie Gburek in Poland, and coming to the
United States as an infant with her parents, Tillie married her
original husband John Mitkiewicz, c. 1890. In 1914, he died after a
short illness. The death certificate listed the cause of death as
heart trouble, and she quickly remarried one Joseph Ruskowski, who
lived nearby. He, too, died in short order, as did a boyfriend who had
The crime for which was was eventually tried was
the murder of Frank Kupzsyk, her third husband. He had taken ill in
their apartment at 924 N. Winchester, where Tillie had previous lived
with a boyfriend under the name of Meyers and she began to tell
neighbors that Frank "would not live long.". She would mock Frank
himself, greeting him in the morning by saying "It won't be long now,"
and "You'll be dying soon," and joking with neighbors that he had "two
inches to live." She even knitted her own mourning hat as she sat at
his bedside (which she later wore to the trial), and asked for the
landlady's permission to store a bargain coffin she'd found for sale
in the basement. This may have been what sparked the legends of her
claiming to "predict" deaths.
In 1921, after Frank's death, she married on Joseph
Klimek and lived with him 1453 Tell PLace (now 1453 Thomas Street).
When he became ill, doctors suspected arsenic poisoning, and tests
confirmed it. Tillie was arrested. It was later said that she told the
arresting officer that "The next one I want to cook a dinner for is
Bodies of her other husbands were soon exhumed and
found to contain lethal doses of arsenic, though the soil around them
was clean. Police also arrested her cousin, Nellie. Tillie had told
the police that she had told Nellie she was tired of her husband
Frank, Nellie suggested divorce. Tillie said that "I will get rid of
him some other way," and claimed that Nellie had given her a "goodly
portion" of a poison called "Rough on Rats."
After her arrest, it came to light that several
relatives and neighbors of the two women had died. Two neighbors
Tillie had quarreled with became gravely ill after being candy by her.
A dog that annoyed Tillie in her Winchester Street house had died of
arsenic poisoning. Several of Tillie and Nellie's cousins and
relatives were found to have become gravely ill shortly after eating
at Tillie's house. In all, the list stretched two twenty suspected
victims, fourteen of whom had died. The papers began to speak of
Tillie not as a solo murderer, but as the "high priestess" of a
"Bluebeard clique" in Chicago's Little Poland neighborhood. Other
wives in the neighborhood were arrested and released. Joseph Klimek
would survive, though he was still in the hospital more than three
months later. It was found that she had taken out life insurance
policies on her husbands from which she profited greatly.
In March of 1923, Tillie was found guilty of the
murder of Frank Kupzsyk, her third known husband. Reporters noted
that, unlike most of the husband-killers who had been acquitted in
Chicago courts, Tillie was not beautiful or charming, but a "squat"
woman who spoke only broken English, despite having lived in the
country since infancy. She was sentenced to life in prison, the
harshest sentence that had even been leveled against a woman in Cook
Nellie was later acquitted after spending a year in
prison during her drawn-out trial. Tillie often teased her in prison,
once convincing her that she was about to be taken out and hanged.
Tillie died in prison on November 20, 1936.
By Joseph Geringer - Trutv.com
Chicago has always claimed a large Polish population, and in the
first quarter of the 20th Century most of them lived in the Near North
Side. The people, mostly a God-fearing, law-abiding nationality would
like to forget one of their own, however. Her name was Ottilie
They called Tillie a psychic, her neighbors did. She had an uncanny
talent of foreseeing the future. Better put, she was able to discern —
she said it came to her in dreams — almost the exact dates of death
for all her five husbands as well as certain neighbors on her block.
She was never wrong. Well, only once.
Her bad habits began rather late for the average Black Widow, at
age 49, the age when most of them cease their activities. The year was
1919 when she predicted the death of John Mitkiewicz, her husband of
twenty-nine years. As she told a friend, she dreamed of finding his
corpse on a certain day a few weeks ahead. Sure enough, her spouse
fell ill on the named morning and died that night. The acquaintance to
whom she had confided her portent was awed, especially to see with
what alacrity Tillie flew to the insurance company for the check.
Tillie liked men and she didn't remain in grief long. Before two
months were up, she married laborer John Ruskowski. Too sadly,
Ruskowski swiftly became the subject of another of Tillie's nighttime
reveries. That is what she told neighbors on her block. Those who
laughed at the biddy's forewarning alarmed when husband number two did
indeed keel over on the figured date.
Frank Kupszcyk came next, shortly thereafter — to the altar for his
marriage and back to the altar in his coffin six months later. Like
Mitkiewicz and Ruskowski, Kupszcyk had been a man of means; his bride
had seen to that. And she had also seen to it that his life insurance
policy entitled her to sole beneficiary benefits before she peppered
his vegetable soup with arsenic.
Within a year, Tillie had taken the vows again, to Joseph
Guszkowski, and then attended his funeral, feigning incredulity at her
ill luck and cursing her ominous dreams for all to hear.
Tillie had been verbal about his death, too, in advance. It is
believed she even told the victim, Guszkowski, who laughed at her.
Now, with her third foretelling proven correct, the seer had gained a
local notoriety. "One wonders how Gburek was able to
attract...husbands given her chilling reputation," muse Michael D. and
C.L. Kelleher in Murder Most Rare. Those who knew her began to
avoid her when they saw her nearing on the sidewalk; they did not want
to hear about their own death.
Old World superstition maybe, but they had good cause to recoil. It
was common knowledge that she had had a vision of a terrible plague
striking a particular family on the block, the offshoot being that
within weeks that family's three children died agonizing deaths. (What
the rumor didn't relay was that Tillie and that family had had a
heated argument days before the prediction.)
The Klimek family grew worried when its son and brother, Anton,
decided to chuck practicality and marry Tillie in 1921. "She iz a goot
vooman," he shouted back at more logical folks, "and I'm a healsy man
zat intents to ztay healsy!" The healthy man and the new Mrs. Klimek
co-signed a last will and testament, leaving all their possessions to
each other. And the healthy man turned feeble overnight.
When he was near the point of death, his family did what Tillie
wasn't doing. They rushed him to a hospital in the nick of time. He
lived, but an examination showed that he had ingested poison by the
tablespoons. The hospital notified the police department.
Faced with the possibility of having her former husbands' remains
unearthed, and thus being charged with three murders, Tillie confessed
to poisoning Klimek.
An actress to the last, she stood up in the Cook County Courthouse
as if in a trance, chanting that the netherworld defied the mortals to
send her to death. She would not be executed for her crimes,
she oathed. But, it was the law's turn now to be prophetic. It
promised to keep her in prison for the remainder of her life.
The prophecy came true.
Tillie's Alleged Victims:
1. Jospeh Mitkiewicz, first husband (arsenic found
in body, had $1000 insurance policy, died 1914). Lived on Lubeck St
(now Dickens Ave).
2. Joseph Ruskowski, second husband. (arsenic
found; left about 2k in cash/insurance, died 1914).
3. Frank Kupszyk, third husband (arsenic found -
this is the murder for which she was convicted). Died 1921, had 1k in
4. Joseph Grantkowski, ex boyfriend, died in 1914
after "jilting" her.
5. Mrs. Rose Chudzinski, cousin. Died 1919 after
attedning Tillie and Frank's wedding party.
6. Helen Zakrzewski, cousin. Died 1915, age 15.
7. Stanley Zakzewski, cousin. Died 1912, age 16.
8. Stelle Zakrzewski, cousin, died 1913 at 23.
(Tillie tended to the above three when they were
9. "Meyers," a husband or sweetheart (missing as of
10. Wojek Strummer, first husband of Nellie Koulik,
died 1918, arsenic found (Nellie was a cousin of Tillie who was tried
along with her).
11. Dorothy Spera, granddaughter of Mrs. Koulik.
Died age 2.
12. Sophie Sturmer - daughter of Mrs. Koulik, died
13. Ben Sturmer - twin brother of Sophie, died a
month after his sister.
14. Joseph Klimek - husband of Tillie, poisoned but
15. John Sturmer - son of Mrs. Koulic. Recovered
when sick after father died in 1918, thought his mother poisoned him.
16. Mrs. Rose Splitt - says Tillie gave her poison
candy after Joseph Klimek talked to her.
17. Miss Stelle Grantowski, sister of former
boyfriend of Tillie. Got sick after eating candy given to her by
Tillie after a fight.
18. Nick Micko, cousin, got sick of arsenic but
19. Mrs. Bessie Kupcyzk, sister in law of Frank K.
Ill after eating at Tillie's; recovered.
20. Miss Lillian Sturmer, 15, daughter of Mrs.
Koulik. Lived at Mrs. Klimek's home for a year at age 13; deathly sick
from the food and still suffered heart trouble.
(source: Chicago Tribune, March 14, 1923)
Wholesale Killer of Husbands & Cousins : Tillie
Klimek - 1923
Chicago —Dragged back to life from the very edge of the grave, Joseph
Klimek may prove the nemesis that will send his wife, Tillie to the
gallows—and, with her, her cousin, Mrs. Nellie Stunner Koulik.
Klimek is expected to be the state’s star witness in the trial here
February 27 of the two women, charged by police as being the
“Bluebeard” poisoners of twenty persons. Both are held under
indictments of first degree murder.
The aged man who may turn their nemesis is Mrs. Klimek’s fourth
husband. Mrs. Koulik has had two husbands and is mother of thirteen
Assistant State’s Attorney “W. F. MacLaughlin says the trial jury wilt
be asked to impose death penalties, which, if granted, will break an
established precedent—for no woman ever has been executed in Illinois.
In a local hospital, Klimek is slowly recovering use of his legs.
“Crippled by Arsenic”
Physicians say he was, paralyzed by the secret “introduction of
arsenic into his food over a prolonged period.”
As days pass he nurses his hatred against the woman who he says
plotted his life and vows he will make her pay.
“She made me get more insurance,” he mutters. “I did not suspect,
though the soup and things did taste queer. Then I got sick.”
Detectives, dipping deep into the sinister pool swirling past the
heads of the two women, have exhumed the bodies of twelve whose
deaths are laid at the door of the indicted pair.
In each body coroner’s’ chemists’ say they found enough arsenic to
kill a dozen.
What State Charges
Attorney McLaughlin promises trial testimony will show —
That while one of Mrs. Klimek’s husbands lay dying, Mrn. Klimek often
remarked she believed he would not live long.
That a few days before the husband did die, Mrs. Klimek secured a
coffin for “a bargain” for $30.
That after his death she played dance music on a phonograph in the
room whore the body lay.
Tracing Mrs. Klimek’s nuptial ventures, it has been found that in
January, 1914, Joseph Mitkiewicz, the woman’s first husband,
died. Within a few weeks after Mitkiewic’s death, Mrs. Klimek married
John Huszkakski. In May he died.
Within a few months also came the end of John Guszkowski, a
Mrs. Koulik, the other woman, is specifically held on charge of having
poisoned her husband, John Sturmer. Arsenic was found in his stomach,
H»was Mrs. Koulik, police say, who gave the poison to Sirs. Klimek n«
an easy way to make money “at poison parties” where death was always
the invited guest.
In a whirligig of vehement syllables, now in English, now in Polish,
now beseeching, again, profanely vindictive, both women deny their
“They are going to the rope,” the prosecution says.
“I’ll help send them there.” The “spared” fourth husband of Mrs.
“We’re going to be freed,” the women say.
But a jury is yet to have the final word.
Alleged Poison Plot Victims
Here is a list of. victims of the alleged poison plot involving Mrs.
Tillie Klimek and her cousin, Mrs. Nellie Stunner Koulik. It will be
offered as evidence.
~ Joseph Mitkiewicz. First husband of Mrs. Klimek. One thousand
~ John Ruszkakski. Mrs. Klimick’s second husband. Left $1,200 cash and
~ Frank Kupczyk. Mrs. Klimek’s third husband. Left $1000 insurance.
~ John Guszkowaki. Former sweetheart of Mrs. Klimek, who jilted her.
~ Mrs. Rose Chudzinski, cousin of Mrs. Klimek.
~ Miss Helen Zakrsewski, cousin of Mrs. Klimek. Died at age of
~ Stanley Zakrewski. Mrs. Klimek’s cousin. Died at aye of 16.
~ Stella Zakrewski, cousin of Mrs. Klimek.
~ “Meyers,” a husband, or sweetheart of Mrs. Klimek, concerning whom
little is known. Missing.
~ Wojcik Sturmer, first husband of Mrs. Koulik.
~ Dorothy Spera, granddaughter . of Mrs. Koulik. Died at age of 2.
Sophie Sturmer. daughter of Mrs. Koulik.
~ Benjamin Stunner, son of Mrs. Koulik and twin brother of Sophie, who
died one month after his sister.
The following are alleged to have been poisoned but did not die
~ John Sturmer, son of Mrs. Koulik. Taken ill but recovered. Is aiding
state to prosecute his mother.
~ Mrs. Rose Splitt. Says she was poisoned by candy given to her by
Mrs. Klimek because of jealousy.
~ Miss Stella Guszkowski, sister of John Guszkowski, sweetheart, of
Mrs. Klimek. Given candy by Mrs. Klimek and became ill.
~ Nick Micke, son-in-law of Mrs. Kuizlowski, sister of Mrs. Koulik,
and cousin of Mrs. Klimek. whose; life was insured by Mrs. Koxlowski.
Found wandering about streets . stricken with partial paralysis which,
physicians say, was caused by arsenic.
~ Mrs. Bessie Kupczyk, sister-in-law of Frank Kupczyk, former husband
of Mrs. Klimek. Told state’s attorneys sin- was taken ill after eating
at Mrs. Klimek’s home.
~ Miss Lillian Sturmer. 15-year-old daughter of Mrs. Koulik by first
marriage. Lived at Mrs. Koulik’s home for one year when 13 years old.
Made deathly sick by food. Now suffering from heart trouble.
[Roy Gibbons, “Husband Seeks to Send Wife To Gallows in “Bluebeard”
Murders,” syndicated (ULU), Joplin News Herald (Mo.), Feb. 26, 1923,