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Dr. Alice Lindsay WYNEKOOP

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: "Exaggerated maternal feeling" - To collect insurance money
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: November 21, 1933
Date of arrest: 2 days after
Date of birth: 1870
Victim profile: Rheta Gardner Wynekoop (her daughter-in-law)
Method of murder: Chloroformed and shot to death
Location: Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Status: Sentenced to 25 years in prison on March 19, 1934. She served just 14. She survived until 1955, dying at age 84
 
 

 
 
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Justice Story: Dr. Alice Wynekoop kills her daughter-in-law, Rheta, in Chicago mansion

Oddly affectionate doctor had taken out two life insurance policies on son's wife just weeks before the murder

By David J. Krajicek - New York Daily News

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Chicago undertaker summoned to a physician’s office took one look at a corpse on an exam table and diagnosed what should have been clear to the doctor.

“This is murder,” he said. He picked up the phone and dialed police.

It was the curtain-raising scene on Nov. 21, 1933, to one of the strangest cases from the American true crime canon.

The dead woman was Rheta Gardner Wynekoop, 22, who had left her family in Indianapolis at age 18 to marry Earle Wynekoop, scion of a Chicago medical family.

Earle’s father, Dr. Frank Wynekoop, had died in 1929.

His mother, Alice, a graduate of the Northwestern University Women’s Medical School, was a pioneering female physician. She was a prominent suffragette who advocated for women and children.

Stern and bony with long braided hair, she practiced medicine in a basement office in a forbidding, 16-room brick mansion on Chicago’s West Side.

It was there that the undertaker found Rheta Wynekoop dead, clad in stockings and a slip gathered at her waist. A single bullet had pierced her back. The killer left the .32-caliber revolver beside the body.

When police arrived, Dr. Wynekoop suggested that Rheta might have been killed by a robber. But she also admitted that the gun was hers.

Earle Wynekoop, who was on a train trip to the Grand Canyon, was flagged down in Kansas City and informed he was a widower.

By the time he got back to Chicago, the case had gone around several bends.

Detectives learned Dr. Wynekoop had taken out two insurance policies on Rheta weeks before the murder. She stood to collect $12,000.

Meanwhile, shopgirl Priscilla Wittle made headlines when she stepped forward to announce that she was Earle Wynekoop’s fiancée. And a day later, Margaret McHale, who worked at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, made even bigger headlines when she said she, too, was Earle’s girl.

McHale had a diamond engagement ring to prove it — the same love stone Earle had given to Rheta Gardner in 1929. McHale bragged that Wynekoop had tossed his little black book of 50 names when he met her at the fair.

But there was one other woman to reckon with.

In Dr. Wynekoop’s desk, police found an unmailed note. It read:

“Precious: I’m choked. You are gone. You have me called me up — and after ten minutes or so, I called and called. No answer. Maybe you are sleeping. You need to be, but I want to hear your voice again tonight. I would give anything I have to spend an hour in real talk with you tonight — and I cannot. Good-night”

Alice Wynekoop said that she wrote the billet-doux — to her son. But she squawked when police characterized it as a love note.

It was “just the letter of a mother to a son whom she loves,” the doctor said.

A Chicago shrink, Harry Hoffman, suggested that Dr. Wynekoop had “an accentuated affection for Earle.”

Rheta’s father, Burdine Gardner, an Indianapolis businessman, said his daughter complained that the romantic embers of marriage had gone cold on the honeymoon.

She said her mother-in-law loomed over the relationship. It didn’t help that they lived together in the mansion, and that Alice supported the young couple.

Shrink Hoffman hinted at deep issues, including “frigidity.”

He said, “The evidence would seem to indicate it was due to a revulsion on her part against certain abnormal tendencies in him.”

No one ever spelled out what those deviations were.

But Burdine Gardner told cops Alice Wynekoop had for months been warning of his daughter’s “precarious” health. He figured the murder was a kooky family job.

“I believe that they had been planning to get her out of the way for a long time and that this seemed a good time to do it,” Gardner said. “I believe Dr. Wynekoop murdered her … for the convenience of her son.”

It came to light that the doctor had a financial motive: She was broke.

Amid mounting circumstantial evidence, Earle Wynekoop suddenly announced to police, “I killed my wife and I did it alone.”

But police were able to confirm that Wynekoop was out of town at the hour of the murder, and soon, Alice Wynekoop made her own confession.

She said she had administered a chloroform anesthetic while treating Rheta for pain.

“She grew quiet, and I found that her heart had stopped,” Dr. Wynekoop said. “I was stunned. I realized my career was at stake. Suddenly I gave thought to the gun that was in my desk.”

She said fired the shot to cover up “a professional mistake.”

Two thousand gawkers clamored to attend her trial in January 1934. Dressed in mourning black, she was wheeled into court — too frail to walk, she said. The proceedings were postponed a month while she recuperated.

Dr. Wynekoop testified, repudiating her confession in a “half-strangled voice,” as Newsweek put it. But she convinced no one.

Prosecutor Charles Dougherty said Earle knew of his mother’s “dark design” for murder. He said, “She had brought down upon herself in one frantic moment of greed or unnatural love the edifice of the career she had built for 30 years.”

The jury convicted Wynekoop of murder but spared her life. Sentenced to 25 years, she served just 14. She survived until 1955, dying at age 84.


The Elusive Truth

In criminal justice, truth is a relative concept. Of course, the purpose of investigating a crime, arresting the accused, and holding a trial is to discern for the record the events surrounding the crime and ensuring that justice is done.

We can establish that the defendant had the means and opportunity to carry out the offense, and we can guess at motive, but even with a confession, these are mere approximations of the ultimate truth.

By taking this position, I recognize that I am (perhaps foolishly) disagreeing with the litigator Francis L. Wellman, author the noted legal work The Art of Cross-Examination, who writes in that book

…in the vast majority of trials, the modern juryman, and especially the modern city juryman…comes as near being the model arbiter of fact as the most optimistic champion of the institution of trial by jury could desire.

Wellman is correct that in most cases our approximations probably closely resemble the “real truth.” A drug-addicted robber holds up a liquor store, panics, and kills the proprietor. As far as discerning the truth of what happened in such a case, there is little room for error.

Occasionally, however, we are presented with a set of circumstances so strange, and an explanation from the defendant that is so implausible, that differentiating truth from fantasy is difficult, if not impossible.

Consider the case of Dr. Alice L. Wynekoop of Chicago, who was convicted in 1934 of killing her daughter-in-law, Rheta. Dr. Wynekoop, a German immigrant who practiced out of her home where she lived with her daughter-in-law and her son (Rheta’s husband), Earle.

There was also a boarder living with the Wynekoop clan, a schoolteacher named Enid Hennessey.

Around 10 p.m. on the night of November 21, 1933, a radio patrol car was dispatched to the Wynekoop house after Dr. Wynekoop phoned the local precinct to report a death.

Upon their arrival, Dr. Wynekoop told the officers, “something terrible has happened; come on downstairs and I will show you.”

The group headed to the doctor’s operatory in her office, where they found the dead body of Rheta on an examination table. She was “scantily clad” and her body was covered with a sheet. Only her head and feet were uncovered. Her face showed some scratches and other parts of her body were bruised and discolored.

Rheta had been shot through the back; the bullet took an upward course through her torso, lodging just beneath her left breast. The autopsy would later reveal that her entire thorax was filled with blood. The presence of the blood indicated to the medical examiner that Rheta was alive when she was shot. The manner of death was homicide and the cause listed as gunshot wound, hemorrhage, and shock.

Further tests indicated the presence of chloroform, and a bottle of the anesthetic was found in the operatory. It was nearly empty.

At the crime scene police found a revolver with three discharged cartridges, and this proved to be the murder weapon. The pistol belonged to Earle.

Earle Wynekoop was enroute to Arizona when his wife was killed, so he was immediately rejected as a suspect. Dr. Wynekoop’s daughter, who did not live with the family and was a physician on staff at Cook County Hospital, was present in the home, but her mother told authorities that she had summoned her daughter for help after discovering Rheta’s body. The record does not indicate where Enid Hennessey was at the time of the crime, but she also was not considered a suspect.

Because the body was apparently discovered by Dr. Wynekoop in her office, she was immediately considered the prime suspect. However, before her arrest, she told police her theory of the crime — blaming the murder on a burglar.

The first statement was, in substance, that she entered the operatory around 8:30 p.m. to obtain “some medicine” for herself and Enid and saw Rheta lying on the table. Her examination revealed that Rheta was dead, and Dr. Wynekoop summoned her daughter, Catherine from the hospital. Catherine pronounced Rheta dead, and oddly, rather than call the police, Dr. Wynekoop called an undertaker.

The doctor blamed the murder on thieves who had previously broken into her office and stolen money and drugs.

A few days later, Dr. Wynekoop was questioned again and gave a similar statement.

Because nothing was missing from the office, Dr. Wynekoop was subsequently arrested for the murder of her daughter-in-law. Questioned a third time by authorities, Dr. Wynekoop gave the statement that was introduced at her trial. It is this statement, although it establishes her guilt, that defies rational belief.

“Rheta was concerned about her health and frequently weighed herself, usually stripping for the purpose,” Dr. Wynekoop’s confession begins. “On Tuesday November 21, after luncheon, at about 1:00, she decided to go down to the loop to purchase some sheet music that she had been wanting.”

Dr. Wynekoop told police that Rheta decided to weigh herself before heading downtown and stopped off at the operatory where the doctor working.

“She was sitting on the table practically undressed and suggested that the pain in her side was troubling her more than usual,” the doctor continued. “I remarked to her, since it was a convenient interval during the month for an examination, we would just as well have it over.”

Complaining of “considerable soreness, severe pain and tenderness,” Rheta suggested that some chloroform would make the exam go easier. Dr. Wynekoop prepared a chloroform solution that Rheta self-administered through a sponge.

“She took several deep inhalations,” Dr. Wynekoop recounted for police. “I asked her if I was hurting her, and she made no answer.”

The doctor then examined her daughter-in-law and “inspection revealed that respiration had stopped. Artificial respiration for about 20 minutes gave no response. Stethescopic examination revealed no heartbeat.”

Assuming that Rheta was dead — an assumption not borne out by the autopsy — at this point Dr. Wynekoop faced no worse than a manslaughter charge and possible reprimand by the state medical board.

Her next actions, however, defy logic and call into question the truth of her statement.

“Wondering what method would ease the situation best to all and with the suggestion offered by the presence of a loaded revolver, further injury being impossible, with great difficulty one cartridge was exploded at a distance of some half dozen inches from the patient,” she admitted. “The gun dropped from (my) hand.

“The scene was so overwhelming that no action was possible for a period of several hours,” she concluded.

The prosecutor succeeded in introducing this third statement at her trial for first-degree murder and Dr. Alice Wynekoop was convicted and sentenced to a minimum 25-year term.

It is possible that Dr. Wynekoop’s final statement was the truth, but there are several unanswered questions that remain.

  • Why was there a revolver in the operatory? And why was it hidden by a cloth when police found it?

  • What was the cause of the scratches on Rheta’s face and the bruises on her body?

  • What would possess an otherwise apparently rational physician to conclude that the best course of action when a patient dies on the operating table is to administer a coup d’gras by shooting the patient in the back?

  • Why did Dr. Wynekoop’s examination establishing that Rheta was dead before she was shot conflict with the ME’s ruling that the shot was what killed her?

  • Three shots had been fired from the pistol. Where were the other two bullets?

Unfortunately, while justice was served in this case, the truth probably will never be.

MarkGribben.com


Wynekoop Murder!

How Woman Doctor Killed Son's Wife

A Bizarre Crime with Prison the Penalty

By VIRGINIA GARDNER

CHAPTER I.

Death in the Doctor's Office

"WHEN I went to my office I found Rheta on the operating table. She was dead."

Dr. Alice Lindsay Wynekoop, 62 years old, respected citizen, physician, and veteran of the suffrage and other women's movements of two decades ago, finished speaking.

"Well, Dr. Alice, may I view the remains?" replied Thomas J. Ahern, the family undertaker, who followed Dr. Wynekoop down a flight of steps into her basement office.

In the grim, old-fashioned operating room, on an antique operating table cushioned with worn black lether, [sic] lay the blanketed figure of a pretty red-haired girl. It was that of Dr. Wynekoop's daughter-in-law, Rheta Wynekoop.

"Have you notified the police?" Ahern asked politely.

"No," answered Dr. Alice with an imperious gesture. "I don't want any publicity."

"Well, this is a murder," said the rotund undertaker, and walked upstairs, picked up a telephone, and called the police.

CHAPTER II.

Revolver Beside the Body

POLICEMEN Arthur R. March and Walter Kelly of Fillmore street station were cruising in a squad car when the radio command came to go to 3406 West Monroe street, where a murder was reported.

It was "a mild, clear evening," March later testified, on that night of Tuesday, Nov. 21, 1933.

It was 9:25 o'clock when Undertaker Ahern received a telephone call from Dr. Wynekoop summoning him to her home. It was 9:55 o'clock when members of the squad car detail arrived at the Monroe street address, an old dwelling of red brick, grimy with the years' accumulation of soot.

The policemen hurried up the four stone steps leading to the porch and rang the bell, which sounded emptily from within. The door was cautiously opened and the slightly protruding pale blue eyes of a short, dumpy little woman peered at them.

They stepped inside. Behind the little woman, who was Miss Enid Hennessey, teacher in the John Marshall High school and for ten years a boarder in the sixteen-room house, was the gaunt, gray-haired figure of Dr. Wynekoop.

Dr. Wynekoop received the policemen imperturbably. With her were Ahern, the undertaker, and Dr. John M. Berger of Oak Park, who had known Dr. Wynekoop more than fifteen years. She had summoned him after she found the body.

The little group filed down the stairs to the basement--the policemen, the woman doctor with her intelligent face and frank manner, and the short, bustling woman with her suspicious blue eyes, the doctor, and the undertaker.

In the basement, containing eight rooms and two hallways, were the doctor's office and operating room. They passed by the office with its old-fashioned roll-top desk, stuffy lether [sic] upholstered furniture, and thick medical books and entered the operating room across the hall.

On the operating table they saw Rheta Wynekoop's body lying on its left side, her face on a small pillow. Covering the slight figure of the 23-year-old girl was a blanket, neatly folded the long way and tucked about the body as if by gentle hands.

Policeman March removed the blanket. The body was nude save for a pink slip rolled about the waist, a chemise, and stockings. Above this wisp of underclothing was a wound in the back over which blood was clotted. Blood was oozing from the mouth and dropping to the floor. The two sheets on the operating table beneath the body were saturated with blood, as were her garments.

A folded towel, damp, was under the mouth. Beside the pillow, was a .32-caliber revolver, wrapped in gauze. Near by were a folded sweater, a brown skirt, a pair of woman's shoes. A handkerchief lay on the operating table near the body. Dr. Wynekoop herself pointed out a chloroform bottle on a nearby washstand. An anesthetic mask was in plain view. Policeman March touched the body. Rigor mortis had set in. Warmth leaves the human body from three to six hours after a death.

CHAPTER III.

Points to Robbery as Motive

DR. WYNEKOOP said she had found the body at 8:30 o'clock that night. She called her daughter, Dr. Catherine Wynekoop, then 25-year-old resident pediatrician at the Cook County hospital, and told her to come home. Dr. Catherine replied that she was busy. Dr. Alice said that something terrible had happened. "What, mother?" the younger woman asked. Her mother said, "Rheta has been shot and is gone." Dr. Catherine hurried home. At 9:30 they knocked on Miss Hennessey's door and told her Rheta was dead.

The elderly woman physician told police it "must have been done by someone looking for money." She showed an open drawer in her desk in which a box in the rear held currency and stamps. This had been looted, she said, of $6.

She admitted ownership of the gauze-enveloped revolver beside the body. In a box behind her cash box was another. There were unfired cartridges in it.

She had received the revolver from her son, Earle, Rheta's 24-year old husband, she admitted, before he departed for the Grand canyon, Arizona, with a companion to take color photographs. He had gone away on Nov. 13.

Twice before her home had been robbed, she told the police. On Oct. 20 thieves had broken in and taken $100. Both times drugs were taken. She had not reported these incidents, she said, because she knew "money couldn't be identified." To reporters she said that it was out of consideration for Rheta and her delicate health that she did not report the matter, as policemen about the house would upset the girl.

The desk drawer, although open, appeared in order. The windows and doors leading from the outside into the basement were all closed, and the doors were locked.

CHAPTER IV.

Police Find Love Letter

UNDER a pile of other papers in Dr Wynekoop's bedroom on the second floor of the gloomy old house police found a letter in feminine handwriting. They were looking for evidence which might shed light on Rheta's life, although Dr. Wynekoop assured them that Rheta and Earle had lived happily together with her since their marriage in 1929. It appeared to be a love letter, and the police considered she might have an admirer unknown to her mother-in-law. Dated "Sunday night," and written in pencil, the letter read:

"Precious: I'm choked. You are gone--you have called me up--and after ten minutes or so I called and called. No answer. Maybe you are sleeping. You need to be, but I want to hear your voice again tonight--I would give anything I have--to spend an hour in real talk with you tonight--and I cannot--good night"

A phone call to the slain girl's father, B. H. Gardner, a respected flour and salt broker of Indianapolis, confirmed Dr. Wynekoop's statement that Rheta was a sensitive girl, a trained violinist, who had little social contact outside the life which went on in the Wynekoop home, where she cooked and helped with the housework and pursued her interests in music.

At 1 a. m. Dr. Wynekoop revealed a telegram to the police after they had learned of it from other sources. It was from Earle and was sent from Peoria at 3:47 p. m. the day of the murder. It had been received at the house by Miss Hennessey at 7:55 o'clock. W. Russell O'Banion, Western Union messenger, had delivered it. Previously, at 4:27 p. m., John Brennock, another messenger, had called with it. He had no response when he rang the doorbell, although he had seen lights burning in the basement and on the first floor.

It was not until the next day that Dr. Wynekoop revealed that the mysterious letter was written by her to Earle. She said with flashing eyes that it was "a love letter from a mother to her son." Later psychiatrists were to find it significant, and at least one declared it indicated a possible "Œdipus complex," or at any rate an exaggerated maternal feeling.

Developments were swift the next day. From Kansas City came word that Earle had been there when he learned of his wife's death that morning and had set out at once for Chicago. Stanley Young of Chicago, a nephew of George E. Q. Johnson, former United States district attorney, who was Earle's companion on their interrupted trip to Arizona, provided Earle with an ironclad alibi.

In Kansas City Young revealed also that Earle and his mother had held a secret rendezvous the evening before the murder. For some reason, Young said, Earle had not wanted Rheta to know he was in Chicago. Rheta thought he already was on his way west. Actually they had left Chicago at 8 a. m. Tuesday, the day of the murder, stopping in Peoria and continuing to Kansas City. Dr. Wynekoop admitted that she had met her son the previous night at 67th street and Kedzie avenue and talked "about his trip."

Early Wednesday morning an inquest was begun in Ahern's undertaking rooms, 3246 Jackson boulevard. Coroner Frank J. Walsh briefly questioned the elderly Dr. Wynekoop.

"Did Rheta have any insurance?" Coroner Walsh asked.

Composed, her manner one of intelligent cooperation, the witness replied:

"I know she had no insurance. She tried to obtain policies from several companies, but the negotiations fell through."

Coroner Walsh leaned toward reporters near by and whispered that Rheta had been insured for $5,000 with the New York Life Insurance company, that the policy had a double indemnity clause in case of death by violence, and that Dr. Alice Wynekoop was the beneficiary. Another double indemnity policy for $1,000 named Earle and Catherine as beneficiaries.

Moreover, the mother-in-law had obtained the larger one against the girl's life a month before the murder and had herself paid the first premium. This she did despite her grim financial situation. At the time she owed her grocer, her butcher, and the family undertaker. There was a $3,500 mortgage on the Monroe street home, and on Oct. 31 she had a bank balance of only $26.

An undertaker's unpaid bill was for the funeral of an adopted daughter, Mary Louise, who died in March, 1930.

Back in 1910, at the peak of her career, Dr. Wynekoop had addressed the Mothers' congress and Parent Teachers' association convention at Rockford and urged that every family adopt one child, as she had done, as an "act of humanitarianism" and a "duty toward the race." This was in reply to a widely published statement by Olive Schreiner, novelist, who was much in vogue then, that one child for each family was sufficient. Dr. Wynekoop, for her speech, received considerable publicity, a picture of the then beautiful woman physician and her four curly haired children being published in newspapers.

Three other deaths had occurred in the Monroe street house in four years. Dr. Frank Wynekoop, husband of the woman physician and, like her, a former professor at a medical college which later became the University of Illinois medical school, had died of heart disease New Year's day, 1929. The deaths of Miss Hennessey's 85-year old father and Miss Catherine Porter, a spinster of Dr. Wynekoop's age and a patient of hers, who left her $2,000, followed that of Dr. Frank Wynekoop.

CHAPTER V.

Dr. Alice Undergoes Quiz

AFTER the inquest Dr. Wynekoop was taken to the Fillmore street station and questioned by Captain Stege. She repeated her claim that she had "loved Rheta as if she were one of my own." She related her actions the day of the murder. She said that after lunch she went to shop on Madison street, arriving home at 4:30 o'clock.

Miss Hennessey came in about 6 o'clock and they ate dinner, leaving some of the food for Rheta, whose place was set at the table. It was at dinner, Miss Hennessey said, that they discussed Eugene O'Neill's drama, "Strange Interlude," a drama dealing with the overweening mother love of a strong willed woman. Dr. Wynekoop asked Miss Hennessey if such "trash" was given students to read.

The doctor then sent Miss Hennessey to a neighborhood drug store on an errand. Returning, Miss Hennessey noticed Rheta's coat, hat, and purse on a chair. She called Dr. Wynekoop's attention to them, and the doctor replied that Rheta had another coat and hat and probably had worn them.

Dr. Wynekoop and Miss Hennessey then talked of the latter's condition of hyperacidity, and Dr. Wynekoop said she would get some medicine for her. She went downstairs but did not return at once, Miss Hennessey went to her room. It was at that time, Dr. Wynekoop said (8:30 p. m.), that she discovered Rheta lying on the operating table.

Mrs. Veronica Duncan, a pretty brunette who lived next door at 3408 Monroe street, had seen Rheta Wynekoop alive at 3 p. m.

The day after the inquest, Thursday, Dr. Thomas L. Dwyer, then coroner's physician, announced the results of his post-mortem. He found that chloroform had been administered to the girl, causing burns around the mouth. He said the lungs were filled with blood, showing that when the bullet had entered her body she was still alive.

Dr. Dwyer's report stated that no holes were found in the girl's clothing, and that first-degree powder burns surrounded the wound, meaning she was shot with the muzzle of the weapon pressed against her.

"Apparently she had taken off her clothes," said Captain Stege, "probably as she sat on the edge of the operating table, and dropped them at her feet. She had then lain back, as if submitting to an examination. While in that position, apparently, the killer placed her under an anesthetic, turned her half way on her face, and fired the shot. Finally the killer, in an apparent fit of remorse, tried to stanch the blood flowing from her mouth, and, seeing she was dead, wrapped her body in a blanket."

Through long hours of questioning Dr. Wynekoop maintained that she had obtained the insurance policies, which she now admitted, only because of her anxiety that Rheta be assured her health was good. Rheta, she said, was morbidly worried over her condition, as she was underweight, and her mother had died of tuberculosis.

Earle Wynekoop, tall, well built; auburn-haired, and well dressed, returned to Chicago Thursday morning. He first visited the mortuary and viewed the body of his wife.

"I was unhappy in my married life." he said, "and mother knew it"

Unhesitatingly he admitted keeping company with other women. Some of these were questioned by the police. From one they learned he had kept a notebook with fifty names and addresses of girls he considered attractive, classifying them methodically as to their charms.

Several of his extramarital sweethearts said that he posed as unmarried. He apparently had played the rôle of a Don Juan while employed at the World's Fair. To an attractive girl employé of a concession he gave a ring which police believed to be the engagement ring he had given his wife. This young woman, learning Earle was married, reproached him with the fact. He admitted it.

"He told me he married her [Rheta] and found out later that her mother and aunt had died of tuberculosis," she told the police. "He said the matter was out of his hands, that it was in his mother's. I asked him where she was, and he said she was put away. He didn't say where."

To this girl he had proposed marriage. Still another girl had kept a midnight date with him the night before the murder.

Throughout the day the police questioned Earle. At 10:45 o'clock that night they again took his mother into custody. She was at the mortuary, where she had gone to say a last farewell to Rheta.

With Earle and his mother in adjoining rooms the grilling proceeded. Dr. Alice's inquisitors applied the lie detector. She said scornfully: "I have high blood pressure, it will not work." They found this was so.

Veteran detectives, police officials, and three psychiatrists matched their wits in vain against the weary but still unfaltering mind of the woman. She was aged, ill, she had slept almost none since the night before the murder, Monday. This was Thursday night. At 6 o'clock Friday morning they gave up for the time being and she was taken to the Racine avenue station to sleep in the women's quarters.

Earle, comparatively fresh, then broke. The first trace of it was when he said desperately:

"Mother blamed Rheta, as mothers will, for my unhappiness, and its barely possible that she might have had a motive for--but no. No! My mother could not have done that."

Well, then, what about yourself?" Captain Stege pressed. "It was your mother or you. Speak up."

Earle sobbed wildly, "I will sign an iron-bound confession to save the one I suspect."

Dr. Wynekoop was allowed to sleep until 7:30. As she was leaving the Racine avenue for the Fillmore street station a reporter told her it was rumored that Earle had confessed. Clasping her hands together, tears filled her eyes.

"This is the happiest moment of my life," she said.

Police interpreted this to mean that she was happy because she thought Earle had sacrificed himself in the belief he was saving her. To another reporter she said, "I never touched Rheta save in love."

At Fillmore street she was led by her captors through the crowd of reporters and police. Dozens of cameras flashed. Her face was impassive. She appeared weary and shaken. Her face lighted up on seeing Earle, but fell as the haggard youth, his eyes bloodshot, his hair disarrayed, approached her and pleaded:

"For God's sake, mother, if you did this thing, confess. It will be better for us all."

With a compassionate gesture she clasped her tall son and caressed him soothingly, Then, as Captain Stege beckoned, she straightened up proudly and marched into the examination room.

Now her inquisitors tried to arouse her to confession by insinuating that Earle might be accused, but she shrewdly eyed them and remained adamant. The morning wore on. They tried a gentler tack, Captain Stege suggested that she might have had Rheta undress and that perhaps she was examining her "when someone fired that shot."

She was left in the room alone with Dr. Harry A. Hoffman, director of the Criminal court behavior clinic. She was lying down there in the captain's office when Captain Stege returned. He asked her if she had had breakfast. She said she had not, and he ordered coffee.

"Captain," she asked, "what would happen if I told my story?"

"I don't want any story; I want the truth," he told her.

"I will tell it if you will shut the door," she said.

Captain Stege described the scene later from the witness stand:

"We sat together, the three of us, and Dr. Wynekoop put her hand on Dr. Hoffman's knee and he put his hand on her hand. She told us that Rheta had not been well, that she had been suffering from some abdominal ailment. She took Rheta downstairs for an examination."

Dr. Wynekoop said the examination became painful to Rheta and she suggested giving chloroform to deaden the pain. The girl was allowed to pour some on a sponge, she said, and hold it to her nose. She talked to the girl, and after a while no response came from her. She felt her pulse and could detect none. She vainly applied a stethoscope to her heart. Then, indicating it was to save her professional reputation, she shot her. That was about 4:30 p. m.

Captain Stege asked her if it was a voluntary statement and if she would dictate and sign it, and to both questions she replied in the affirmative. Her strange confession, if confession it was, was dictated in the formal, stiff language she insisted upon. The principal part of it was:

"Rheta was concerned about her health and frequently weighed herself, usually stripping for that purpose. On Tuesday, Nov. 21, after luncheon, about 1 o'clock, she decided to go down to the loop to purchase some sheet music that she had been wanting. She was given money for this purpose, and laid it on the table. She decided to weigh before dressing to go downtown. I went to the office.

"She was sitting on the table practically undressed and suggested that the pain in her side was troubling her more than usual. She complained of considerable soreness, also severe pain and tenderness. She thought she would endure the examination better if she had a little anesthetic. Chloroform was conveniently at hand and a few drops were put on a sponge.

"She breathed it very deeply. I asked her if I was hurting her and she made no answer. Inspection revealed that respiration had stopped. Artificial respiration for about twenty minutes gave no response. Stethoscopic examination revealed no heart beat.

"Wondering what method would ease the situation best of all, and with the suggestion offered by the presence of a loaded revolver, further injury being impossible, with great difficulty one cartridge was exploded at a distance of some half dozen inches from the patient. The gun dropped from the hand.

"The Germans say 'the hand,' indicating the possessive case. The scene was so overwhelming that no action was possible for a period of several hours."

She asked to be allowed to break the news of the confession to her children, but she was taken back to the Racine avenue station. Later in the day the inquest was held at the county morgue. The jury returned a verdict that Rheta died of shock and hemorrhage from a bullet fired in her back. They recommended that Dr. Wynekoop be held to the grand jury on a murder charge and that her accomplices, if any, be arrested and held on similar charges.

CHAPTER VI.

Doctor Collapses at Trial

ON JAN. 11 the selecting of a jury to try Dr. Wynekoop began in the Criminal court of Judge Joseph B. David.

On Jan. 15, 1934, the state, represented by Assistant State's Attorney Dougherty, began the presentation of its evidence. As the hearing proceeded Dr. Wynekoop suffered five heart attacks, but the climax came as she collapsed after Dr. Hoffman's testimony. Dr. Hoffman had testified concerning the scene in the Fillmore street station when Dr. Alice made the statement which she later signed.

"Did you have any conversations with her after that?" Assistant State's Attorney Dougherty asked.

"I asked her why she did it," Dr. Hoffman said in a low, vibrant voice. "Her answer was, 'I did it to save the poor dear.'"

Dr. Wynekoop's collapse resulted in a mistrial. Less than a month later, on Feb. 19, she again went on trial, before Judge Harry B. Miller. She had passed her sixty-third birthday in jail on Feb. 1. She was brought into court in a wheel chair.

Policemen March and Kelly testified. Ahern was an important witness. Miss Hennessey was a militant and indignant witness for the state. Another unwilling state's witness, an old friend of Dr. Wynekoop, was Miss Julia McCormick, elderly agent for the New York Life Insurance company. She testified she had written a $10,000 double indemnity policy on Rheta's life a month before her death, which her company had change to $5,000. She conceded that in all her negotiations with Dr. Wynekoop over the policy she had not seen Rheta.

Two other agents testified that Dr. Alice had approached them regarding policies for Rheta, but that their companies declined to issue them. Police officials took the stand, and the slain girl's father was a tragic figure in the witness chair.

Earle did not appear in court during the trial, but Catherine and Walker, another son, came to their mother's aid in dramatic testimony.

The jury required only a few minutes to determine Dr. Alice's guilt, members later reported. They retired at 6:15 p. m. March 6, 1934, and were agreed on the verdict at 7:15 p. m.

"We took a vote on 25 years," said a juror. "Ten hands went up, and, with a little urging, the other two. We had reached our verdict."

In Dwight Dr. Alice is confined in the hospital, where it was found she was suffering from hypertension, arteriosclerosis, and pulmonary tuberculosis.

Source:

Gardner, Virginia, "Wynekoop Murder!, How Woman Doctor Killed Son's Wife," The Chicago Daily Tribune, Chicago, Monday, 28 January 1935, p. E9.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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