Harry F. POWERS
Birth name: Herman Drenth
A.K.A.: "Mail-order Bluebeard" - "The
West Virginia Bluebeard"
Number of victims: 5 +
Date of murder:
Date of birth: 1889
Victims profile: Aster Eicher,
and her children
Greta, 14; Harry, 12, and Anabel, 9
/ Dorothy Lemke, 50
Method of murder:
Hitting with a hammer
Location: Quiet Dell, West Virginia, USA
Status: Executed by hanging on March 18, 1932, at the West
Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville
(1929-1932) was a 49-year old rural resident from Clarksburg, Virginia
who constructed a sound-proof concrete underground chamber in his house.
He would later confide to police that it gave him sexual excitement to
hear his victims' screams from within the chamber at night.
He was suspected of perhaps as many as 50 victims, widowed women who
answered his lonely heart ads for courtship and possible marriage.
When the women would show up at his ranch, sometimes with children, he
would throw them all down the chamber and send down buckets for them to
sign letters withdrawing any money they had in bank and liquidating all
other assets they had.
He usually killed the children right away with a hammer and let the
women starve or he beat them to death. Postal inspectors caught up with
him, and he was sentenced to death by hanging.
Using many aliases, Herman Drenth lured countless women to an underground
chamber located beneath his garage in Quiet Dell, West Virginia. A
classic Bluebeard, Drenth scoured lonely-hearts ads in out-of-town
papers and wrote the wome tantalizing letters. If the ladies were
willing to come visit Drenth he would swindle away their cash and
dispose of them.
Arrested after an anonymous tip, Drenth's
murder dungeon was searched and many items found that made it clear that
many women had probably not escaped the clutches of the cold-hearted
Drenth. Five bodies were soon unearthed from the garden: Aster Eicher
and her three children from Park Ridge, Illinios, and Dorothy Lemke from
Northboro, Massachusetts. When questioned concerning the small mountain
of items who's owners were unknown Drenth clammed up, muttering only
"You've got me on five, what good would fifty more do?"
It could never be proved that Drenth
killed more than the five buried in his yard. He was sentenced to death
and hung on March 18, 1932.
A used furniture dealer from Clarksburg, West
Virginia, Herman Drenth earned his real money through the operation of a
deadly matrimonial racket, spanning the U.S. in the 1920's and '30's.
Though legally married in Clarksburg, Drenth traveled widely in search
of victims, consoling his wife with reports of his "business trips"
from Boston to Spokane, and all points in between...
The "business" he was in, as cops discovered
in 1931, was bigamy and murder. Drenth's hobby was attaching himself to
wealthy widows, marrying them and bringing them back 'crost the
threshold', to his "scientific laboratory" in the woods
adjoining Clarksburg. There, he mercilessly gassed his aged brides to
death and cashed in their fortunes...
A farmer living in the same vicinity eventually
complained to police about the noxious odors emanating from the "lab".
Their search revealed two rooms: a killing chamber, where Drenth's
hapless victims were bound, and lethal gas piped in; and an adjoining
"operations room", where Drenth sat safely behind a plate
glass window, gloating (and wanking, most likely) at their final agony.
The killing chamber's floor was caked with blood, where Drenth had used
a *claw hammer* to savagely bludgeon the three young children of his
last victim, Asa Buick Eicher, prior to gassing her as usual.
Arrested for the Eicher slayings and the murder of
another widow, Dorothy Lemke, Drenth broke down and confessed after two
rotted corpses were found in a ditch near the "lab". He
readily admitted deriving sexual pleasure from watching his victims gag
to death, commenting, "it beat any cathouse I was ever in"...
The local press christened Drenth "America's
Worst Bluebeard", and cops speculated that he may well have snuffed
over *fifty* women in all. Our Hero, however, was uncooperative when it
came to recovering bodies. "You got me on five", he reminded
his jailers. "What good would fifty more do?"
Drenth climbed the gallows on March 18, 1932, taking
his total kill tally with him -- straight into Hell...
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial
Killers - Hunting Humans
March 18, 1932: Execution of
mass murderer Harry Powers
The story of West Virginia's most famous mass
murderer first hit the local newspapers in Clarksburg in the late
summer of 1931. It didn't take long for the national press to pick
up the story and relate Harry Powers' grisly deeds to a Depression-weary
Powers and his wife ran a grocery store in
Clarksburg and lived south of town in Quiet Dell. When he was
arrested, police found trunks filled with love letters and the
personal effects of one of his victims. They later discovered five
corpses, two women and three children, buried in a drainage ditch
beside Powers' garage. Upon further investigation, police determined
Powers had served time in other states for defrauding widows.
A police investigation found Powers had
befriended the two women under the assumed name of Cornelius Pierson.
He first abducted Asta Eicher and her three children from their home
in Park Ridge, Illinois. Powers reassured suspicious neighbors,
telling them the children were in Europe. Dorothy Lemke of Northboro,
Massachusetts, was Powers' last victim, because police had traced
the name Cornelius Pierson to a Clarksburg post office box.
Interest in Powers' trial was so intense it had
to be held in a specially constructed courtroom at Moore's Opera
House in Clarksburg. Even though Powers maintained his innocence, it
took a jury only two hours to return a guilty verdict. During the
trial, prison guards claimed Powers confessed to the murders as well
as the killing of a salesman with whom he had worked at a Clarksburg
Powers had come to be known nationally as the "Bluebeard
of Quiet Dell." He was hanged on March 18, 1932, at the West
Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville.
Harry Powers' story was the basis for a classic
novel by former Clarksburg author Davis Grubb. Grubb used the name
Harry Powell for the lead character in his book, Night of the
Hunter, set in Depression-era West Virginia. Like Harry Powers,
Grubb's character played upon the affections of a widow and killed
her for money.
Bluebeard dies on scaffold, silent to end
Camden Courier-Post -
March 19, 1932
Harry F. Powers
Shows No Emotion as He Goes to Death on Gallows
murders laid ti W. Va. Letter Wooer
Told to Park Guns With Wardens as March Begins
W. Va., March 18- Harry F. Powers, West Virginia Bluebeard, went to his
death on the gallows in the state penitentiary here tonight with his
the murder of five persons- two women and three children- Powers made no
effort to talk, although an opportunity was given him at the last second
before the trap was sprung.
The official prison announcement said the
trap was sprung at 9:00 o'clock. Five physicians declared him dead
eleven minutes later.
The murder of which he was convicted and
for which he was hanged was that of Mrs. Dorothy Pressler Lemke, of
His life was snapped away in the state
penitentiary by a thick bull rope and a five-foot drop before a crowd of
nearly 40 persons who pressed forward, tense and nervous, as the trap
Displays No Emotion
The modern Bluebeard showed no emotion as
he went to his death. A twitching of the lips, a simple twist of his
head, a quietly pronounced "no" answering the question weather he
desired to say anything before he passed into eternity--these were the
only incidents as he stood high up on the platform of the gallows,
waiting the drop.
Eleven minutes elapsed from the time the
body plunged downward until the five doctors who pressed about him
applying stethoscopes announced he was dead. But he had been unconscious,
apparently, from the moment the thick rope had snapped his neck, for
there was no tremor, not even the slightest movement of the rope.
Moundsville had taken on a holiday festive
appearance in preparation for the execution of the man whose crimes
startled the world. Outside the prison a crowd gathered along the curbs.
Automobiles were lined up for blocks. Inside, state officials, prison
officials, doctors, policemen, even one of the jurors who convicted the
man, gathered to await the summons that would take them to the dingy
death house in a remote corner of the prison grounds.
Powers had been prepared before the march
started for the death house. He was dressed in a black suit with a pin
stripe, and wore a rather gaudy blue tie and a white collar.
The grim voice of a deputy warden
delivered the first warning that the march was about to begin.
"Any person who is armed will leave his
guns at the desk until he returns," he said. Not a man moved forward.
The voice rang out again. "Cameras will be left at the desk also". Again
not a man in the crowd stepped forward, but if there had been cameras
they would have been useless in the cramped space where the audience
stood to witness the death plunge there was barely room to move.
Lonely Hearts Murderer
By Mara Bovsun - NY Daily News
Sunday, April 5th 2009
Long before there was a
craigslist or dot-com dating, there were places where men and women
who were too shy or busy to meet face to face could find romance.
Calling themselves "matrimonial bureaus," these organizations were
known mostly as the "lonely hearts clubs," and they flourished
through the middle of the 20th century.
Such was Detroit's American Friendship Society, which
opened its doors in 1927. By 1931, it had earned more than $100,000. The
business continued to thrive, even after the country plunged into the
For an annual fee ($4.95 for men, $1.95 for women),
members got a listing of available matches, mostly widows and widowers,
with a description of their most attractive features - whether real or
Among American Friendship's clients in 1931 was a man
who, based upon his written profile, should have had no trouble
attracting the ladies.
"Wealthy widower," the ad read, "worth $150,000. Has
income from $400 to $2,000 a month." His profession was listed as "civil
"Own a beautiful 10-room brick home, completely
furnished with everything that would make a good woman happy. My wife
would have her own car and plenty of spending money. Would have nothing
to do but enjoy herself."
Cooler heads might have figured this was too good to
be true, but not Asta Eicher, 50, a Chicago widow with three children -
Greta, 14; Harry, 12, and Anabel, 9. Eicher's husband, a silversmith,
had died eight years earlier, and since his death she had dedicated
herself to raising her family.
In a flash, they
In July 1931, for the first
time in years, she had told friends that romance had again entered her
life. But other than her new love's name, Mr. Pierson, she offered few
That same month, she asked William O'Boyle, a boarder,
to find another place to live. The excuse she gave was that the pudgy,
pig-faced little Pierson, who had been hanging around the house for
weeks, was moving in.
Then she and her children disappeared. No one paid
much attention until August, when O'Boyle went back to Eicher's house to
pick up some tools he had left behind. Eicher and her children were gone,
but the man O'Boyle knew as Pierson was there, and he was emptying the
O'Boyle called police, who asked the stranger about
the missing family.
The man introduced himself as "Cornelius O. Pierson,
of the Fairmont Hotel, Fairmont, W.Va." The Eichers, he said, had moved
to Colorado, and had left him behind to settle their affairs. He
produced a letter that appeared to be in Eicher's handwriting, saying he
had paid her property taxes and mortgage, and that he should tidy up the
house to prepare it for renters. But when he could offer no real details
on the whereabouts of the family, police decided to probe a little more.
No one in Fairmont, W.Va., had ever heard of him, and
it seemed that the trail was about to go cold. Then investigations at
Eicher's house yielded a few clues, in the form of love letters.
The letters led them to a small property near a West
Virginia hamlet called Quiet Dell, where Pierson lived under the name
Harry Powers, with his wife of four years, Luella.
It would soon become known as the "murder farm."
Powers insisted that the Eichers had gone west, but
then just a few seconds later, he sputtered that the widow had traveled
with him to West Virginia.
The conflicting stories raised suspicions, so
detectives kept sniffing around. They learned that two months earlier,
Powers had built a garage on the property. When they took a look inside,
they found jewelry, clothes and other items that had belonged to Eicher.
Soon after that, the widow and her children were
found. On Aug. 28, police dug up four corpses, wrapped in burlap sacks
and buried in a shallow grave. A day later, they found the body of
another woman in the garage. She would later be identified as Dorothy
Lemke, 50, a divorcée from Northboro, Mass. Like Eicher, Lemke had gone
missing in July.
So many victims
Inside Powers' home, there was a trunk-load of
correspondence from more than 100 love-starved widows and spinsters from
all over the country. Letters and photos found in the trunk suggested
that he had been operating as a love racketeer for more than a decade. A
roll of film left in a camera was developed, yielding images of Lemke
and Powers together.
After a brutal grilling by police, Powers confessed
to the five murders. After promising marriage, he had driven Eicher and
her kids from Chicago to his farm. He locked them up for a few days,
then took them to a room where he had suspended a noose from the rafters.
One by one, they were hanged. "I was permitting
little Harry Eicher to watch the killing of his mother and the others,
but in the middle of it he let out an awful scream," Powers told police.
"I was afraid the neighbors would hear it, so I picked up a hammer and
let him have it."
Lemke had arrived a day after the Eichers. She was
ushered into the garage, locked up and later hanged.
Digging around the farm produced no more bodies, but
there was a strong suspicion that Powers had killed before. Asked once
how many he had murdered, he shrugged his shoulders and muttered, "I
Other women came forth with stories of how Powers had
Bessie Storrs of Olean, N.Y., told The Associated
Press that her wedding had been planned for the day that Powers had been
Other women said that they emptied their bank
accounts when their mail-order bridegroom proposed.
As soon as he pocketed their cash, he vanished,
leaving the ladies sadder and wiser, but alive.
Bank accounts held by Eicher
and Lemke had been cleared out just before the murders, leaving little
question as to a motive.
In anticipation of enormous crowds, the trial, which
started on Dec. 7, 1931, was moved from a courtroom to the 1,200-seat
opera house in Clarksburg. Powers seemed unconcerned as the trial opened,
chewing gum and yawning through the first day. By the time he got on the
stand, however, he was in tears. He said that his miserable marriage had
driven him to seek out mail-order sweethearts. But he denied the
killings, recanting his earlier confession.
After deliberating for one hour and 50 minutes in the
opera-house dressing room, the jury found him guilty. The penalty was
death by hanging.
In jail, the prisoner produced a detailed confession.
And, on the gallows, March 18, 1932, Powers was given the chance, as are
all condemned men, to offer a last statement. But for once, the Don Juan
who had spewed out thousands of words to women all over the country had
nothing to say.
"No," was all he uttered before the trapdoor opened
and he plunged to his death.
Harry Powers: Bluebeard of Quiet Dell
Clarksburg Telegram -
March 19, 1932
POWERS KEPT IRON NERVE
BLUEBEARD CONFESSED TO DOCTOR
Forty-two Persons Witness Execution at Moundsville Penitentiary
By WILBUR M. SWIGER
Moundsville, March 19. - Displaying the same iron
nerve he did during his trial in Clarksburg, Harry F. Powers, mass
slayer, went to his death on the gallows at the state penitentiary,
at Moundsville last night.
The multiple murderer, who wooed and won women by
mail by the matrimonial bureau method, walked up the unlucky
thirteen steps of the gallows almost unassisted, according to prison
guards. His legs and hands were strapped securely as he stood behind
the dark curtain that screened him at first from the gaze of the
forty-two spectators. The audience stood beyond the stage-like trap
in front of him in the immaculately white death room chamber.
Warden A. C. Scroggins and guards pulled the
curtain back and there the mail order Romeo stood. He was dressed
immaculately. He wore a dark suit with white pin stripes in it. His
bright light blue necktie was tied neatly and he had on a white
broadcloth shirt. His face was clean shaven and he appeared in
excellent physical condition. So neat was his appearance, that he
might have been the bridegroom at one of the many weddings he
planned in his matrimonial bureau correspondence with scores of
women all over the country.
The heavy rimmed tortoise shell glasses were the
only thing that were missing that made the Lothario look different
than when he sat upon the stage in Moore's opera house at Clarksburg.
Then he told a fantastic story of how two mysterious men were
responsible for the death of Mrs. Dorothy Pressler Lemke, of
Northboro, Mass., the woman he was convicted of murdering.
LEERS AT AUDIENCE.
He appeared pale in the gruesome glare of the
lights of the death trap. For a full minute, it seemed, he leered at
those in the audience in front of him. His light blue eyes roamed to
the officers whose evidence had brought him to his doom, and to the
newspaper men, who wrote many columns about his horrifying crimes.
Powers had no love for officers, or the press and his last glances
at them seemed to say as much.
But the slayer of Mrs. Lemke and Mrs Asta Buick
Eicher and three children, the latter of Park Ridge, Ill., showed no
signs of nervousness. He seemed resigned to his fate; it appeared
that he wanted to show those responsible for gathering the evidence
against him that he wasn't afraid even in death. Standing on the
death trap with Powers were Warden Scroggins and several guards. The
guards lined up back of the condemned man. The warden was at
Powers's left. The prison chaplain, E. M. Giesey, was at his right.
VOICE IS FIRM
Solemnly, the warden asked Powers if he had any
farewell statement to make. He hesitated a moment and then answered
"No" in a voice that did not have a quiver in it.
"We commit Harry Powers's soul to Thee and ask
that Thou pardon his sins," chanted the chaplain.
His eyes weak, because he did not have on his
glasses, Powers blinked in the glare of the lights and did not seem
to heed the words of the chaplain, although several days ago he
expressed belief in a Supreme Being and sought solace in religion.
While in the Clarksburg jail he claimed to be an atheist.
A guard at the rear slipped the black death cap
over Powers's head quickly. Like a plummet he dropped through the
trap to his death at the signal of Deputy E. C. Brill, captain of
the prison guards.
Attendants stationed at three buttons pushed them
and sprung the trap. None knew who released it.
Powers died without a tremor. Physicians with
stethoscopes stepped behind the railing separating the trap from
where the spectators stood. One placed an instrument over Powers's
heart; another held a stop watch.
DIED IN 11 MINUTES.
Silently the first minutes passed. The warden has
asked those in the death chamber to refrain from talking. Finally a
"They usually die in from nine to eleven
Powers went through the trap at exactly 9 o'clock.
He was officially pronounced dead eleven minutes later by Dr. R. A.
Ashworth, prison physician, and Dr. O. P. Wilson, the latter's
Dr. H. H. Haynes, of Clarksburg, who witnessed
the hanging, helped the prison physicians to make their examinations,
and immediately after Powers's death, the Clarksburg doctor
announced that he had a complete confession of Powers's crimes.
After the trap had sprung, exacting society's
toll for the murder of Mrs. Lemke, Dr. Haynes disclosed he has
Powers's written confession, admitting in detail the murder of five
These five - Mrs. Lemke and Mrs. Eicher and her
three children - were killed and their bodies were buried in a
narrow ditch near Powers's "chamber of horrors" garage on his wife's
deserted farm in sylvan Quiet Dell, near Clarksburg.
Dr. Haynes and Sheriff W. B. Grimm, of Clarksburg,
told newspaper men that in the confession Powers described in detail
how he killed his victims. With one, he spent eight hours before
completing his work of destruction.
Dr. Haynes said he had financed part of Powers's
defense and that the proceeds were intended to reimburse him.
A short time after Powers's body was removed from
the death chamber, an envelope addressed to Warden Scroggins was
Therein was a letter in which the man about to
die had protested his innocence. He assailed capital punishment,
which he insisted fails to reduce the number of murder cases.
"There are more in West Virginia than in
Wisconsin," he explained.
He reiterated that his trial was "unfair," that
it was held in an opera house "where people go to be entertained."
He recalled he had twice been menaced by a mob, yet had been refused
a change of venue.
He said the community was inflamed against him
and that falsehoods had been published about him.
Sheriff Grimm said Powers had confessed the
slayings a short time after his arrest. He denied the confession had
been forced from Powers through a "third degree."
Confronted by evidence, the sheriff said, Powers
was asked to sign a confession. He was permitted to study a written
statement along in another room.
Not knowing Powers was there, Grimm said he
walked into the room and Powers called him to his side. Powers said
he would not sign the confession "because it involves my wife and
Asked if he would sign the paper if their names
were omitted, he replied:
"Sure, I'll sign it."
And he did, Grimm asserted.
Fears that Powers would suffer a nervous collapse
were expressed an hour before the hanging, when he was visited by
the sheriff and the warden.
Grimm, trustee for Mrs. Lemke's estate,
questioned Powers about what had become of the woman's jewelry.
Powers, sobbing bitterly, staggered from his bunk,
crossed to a table on which there was a Bible, and cried:
"With my hand on this Book of God, I swear by the
teachings of my mother, that I know nothing about it."
He continued to weep, as the two officials, tears
streaming down their faces, left him.
Nearly an hour later, however, those who were to
escort him to his death, found Powers waiting calmly.
Whether or not this story, which is to be
copyrighted, uncovers any new crimes is unknown, but Dr. Haynes and
Sheriff W. B. Grimm say that in it the mass slayer tells in detail
how he killed the five persons.
Dr. W. A. Marsh, of Greenlawn, near Adamston, who
attended the hanging, declared just before the execution took place
that he had it "from a reliable source" that Powers in one statement
admitted to the murder of Dudley C. Wade, carpet sweeper salesman,
who disappeared so mysteriously, May 10, 1928. Dr. Marsh said he was
bound by confidence not to reveal his informant.
Wade and Powers worked for the same carpet
sweeper company. Wade disappeared and Powers took over management of
the agency here. Company officials, checking up, found a number of
sweepers missing here. Powers insisted Wade had sold them and had
run off with the money.
The company offered a reward for recovery of the
missing sweepers, but got no results. Then a search warrant was
sworn out and many of the sweepers were found, with the serial
number changed, in Powers's garage on Lynn avenue, Broad Oaks.
Powers was arrested, but blamed the sweeper
trouble on Wade. "I had recovered the sweepers and was going to turn
them in," said Powers. His ingenious plea won his freedom.
Then Powers sued the sweeper company and got most
of the reward offered for the stolen property.
Wade has never been found. Officers feel certain
he either is dead or is living somewhere under an assumed name.
T. A. Hoganson, Grundy county, Illinois coroner,
told this writer he is convinced in his own mind Powers killed an
unidentified woman at Morris, Ill. "He told me in an interview that
he had never been in the state of Illinois," declared Hoganson. "In
that statement he contradicted himself, for he had many times
admitted to being in Illinois. The Eicher family lived at Park Ridge,
Ill., and Powers during his imprisonment in the Harrison county jail
at Clarksburg never denied visiting the Eichers there.
"The automobile Powers drove to Morris, Ill.,
corresponded with the coupe Powers owned," continued Hoganson. "The
rooming house keeper from whom he rented a garage says she is
certain from the pictures she has seen of Powers that he was the
same man who rented storage room from her. She says there was a
stifling odor in the garage. She told her renter about the odor.
Later the body of the woman wrapped in burlap was found beside the
highway near Morris."
Powers's body was not claimed by his widow, and
will be buried in a few days in the prison potter's field, in dismal
Toms Run valley.
Harry Powers: Bluebeard of Quiet Dell
- December 11, 1931
"Just What I Expected", Says
Powers of First Degree Verdict
ROMEO FACES NOOSE
Jurors Study Evidence for Hour and 47 Minutes as Vast Crowd Waits.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY PLEADS AND WEEPS
Argue Motion for New Trial in Case Before Judge Southern on
The shadow of the gallows today falls full across
the pudgy figure of Harry F. Powers, as he sits in the county jail
counting the days until he will mount the 13 steps to the trap that
will drop him on the end of a rope, choking out his life as he
choked life from his victims.
Convicted late yesterday of first degree murder
of the New England nurse he lured from her home on the promises of
marriage, choked to death to get her life savings, and then buried,
with the bodies of four other victims, in a slimy drainage ditch
outside his garage in Quiet Dell, the Bluebeard killer tomorrow will
seek a new trial from Judge John C. Southern of Harrison county
"It was just what I expected," Power told Andrew
Moore, deputy sheriff and turnkey at the county jail, when he was
locked in his cell a few minutes after he had calmly received the
verdict of a jury of his peers.
New Trial Asked
Only the granting of a new trial by Judge
Southern, Judge Birk S. Stathers of Harrison county circuit court,
or the state supreme court of appeals, can save the matrimonial
racketeer from expiating his crime with his life soon after the
first of the New Year. The course of what promises to be successive
appeals leading to the highest court of the state will begin
tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock.
After his white-haired attorney, J. E. Law, had
pleaded for "sympathy, justice, and mercy" for the first mass slayer
this county has ever known, the state demanded nothing less than a
verdict carrying with it the death penalty. The jury remained in its
rooms an hour and 47 minutes deliberating the fate of the slayer,
the delay being occasioned when some members of the jury considered
for a time a recommendation of mercy.
Took Three Ballots
It was reported about the court house that after
reaching their room for deliberation the jurors, after electing the
foreman, took three ballots. On these three votes, there was said to
be sentiment for life imprisonment, but this yielded and the death
penalty was finally written after careful consideration of all the
evidence, it was learned.
Tears streamed down the cheeks of Mr. Law as he
urged the jury to apply the spirit of Jesus to the case, and he
paced up and down during the seemingly interminable interval while
the talesmen locked in a carefully guarded dressing room of Moore's
Opera house, where the trial was held, pondered the fate of the
Romeo who wooed by mail.
Powers sat, his back to the crowded theater,
almost immovable. At times it seemed he scarcely realized the
enormity of his offense or the fact that 12 of his fellow citizens
of this county were deciding whether his life should be terminated
in the cause of justice 30 years before he reached his allotted "three
score and ten".
Once Mr. Law borrowed a paper from the newspaper
reporter in the front row and he and the mail order Lothario bent
over it, seemingly intent on a perusal of the latest details of the
case - then closed beyond recall.
Just as the crowd began to dwindle, there came a
stir. Judge Southern came to the bench, and it was believed that
court would be adjourned for the night.
Jury Raps Heard
Then came three loud raps from the door of the
jury room. Powers looked up, his countenance tinged with a red flush,
but his expression unchanged.
The jury walked in, none of its members looking
at the man they had just convicted of the most serious crime in the
"Gentlemen, have you agreed upon a verdict?"
slowly intoned Clerk Ben B. Jarvis.
"We have," replied Nathan Richards, Bridgeport
farmer, from his seat in the rear row. He handed the folded paper to
His Hope Shattered
"Hearken to your verdict, gentlemen," said Jarvis,
and he read:
"We, the jury, find the defendant, Harry F.
Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson, guilty of first degree murder as
charged in the within indictment."
Powers, his hands clutched on the desk before him,
seemed to stop breathing as he waited to see if the words "and
further find that he be confined in the penitentiary" were added.
They were not. His fate was sealed.
Judge Southern, before the jury came in,
expressly warned against a demonstration in the court room, and
there was none. But seconds later, while the verdict was being read
again and the number of the indictment, 10357, inserted, cheers
could be heard from the crown outside the courtroom. If Powers heard
the gleeful mob, who had been waiting for just such an announcement
through four days, he gave no sign.
State police rushed to the stage and surrounded
the prisoner, but there was not the slightest excitement. Mr. Law
sat motionless, his fight lost against the connected chain of
circumstantial evidence adduced by the state. Then he made a formal
motion that a new trial be granted and Saturday morning at 10
o'clock was fixed as the time for the start of the argument.
Jokes About Auto
Again manacled and led with a chain, Powers was
hustled out to a waiting car. The motor stalled and Powers made his
first remark after hearing the verdict.
"You don't have a very good chauffeur today," he
said to Sheriff Grimm. And the Bluebeard, whose bespectacled
countenance has appeared in virtually every paper in the nation,
went silently back to the cell, from which he will re-appear only to
go through the ordeal of another trial, or to start on his last
journey to the state penitentiary at Moundsville, from which he will
never emerge alive.
Closing scenes of the trial, staged under the
strangest circumstances that a man ever fought for his life at the
bar of justice, were filled with the dramatics which the court and
its officers have tried so persistently and successfully to avoid.
While Mr. Law, clutching the sides of a table,
talked of the love of man for man, Powers stared at the painting of
a church on the back drop on the stage. While he pleaded for the
jurors to remain firm in their convictions, the thought of his
possible plight overcame the slayer and he wept.
While Prosecuting Attorney Will E. Morris and his
assistant, William G. Stathers, pounded vigorously on the desk of
the court stenographer as they tolled off point after point in the
state's well-nigh perfect case of circumstantial evidence, the
audience sat tense, imagining every step of Mrs. Lemke's last
journey from her Northboro, Mass., home to her execution room in the
Quiet Dell murder garage. Even the "crowd noise" of shuffling,
nervous feet, coughing, and sharp intakes of breath at a
particularly brilliant point, abated as the rival counsel fought
over the life of the man who had as many aliases as victims in his
rude burying ground.
The defense attorney made no statement regarding
his plans for the new trial motion, but it is believed that he will
rely principally on the contention that Powers could not receive a
fair trial because of prejudice against him. The record is full of
exceptions to the ruling of the court on admission of evidence, and
these will no doubt be brought up.
May Be Sentenced
If Judge Southern passes immediately on the
motion Saturday morning, and does not take time to consider, he will
then sentence Powers to be hanged. The law provides that the date of
execution must be fixed not earlier than 30 days from the date of
Should the new trial be refused by the criminal
court judge, an appeal will be taken to the circuit court, and if
the defendant is still unsuccessful in gaining a reversal of the
jury's verdict, it is understood that a stay of execution will be
asked for the purpose of seeking a writ of error from the state
The case was brought to a close with rapidity
yesterday morning. Defense counsel recalled to the stand state
witnesses who had attempted on rebuttal to shatter Powers' alibi
that he was in Hagerstown on the night the state alleged Mrs. Lemke
was slain. He succeeded in having written into the record that there
was a rain storm that day when the witnesses said the night when
Powers stopped along the Quiet Dell road with a woman in his car to
fix a flat tire was clear and "moonshiny." Two state witnesses were
recalled for brief examination and at 11 o'clock, Judge Southern
began reading the instructions of the court to the jury.
Five instructions were offered on behalf of the
state and four for the defense, while three general instructions
were given by the court. The six possible verdicts were outlined as
First degree murder, death penalty.
First degree murder with recommendation of mercy, life imprisonment.
Second degree murder, 5 to 18 years imprisonment.
Voluntary manslaughter, 1 to 5 years imprisonment.
Involuntary manslaughter, jail sentence or fine or both.
Argument started at 11:15 with Stathers talking
until noon. Law began at 1:30 and quit at 2:45. Morris talked until
3:15 and the jury retired at 3:18. The jury reported at 5:05. Court
was adjourned until Saturday morning at 10 o'clock, when it will
convene in the federal building. The jury was excused for the term.
Harry Powers: Bluebeard of Quiet Dell
Extract from the Transcript
of Record, State of West Virginia v. Felony No. 10357 Harry F.
Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson, Criminal Court of Harrison
County, Benjamin B. Jarvis, clerk. West Virginia State Archives
On another day, to-wit, on the 12th day of
December, 1931, the following order was entered: -
State of West Virginia vs. / Upon an lndictment
for a Felony No. 10357 Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson.
This day came again the State by her Prosecuting
Attorney as well as the defendant, Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius
O. Pierson, in person, who was set to the bar of lthe Court in the
custody of the Sheriff and jailer of this County and represented by
J. E. Law, his attorney; and the motion of the defendant, made at a
former day of this court, to set aside the verdict returned by the
jury in this action on the 10th day of December, 1931, and to grant
him a new trial herein having been argued, by counsel and considered
by the Court is hereby overruled and said new trial denied; to which
ruling and action of the Court in overruling said motion and
refusing a new trial herein the said defendant duly excepted.
And it being demanded of the said defendant if
there was anything he knew or had to say why the sentence of the
Court should not be pronounced against him, and nothing being urged
in delay thereof, it is considered and ordered by the Court that he,
the said Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson, be hung by the
neck until he is dead, and the execution of this judgment to be done
upon him, the said Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson, by
the Warden of the penitentiary of this State at Moundsville on
Friday, the 18th day of March, in the year Nineteen Hundred and
Thirty-two; said execution to take place within the walls of said
penitentiary according to law.
The Clerk of this court is hereby directed to
deliver a copy of this order to W. B. Grimm, Sheriff and jailer of
this County, who shall retain the custody of the said Harry F.
Powers alias Cornelius O. Pierson, until a properly authorized guard,
sent by the Warden of said penitentiary to receive him, shall convey
said defendant, Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson, to said
penitentiary; and the Clerk shall also notify the Warden of said
penitentiary of the conviction and sentence of the said defendant
that he may as soon as practicable be removed and safely conveyed to
said institution there to be kept in the manner provided by law
until the said 18th day of March, 1932, when the execution of the
judgment aforesaid shall be done upon him, the said Harry F. Powers,
alias Cornelius O. Pierson, And the said defendant expressing a
desire to apply for a writ of error and supersedeas to the judgment
aforesaid, it is ordered that the execution thereof be, and the same
is hereby suspended until the first day of the March Term, 1932, of
this court, to enable the said defendant to make such application,
and the said defendant hath leave to prepare, tender and have his
bill or bills of exception signed, sealed and made part of the
record herin within sixty (60) days from the adjournment on the
present term of court.
Thereupon the said defendant was remanded to jail
in the custody of the Sheriff and jailer of this County.
September 4, 1931
Advertisements in cheap, pornographic ("love" and "art") magazines
conform to the standard of their fiction and illustrations but often
fall a step lower. Pages are packed with announcements of "red hot"
photographs, vigor tablets ("Glow of Life"), bust developers, sex
secrets, aphrodisiacs ("Essence of Ecstasy"), contraceptives. Plentiful
also are the advertisements of so-called matrimonial bureaus which will
furnish lists of lonely men & women, object matrimony. Stressed in the
advertisements, prominent on the lists are Wealthy Widows. Sample
"LONELY HEARTS—Join the world's greatest
social extension club, meet nice people who, like yourself, are lonely (many
wealthy); one may be your ideal. . . . We have made thousands happy. Why
not you?—Standard Club, Box 607, Grayslake, Ill."
"MARRY! New big directory, photos,
descriptions, sent sealed, 10 cents.—Cozy Darling, Dept. 10, Kansas City,
"LONELY HEARTS—Let us arrange a romantic
correspondence for you. A club for refined, lonely people. Members
everywhere; strictly CONFIDENTIAL, efficient and dignified service—Eva
Moore. Box 908. Jacksonville, Fla. I HAVE A SWEETHEART FOR YOU."
"WEALTHY LADIES, RICH WIDOWS, LOVELY GIRLS,
want to marry. ('Write for free sealed list)—Mary E. Hill. Monon
Building, Chicago, Ill."
"LONESOME FOLKS, DANDY LITTLE LADIES, many
wealthy, will marry —Mrs. Budd, Box 753-L, San Francisco, Calif."
"There are more people starving for love
and companionship than there are starving for bread," red-inked the
American Friendship Society of Detroit, which offered "ABSOLUTELY FREE"
lists of wealthy widows to anybody who had the price of a two-cent stamp.
In four years the "society" had collected more than $100,000 in "dues."
Its president, a Mrs. Olga Plater, and her husband, Albert Browel Plater
(who in 1917 had been accused of impersonating a Russian count, a U. S.
Army captain), lived in a $50,000 home near Detroit. Last week the
American Friendship Society was involved in a sordid, hideous mess. In a
shallow grave beside a garage in Clarksburg, W. Va., were found the
bodies of two women and three children. In Clarksburg jail cowered a fat,
beady-eyed, flabby little man, battered and bruised into a confession of
his sadism. Police in many States followed clues to other crimes, other
murders, all linked to Clarks burg's "Bluebeard" and the matrimonial
societies through which he operated. From his papers it was apparent he
had conducted at least 115 mail-order "court ships" with lonely, foolish
women. Relatives of Widow Asta Buick Eicher, 50, in Park Ridge, Ill.,
became suspicious when Harry F. Powers, with whom she and her three
children had left home after a mail-order courtship, reappeared to claim
her house. Letters from Powers postmarked Clarksburg, W. Va., were found
in the house. Clarksburg police went to Powers' home (not far from where
famed Lawyer John William Davis once lived) and beside a windowless,
cell-like garage dug up the bodies of Mrs. Eicher and her children. The
two girls, 9 and 14, had been strangled; the head of the boy, 12, was
beaten in with a hammer. The police arrested Powers, pounded a
confession out of him. Convicts still digging in the foul trench found
the body of Dorothy Pressler Lemke, a grass widow who had withdrawn
$1,533 from a bank and left Northboro, Mass, with Powers a month earlier.
Killer Powers was rushed for safety from
the city to the county jail while police began to investigate the
activities of Luella Struthers, a wife whom he had not killed, who still
lived with him and who had paid for construction of the garage. They
learned she had been divorced by a man acquitted of murder in 1903, had
met Powers through a marriage agency. They sought to connect her with a
check forged on Mrs. Eicher's account and with a letter written to
relatives of Mrs. Lemke. Police elsewhere, investigating Powers'
courtships, learned he had been about to marry yet another woman when he
was arrested, that he had stolen from many others. They sought evidence
to accuse him of a Washington, D. C. murder.
The police also learned that a Detroit
widow, mother of three, had found a husband through the American
Friendship Society, had been murdered by him just before he committed
suicide. While investigation of the "society" was being pressed,
unexpected aid came to Killer Powers. One Barratt O'Hara, a Chicago
criminal attorney, flew to Clarksburg and aroused the ire of the
townspeople by announcing he would defend the prisoner. He refused to
tell who had sent him. Clarksburg authorities, fearing an insanity plea,
imported Alienist Edward Everett Mayer from the University of Pittsburgh,
had him examine the prisoner.
Dr. Mayer's report: "Powers is a
psychopathic personality ... of the hypopituitary type—squat, pig-eyed,
paunchy, with weakened sexual powers. He is not insane, but he has been
a borderline case all his life. Powers is capable of knowing right from
THE LITERATURE OF
THE AMERICAN SERIAL KILLER
By Patterson Smith
killer operating in [Earle] Nelson's time was a man named Herman Drenth,
who was known chiefly by his last alias, Harry F. Powers. A traveling
salesman based in West Virginia, Powers used matrimonial correspondence
agencies to ensnare lonely women, whom he robbed then murdered.
estimated that before his arrest in 1931 he had killed fifty victims,
although that number seems highly doubtful. He confessed to killing only
those five whose bodies were found buried next to his "murder garage,"
wherein he bound and gassed his victims and watched in delight as they
died. The pleasure of the sight, said Powers, "beat any cat house I was
I have a form letter
in Powers' hand which he used to inveigle female correspondents. In it
he announces himself "longing for someone to take [my former wife's]
place in my heart," and promises that his new wife "can have anything,
within reason, that money can buy." The letter begins, "My age is [blank],
height 67 inches, have clear blue eyes, medium dark hair." Powers
evidently had used the letter as a model for writing to various women,
no doubt adjusting his age to fit the year of writing or the age of his
The printed legacy of
Powers consists of a scarce book by Evan Allen Bartlett, Love Murders
of Harry F. Powers: Beware Such Bluebeards (1931) and a scarcer
undated contemporary pamphlet of 14 pages, "Love Secrets of Bluebeard.
The use of the term "Bluebeard" in the title to denote a murderer of
women, the prevalent usage for the last two hundred years, is somewhat
interesting, since the original Bluebeard was a fifteenth-century French
nobleman named Gilles de Rais who was a homosexual killer of boys.