Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You don't know Pfanschmidt...

As I have said in comments, a major problem with the investigation of these crimes was the use of detective agencies. The federal agency that would later be called the FBI was only three years old and, just as today, didn’t come into a state case unless asked. I have picked a crime which occurred a few months after Villisca to highlight what I feel is illustrative of this problem. The Montgomery County, Iowa officials asked the Burns National Detective Agency to work on the Villisca case and Burns sent C.W. Tobie, later to be manager of the agency’s Chicago office. Already in town was Detective Thomas O’Leary of the Kirk’s Detective Agency and so the competition was on. The reward in Villisca was growing and professional and amateur detectives were descending on Iowa.  

In September of 1912 a fire was discovered at the home of the Charles Pfanschmidt family outside of Quincy, Illinois. The fire completely destroyed the house and when the metal roof was removed, the bodies of three females were discovered lying on a blood soaked mattress in what would have been an upstairs bedroom. The bodies were those of Matilda and Blanche Pfanschmidt and Emma Kaempen. Matilda was the wife of Charles and Blanch was their fourteen-year-old daughter. Ms. Kaempen was a school teacher in Quincy who boarded with the family. All three women had been bludgeoned with an axe while lying in bed. In the cellar of the house was found another body: 

Also found in the cellar was an axe head with, what was later identified as human blood, “baked” onto it from the intense heat of the flames. The handle of the axe had been completely burned off.

The Attorney General of Illinois requested help from the Burns Agency and Detective Tobie decided to assign himself to the case. Montgomery County continued to pay Tobie for this investigation in order to see if the two crimes might have been connected. Thomas O’Leary also went to Quincy for the same purpose. Before either detective had arrived, the Adams County sheriff arrested the Pfanschmidt’s son, Ray. Ray had moved out of the family house in August to commence work digging out a location for a train switch on the Burlington (C. B. & Q.) Railroad. He had established a work camp near the location for him and his helper to live at. The main evidence against Ray was a set of buggy tracks leading from the Pfanschmidt barn to this work camp. A set of bloody clothes was found and Ray’s “girlfriend” identified them as belonging to Ray. Charles Pfanschmidt owned considerable amounts of real estate and his wife, Matilda, also owned large shares of land from her father which would, upon her death, pass to the children so Ray stood to gain a large inheritance (over $100,000 today) from the death of his family. In the weeks prior to the murders, Charles’ bank sent a note stating that his account had gone overdraft, twice. The checks had been written by Ray and Charles had supposedly complained to a friend about Ray’s spending.

O’Leary immediately decided Ray Pfanschmidt was guilty of killing his family in order to gain the inheritance and declared the two crimes to be unrelated. Detective Tobie saw things differently. After meeting with the Burns detective, Ray Pfanschmidt hired Tobie as an “expert witness” to testify the murders could have been carried out by a roving axe maniac who had killed twenty-four people in four states. So while Detective C.W. Tobie was being paid by Montgomery County, he was hired by the man he was being paid to investigate who stood to gain financially if acquitted. No conflict there! Ray was tried and convicted of murdering his sister in March of 1913 and scheduled for the gallows in October of that year. He won an appeal by the Illinois Supreme Court in February 1914 on the argument his request for change of venue should have been granted and that certain evidence, including the letter of overdraft from the bank, was not admissible. He was retried for the murder of his sister and found not guilty. He was then put on trial for the murder of his father and found not guilty. The case for the murder of his mother was dismissed and authorities didn’t try to convict him again. He took his inheritance and left Adams County. My opinion; Ray got away with it.  But this would not be the last time a Burns detective would throw an investigation off.

6 comments:

Beth Lane said...

Hello! I do know Pfanschmidt, in fact I spent a decade or so researching the crime, and just published a book on the subject. It's called Lies Told Under Oath, the Puzzling Story of the Pfanschmid Murders. I'd be delighted to hear what you think of the content. there's a site, liestoldunderoath.com and the book is on Amazon and on the site.

Unknown said...

It was more than just that a change of venue had not been granted and that the letter should have been inadmissible. They convicted him in large part based on the evidence of bloodhounds following a "scent" from where buggy tracks and horseshoe prints had been found near the house back to Ray's "camp." The problem is...Ray being part of the family he would have traveled to his parents' home and back to camp before and had gone there upon hearing about the fire and death of his family before he was suspected so the dogs could easily have followed that trail without him being the murderer. It wouldn't be strange for Ray to visit his family. It would be like if my family were killed and they convicted me based on my hair being in the house...I live there...of course my hair would be in the house. Those buggy and horseshoe tracks may have had absolutely NOTHING to do with the murder. They could have been there before and/or been there by a previous visit Ray made home before the murders. I wonder too if the fire was not a deliberate act by the murderer but was accidental...if there was a serial killer "riding the rails" and it was the same person who had previously killed at Villisca and the other murder where the lamp wick was folded down, if upon leaving the murderer didn't leave the lamp lit and accidentally knocked it over at some point when he was there causing the fire. If it wasn't Ray and was the same killer, intentionally lighting the house on fire would seem to be a huge change in M.O. I suppose it's also possible that the family and boarder were dead at least a few hours before the fire started and the murderer was gone and something left unattended in the house due to the deaths of the occupants involving fire started it. Those examining the scene after putting the fire out stated that it didn't look like it started in the stove in the kitchen, but in that time the kitchen was not the only place where something may have been burning for some utilitarian purpose.

Inspector Winship said...

" Those buggy and horseshoe tracks may have had absolutely NOTHING to do with the murder." I agree. Those are largely circumstantial bits of evidence and I won't get into the "bloody" clothes found in Ray's tent. I look more at the condition of Ray's father when he was found in the cellar. The accounts I've read indicate the body had been dismembered before being burned. The cellar also seemed to be the source of the fire. Dismembering and setting fire to a body is a rather personal act of hatred toward the victim which demonstrates a need to completely obliterate the subject of that hatred. This kind of passion is usually only seen in lovers, children/parents or siblings. The wife and daughter of Mr. Pfanschmidt were dead already so that leaves Ray, or an unknown person who had developed a very passionate hatred for the man. This of course is not definitive proof but is one reason I lean towards Ray being the responsible party. Thanks for the comment!

Kat Meow said...

Hey "Inspector Winship" im doing a speech on class about this murder....got any ideas or more info for me to use?

Inspector Winship said...

Kat - I am definitely NOT the authority on this crime. There is a book by Beth Lane available that has much better information than I can give you. If you have a specific question I can try to answer it.

Beth Lane said...

What sort of class is this for, and at what level? Depending on your class there are a lot of interesting angles to this case.

You might look at the clash of cultures here - new inventions versus old ways; the very rudimentary science; the family dynamics; the very questionable conduct of the trial, etc.

And PS the lawyers got ALL the money in the end.


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