Adolph Louis Luetgert (December 27, 1845-July 1899) was a German-American charged with murdering his wife and dissolving her body in acid in one of his sausage vats at the A.L. Luetgert Sausage & Packing Company in 1897.
Luetgert, born in Gütersloh, Westphalia (now Germany), moved to Chicago, Illinois in the 1870s. He married his wife Louisa Bicknese on January 18, 1878. Luetgert ran the successful A.L. Luetgert Sausage & Packing Company and was considered the “sausage king” of Chicago until being accused of murdering his wife and being sentenced to life in prison on February 9, 1898 where he died about a year and a half later.
After the news of the trial became public, rumors spread that Luetgert had actually turned his wife into sausage and sold the “sausage” to unknowing consumers. Although this has been proven to be false as her body was dissolved and burned, the legend persists to this day. Another common myth about the murder is that the ghost of Louisa Luetgert haunts the old factory grounds and the couple’s former home in Chicago.
Adolph Louis Luetgert, born on December 27, 1845, was originally named Adolph Ludwig Lütgert. He was born in a town called Gütersloh, located in the province Westphalia, which is now a part of Germany.
His parents, Christian Heinrich Lütgert and Margreta Sophia Severin, had ten other children besides Adolph; eight other sons and two daughters. Adolph was the third born in the family, and he also had a twin named Heinrich Friedrich "Fritz" Luetgert, who died before Adolph around 1894 or 1895. While Adolph was growing up, his father dealt with animal hides and tallow wool as well a dabbling into real estate a bit.
Adolph’s schooling lasted from about the age of seven until the age of fourteen and after those seven years of schooling, Adolph became an apprentice for Ferdinand Knabel whom taught him about the tanning business. During the time of the apprenticeship, Adolph continued to live in Westphalia however as an apprentice he lived with his boss instead of his family. After working for Knabel for two and a half years, Luetgert began to travel around Germany, working wherever he could. At the age of nineteen, Luetgert traveled to London, England where he stayed for about six months but left because he was unable to find a job other than scrubbing restaurant floors.
Life in America
Adolph Luetgert came to New York in around 1865 or 1866 when he was about twenty years old. Like many others, he had heard that thousands of his countrymen were going to America with very little money. With about thirty dollars to his name, Luetgert boarded a ship bound for the United States.
Luetgert arrived in New York and after a short time there he went to Quincy, Illinois to meet up with some friends of his brother who were living there. He stayed in Quincy for about four months before moving to Chicago in search of a job at a tannery. He found a job at Union Hide and Leather Company. He did not have a steady job or constant pay at the tannery, so he began to also take on random jobs such as moving houses. From 1867 to 1868, Luetgert got a job at another tannery called Engle, Crossley & Co. He then worked at another tannery called Craig, Clark & Company, but later returned to work at the Engle Brother’s Tannery until 1872.
Luetgert then started his own business with the four thousand dollars he had saved. Initially, he went into the liquor business before starting his sausage company in 1879.
He married his first wife, Caroline Roepke, sometime between 1870 and 1872. She died on November 17, 1877. He married his second wife Louise Bicknese, two months after Caroline’s death, on January 18, 1878. Luetgert had six children—two with Caroline and four with Louise. Only three of his children survived past the age of 2. 
Murder and Police Investigation
Louisa disappeared on May 1, 1897. Adolph told his children that their mother had gone to visit her sister on the previous night but never came back. After a few days, Louisa’s brother, Diedrich Bicknese went to the police to report her disappearance. Luetgert then claimed to the police that she ran away with another man.
During their investigation, the police came to know that the couple had a history of domestic violence and that the couple fought on a regular basis. According to a source, Luetgert had financial difficulties so he started courting a rich widow who he planned to marry once he got rid of his wife. The police continued their investigation only to learn that on the night of May 1, 1897, the night Louisa disappeared, she was seen entering the factory with her husband at 10:30pm. A watchman from the sausage plant confirmed the story, saying that Mr. Luetgert gave him an errand to run and told him that he could take the rest of the night off.
The police also made a shocking discovery, they came across bills that stated that Luetgert bought arsenic and potash the day before the murder. Due to all the accumulated evidence the detective was convinced that Luetgert had killed his wife, boiled her in acid and then disposed of her in a factory furnace.
The officers then started searching in the furnace where they found burned foul sausages and human residue. There, they also found two of Louisa’s rings, including one that had the initials “LL” engraved on it. Bone fragments identified by a forensic anthropologist included metatarsal bones, toe phalanx, rib and head of a human female. Due to the overwhelming evidence, Luetgert, still claiming his innocence, was arrested and put on trial.
Adolph Luetgert’s murder trial began in the end of August in 1897 and took place in the Cook County Courthouse. The Judge was Richard Tuthill. Luetgert was defended by William Vincent. Luetgert was prosecuted by Charles Deneen, who would later be elected Governor of Illinois and a U.S. Senator for Illinois. The trial revolved around the disappearance of Louise Luetgert, Adolph’s wife, on May 1, 1897. The prosecution had used bones and a ring found in one of the grinders in Luetgert’s sausage factory as its main evidence. The ring was inscribed with the initials L.L., presumably standing for Louise Luetgert. The defense argued Louise Luetgert had left her house on May 1, 1897 and also cited many claims of people that they had seen her around the United States following the beginning of the trial. During the trial, observers thought that Luetgert seemed unconcerned and overly confident that he would be found innocent. The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, so the case was retried.
Luetgert’s second trial began in January 1898 at the same courthouse. The prosecution then used George Amos Dorsey, an anthropologist at the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago, to prove that the bones found were human bones. This time, the jury came to a unanimous decision, that Luetgert was guilty. Luetgert was convicted and sentenced life in prison. Luetgert died in prison in 1899.
This case was one of the first trials widely covered by the media. Newspapers from Chicago would report on it daily and some of them would try to eavesdrop on the jury deliberation. At the time, the case was called the celebrity case and is credited with putting murder trials in the media. This case also was one of the first to use forensic experts to solve a crime.
Myths about Mrs. Luetgert
There were many “sightings” of Mrs. Luetgert after the trial began. She was sighted in 12 different states but never found. One of the most famous myths was that she was seen boarding a ship in New York bound for Europe. When Adolph heard this he said that he thought she was definitely fleeing the country. The sightings of Louise Leutgert however, never became global.
Some claim that the Luetgert factory burned to the ground in 1902, but the research of Robert Loerzel shows that the factory still stands, although a fire actually occurred on June 26, 1904. The fire only burned the inside of the building, destroying things such as the sausage vats, while leaving the external structure still standing.
Today, the factory still stands on the south side of the 1700 block of West Diversey Parkway, however it has been converted into condominiums similar to the other town homes and condominiums which now are beside it.
- Robert Loerzel, Alchemy of Bones: Adolph Luetgert, "Alchemy of Bones", http://www.alchemyofbones.com/who/luetgertfamily/adolph.htm
- Troy Taylor, "The Sausage Vat Murder", Prairie Ghosts 2001, http://www.prairieghosts.com/sausage.html.
- The Cabinet, "Dark Destinations — The A.L. Luetgert Sausage and Packing Company", http://www.thecabinet.com/darkdestinations/location.php?sub_id=dark_destinations&letter=a&location_id=the_al_luetgert_sausage_packing_company
- Loerzel, "Adolph Louis Luetgert".
- Loerzel, "Luetgert Tells His Life Story", http://www.alchemyofbones.com/stories/lifestory.htm
- Loerzel, "Luetgert Tells His Life Story".
- Taylor, "The Sausage Vat Murder".
- Clyde Collins, "Forensic Anthrolopology", http://www.jstor.org/stable/2155777.
- Collins, "Forensic Anthrolopology".
- Collins, "Forensic Anthropology".
- Loerzel, "What Happened to the Bones?", http://www.alchemyofbones.com/stories/bones.htm.
- Loerzel, "Debunking Myths on Luetgert Case", http://www.alchemyofbones.com/myths.htm.
- Michael Kelleher, "The Sausage Maker's Wife", http://knol.google.com/k/michael-kelleher/the-birth-of-forensic-anthropology/2x8tp9c7k0wac/3#
- Loerzel, "Debunking Myths on Luetgert Case".