It’s hard to say what was going through Johann Whynack’s mind as he walked home on that warm summer evening in 1914. There was a lot going on in his life, mostly involving his wife, Marie.
Oh, how he loved her! But the thought of her was bittersweet.
Any positive vibes in his mood must have soured at the thought of her and everything that she was putting him through. He walked a little faster, the bucket in his hand swinging with each stride.
Best to put all that out of his mind for now. Whynack walked into the saloon and presented his bucket to the bartender. He asked for beer, and the man behind the long counter obliged. Whynack paid, lifted the beer bucket into his hand, and walked back out the door, heading for home.
He and Marie shared a small, second-story apartment on Harrison Street in Davenport, Iowa. It was just the two of them, so they didn’t need a lot of space. If Marie had her way, it would just be him there. Whynack pushed that thought out of his mind and walked quietly up to his home.
He went into the kitchen, took a glass, and poured some of the beer into it. Soon, the door opened and Marie came in. She had just gotten off her job at a grocery store just a few doors down from the apartment.
Marie looked at her husband for a moment, then asked for some of the beer. Johann filled a glass from the bucket and handed it to her. After drinking some, Marie told him to take the mattress off the bed and take it downstairs.
Johann asked where he could sleep. She told him that she didn’t care, her tone and body language apparently very clear that she meant it. Without saying another word, Johann went into the bedroom and sat down on the bed to finish his beer.
He was still sitting there when Marie came in. She walked over to Johann and shoved him, telling him to leave. He probably wasn’t entirely surprised. They had been fighting for weeks, and Marie said that she didn’t want to be with him anymore.
But Johann loved her. He asked if she would kiss him again before he left. Marie angrily stated that she would not, and that if he didn’t go she would have him arrested and thrown in jail.
Johann had been arrested the previous Spring for hitting Marie. Love had its limits, and her constant abuse had finally gotten under his skin. He had snapped then, and his blows had probably done more damage than he had intended.
He was a hard worker and was very strong. Even amongst his co-workers at the Kohrs Packing Company, who were themselves strong from lifting and carrying every day, said that Whynack’s strength stood out even amongst them.
In spite of that strength, Whynack wasn’t a common laborer. He was a butcher.
He knew the ins and outs of processing cattle and hogs, breaking them down with his keen-edged knife. It was this same knife that caught Whynack’s eye when Marie told him to get out of the room.
Johann wasn’t drunk, but he was angry. Angry at the way he had been treated. Angry at how she belittled and berated him every chance that she got, no matter how well he treated her or how much he loved her.
He didn’t want to go back to jail for any length of time, and a vision sprang to his mind of being back in a cell.
Something snapped inside of him again, different and more serious than what he had felt in April.
A fire had built in Whynack, one that had been stoked into a raging, all-consuming fury. He stood up and stepped away from the bed. He grabbed his knife, the tool of his trade, and spun on Marie. While he had taken his hands to her before, this would be no mere beating. With the familiar butcher’s blade in his hand, he began to do to Marie what he had done to so many animal carcasses before – break her down.
Whynack pushed Marie back onto the bed and started to slice. She tried to defend herself as best she could, but the knife merely cut open her hands. Marie screamed for her life, but Whynack’s fury would not be dissuaded. The butcher’s attack was relentless.
One slice found her hip, but two more found her exposed neck. The keen blade, propelled by Whynack’s strong and skilled hands, easily severed muscle and sinew, cutting into her spinal column. Marie’s screaming stopped suddenly as her windpipe was sheared in half.
As suddenly as he had begun, Whynack stopped. A part of his brain realized what he had done and was horrified. He dropped the knife and ran out of the apartment.
Unbelievably, Marie was still alive. Even with all of her major arteries and windpipe severed, the woman still clung to life. Slowly, she stood. Reaching out, Marie took a sheet from the blood-soaked bed and wrapped it as tightly as she could around her neck in an effort to bind the wound.
In a Herculean show of strength and will, she started to walk from the bedroom. She went through the kitchen and onto the outside stairs. Leaning heavily on the stair rail, Marie Johann began to haltingly make her way down towards the neighbors.
Her downstairs neighbors, the Bentleys, watched in horror as Marie, her head lolling weirdly to one side, stumbled toward their door. That had come outside to see what the screaming was all about and discovered a living nightmare. Mrs. Bentley, terrified, slammed the door shut and then promptly feinted.
Marie made it to the door, then tilted forward against the door frame and slumped to the ground. With her head barely attached to her body, she had made it further than anyone would have thought possible, but event the strongest will has its limits. She died there quietly while her husband was held by a few men at the nearby fire station.
While Marie tried almost beyond human comprehension to survive her terrible wounds, Whynack ran blindly out of the apartment, his shirt covered in blood. Without much thought, he ran down Harrisson Street.
Several people had heard Marie’s screams, and a few men across the street watched as Johann ran by. They weren’t sure what had happened, but they suspected that the man had something to do with it. With little hesitation, they ran after the murderous butcher.
Whynack kept running, holding up his pants with one hand. He fled for a few more blocks, but his pursuers caught up with him and held him fast. The police had already been called and he was soon in their custody.
After hearing about the screams and seeing Whynack’s bloody shirt, police officers went to investigate the Austrian’s apartment. It didn’t take them long to find Marie’s body outside the Bentley’s door. A blood trail led them upstairs in into the bedroom.
Confession and Trial
At the police station, Whynack confessed freely to the murder. He made no excuses for himself or his crimes, but he did lay the blame for all his troubles at the feet of one man – Franz Hervieu.
Johann had lived in the same village as Marie and Franz in Austria. Marie favored Franz, but her parents didn’t like him. Instead, they pushed Marie into marrying Johann. Shortly after they were married, Johann immigrated to America.
He found a job as a butcher at the Kohr’s Packing Company, a local meat processing plant. Johann began renting a small, two-room apartment and then sent for his wife. Their relationship was volatile as soon as she arrived in Davenport. To make matters even worse, Johann soon discovered that his old rival, Franz, had taken up residence just a short distance away.
It didn’t take long for Marie and Franzl to reignite their romance. The problem was that they were very open about it, not bothering to hide it from Johann or really anyone else. Marie started to ask for a divorce and became increasingly abusive.
She spat in her husband’s face more than once and berated him constantly. At one point, she sold all of the furniture in their apartment and split the profit with her lover.
Johann finally filed for divorce, but he still loved her and stayed with her. But she didn’t care, and the rage continued to build until he finally killed her.
The trial was held in the Fall of 1914. Many witnesses were brought in to testify on behalf of Whynack, talking about what a peaceable and loving man he was. At the same time, they also spoke to Marie’s open affair and shrewish attitude toward her husband.
Ultimately, it was all for naught. Whynack had confessed. He openly stated that he hadn’t planned to kill Marie that night and wished he had killed himself instead.
Johann Whynack was found guilty and sentenced to seventeen years at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, Iowa.
Marriage is supposed to be a bond between two people who love one another. They take vows of love, commitment, and support, and one expects the other to uphold their end of the bargain. Marriage is, ideally, supposed to last forever.
But sometimes it doesn’t. Marriages fail. The bonds break down, and the union ends.
Marie had not been a very good wife. She was shrewish and adulterous, and wanted her marriage to be over. Johann was a loving husband as long as he kept his temper, but instead of walking away when things got to be too much, he instead chose to beat his wife to vent his frustration. That is never a good solution and is never an acceptable choice.
On a warm summer night in 1914, everything finally came to a final, bloody conclusion. Afraid of going back to jail, Johann Whynack made a choice to commit murder and sealed his fate, sending him to the very place he wanted to avoid.
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‘Austrian Murders Wife by Hacking Her With a Sharp Knife.’ The Daily Times, 6/8/1914
‘Slayer Breaks Down in Court; Tells of Deed.’ Davenport Democrat and Leader, 6/9/1914
‘Johann.’ Davenport Democrat and Leader, 6/9/1914
‘Austrian Faces Charge Murder in First Degree and Life Imprisonment.‘ Davenport Democrat and Leader, 6/8/1914
‘Two Indicted as Murderers by Grand Jury.’ Davenport Democrat and Leader, 9/24/1914
‘Slayer to Take Stand to Tell of Wife’s Infidelity in Fight to Save Own Life.’ Davenport Democrat and Leader, 10/8/1914
‘Murderer Weeps at Sight of Knife Which Was used to End Life of His Wife.’ Davenport Democrat and Leader, 10/9/1914
‘Whynack Johann Found Guilty of Murdering Wife.’ The Daily Times, 10/14/1914
‘Whynack Sentenced to 17 Years in Pen.’ The Rock Island Argus, 11/7/1914