Stolen Lives

The day had started out normally for 18-year-old Walter Garenz.

He woke up that morning, got dressed, and had breakfast with his employer, Christian Schindledecker. Shindledecker was a butcher, and Garenz worked for him at his shop, doing chores and making deliveries. He was a good boy and worked hard, so Christian didn’t mind renting a room to him at his small house in St. Paul, Minnesota.

After breakfast, Shindledecker kissed his family before stepping out the door. It was his second wedding anniversary, so he might have taken some extra time with his wife. They were planning to have a small celebration later after work, and were probably looking forward to it.

Shindledecker’s wife had even bought her husband some small gifts and made their son a new outfit for the occasion. It promised to be a very good end to their day.

Charles Schindledeker
Christian Schindledecker. Courtesy of St. Paul Globe. 

The morning continued to go as usual after that. A string of customers steadily made their way in and out of the store, just as they normally did, and Gerenz made his deliveries and took care of his duties at the shop.

Towards noon, Gerenz left to have lunch at the Schindledecker home, as was his habit.  Garenz didn’t think anything of it when he told Christian that he’d be back at work at 1 o’clock on his way out the door. After bidding him farewell, Schindledecker was left alone to mind the store.

As promised, Walter returned at 1 o’clock. He strode to the front door, and to his surprise, found it locked. Shindledecker usually left the front door open when he was there. After all, a butcher can’t sell meat if they keep the front door bolted.

Still, things come up, and Walter was sure that the boss had a good reason. Undeterred, he walked around to the rear entrance. The door was unlocked, and Walter went inside.

What he saw terrified him. He only caught a glimpse, but it was enough. Turning, Garenz ran out the door.

William Rohland, the son of another local butcher, was the first person that saw. William’s father had sent him to collect some sweetbreads from Schindledecker, and he was almost there when he saw Walter, eyes wide with fear.

Concerned, Rohland asked him what the matter was. Garenz blurted out that he had seen Schindledecker lying on the floor of the back room, dead. He thought his boss must have committed suicide. They immediately went to the nearest phone and called the police.

Because Rohland and Gerenz said it was a suicide, only an ambulance and a police surgeon were sent to the butcher shop, but no detectives. When the doctor, a man named Moore, walked in the back door and looked at the butcher’s body, he knew immediately that the initial call was wrong – Christian Schindledecker had been murdered. Moore notified the station of the situation, and detectives were sent to the scene.

   The investigation was started immediately.

Detectives determined that Schindledecker must have been in the shop alone when an unknown person came in and asked to buy some eggs, which were on a display table in the middle of the room. This forced him to come out from around the counter and within reach of the killer.

Schindledecker held a bag in one hand, while grabbing the eggs with the other. As he went to put them in the bag, he was struck violently twice in the head with a hammer, knocking him unconscious. The killer then took a large nail out of his pocket, walked to the front door, and drove it deep into the door. They wanted to ensure that they weren’t going to be disturbed.

They took the unconscious butcher under both arms and drug him into the back room, where they dropped him on the floor. Throwing their hammer to one side, the killer quickly rifled through Shindledecker‘s clothes until they found his wallet. Then they went back into the main shop and emptied the cash register.

While the killer was looting the shop, Shindledecker began to wake up. As he stirred, the thief came to a drastic and bloody conclusion. Standing near the tools of the butcher trade, their eyes rested on a large, heavy meat cleaver hanging on a peg.

Taking the cleaver, the killer walked back to the wounded Shindledecker. Standing for a moment, they raised the weapon and brought it down hard at his head. Either because he had actually regained consciousness or through come instinct, the butcher raised his knee to defend himself. It was a futile act, and the clever buried itself deep in the joint.

Ripping it free, the killer sent it down again, and again at his prostrate victim. The weapon easily passed through sinew and bone, driven by it’s wielders naked rage. Soon enough, the butcher’s body was a gory ruin. Numerous wounds covered his remains, and Shindledecker’s head was nearly severed from his body.

Their bloodlust satiated, the killer left through the back door, disappearing into broad daylight.

   While the police were able to piece together how the crime had been committed, they were at a loss as to the identity of the killer.

Judging from the nail in the door, they figured that their culprit was an amateur criminal. Police were of the opinion that someone with experience would have driven a piece of wood into the bolt of the door, preventing anyone from coming into the shop in a much quieter manner. Loudly pounding a nail into the door seemed to be much more likely to grab the unwanted attention of anyone outside.

There was also the matter of the hammer, as well as a handkerchief and two pen knives found on the floor of the shop. The hammer was a tinsmith’s hammer, and matched two wounds on Schindledecker’s head.

The handkerchief and penknives gave no clues revealing their owner’s identity. Police eventually deduced that they must have been in the killer’s pocket with the nail they used to close the door. Trying to move quickly and take care of the door, the killer pulled everything out of their pocket to find the nail, and then simply left the rest where it lay.

The police were of two minds concerning motive. Some said that the murder was driven by revenge, committed by someone who had some kind of grudge against Schindledecker. The other, more obvious one, was robbery. This meant that someone had simply killed the man to get at his cash.

Detectives scoured the neighborhood, talking to anyone they could in the hopes of finding some kind of lead. While many stepped forward and answered the best they could, many of their stories were eventually dismissed. From a young girl who talked to a man with blood-stained hands to mysterious people having arguments with Schindledecker, one by one the stories were thrown out.

   Schindledecker was a generous man who made a very good living. While he wasn’t incredibly wealthy, he was very comfortable. He was also known to have large amounts of cash on hand, using it not only for normal business expenses, but also to cash checks for locals. The longer the investigation continued, the more likely it seemed that robbery was the likely motive.

For a week, the investigation carried on without any solid leads. Conjecture ran rampant as one theory after another fizzled out. And then, almost out of thin air, a lone suspect was taken into custody.

His name was Edward Gottshulk.

   When the investigation began, Walter Gerenz was brought to the police station and questioned. Although never really a suspect, he had worked in the shop and knew the store regulars, as well as his employer’s habits. Gerenz was brought back several times as detectives explored different avenues of inquiry.

   At first, they asked about the usual things: regular customers, or about anyone who had a grudge against Schindledecker. Garenz remembered that while he hadn’t seen anyone at the shop, he had run into a someone he knew a short distance away.

The man’s name was Edward Gottschalk and Gerenz said hello to him before continuing home. Edward stopped by the shop every so often, and had always seemed to be on good terms with Shindledecker. Gerenz remembered that Gottschalk had someone else with him that he didn’t recognize.

Ed Gottschalk
Edward Gottschalk. Courtesy of the Star Tribune.

Police took an immediate interest.

Gottschalk fit an eyewitness description of someone who had been spotted in the area during the time of the murder. The witness also said that individual had a companion  who sounded like the same person Gerenz had seen. The police chief, John O’Connor, sent officers to locate Gottschalk.

It didn’t take them long.

John O'Connor
John O’Connor. Courtesy of the Saint Paul Globe. 

By that afternoon, officers discovered that Gottschalk lived very close to Schindledecker’s shop. Gottschalk was a known criminal and had several alias. He was an impoverished fisherman during the summer months who did odd jobs in the neighborhood through the winter.

Police went to his home and , while several of them blocked off all possible escape routes from the house, two officers went in to talk to Gottschalk. When they opened the door, they saw that he was washing dishes, and quickly rushed in to grab him before he had a chance to run. While a few officers stood by with him, the others began to search for anything that would tie him to the murder.

In his belongings they found a pair of blood-stained overalls and some blood-splattered coins. The overalls had been washed recently, but the stains were still very prominent. The coins were suspected of having been stolen from the butcher’s shop, the blood belonging to the victim. Other coins were found that were unusually clean, as if they had just been washed. Police suspected that these, too, had been splattered with Schindledecker’s blood and had been washed clean.

Police also noted that Gottschalk‘s rooms were only a block away from the Schindledecker home. Because of the close proximity, Gottschalk could have watched the house and learned both Schindledecker and Gerenz’s routines, allowing him to plan the most opportune time to commit the robbery.

Now their chief suspect, the police took Gottschalk into custody and brought him to the station.

   Over the next day, police worked quickly to build their case against the fisherman.

They learned  that Gottschalk had suddenly come into a lot of money. While normally penniless, he had started going around town earlier that week, paying off various debts, including a bakery bill and back rent he owed his landlord.

An estimated $84 was stolen from Schindledecker’s wallet, with an unknown amount in cash taken from the register. If Gottshalk was the thief, then it would explain his sudden wealth, and also why so much of the money had been splattered with blood.

Several people who lived in the area also recognized the discarded hammer from the butcher shop as belonging to Gottshalk. They had seen it among his tools when he worked odd jobs.

When this were taken into account with Garenz’s testimony, along with his criminal history and blood-stained overalls, the police could definitely say the Gottshalk was a strong suspect.

Still, the majority of their evidence was circumstantial. While it might have been strong, it still didn’t necessarily mean the fisherman was their killer. They needed something stronger, and that’s just what Chief O’Connor had been doing.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t going as well as they had hoped.

Several times during the questioning  Gottshalk would suddenly fly into raging fits, screaming and yelling at the police. Immediately after, he would lapse into a brooding silence. Even when he lost his temper, Gottschalk never said anything that even hinted at his guilt. Gottschalk deliberately avoided giving straight answers, and maintained his innocence throughout even the most rigorous questioning. While police were convinced that he was the killer, there was nothing that they could say or do to make him confess. They were going to have to try something else.

   From early on in the investigation, police suspected that it had been two men at the butcher shop that day. They were positive that Gottschalk hadn’t acted alone, and they desperately wanted to find his accomplice. Not only did the police want to capture them and bring them to justice, but its likely that they were hoping that the second man would break easier than Gottshalk.

Luckily, they didn’t have to look for long.

Several residents in the area around the butcher shop told police that Gottshalk was frequently seen with a younger man named Joseph Hartmann. They were obviously friends, and sometimes worked odd jobs together and fished at the Mississippi River. Once they had a name and a person to attach it to, things began to fall in  place for the investigation.

The hammer used to assault Christian Schindledecker also belonged to Charles  Hartmann Jr, Joseph’s brother. Charles was a cornice maker, and had stamped his initials into the head of the tool. This was verified by their father, Charles Hartmann Sr., who police had asked to come to the police station for questioning.

Just as many father’s would, Charles didnt believe that his son would have committed such a horrible crime. But he did believe that Gottshalk would. The elder Hartmann openly accused the fisherman of killing not only the butcher, but also his son.

Hartmann stated that Joseph had disappeared a few days after the murder after going fishing with Gottshalk. Hartmann believed that he had killed Joseph and thrown the body into the river.

It was a possibility that the police hadn’t fully considered. While it was intriguing, they had no evidence to substantiate it. They continued to search for Joseph Hartmann under the assumption that he was still alive. This belief was supported when they discovered that Hartmann had deliberately burned all of his photographs, apparently in an effort to eliminate anything that could be used to identify him.

However, the situation did give them an idea.

In an effort to crack Gottshalk’s granite façade, the police brought him to the police station from his cell at the county jail. They began to question him in the presence of Charles Hartmann, especially about the whereabouts of his friend. Police hoped that having the young man’s father there would stir some kind of guilt in Gottshalk and cause him to slip up.

Gottshalk would only admit to having gone fishing with Joseph, and that he hadn’t seen him since. And despite their best efforts to find him, Joseph Hartmann had completely disappeared.

   While police still hoped to find Hartmann, they couldn’t wait forever and the wheels of justice continued to turn.

Edward was formally indicted on a charge of murder and a date for the coroner’s inquest was set. He continued to profess his innocence, supported by his brother, who insisted that Edward wasn’t guilty of any crime.

In mid-March 1905, Gottshalk was brought before the coroner’s jury in the first stop toward a possible trial. Witnesses were called, testifying that they had seen him in the area of the butcher shop during the time that the murder was committed. The overalls and coins were also presented.

The situation hadn’t changed, though. While there was a lot of compelling circumstantial evidence, there was a lack of solid connecting evidence that pointed the finger directly at Gottshalk.

Then, Joseph Hartmann reappeared.

      On March 17, 1905, a body was found in the Mississippi River matching the description of Joseph Hartmann. Charles Hartmann was brought to the mortuary where the body had been taken, and was able to make a positive identification.

An autopsy revealed that Hartmann had been murdered, his skull shattered by a powerful blow to the back of his head. His body had then been weighted down and thrown into the river. For police, there was little doubt who had killed him.

In his pocket was found a handkerchief that was exactly like the one that had been found at the crime scene. It had dark stains in the center of it, but investigators couldn’t determine if it was blood or tobacco. Still, it was enough to place Hartmann at the butcher shop.

Meanwhile, Gottshalk himself was dealt a crushing blow when the coroner’s jury returned their verdict: that he was guilty of murder, and that he should be taken before a grand jury.

Just when things had seemed to be going so well for him, his whole world had come crashing down.

   Now that he had been found, police began to look very hard into the last days of Joseph Hartmann, steadily piecing them together as best they could.

On Saturday, the night of the murder, he had been seen in a local saloon with a vicious cut over one eye, so fresh that it was still bleeding. Several of the people who saw him that night said that he looked sick, and acted very nervous.

Sunday, he was seen with Gottschalk at their usual fishing spot on the Mississippi. Hartmann went home later that day and burned his photographs, then went to sleep. The next morning, he was seen fishing with Gottshalk again. It was the last time that he would be seen alive.

Later that night, three separate witnesses heard someone calling for help from an island in the middle of the river close to where Hartmann and Gottshalk liked to fish. They looked and waited, but never saw anyone.

However, the next morning, a fisherman saw Gottshalk standing on the shore, staring at water, almost as if he was waiting for something.

Police theorized that Hartmann had helped commit the murder of Christian Schindledecker, and probably had gotten the cut over his eye as the butcher fought for his life. He was beginning to crack under the strain of the crime. They knew firsthand that Gottshalk was nearly unshakable, and seemed to have no issue living with what he had done. However, if his accomplice broke and began to tell people what he had done, then it threatened Gottshalk.

Something had to be done.

That something was to kill Hartmann, weigh down his  body, and put it in the river. Either it would never be seen again or be so decayed by the time it surfaced that no one could identify it anymore.

Charles Hartmann Jr. also told police that his brother had burnt the photos a few years prior because they revealed a prominent goiter on his neck. To John O’Connor, this changed everything.

He reformed his theory of how the murder was committed, now believing that Gottshalk had been using Hartmann all along. The chief now suspected that both of them had been in the shop together,  and that Hartmann had no idea that his friend was going to kill Schindledecker. He never intended to go on the run, but he couldn’t stand the idea that he had been an accomplice to murder.

On March 23, 1905, Edward Gottshalk was officially charged with the murder of Joseph Hartmann and Christian Schindledecker. On April 17, he pled Not Guilty to both charges. In early May, Gottshalk asked to change his plea to Guilty in regards to the murder of Joseph Hartmann. After months of proclaiming he was innocent, he was ready to talk.

Gottshalk claimed that Hartmann had killed Schindledecker, and had later tried to kill him at the river. Gottshalk said that he had killed his friend and accomplice in self defense, and then putting the body in the river.

By confessing, Gottshalk had hoped, and probably even expected, leniency and mercy. He received none. On May 11, he was sentenced to death by hanging. For the next few months, he languished in his cell at the county jail, waiting to die.

On the afternoon of July 19, about a month away from his scheduled execution date, Gottshalk was found hanging in his cell. Making a rope and noose out of parts of his mattress, he had attached it to a piece of angle iron and strangled himself to death.

So ended the life of Edward Gottschalk, thief and murderer. The lives that he had stolen could never be replaced.

For all that he had hoped to gain, Gottschalk lost everything. He murdered his closest friend, and lost all the money that he had stolen from Schindledecker. Most of all, he had lost first his freedom, and then his life at the end of a rope.

At the end, the only thing Edward Gottschalk earned was a lonely death and a cold grave.

 

   You have been reading John Brassard Jr., the Kitchen Table Historian. Please stop over and have a seat at the table every week or so to hear new stories of true crime, disasters, the paranormal, and other weird and dark stories from America’s Heartland. 

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Sources

Murderer Chops Victim to Pieces In Butcher Shop. The Saint Paul Globe, 2/19/1905

Fatal Hammer Leads to Trail of Boy Suspect. The Saint Paul Globe, 2/28/1905

Accuses Him of Another Murder. The Minneapolis Journal, 2/28/1905

Father of Hartmann Believes Gottshalk Killed His Son. The Saint Paul Globe, 3/1/1905

Suspect Weakening Under Third Degree. The Minneapolis Journal, 3/2/1905

Gottschalk Gladly Talks To Visitors. The St. Paul Globe, 3/10/1905

Gottshalk Faces Seven Accusers. The Saint Paul Globe, 3/15/1905

Man’s Body Found. The Minneapolis Journal, 3/17/1905

Body of Hartmann Is Found In River. The Saint Paul Globe, 3/18/1905

Gottshalk Accused By Coroner’s Jury. The Saint Paul Globe, 3/18/1905

Police Weave Web About Gottschalk. The Saint Paul Globe, 3/19/1905

Albert Gottshalk Is Sure of Innocence. The Saint Paul Globe, 3/19/1905

Gottshalk Is To Face Second Murder Charge. The Saint Paul Globe, 3/20/1905

Second Murder Charge. The Minneapolis Journal, 3/23/1905

Grand Jury to Indict Edward Gottshalk On Murder Charges. The Saint Paul Globe, 4/14/1905

Two Murder Charges. The Minneapolis Journal, 4/18/1905

Sentenced to Hang By Neck Until Dead. The Star Tribune, 5/12/1905

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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