The Murder of Marie Whynack


Johann Whynack checked the clock. It was just after 9 o’clock at night.

It was Saturday night, and he was thirsty. Grabbing a beer bucket, Johann left the apartment and began walking toward a local saloon.

As he walked, he let his mind wander back to the old country.

Born in Eastern Europe, Johann had immigrated to Austria and learned to speak German. He became a member of the Austrian Army reserves. Along the way, he met his Marie. In contrast to his large size, she was a small woman – only five feet tall and just under 100 pounds. But he was smitten.

But there was a rival for her affections.

His name was Franz Hervieu, a smaller man with a red mustache and sandy-colored hair. Both he and Johann vied for her favor, but ultimately Hervieu won out. Marie gave him all her affection and rejected Johann.

However, Marie’s parents, whatever their reasons, favored Johann.

In a time when the opinion of a woman’s parents could matter more than her own for choosing a spouse, Marie’s parents felt that Johann was the better match for her. They gradually pushed her into marrying him.

Johann was ecstatic. He honestly and truly adored Marie and would have done anything to be married to her. His dreams had come true.

Johann and Marie were married in Vienna and settled down to start a new life together.

Marie and Johann Whynack on their wedding day. Courtesy of the Davenport Democrat and Leader

Shortly after they were married, Johann decided to join the Austrian Army. That required him to leave the home they had just started to build for themselves. She remained behind while he went to do his duty for his adopted country.

When he returned after being away, Marie immediately confronted him, telling him that she wanted two things from him: money and a divorce.

Johann hadn’t expected this. He explained to her that he didn’t want to get a divorce, and that he didn’t have any money to give her.

Although he had been taken off-guard by her questions, Johann had questions of his own.

People had frequently seen Marie around Franz Hervieu. She was acting like she was still madly in love with him, despite being a married woman.

Johann confronted her about it multiple times, but every time Marie spurned his questions.

Eventually, he was required to leave again for army duty.

Sometime during the two months he was away, he received a letter from his wife informing him that she had immigrated to America with Hervieu. He was distraught, and was still wondering what he was going to do when he got back home.

To his immense surprise, Marie was still living there.

Johann had enough. He couldn’t bring himself to divorce her, but he couldn’t stand living with her while she flaunted her affair with Franz, either.

He decided that America seemed as good a place as any, and so he boarded a steamer and sailed for New York City.

Johann settled into the city well enough. A short time later, he received a letter from Marie, stating that she was going to move to America with him. While he was excited to have her back in his life, he sent her a stern letter in return, stating that although he forgave her for the affair, he wasn’t about to forget it.

That seemed to satisfy them both, and Johann began to prepare for his wife’s arrival.

The truth was that he still loved Marie. He still wanted her in his life.

It was what he had hoped for, but all along a part of him didn’t believe that she would come. In the Spring of 1913, Johann began making all the arrangements for Marie’s arrival.

On the night that her train was supposed to arrive in Hoboken, New Jersey, Johann was determined not to miss her. He went to the station, anxiously awaiting her arrival. He hadn’t seen Marie for what must have seemed like ages.

As he waited, he let himself dream of the wonderful life that they were going to have together.

Before he knew it, his imagined dreams became real ones as he eased into a deep sleep.

He woke up the next day, with no Marie in sight. After asking at the station, he was told that her train had arrived on time.

Johann soon discovered that Marie had been at the station, but she had either not seen him or ignored him. She had gone to the home of Adolph Huber, a mutual friend of theirs from Austria, and asked if she could stay there for the night. He readily agreed.

Johann met her there later that day.

He was elated to see Marie again. She was the one that he had waited for, had spent days in eager anticipation of seeing again. Excited to have her with him again, Johann tried to kiss her.

Marie refused. She turned away from him, berating him for not picking her up at the station. He tried to apologize and explain what had happened, but Marie would have none of it.

Already Johann’s imagined new life of love and contentment with Marie wasn’t working out the way he thought it would.

Two weeks later, for whatever reasons, Johann decided to move to Davenport, Iowa.

Davenport had a thriving German American community, and perhaps he thought it would be a better place for them to settle.

Adolph Huber also moved to Davenport, and he and Johann moved in together.

Johann found a job working as a butcher at the Kohr’s Packing Company, a meat processing business. He would often work from 6 in the morning to 6 at night. He learned his new profession well, and quickly earned a reputation as being an immensely strong man and a very hard worker.

Two weeks later, Marie joined him in Davenport.

Although she continued to treat him badly, Johann kept silent. He still loved her, and all he wanted to do was to keep the peace between them, be that what it may.

Johann and Marie continued to live at the Huber home for a few more weeks, and then moved to a different residence to be on their own.

He continued to work as a butcher, honing his skills day by day. He gave Marie the money for their rent, which she faithfully paid.

In late summer of 1913, they moved to a small, upstairs apartment on Harrison Street.

Marie and Johann were still getting along. It may not have been what he had imagined, but Johann had Marie with him now, and that was enough.

One day, Johann arrived home from work, tired and sore. To his immense surprise, he saw none other than Franz Hervieu standing with Marie in the kitchen.

He had just come to Davenport a few months prior, and had moved into the same building that the Whynack’s were now living in.

It didn’t take long for Hervieu and Marie to rekindle their old romance. Things began to slowly fall apart from there.

Marie quickly lost all interest in Johann, spending all her time and attention on Hervieu. It was like Austria all over again.

Marie treated Johann horribly. She called him names, and frequently told him that she wanted him to leave. She said that she wasn’t in love with him, and that she would never have any children with him. On several occasions, Marie would literally spit in Johann’s face when she told him these things.

Another time, Marie told Johann that she was going to poison him, and he would be found by someone cold and dead.

All the while, she carried on her open affair with Hervieu.

As soon as Johann left for work in the morning, Marie and Hervieu would be seen by neighbors and friends holding hands, playing games, and acting like they were newlyweds. Hervieu was unemployed, but seemed to have enough money saved that he could always afford food and rent.

The two of them would frequently spend all day together. Marie and Hervieu made absolutely no effort to hide their affair from anyone.

When Johann arrived back at home from work, Marie and Franz would leave for the evening. Johann’s neighbors could hear him crying inside his apartment when he left the windows open.

One guest to the Whynack home saw Franz and Marie come out of the bedroom together. Marie’s face was bright red, and the guest immediately knew what the two of them had been doing.

Sometimes Marie would spend evenings out with other men besides Franz, but he was the one that she gave the most attention to.

Johann bore it all with a grave stoicism. Despite all that she had done to him, he still loved Marie.

Several people came and told him about Marie and Franz’s relationship, but he would just shrug his shoulders or come up with some kind of excuse.

Their landlord heard both sides of their story. Marie, who paid the $1 a month in rent for their apartment, told her once that she didn’t love Johann, and she went out with the other men just to make him angry.

On another occasion the landlord had the opportunity to talk to Johann himself about it. He told her that he treated her so well, and he loved her so much, but she still insisted on treating him so badly.

The worse she treated him, however, the more Johann began to show his dark side.

Normally a quiet man who didn’t want to cause any trouble, his wife’s infidelity pushed Johann to the breaking point.

One night, he found Franz and Marie together in his apartment. Johann immediately flew into a rage and threw the man out. He told Franz to never come back.

Franz didn’t listen.

Some of the neighbors said that they could hear Johann beating Marie for the next several nights. She ignored the beatings and continued to berate him.

Finally, in April of 1914, Marie had Johann arrested and taken to jail.

She claimed that he was starving her to death because he thought she was having an affair.

While in custody, Johann told his story to the judge. He explained how Franz had followed them to America and had rekindled his old romance with his wife.

Curious, the judge demanded that the police find Franz so they could talk to him and determine the truth of Johann’s story.

The next day, police brought Franz to court, where Marie, suddenly having a change of heart, declared in front of everyone present that she wouldn’t have anything to do with him anymore.

Johann and Marie seemed to have reconciled. Johann was released from custody and the police warned Franz to stay away and stop making trouble.

Back at home, Marie and Franz continued their open relationship.

The next day, Johann Whynack finally gave Marie what she had wanted all along and filed for divorce.

Marie moved out of the house, but not before taking most of the furniture with her. She then sold it, splitting the profits with Hervieu.

It seemed that things were finally over.

But a few weeks later, Marie returned to Johann’s apartment. For whatever reason, Franz had left the city, and Marie, behind. With nowhere else to go, she moved back in with her soon to be ex-husband.

Johann seemed to have no issue with her staying there.  However, Marie quickly went back to her old ways of calling him names and treating him poorly.

Marie had gotten a job at a local grocery store only a few blocks away from the apartment. She worked there while Johann continued working at the meat packing plant.

Even now, Johann held out hope for a reconciliation. Although he had filed for divorce, he wanted them to be together again, to go back to the way it was before Franz had come to America and ruined everything.

Marie, however, had made up her mind. She wanted nothing to do with him and was only living there because she had nowhere else better to go.

Deep down, Johann knew that. He knew that he didn’t really matter to Marie, and a part of him was angry about it all. It was angry with her, and that she called him names and spit on him. It was angry about her open affair with Franz.

Johann Whynack had had enough.

And now, on June 6, 1914, Johann strode down the streets of Davenport. The warm June air swirled pleasantly around him as he walked, arms swinging casually, beer bucket in hand.

Earlier that night, before he had gone back home, Johann had gone to the grocery store where Marie worked.

He asked to speak to her, and surprisingly, she had agreed.

Johann told her that he had finally had enough. He wanted her gone. He was giving her the divorce that she wanted so badly, and it was time for her to go away for good.

She said that she would be over soon to collect her things.

Johann sighed. It was all going to be over soon, and perhaps then he would be able to get the fresh start that he had wanted.

Arriving at the saloon, Johann walked in and presented his bucket to the bartender. The bartender filled it, and, with a smile, gave it back. Johann paid him, nodded his thanks, and returned home.

Sitting down in the kitchen, Johann filled a glass and took a few sips.

He was halfway through his third drink when he heard the door open, and Marie stepped into the room.

As usual, she looked at him like he was something unpleasant. No matter, Johann thought to himself. Just stay quiet and keep the peace. Before too long, she’d be gone.

Marie looked at the pail, and asked Johann for some beer. Silently, he nodded and filled another glass.

She took a long swallow, then told him to take the mattress of the bed and to take it downstairs. Puzzled, Johann asked her where he should sleep. Marie told him that she didn’t care where he slept. For all of her, he could sleep on the ground.

Standing up, Johann went into the bedroom and sat on the bed. Marie followed him in. Walking up to him, she shoved him hard in the chest and told him to get off.

Johann couldn’t help himself. He still loved her, even though he knew that things were over. He asked her to kiss him one more time before they parted forever.

She absolutely refused and told him that if he didn’t leave then she would call the police and have him thrown into jail for years.

In his mind’s eye, Johann saw himself back in jail, could see himself behind the bars of a cell. In that moment, something snapped inside of him.

For almost a year, he had tolerated all her abuse and humiliation. He had tolerated her open affair and her rubbing his nose in it.

The anger that he had kept bottled up inside of himself for so long suddenly ignited into a white-hot rage.

He suddenly noticed something on top of the dresser – an old boning knife he had brought home from work. It was old and worn and wasn’t good enough for the everyday work of his job anymore. But he had taken good care of it, and it was still razor sharp.

Without warning, he jumped up from the bed, grabbed the knife, and spun to face Marie. Johann grabbed her and threw her down onto the bed. With the familiar blade in his hand, he began to do to Marie what he had been trained to do – break her down.

Marie was screaming, trying her best to defend herself. But Johann was too strong, too fast, and his attack was relentless.

Fury, strength, and skill came together in a deadly combination as Johann cut through muscle and sinew. He cut Marie’s hip, and then cut twice more through her exposed neck. The screaming stopped abruptly as Marie’s windpipe was cut, the knife shearing through into the spinal column.

Just as suddenly as he had lost control, Johann regained it. Coming to his senses, he realized the awful thing that he had done. In horror, Johann dropped the knife and ran out of the bedroom. He kept going, through the door, down the stairs, and out onto the sidewalk.

Outside, several people had heard Marie’s scream. Across the street, a group of firemen outside their station house watched as Johann ran by, holding up his pants with one hand.

It might have been funny if he hadn’t been covered in blood.

They weren’t sure what had happened, but they quickly surmised that the man in the bloody shirt might have something to do with the woman’s screams. The firemen ran after him.

They caught Johann a few blocks later and held him fast.

A short time later the police arrived. While a few officers took control of Johann, a few others went to investigate the screams.

It didn’t take them long to find the Whynack’s apartment. As they approached, they noticed the bloody body of a woman lying outside the door of the downstairs apartment.

There was no doubt that she was dead. When they asked the downstairs tenants, Nelson and Agnes Bentley, who it was, they said that it was none other than Marie Whynack herself.

Agnes had heard Marie screaming in the apartment above and had gone out to see what was happening. As she did, she saw Marie moving down the stairs. Her hair was down and she was making a strange, gurgling sound, her head hanging strangely to one side.

After the attack, Marie was still alive, though barely. Climbing to her feet, she took one of the sheets and wrapped it tightly around her neck in an effort to staunch the flow of blood from her horrific wounds.

With a superhuman effort of will, Marie, unbelievably, began to walk, one halting step at a time, out of the bedroom, across the kitchen, and out onto the stairs.

An autopsy later showed that both of her carotid arteries and jugular veins had been severed, along with her windpipe. Her head was held on with only the spine and a bit of flesh.

That was why, as a terrified Agnes watched, Marie made her way down the stairs and towards her front door, head hanging at a strange angle. Agnes fell to the floor in a cold faint, with Marie falling dead only a few moments later.

Johann was taken to the police station, where he was questioned by the chief of police and four other officers. Speaking in German, Whynack told them his side of the terrible events that had taken place earlier that evening.

Johann laid the blame for all his troubles squarely at the feet of Franz Hervieu. He believed that if Franz had never showed up in his neighborhood, then maybe none of this would have happened.

The next day, Johann signed a written confession stating that he had killed Marie.

The trial began in October of 1914. Several witnesses testified on Johann’s behalf, praising 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.

Johann showed considerable remorse for his crime He would occasionally break down and cry, although he would quickly regain his composure. Once, he even admitted that he never planned on killing Marie that night. He sincerely wished that he had committed suicide instead.

He insisted that he didn’t remember killing her. He assumed that he must have, but he couldn’t remember anything after grabbing the knife and swinging it at her. Even after he came back to himself, Johann claimed that it had taken him a long time to regain his full faculties.

However, there were signs that showed that Johann might not be telling the entire truth.

The night of the murder, he had slept soundly in his cell. He seemed comfortable and happy, like a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Johann was suddenly so upbeat and positive that some suggested that he didn’t fully understand what he was facing.

He began to tell several of his fellow prisoners that back in Austria, they would never give him a heavy sentence for killing Marie after all that she had done. At the most, he explained, they would give him a year of hard labor and then let him go.

At the trial, he stuck to his story that he couldn’t remember actually killing Marie. His attorney tried to get the confession thrown out of court, saying that it had been coerced because of his inability to speak and fully understand English.

The confession was ruled to be true, and Johann was found guilty of 2nd Degree Murder. He was sentenced to serve seventeen years at Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, Iowa.

In 1920, just six years later, Johann was granted parole. Freshly released from prison with nowhere else to go, he returned to Davenport. Just as he had when he first arrived from Austria, Johann found a place to live, then found a job – as a butcher at the Kohr’s Packing Company.




Crosses Ocean to Steal Wife of Another Man. Davenport Democrat and Leader, 4/30/1914

Husband and Wife to Make New Start. Davenport Democrat and Leader, 5/1/1914

Davenport Democrat and Leader, 5/15/1914

Austrian Faces Charge Murder in First Degree and Life Imprisonment. Davenport Democrat and Leader, 6/8/1914

Austian Murders Wife by Hacking Her with a Sharp Butcher Knife. The Daily Times, 6/8/1914

Accused “Lover” Was in Country. The Daily Times, 6/8/1914

Coroner’s Jury Charges Murder. The Daily Times, 6/9/1914

Johann Case Dismissed. The Daily Times 6/11/1914

Thinks Penalty Will Be Light. The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 9/29/1914

Says He Will Only Get Year. The Daily Times, 9/29/1914

Ask Change of Venue in Case Against Johann. The Daily Times, 10/5/1914

Slayer to Take Stand to Tell of Wife’s Infidelity in Fight to Save Own Life. The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 10/8/1914

State Rests Case Shortly Before Noon. The Daily Times, 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

Says he Does Not Remember Killing Wife. The Daily Times, 10/10/1914

Statement Not Own Free Will. The Daily Times, 10/13/1914

Whynack Johann Found Guilty of Murdering Wife. The Daily Times, 10/14/1914

Whynack Johan is Discharged. The Daily Times, 9/19/1921



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