Great Grandmother Helen: Witness in the 1906 Murder Case of Mrs. Louise Gentry
Helen Anne Marie Kirsch was born on September 22, 1887 in Chicago to immigrant parents Louis Kirsch and Anne Heinzen. She had a younger brother named Albert. Before she married Carmen Ferraro and had 9 children she was part of a murder investigation that involved an international manhunt on 3 continents.
Helen was 19 when she worked as a cashier at an Italian “bootblacking” shop near the County building on Clark Street in Chicago and had become casually acquainted with a frequent customer of the shop – Frank Constantine. According to newspaper articles at the time the shop was apparently frequented by Italians. Frank Constantine was described in the Chicago papers as showy type man with his money and wore a lot of diamonds, and a man with many girlfriends.
Frank Constantine was boarder in the home of Mr. Arthur and Louise Gentry on LaSalle Street and was always borrowing money from the Gentrys. While Mr. Gentry was at work on January 6, 1906, Frank Constantine slashed Mrs. Gentry’s throat in a motive involving money. Fleeing the scene of the crime he ran into a neighbor and asked for a hat, to help hide his identity, and possibly also to help keep him warm in the Windy City. The neighbor ran inside to get a hat and encountered the dying Mrs. Gentry. Constantine didn’t wait for a hat. He ran down the street and hailed a cab. Helen was leaving to go to dinner and stepped outside to see Constantine drive away in the cab and remarked to her friend that “Mr. Constantine must be leaving town.”
The neighbor rang the police, and even thought the police were stationed on street corners leaving the city, and at the train station to look for Constantine, he was able to hawk one of his diamonds for cash and purchase a new hat and disappear. With the help of his mother he was hidden in Brooklyn. Great grandmother Helen and several other witnesses identified Frank Constantine as the murderer. A grand jury indicted him. A nationwide manhunt ensued for anyone having an “Italian/Jewish face” and a trademark gold tooth like that of Frank Constantine’s according to news articles from those days. Illinois newpapers detail country-wide witnesses giving false leads, false arrests, including a story of a local priest that feared he gave the murderer $5 when he was just trying to help a stranger on the road. In actuality Constantine was probably not even in the area anymore. Local Chicago headlines joked “You may be arrested for murder today…” because of the number of false arrests around Chicago.
In July, 1906 while visiting a sweetheart near Poughkeepsie, NY, Frank Constantine was apprehended by the local Sheriff. Assistant Chicago Police Chief Schuettler, purportedly a friend of the Kirsch family, as the Tribune made it seem, because Schuettler and Kirsch were both German, had hidden Helen’s identity from the press and had been calling her Helen Schrieber for months. Assistant Chief Schuettler sent Helen “Schrieber” to Poughkeepsie alone to identify him.
The press ended up discovering Helen’s true identity while she was there because she dropped a receipt for a prescription in her hotel in Poughkeepsie. The Chicago press went to the Kirsch’s home and pestered Helen’s family. The following is an excerpt from the Chicago Daily Tribune dated July 27, 1906 in which her mother Annie Heinzen Kirsch gives a statement:
Click on the excerpt to make it bigger and easier for reading. The Kirsch’s ended up leaving their home in the care of a neighbor to stay on the other side of the Chicago while the press surrounding Constantine’s capture calmed down.
Positive he was who she thought he was she identified him as Frank Constantine. The next day Helen sent a telegram to Chicago authorities stating: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the man under arrest here is the man who killed Mrs. Gentry. I know Frank Constantine too well to be mistaken. It is he.” (The Inter-Ocean, July 27, 1906.) They were prepared to bring him back to Chicago until his roommate at the Gentry house gave him an alibi. Constantine was released. His mother sent him back to her hometown in Italy anyway. There was even a story that Constantine’s mother had him kidnapped to Europe to keep him safe the year before.
Meanwhile, new evidence came to light in an older, similar murder in Colorado. Chicago police finally decided to re-apprehend Constantine when a man that rode a ship with him between Europe and America came forward saying he confessed to the murder of Mrs. Gentry. Over a year after the murder of Mrs. Louise Gentry and after Constantine had travelled between three continents spending time in Italy and Argentina with the help of his mother, a girl he loved and left in Brooklyn gave him up to the police. Costanstine was apprehended on the docks minutes before he could board a ship to Italy with a ticket his mother had provided.
Assistant Chief Schuettler went to NY to bring him back to Chicago himself. The case had gained so much nationwide attention that passengers on the train Schuettler and Constantine boarded in New York to head to Chicago asked for Costantine’s autograph! He refused. After more delays, Constantine trial’s started in September, 1907. Helen was one of the witnesses to testify as to the identity of the killer. Constantine took the stand and testified on his own behalf saying Mrs. Gentry committed suicide because she was in love with him and he was leaving. According to newspaper articles, testimony proved the wounds were too severe to be self-inflicted. The actual criminal case file has since been destroyed by Cook County so no transcript of this case exists. After 2 and ½ jury deliberations, Constantine was found guilty. In 1908 he committed suicide in prison according to this New York Daily News Article.
Helen met Carmen probably around the middle of 1907 based on the photo dated in August of 1907 that she gave him. It is possible it was at the shoe shine shop frequented by Italians…