My great grandmother Helen Kirsch Ferraro was a protected witness in a Chicago murder case that involved an international manhunt on 3 continents before she met and married my great grandfather. She had become acquainted with a man that later was wanted for murder while she worked in an Italian “boot-blacking” shop on Clark Street in Chicago. Because she had seen him get in a car near the scene of the crime and the amount of national press coverage the investigation garnered, the Chicago Police Department sent her to Poughkeepsie, NY to identify him with a different name. Below is an oldie and touched-up version of a 2 year old blog post I offer this week for Women’s History Month. The only sources available about the investigation and crime were newspaper articles. The case file has been destroyed.
Immigrant Ludwig Fritz Kirsch, Northern Germany – Ever since I began my genealogy I mistakenly thought my ancestor Louis Kirsch would be that obscure ancestor that I would try to find down the road when I was stuck in a different research line. When I started, unlike the other immigrants in my tree, there was not much of an American paper trail on this mysterious cook that Ferraros say worked at the world famous Palmer House Hotel Restaurant. He was a source of pride for them, although, nothing more was known of him besides that he worked at the Palmer House, he was from Germany, he studied cooking in Switzerland where he met his wife Anna, and they came to America together.
So we started our search and the obstacles began. I found Anna Heinzen’s passenger manifest. He didn’t arrive WITH her according the family story went because he wasn’t on HER ship. When his daughter was a prime witness in a notorious murder case that gripped the country’s newspaper readers, it was his wife Anna quoted in the paper, NOT him. Ancestry.com failed in his regard as well. They said he was buried in the incorrect cemetery. They also improperly indexed his place of birth on his daughter Helen’s birth record. What he actually said was that he lived in Brig, Schweiz before he moved to Chicago. Then, I was mistakenly informed by Chicago that it would take a genealogist to get his naturalization record. So I didn’t try to get it myself until recently and it cost only $2. I saw him as a gigantic brick wall. Because we have no photos or physical descriptions of him from relatives, I imagined him tall and fair haired like other Northern Germans.
What would have been great to find was a World War I draft card with his name on it…detailing a physical description, but, alas, he was too old at the time of that draft to be drafted…
All we knew then was that he had a father named Wilhelm (William), his birth date, and a birthplace that was recorded on his Illinois death record. I didn’t think it was possible to get his baptism because I didn’t know if he was born in Hannover the city or Hannover the region. I just didn’t know where to begin in Europe. Then Ave Maria! I ignored an Ancestry hint thinking it was impossible someone bearing his name and exact birth date had a Lutheran church record on Ancestry in none other than Hannover. Another researcher had to point it out to me! Sorry Louis!!! Finally, the World Explorer subscription to Ancestry paid off because everyone knows if you are mostly Italian, Ancestry.com is a joke! So, there happens to be a lot of facts about Louis that just need to be explored and researched further, besides the meaning of his surname is for anything that is rosy or cherry colored.
These are the facts we know about Louis Kirsch:
Birth: November 19, 1862 in Hannover, Hannover, Germany;
Baptism: January 25, 1863, Gartenkirche, Hannover. Gartenkirche of Saint Mary is still there today but was rebuilt into a larger structure after he was baptized;
Parents: Johann Georg Andreas Wilhelm Kirsch and Karolina Friederika Wilhemina Fehlig – Louis is their oldest child;
Known Siblings: Hermann Ludwig Kirsch (b. 1866), Friedrich Albert Erdmann Kirsch (b. 1868), and Frieda Minna Kirsch (b. 1877). Louis and Anna named their son Albert;
1877: That is the last year I have been able to find a record regarding Louis’s immediate family in Germany. (But not of his aunt’s, uncles, and grandparents which will be explained below.)
Marriage: In 1886 Louis and Anna Heinzen marry in Chicago before a Justice of the Peace.
Birth of Helen: In 1887 his only daughter and first of two children is born – Helen. On that Chicago civil birth record, he stated the last place he lived before Chicago was Brig, Switzerland. So did Anna Heinzen;
His naturalization record: In 1896, Louis becomes a naturalized American citizen in the Criminal Court of Cook County. This is the important part. The number of his naturalization record is preceded by the word “minor.” That, according to the clerks in the archives department of the Clerk of Court of Cook County, means he got here before the age of majority which is 21. He wrote that he had lived in America a total of 18 years, with at least 3 of those years a minor, and that he lived in Chicago for 12 years. Because he had come as a minor, no declaration of intention was necessary for him to become naturalized. A lack of the declaration could have created a huge issue BUT, we know he was a minor when he got here.
So Louis probably got to Chicago around 1884 (1896 minus 12). In early 1885 Anna Heinzen came to America on the St. Laurent and stated she was going to Chicago. She was probably going to meet him. If Louis got here in 1878 (18 years minus 1896) that was a year after his sister was born, and he likely came with at least one parent because he was only 15 or 16 at that point. This naturalization year is backed up by what he said on the 1920 census. He stated he was naturalized in 1896. The 1920 census also reflects that he was a cook at a hotel. This was likely Palmer House. In the 1900 and 1910 censuses he was a cook at a club house. The 1890 census was destroyed.
Death: 1925, Chicago.
The Kirsch of Sankt Andreasberg in the Harz Mountains
Louis’s father Wilhelm was born in Sankt Andreasberg, Germany in 1836. The town is about 40 miles south of Hannover. He was a schneidermeister or master tailor when Louis was born. His father, Johann Karl Ludwig Kirsch, was also a tailor. Wilhelm’s mother was Johanne Ernestine Louisa Kutscher. She was born in Sankt Andreasberg. She was the daughter of Ludwig Daniel Ernst Kutscher, a silver miner, and Johanne Elizabetha Schroder. Sankt Andreasberg is a historic mining town and is known especially for the Grube (Mine) Samson where they mined for the silver mineral called Samsonite. The Samson Mine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so it is only natural that Louis had mining ancestors from the Sankt Andreasberg area. Interesting note: Sankt Andreasberg is one of the few towns in the area that spoke its own dialect and it can be traced back to the settlement of mining folk in the area in the 16th century from Bohemia and Saxony.
Sankt Andreasberg is in the highest mountain range in Northern Germany, the Harz Mountains. These mountains are the home of the wild lynx and it’s highest peak is the mysterious and folkloric Brocken Mountain, a place of superstitions, legends, and the haunting Brockensgespenst or in English Brocken Spectre a.k.a. St. Walpurga’s Horned Mask. The strange weather phenomen is created by the mountain mists and shadows and can be seen below. The peak has been associated with strange activity and an annual Walpurgisnacht festival going back to the finding of a portrait of Wodin on the summit. Parts of the play Faust take place at Brocken. It is the subject of poems and songs. I could honestly spend the entire blog post talking about Brocken and Sankt Andreasberg because a trail leads direct from Sankt Andreasberg right to the mountain’s peak.
More on the Kirsch…Louis’s father Wilhelm had at least two siblings. Because their marriage records from Hannover are available to view on ancestry we can tell that Wilhelm and Johanne moved their family from bucolic Sankt Andreasberg to Hannover around 1845. Wilhelm had at least two siblings: Carl Georg Julius Hermann Kirsch, a machinist, and Auguste Julie Mina who married into the Sprengel family. Eventually, Auguste and her husband moved to Hamburg. Johanne (Wilhelm’s mother) died in Hamburg in 1886 while living with her daughter and son-in-law.
The Fehligs of Grohnde, Hamelin-Pyrmont, Germany
Louis’s mother Karolina Fehling was born in another bucolic setting – Grohnde, Germany which is about 25 miles from Hannover. She married Louis’s father Wilhelm in 1861 in Hannover in the Gartenkirche of St. Mary. She was the daughter of Friedrich Fehlig and Karolina Mahlstedt. On her marriage record to Wilhelm her father’s profession was purely called self-employed. I do not know much yet the about Fehligs. Grohnde is very tiny. The nearest largest town is about four miles away and should be a familiar sounding place. Hamelin. It is obviously known for the tale of the Pied Piper where, according to the town annals, 130 children from the town really did disappear in 1284 and you cannot play music on the street today where they followed the piper away.
Ponderings and some conclusions about Louis F. Kirsch:
-How long was Louis in Brig, Valais, Switzerland a town still known for its hospitality training today? The story was he went there to study how to become a cook. Will he show up on a census there? Was Louis sponsored to go to Switzerland from America? Did he pay his own way?
-The civil and church records of Sankt Andreasberg and Grohnde, Hamelin-Pyrmont were not destroyed by World War II and are in archives in Germany and not available to Americans that way. But I can access census and military records from Sankt Andreasberg. Slowly, the Germans will put more online. Once the Fehlings are researched further, I suspect a direct connection in the Fehling line will be made to the closest town Hamelin and it will be easier to research because they kept great records.
-A big consideration in what we now know about Louis is what was on his naturalization. As we can surmise, and per his daughter’s birth record, Louis came to America, went back to Europe, then back to America to Chicago. Again, no passenger records have been found to support this, but, remember there was a fire that burned many records from Castle Garden on Ellis Island. Don’t forget the Leies and Bold records were never found either.
-There is a man named Wilhelm Kirsch that naturalized in Chicago shortly after Louis did. I think getting his record is in order.
-What employee record does the Palmer House have about Louis? Nothing. Palmer House doesn’t have any that old.
-There is an one line mention of a Louis Kirsch in the Chicago Tribune in 1910 for getting out of business with a shadey policeman. Smart man. More research is needed there.
-With the records available to me, I cannot find any record of Louis’s immediate family in Germany after 1877. Obviously his grandmother died in Hamburg after that date. It really looks like Louis’s immediate family immigrated with him around 1878 since he was a minor and if they did where on earth did they settle?!
This is everything I know of Louis F. Kirsch, which is a lot more than I ever thought possible.
Do you have a picture of Louis F. Kirsch, chef at the Palmer House?
Great Grandmother Helen Kirsch Ferraro: 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 Fritz Kirsch and Anna 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 when she 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 of 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. 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. Helenjustt happened to be going 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 of the Gentry’s rang the police. Even though 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, 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 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 Kirsches 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 Helen identified him as Frank Constantine. The next day she 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.)
Authorities 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 had loved and left in Brooklyn gave him up to the police. Constantine 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 several 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 hours of jury deliberations, Constantine was found guilty. In 1908 he committed suicide in prison according to this New York Daily News Article.
Helen probably met Carmen around the middle of 1907, based on the photo dated in August of 1907 that she gave to him. It is possible it was at the shoe shine shop frequented by Italians…