When putting together a murder mystery there are several things to take into consideration. Once the crime is committed, it is up to the central character or characters to put together the clues of the case to find the culprit. However, on a summer day in 1897, police were faced with a case where the clues were part of the victim, which literally had to be put back together to solve the murder.
A Human Jigsaw
During the summer of 1897, several body parts were discovered over a series of days in the East River. An upper torso and two arms were found floating near the E. 11th Street docks by a group of children. A fisherman in Harlem was shocked to find a lower torso soon after. Later, two legs were found floating by the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Police were baffled. They were able to determine that these body parts belonged to the same victim, but were unable find his identity because of one important missing feature – the head.
Each body part was wrapped in a unique oilcloth with a red and yellow floral design and bound by a window shade chord. Police believed the key to identifying the victim would be the missing head, but a piece of missing flesh removed from his chest would prove to be much more helpful in the case.
Putting the Puzzle Together
The victim’s coworkers were able to identify him as William Guldensuppe based on the shape of the scar from the missing flesh on his chest. They believed it matched the shape of a tattoo Guldensuppe had of his lover’s face. Guldensuppe was a German immigrant who worked as a masseur who worked at the Murray Hill Turkish Baths on E. 42nd Street.
It did not take long for the mystery to become a media firestorm. George Arnold, a journalist from the Hearst’s Evening Journal, was able to determine Guldensuppe lived in a boarding home in Hell’s Kitchen. The newspaper leased the entire building to keep competing newspapers away. Arnold later discovered Guldensuppe was a tenant of a local midwife named Augusta Nack.
Guldensuppe, who was already a tenant at the time, moved in with Nack following her failed marriage. Following these events, another tenant named Martin Thorn moved in. Neighbors recalled that Guldensuppe and Thorn often argued. Some witnesses claimed the two had gotten into physical altercations, one of which resulted in Thorn pulling a gun on Guldensuppe.
The Pieces Fall into Place
Nack was later taken into custody by police. They discovered $340 in her corset, which was withdrawn shortly after Guldensuppe’s disappearance. She had a freshly packed suitcase in her room and reportedly inquired about ships travelling to Europe. When asked about this, she claimed she claimed it was because without Guldensuppe she could not afford to live alone in New York. Thorn was also apprehended trying to cross the Canadian border.
A couple living in Queens came forward claiming two men matching Thorn and Guldensuppe’s descriptions rented a cottage near them shortly before his death. Workers for Hearst scoured New York shops searching for cloths similar to the one Guldensuppe was found in. They eventually found a shop in Long Island City which sold cloth identical to the one found with the body. The owners confirmed Nack bought this cloth from them earlier.
Thorn denied any involvement in the murder, but it did not take long for Nack to lay out the details of the crime. Guldensuppe pummeled Thorn after finding him in bed with Nack. Shortly after, Nack and Thorn devised a plan to lure Guldensuppe to a cottage they rented. When he arrived Thorn stabbed him in the chest and carved up his body in the bathtub. He then dumped the body parts in the East River.
The two were eventually convicted. Thorn was executed in 1898 by the electric chair. Because of Nack’s confession, she was spared the death penalty and only served 9 years in prison. Although the murder was solved and Nack and Thorn were brought to justice, where Guldensuppe’s head went remains a mystery.
Stay tuned for our next entry in our exciting Murder Mystery NYC Diary series!
For the introduction to this series, click here.