Monday, April 15, 2013

The Murder of Ettie Demacsek

Excerpt from newspaper article regarding the Demacsek murder case published in the New York Times, 17 July 1892. Image obtained via  

Around noon on June 14, 1892, 12-year-old Gussie Frisch heard a heavy blow, a scream, and a sound that she likened to that of a butcher cutting meat. She knocked on the door of the Demacseks' home on Rotterdam Street (once an extension of Washington Avenue that ran south of Water Street to Kruesi Avenue) in Schenectady, then opened the door and entered. As she entered the house, a man ran past her out of the house, past a group of men on the porch of Scrafford's Hotel across the street, and escaped. Inside the house, Frisch discovered the body of her neighbor, Ettie Demacsek, on the floor of the front room. Demacsek's throat was slit and she had been stabbed in the chest. Her skull was fractured in two places.

Ettie's husband, Alexander, was at work at the time of the murder. When he was questioned by police, he provided a short list of possible suspects and insinuated that he suspected John Feltheimer, a former boarder in the Demacsek house, of the murder. Demacsek himself was not arrested, but the police thought his behavior suspicious. "While he was not arrested," the Adirondack Times reported, "he was given to understand that if he attempted to leave the city he would be locked up. The police shadowed him continually."

Feltheimer was thus the first suspect in the case, but he was able to prove an alibi; he was at work at the locomotive works at the time of the murder. Horrified by Ettie's murder, Feltheimer at once began working with police to help find who was responsible for the killing. The Schenectady police swore in Feltheimer as a special officer so he could work on the case. He had a strong suspicion of Cornelius Loth, a close friend of Demacsek's and a former boarder at the Demacsek home who had moved away from Schenectady a few months before the murder. Through speaking with Loth's acquaintances in Schenectady, Feltheimer was able to find where Loth was in New York City. Feltheimer traveled to New York City and alerted the police there. Two days after the murder, Cornelius Loth was arrested for the murder of Ettie Demacsek. Based on other information uncovered by Feltheimer, Alexander Demacsek was also arrested for complicity in the crime. According to a newspaper article covering the murder, Loth and Demacsek were said to have discussed using a foot-log butcher knife in the Demacseks' home for the murder. "It was not sharp enough, [Loth] was reported to have said to the conspiring husband. The latter took the knife and sharpened it . . . It is even said that his wife turned the grindstone upon which the implement was ground."

After being arrested, Loth at first claimed that he was innocent. Loth and Demacsek were both held to testify before a grand jury. Witnesses were called to the stand with regard to the complicity of Alexander Demacsek, including a family friend who Demacsek had visited the day after the murder. She claimed that Demacsek had told her that he knew who his wife's murderer was and that he didn't want him to be caught. When the woman, shocked, replied that he should let the police know at once who was responsible, Demacsek began to cry and said "You don't know what you would do in my place." Jacob Lockwood, who boarded at the Demacsek home, came home with Demacsek immediately when police informed them of the murder. Ettie's body was then still in the home; Lockwood testified that Demacsek stared at his wife's corpse for a minute and a half, then turned away trying to hide a smile. Demacsek himself admitted that he had beaten his wife several times, and had twice whipped her. The Schenectady Evening Star reported that Demacsek was "voluble and clever" in his replies to being questioned and that "a smile rested on his features almost constantly" as he testified.

In his testimony, Loth admitted to killing Ettie Demacsek and provided the details of the murder. The New York Times reported that Loth gave his testimony "as calmly as though he were reading a newspaper report of another man's crime."  Loth claimed that Alexander Demacsek had been asking him to kill Ettie since February of that year, and began to offer Loth money to kill her. Loth said that he was finally convinced to kill Ettie after Alexander Demacsek promised to forgive all of the financial debts that Loth owed Demacsek -- a substantial amount -- and, additionally, to pay Loth a large sum of money.

Artist's rendering of Cornelius Loth, who confessed to murdering Ettie Demacsek. From Demacsek surname file. 

Loth testified that he arrived in Schenectady on the morning of June 14 and immediately went to the Demacsek home. He chatted with Ettie Demacsek while a man was working on plastering the kitchen. After the man left, Loth said, Ettie Demacsek "gave me bread and butter to eat . . . she told me she was sleepy and went into the front room and lay down on a lounge. I could see her from where I sat as she lay there." After waiting a few minutes, Loth took out a brass club which he had brought with him, entered the room where Ettie lay, and struck her multiple times on the head with it. "She screamed then, but could not say anything," Loth testified. "Then she fell down on the floor, and I went into the kitchen and got the butcher knife and went back again. I was afraid she was going to stand up, and would know who it was, and I cut her throat and stabbed her once or twice in the breast. About two minutes after I had cut her throat I heard a rap at the door, but I did not say anything. Then I took my hat and club, ran out of the house, through the streets, across the Glenville Bridge, when I threw my club into the Mohawk, and down along the railroad to the station, where I caught the 1:33 p.m. train and went back to New York."

Following his testimony, Loth was indicted for first-degree murder. Alexander Demacsek was not charged in connection with the murder. When Loth saw that Demacsek was not charged, he immediately denied his confession and claimed that he was forced into making the statement that he gave by the police. Loth was convicted of Ettie Demacsek's murder on November 30, 1892, and was sentenced to death. He was sent to the prison at Dannemora, where he was executed the following January.

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