Tag Archives: 1920s

1921: Carl Wanderer, of the Ragged Stranger case

On this date in 1921, the villain in the Case of the Ragged Stranger went to the gallows in Chicago.

Then-24-year-old World War I veteran Carl Wanderer entered the public’s cognizance when on the night of June 21, 1920, he and his pregnant young wife Ruth were accosted on the way home from cinema by a tramp — a “ragged stranger” in the piquant phrase that would identify both the case and the man. This stranger, who was never identified, held up the happy couple at gunpoint but Wanderer just so happened to be carrying his service pistol and exchanged gunfire with the mugger. After the hail of bullets was over, the ragged stranger was dead and his wife lay mortally wounded in his arms.

The obvious catnip themes — the young bride, the valiant troop, the machismo shootout — instantly made for a national news crime story.


Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 23, 1920

But it wasn’t many days that Wanderer’s self-flattering story enjoyed the public’s credulity.

Mr. Ragged’s weapon turned out to be an army-issue pistol just like Wanderer’s own … in fact, Wanderer had borrowed it from his cousin just days before the deadly fray. And this connection in turn led Wanderer to admit under intense police questioning that the tramp was a down-and-outer that Wanderer himself had hired to stage the mugging as a pretext under which Wanderer would murder his wife. Having so done, Wanderer realized that capital felonies are really best without surviving witnesses, so that was the end for the Stranger too.

Wanderer’s confessions, well, they wandered. The unifying thread was the man’s obvious desire to exit his marriage; what’s not clear is whether this reason was the object itself or further to some greater purpose. There were hints that the motive was pecuniary or even that Wanderer was homosexual; his defense would eventually raise a family history of mental illness. Wanderer himself at one point said that he wanted to return to military life;* but, investigations also turned up a scandalous flirtation with a 17-year-old customer of his butcher shop to whom he had made bold enough to send billets doux before his wife’s body was cold.

Chicago, Illinois
July 6, 1920

Sweetheart,

I am very lonesome tonight. I thought I would drop you a few lines as I am ever thinking of you.

The reason I wouldn’t meet you at your house is this. The people would talk about us.

Someday I will tell you a whole lot more. I have been double crossed by some people.

Good night little lover & happy dreams to you.

From Carl

After a jury outraged public opinion by failing to hang him for his wife’s murder, he was tried again before standing room only audiences for the stranger’s death — in effect a second bite at the apple. His young flame Julia Schmitt made a humiliating appearance on the stand which would set up a scorching summation by the state’s attorney.

He saw a vision of the future. It included the army life and Julia. But in that vision was no trace of Ruth who was soon to be a mother.

Ruth must die.

Kisses for Julia, bullets for Ruth.

The man who killed his wife and unborn babe.

That’s the kind of a man he is. See his calm face.

An actor.

But a yellow coward, and a murderer.

Send this cowardly, contemptible wretch, who deliberately and cunningly took the lives of his young, trusting wife, her unborn baby, and the poor, innocent, ragged, unidentified stranger, to the gallows. The man who had kisses for Julia Schmitt and bullets for the one he should have loved and cherished most has forfeited all claims to go on living on this earth.

There is abundant proof of this miserable creature’s guilt. You know as well as I do that he has violated every law of God or man. He deserves death. Even death is too good for him. Send him to the rope. Don’t weaken — give him the punishment he deserves.

Hang him.

And they did.


Belleville (Illinois) News Democrat, September 30, 1921

After hearing the condemned sing on the gallows, one wag present reportedly quipped that Wanderer deserved hanging for his voice alone.

This ragged old case has quite good coverage on this here World Wide Web. Some of Carl’s wanderers include:

* Perhaps not coincidentally, his unit had seen very little combat during the Great War.

1927: Madame Klepikoff, wife of the spy

From the London Times, Aug. 25, 1927. (See also reports from public newspaper archives such as California’s.)

I could not find any source that directly provided the full names of the Klepikoffs. Based on the brief description of events in this Russian book, the husband approached by a foreign agent to spy for Great Britain was one “E. Klepikoff”; this chance genealogy page might relate that name to Efram and Nadezhda Klepikoff.

SOVIET EXECUTIONS.

OFFICER’S WIFE SHOT.

(From our correspondent.)

RIGA, AUG. 24.

The Soviet authorities of Leningrad yesterday, following the rejection of her appeal by the Soviet Government, shot Mme. Klepikoff, who, after a second trial, was condemned to death by a Soviet Court for not betraying to the authorities her husband’s alleged “espionage in favour of England.” The husband, a former captain in the Russian Navy, was shot a few weeks ago.

Yesterday, also, the Soviet authorities shot three Customs officials, Zykoff, Peterleiter, and Borisovsky, and a trader, Kivman, who were condemned last week for defrauding the Customs. They appealed against the sentence, but the Government refused to stay the executioner’s hand.

Meanwhile, officially arranged meetings throughout the U.S.S.R. continue to pass violent resolutions, almost all of which proclaim that August 23 will remain marked in their calendars until they have taken full vengeance for Sacco and Vanzetti.

MOSCOW, Aug. 23. — The Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R. has suspended the execution of the sentence on General Annenkov and General Denisov, who, at the sitting of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court at Semipalatinsk, were condemned to be shot.

The two generals, it was alleged, were implicated in the shooting down of the entire population of villages during the civil war that followed the Russian Revolution. –Reuter.

* On June 16 the tribunal sentenced Klepikoff to death and his wife to three years’ imprisonment. The Soviet authorities, dissatisfied with the sentence on the wife, ordered her re-trial “under conditions involving the death penalty.” The Court assembled on July 12 and passed sentence of death on her.