1888 Ernst Kleeschulte Kills Family
Here is another installment from Crime Beat, Murder, Mayhem and the Mundane
Dateline: Cuivre Township
From the St. Charles Cosmos May 2, 1888
ONE OF THE BLOODIEST TRAGEDIES EVER ENACTED
Ernst Kleeschulte Attempts Extermination of his Family with a Deadly Bull-Dog Pistol
MURDERS HIS WIFE AND FATALLY WOUNDS HIS HELPLESS CHILDREN
The Murderer Coolly Suicides a Short Distance from the Scene of the Murder
Full Particulars of the Horrible Affair
The bloodiest and most horrible tragedy ever enacted in St. Charles County, was Friday morning about 9 o’clock, in the quiet and secluded neighborhood around the mouth of the Peruque creek about 12 miles from St. Charles. Ernst Kleeschulte shot his young wife to death with a 44 calibre ball from a British bull-dog pistol, put three balls in his little 6 year old son Ernst and fatally shot his little year old infant.
After doing this awful and bloody work, the murderer walked, or rather skulked, around the house, went about a quarter of a mile into the woods, and as the surroundings indicated, deliberately suicided by sending a ball through the centre of his forehead. The murderer and suicide had coolly pulled off his coat, rolled it up as a pillow and stretching out committed the deed in a very deliberate manner.
Indefinite, floating rumors of the tragedy reached St. Charles Friday evening and about 5 o’clock a Cosmos reporter was enroute to the scene. An uneventful drive, over some very good as well as very bad roads, brought the representative of the press to the humble Kleeschulte cabin about half-past 8 o’clock. Although the tragedy occurred Friday morning, strange to say, many residents in the immediate neighborhood late in the night had not heard of it, A dim light was burning in the two room cabin and entering through the back door a scene presented itself not soon to be forgotten. Stretched right in front of the door, on the bare floor of a scantily furnished room, was a sheeted form. The white covering had settled around the object of its protection, revealing the form of a human being. A sorrowful young German with tear-dimmed eyes, who said between his sobs “this is my sister”, mechanically raised the sheet at the end from the door which the reporter entered, and the white, dead face of a rather pretty woman, was 25 years old, was revealed. This dead woman had been a few hours previous the wife of Ernst Kleeschulte. Passing from the dead room into the front and only remaining room in the house, a group of men and women were crowded around a bed on which lay two very white, sleeping children. One was Ernst Kleeschulte, the other a little year old infant. A sad-faced tearless woman sat on the bedside next to Ernst. The silent watcher said nothing, but perhaps anticipating the object of the reporter’s visit, commenced unwrapping the wounds of the little boy. In the small right arm near the wrist was an ugly, gaping red bullet hole, further was another. In the right arm was another mark of the murderer’s bullet. From the right side the nurse next began to take the wrappings. Ernst moaned pitifully and twitched his pale suffering face. This wound in the side, is what baffled Dr. Talley, the surgeon. It was a great red inflamed hole that was ploughed open by the 44 calibre pistol ball on its way to the little fellow’s liver, where, according to the surgeon, it lodged. The little infant had a fearful bruise on the back, and the back of its head was injured by a bullet. Both of the children seemed to be under the influence of drugs.
Down about a quarter of a mile from the house, a smouldering fire was burning. Around this flickering blaze a number of men gathered. One of them in a very common place manner said, “well here he is d’want to see him”. Taking a lantern and crossing the road he thrust it down towards a dark object among the brush and small stumps and lifted up something that looked like a gunny sack. Giving the light another jerk the guide said “well there you are”. The lantern revealed the face of a dead man apparently but a short time ago in the prime of life, the face was clean shaven except a heavy light brown moustache. In the center of the forehead was a huge clot of dried black blood, that stood out as large as a hen egg and vicious big flies buzzed around, occasionally attacking the spectators. By the left side of the corpse lay the pit bull dog pistol, the same weapons undoubtedly that had been made to do all the murderous work. This was the dead body of Ernst Kleeschulte, wife murderer, perhaps child murderer and suicide.
The watchers had not moved the body, but said they were waiting for the coroner. Coroner Mudd and the prosecuting attorney left for the scene about 6 o’clock in the evening but were longer than anticipated in making the trip. The prosecuting attorney accompanied the coroner presumably because he had not heard of the suicide. It was difficult to get the details of the tragedy minutely. The simple, honest Germans who were oscillating between the house where the victim lay and the body of the murderer and suicide in the woods seemed to be horror stricken and dazed, which with the broken English spoken by many rendered a great deal of questioning necessary.
Max Schulte, a brother of the dead woman, who had with his family recently been living with his sister, although overwhelmed with grief, told the most intelligent history of the tragedy that had just been enacted in his humble home. Max Schulte had just one into the field to commence the day’s work when he heard pistol shots in his house, he hastened home, probably feeling that the dread moment be feared had arrived. At the gate he was met by his wife, who informed him of the murder. Going into the room he met his sister, Mrs. Kleeschulte, staggering across the floor and bleeding profusely. He caught the dying woman as she was falling and in response to a gurgling, gasping appeal for water the heart broken brother, lay his burden gently down, and passed, a dipper of water. The dying woman drank it with unnatural relish and instantly expired, the hot blood soaking her clothing and running on the floor.
It seems that the unfortunate victims were anticipating an attack and had locked the front door to prevent his entrance. Kleeschulte, however, disguised in a black, false beard broke open the door and as the results would indicate, made an almost successful attempt to exterminate his family. At this point in the history of the dire tragedy the details are difficult to ascertain. The inmates of that little room must have been insane with terror and the only intelligent witness of what occurred there is Mrs. Schulte, a sister-in-law of the dead woman. It is not strange that her memory in regard to the details is not accurate. In giving her testimony at the coroner’s inquest she broke down completely. It was at this time the hellish work was done. We know what happened by the results.
From what the reporter could learn amid the terror of the neighbors and sobs of the brother and sister-in-law of the murdered woman pencil and type cannot tell the story. As Mrs. Schulte and the honest simple-hearted rural people told the tale the inhuman husband and father drove the pleading terror-stricken family into a stairway, the wife clasped her babe to her breast and shrieked for mercy. Mercy comes from heaven; there was no mercy in that face made doubly hideous by a black, grizzly, false heard. They were in the presence of a human devil. Mrs. Schulte ran up the steps to the little attic above. The wife nerved perhaps to super-human effort by the little babe at her breast arose from her cowering position and grappled with her foe. It was an unequal struggle, for the murderer was armed with a deadly bull-dog pistol charged with forty-four calibre cartridges. The shots rang out loud and clear, echoing through the woods for a mile or more.
Mrs. Schulte looked from her hiding place in the attic through a little window and saw Ernst Kleeschulte skulk around the house and disappear down in the woods. An hour after a pistol shot and the subsequent finding of his dead body told what had become of him.
Max Schulte as stated above ran from the field to the house, and we have the bloody narrative connected.
When the Cosmos reporter left the horrible scene, Coroner Mudd had not yet arrived. He returned, however at five o’clock Saturday morning in company with Prosecuting Attorney Mudd. He held and inquest over both bodies and a verdict was rendered in accordance with the facts as published.
Said Dr. Mudd, “I have seen sad sights in my professional and official career, but a merciful God deter me from such another scene as this awful tragedy. I nearly broke down in attending to my professional duties”.
Said Mr. O. J. Mudd, “I went with the coroner to do what I conceived to be my duty; a higher power now deals with the murderer and suicide. I have nothing more to say further than I hope my eyes may never look upon another such spectacle. It will be a long time before I can get over it.”
The body of the murderer and suicide was given in charge of a resident in the vicinity, and as a rude grave was dug on the banks of the Peruque, not far from where the murder and suicide was committed, and the mortal remains were roughly thrown into an unmarked and rude grave. The murdered wife and mother was buried Saturday. Dr. Mudd says the chances are that the children will die.
In endeavoring to ascertain the cause for the bloody deed, the results of which the reporter had been an unwilling and horrified witness, much questioning was necessary. None of the neighbors would assign any other cause but that of “devilish”. Interrogated as to whether the man was jealous, no satisfactory answer could be elicited, further than that he was “devilish”. None would admit that he had recently been drinking. No one in the immediate neighborhood had a good word to say for the murderer and suicide. The murdered woman they characterized as a prepossessing, hardworking young matron. Ernst Kleeschulte was known by quite a number in St. Charles and recently offered the city marshal five dollars to locate his wife. In St. Louis, also, it seems he had a record not altogether savory. His relations there speak of him as a sullen, dogged, threatening bar room lounger, sometimes working, sometimes not. Kleeschulte and his wife quarreled last Christmas, say the neighbors, and he left; about a week before the murder he returned stopping at different houses in the neighborhood. It was thought then that he meant mischief, but nothing so serious as the extermination of his family was thought of.
Dateline: Cuivre Township
From the St. Charles Cosmos Several Weeks Later in 1888
The Kleeschulte Tragedy
The public remembers, no doubt, with painful vividness the terrible tragedy enacted on Peruque creek, 12 miles from St. Charles, several weeks ago, in which Ernst Kleeschulte killed his young wife, fatally wounded his little infant and shot his little boy in a horrible manner. Dr. Talley, the surgeon who attended the children, has been in town during the past week and he says the little infant so terribly wounded in the back and shot in the back of the skull died from the effects of the shots. The little boy Ernst remarkable to state, will recover. The two balls in the arms have been taken out and the bullet in the intestines has become incysted, a marvelous provision of nature by which a life is sometimes saved. The boy will bear horrible scars as a reminder of his awful experience.