Emma Heppermann–St. Charles Black Widow 1940–Part I-Prologue & Investigation

This is the story of Emma Sarana Stinnett Schwack Bremser Lee Roberts Vaughn Schneider Heppermann, St. Charles’ own Black Widow.Emma Heppermann

Prologue

According to the Social Security Death Index, Emma Sarana Stinnett was born June 20, 1883 (1900 census lists her birth as June 1891) to Riley William and Hattie Stinnett in the rolling hills of Crawford County, Missouri. Her father was a day laborer and her mother was a homemaker. This most likely led to a very sparse existence for Emma and her two sisters, Annie and Viola.

Some time within a year prior to April 25, 1910, she married the widowed Charles Schwack who had one child, Helen, from his previous marriage. The 1910 census lists them being married less than one year and Emma’s age is listed as 20. Throughout the narratives that follow, Emma consistently states she was only fourteen when she married Charles, which doesn’t match the census data. Could this be the reason most newspaper articles written about her later note that she looks much older than her stated years. Could Emma be a liar, as well as a murderer?

According to the 1920 census, Charles and Emma are living in Pontiac City, Oakland County, Michigan. Charles is a shop blacksmith and Helen is no longer listed with the family, but daughters, Lottie, age 8, Alminia, age 5 and Lola May, age 3 years and 4 months are. Emma’s age is now listed as 26. Nothing is known about the whereabouts of Helen.

By 1925, Emma and Charles have returned to Steelville in Crawford County where on July 15, 1925, Charles died from Dysentery contributed to by overheat. He had been attended by a physician from July 9 through July 14. He is buried in Steelville Cemetery. Dysentery is an intestinal inflammation that can lead to severe diarrhea; mild to severe abdominal pain or stomach cramps.

Emma then married the much older, widowed Frank Joseph Bremser who was born in 1869. Nothing is found on the 1930 census to determine where Emma may have been at that time, but what is known is that on May 12, 1931, she was living at 3809 Clarence Avenue, St. Louis. Why is this known? Because that is the day her second husband, Frank died from a “hemorrhage due to rupture of lining and part of stomach wall” caused by falling from a ladder at his residence. This death was ruled an accident, but no physician was present nor was an autopsy conducted. Wonder who told the authorities he fell?

Emma’s next foray into marriage was reportedly to a man named Frank Lee. This is only through Emma’s own statements; nothing has been found to corroborate this. She and Frank reportedly divorced.

Emma’s string of disasters continued as on August 30, 1932, one day shy of her 14th birthday, Emma’s daughter, Lola May, died at St. Louis City Hospital from Pulmonary Tuberculosis. At the time Emma and Lola had been living at 3627 Finney, St. Louis, Missouri. Emma repeated told people that she was the mother of twelve children with her first husband, Charles Schwack; eight of whom died in infancy. If this is true, it is not supported by death records for any Schwack child other than Lola May.

If Emma’s statements that she was married to Frank Lee after Frank Bremser’s death is true, it must have been a very short lived marriage. Her fourth husband, Bert Lee Roberts, who was born May 1, 1893, died on July 21, 1933, less than two years after her second husband.

According to Missouri death records, Bert Lee Roberts died from acute gastritis, acute nephritis with the contributory factor being excessive heat. Once again, no physician was in attendance to verify whatever may have been told to them regarding Bert’s death. Emma’s later statements regarding Bert’s death were that he died from poisoning after eating sardines out of a can.

Coincidence or not, Bert’s mother, Myra King died just months before Bert on March 25, 1933. Her death was contributed to a dislocation of the hip and senility, but rumblings at the time were that Emma may have played some part in her death.

Her next foray into marriage was to William A. Vaughn whom she married on October 19, 1935 in Potosi, Washington County, Missouri. At the time of their marriage, William was listed as 61 years old and Emma Schwack as age 39. According to statements later made by William Vaughn, he and Emma separated after only six months and finally divorced in October 1937.

This leads us up to her 6th and 7th marriages to Aloysius Schneider and Anton Heppermann. Here the story continues as told by St. Charles Banner-News and St. Charles Cosmos correspondents complete with mispellings and grammatical errors:

Dateline: St. Charles, Missouri
Wednesday, September 19, 1939
St. Charles Weekly Cosmos-Monitor

ALOYS SCHNEIDER OF ST. PETERS DIES EARLY TODAY
Funeral Services for Well Known Citizen
Will Be Held Friday Morning

From Tuesday’s Daily
Aloys A. Schneider of St. Peters, died at St. Joseph’s hospital this morning at 12:45 o’clock at the age of 55 years. He had been in ill health about two weeks. He was removed to the hospital last night.

Surviving him, besides his wife, are his six children, Mrs. Martin Boschet of St. Louis, Mrs. Francis Boschert of Portage des Sioux, Mrs. Elmer Kampman of Louisiana, Miss Agnes Schneider and Clarence and Urban Schneider of St. Charles. His mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Schneider of 300 N. Benton Avenue, St. Charles, and four brothers, Felix, Oscar, Laborious and Alphonse Schneider and one sister, Mrs. Ollie Debrecht, are also left bereaved.

The funeral will be held from Dallmeyer’s funeral home Friday morning thence to All Saints church at nine o’clock. Burial will be made in the parish cemetery.

The Investigation

Dateline: St. Charles, Missouri
Wednesday, May 29, 1940
St. Charles Weekly Cosmo-Monitor

WOMAN HELD IN COUNTY JAIL CHARGED WITH POISONING HUSBAND TONY HEPPERMAN OF WENTZVILLE IN SERIOUS CONDITION
Was Also Wife of St. Peters Man
Who Died in Hospital Here Last September 19

Officers are holding Mrs. Emma S. Heppermann, the mother of eight children, in the St. Charles county jail, on a charge of attempting to poison her third husband following her arrest in St. Louis early Monday morning. The warrant was issued by Justice of the Peace Gus Temme of Cuivre Township at the request of two relatives of Tony Hepperman, the supposed victim. TheHepperman’s resided on a farm, three miles west of Wentzville.

The 46 year old woman was apprehended in St. Louis early this morning after she and her husband had gone there Sunday afternoon. The woman denied the charge. The arrest was made at the home of relatives in the 1100 block on Talmage Avenue.

Prosecuting Attorney Dyer said Hepperman, 53 years old, became ill several days
ago. The wife admitted to authorities that she and her husband started for St. Louis in an automobile Sunday and left it at St. Peters because he was not a good enough driver in heavy traffic, and then took a bus into St. Louis.
Hepperman was brought to the hospital here from St. Louis where today he was
not in condition to discuss the case. The couple was married by Justice of Peace William Wolter, April 13.

Mrs. Hepperman was formerly married to Aloys Schneider, 55, of St. Peters, who died last September 19. Schneider, the father of six children, became ill about a year after his marriage. He was brought to the hospital here about three weeks after being stricken and succumbed a short time later.

A $70 insurance policy was paid to the widow, who took care of the funeral expenses at the request of his children.

The condition of Hepperman was described as serious.

Dateline: St. Charles, Missouri
Thursday, May 30, 1940
St. Charles Banner News

WIFE IS HELD FOR QUESTIONING IN THE ILLNESS OF HUSBAND ACCUSED TO ATTEMPTED POISONING
Mrs. Emma Heppermann is Picked Up after Husband
Is Taken to Hospital

From Monday’s Daily:

Accused in a warrant of attempting to poison her husband, Mrs. Emma S. Heppermann, 46, who resides on a farm three miles west of Wentzville, is being held for questioning in the St. Charles County jail. Arrest of Mrs. Heppermann at the home of a relative in St. Louis at two o’clock this morning followed a complaint of relatives of her husband, Tony Hepperman, a patient at St. Joseph’s hospital.

Sergt. Frank D. Hagan of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who is stationed at Wentzville learned that Mrs. Heppermann has been married several times. Her first husband, it was believed, was Charles Sewack, who formerly lived in the Steelville neighborhood. A more recent husband was Aloys Schneider of St. Peters, who died last September 19.

Coroner Buse said today that the cause of Schneider’s death was listed as heart failure by an attending physician and that it was not a coroner’s case.

The suspect married Tony Heppermann, 53, of near Wentzville last April 13. The ceremony was performed by Justice of the Peace Wm. F. Wolter, records in the
Recorder’s office show.

Tony became ill several days ago. When he was transferred from his home to the hospital last night, Mrs. Hepperman went to St. Louis to an address in the 1100 block of Talmage to be with relatives. It was at this address that Mrs. Hepperman was arrested early this morning.

Request for the arrest was made by Sergt. Frank Hagan, Prosecuting Attorney David A. Dyer and Chief Deputy sheriff Leland S. Cunningham, who worked most of last night on the case. Sergt. Hagan said the suspect will be subjected to rigid questioning.

The warrant was issued by Justice of the Peace Gus Temme at Wentzville Sunday afternoon.

Dateline: St. Charles, Missouri
Wednesday, May 29, 1940
St. Charles Weekly Cosmos-Monitor

TONY HEPPERMAN WHO SUFFERED FROM POISON DIED LAST NIGHT DYER ANNOUNCES MURDER CHARGES WILL BE FILED
Much Married Woman Shows Little Emotion
When She Views Body of Her Latest Mate

Tony Hepperman, husband number seven of Mrs. Emma Sarana Hepperman who is charged with poisoning him, died late Tuesday night in St. Joseph’s hospital. He was the fifth husband to die suddenly, the other two being divorced. Hepperman, 53, a groom of six weeks, suffered a relapse about 10:15 p.m. and died at 11:30 o’clock before any of his relatives were able to reach his bedside. Officers were at his bedside but were unable to obtain much information.

When the 46 year old woman was informed of her husband’s death she replied “I don’t believe it.” She was then taken to Dallmeyer’s Funeral Parlor to view Hepperman’s body but displayed no emotion except grief.

An autopsy was performed this morning and the vital organs sent to Jefferson City where they will be examined for poison by a toxicologist. Coroner Buse said an inquest would be held as soon as a report of the findings were received. A previous examination of the contents of Hepperman’s stomach revealed it contained poison.

Prosecuting Attorney Dyer announced after Hepperman’s death that charge of murder would be filed against the woman upon completion of the inquest.

Yesterday the body of Aloys Schneider, husband number six, was exhumed from the All Saints’ church Cemetery at St. Peters and an autopsy performed.
Officers searched the Hepperman home for poison and made discoveries which are being analyzed.

Born 46 years ago as Emma Stiennett in Cuba, Mo., the woman said she was of German-Irish and Indian descent. She met both Schneider and Hepperman through want advertisements in a St. Louis paper. Under “situation wanted” she listed herself as a “housekeeper for a motherless home, neat and clean.” She used the name of Emma Lee and listed an address on South Vandeventer, St. Louis.

Hepperman’s first wife died eight years ago. He has three children, the youngest Ethel, age 12 making her home with him. She is being examined for poison following recent illness.

The woman was questioned with a lie detector in St. Louis Tuesday and several “specific reactions” were noted. The woman denied poisoning her husband but admitted the only things she ever poisoned in her life was three cats and a dog. She admitted buying some lye and other poison in St. Louis several weeks ago which she said she used on the floor of her home.

The case was broken by officers after patrolman Herman Barr picked up a tip after the marriage to Hepperman, April 13. Residents of St. Peters, where Schneider resided began discussing his untimely death, which gave officers their first hint. Sergt. Frank Hagan, prosecuting Attorney Dyer, Sheriff Borgmeyer and Chief Deputy Cunningham began an active probe and obtained their first real clue when they discovered Hepperman became ill about three weeks ago. Evidence began to accumulate and Sunday the officers closed in on the suspect after she took her husband to a relative’s home in St. Louis.

From Tuesday’s Daily:

BULLETIN

Sergt. Frank Hagan of the State Highway patrol announced late this afternoon that Ethel, 12 year old daughter of Tony Hepperman, would be submitted to an examination to determine whether or not she was suffering from poison. The girl had been seriously sick recently and apparently is on the road to recovery, the state officer told the newspaper.

An autopsy was to be performed at Dallmeyer’s funeral parlors this afternoon to determine if Aloysius Schneider, sixth husband of the seven times married woman, Emma Sarana Hepperman, accusing poisoner, died from poisoning. The body was exhumed from the hillside cemetery near the All Saints Church at St. Peters this morning at the request of Coroner John Buse who said he would conduct a thorough investigation into the death. The body of the 55 year old St. Peters resident has rested peacefully under the ground since his death last September 19th.

Residents of St. Peters were busy the past two days expressing their opinions after maintaining a long silence.

“I always suspicioned something”

one would say while another was heard to remark,

I was never satisfied with the reported cause of Aloys’ death”.

Coroner Buse spent most of Monday and today interviewing relatives of the dead man after which he stated “I have reasons to believe the man died of poisoning.” While the body was being taken up, Dr. Ben L. Neubeiser stated here that an examination of the contents of Tony Hepperman’s body (husband number seven) by a state toxicologist at Jefferson City disclosed poison. He received the report by telephone.

After Schneider’s death a $700 Knights of Columbus insurance policy was paid to the widow who, at the request of his six children by a former marriage, paid the funeral expenses.

The cause of Schneider’s death, according to the death certificate filed by Dr. R. G. Cooper, was ventricular fibrulation which is described as a heart condition. Dr. Wm. L. Freeman said he gave Schneider medicine several days before he died and that the wife called at his office shortly after the first visit for additional medicine.

Coroner Buse has already impaneled a jury and said an inquest into Schneider’s death would be conducted as soon as a report was received from the state where the examination for poison will be made. Buse said he has several witnesses who will relate conversation with the woman several weeks prior to Schneider’s death. He said the people told him Mrs. Schneider expressed fear something may happen to her husband “because he had been eating melons, grapes, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables which had been sprayed with a bug spray.”
Prosecuting Attorney Dyer said Hepperman’s condition was improved and he expected him to recover.

The prisoner related after several hours of questioning that she was married seven times, four husbands being dead, two divorced and one in the hospital. She denied poisoning Hepperman. She said she was married to Charles Schwack of Oak Hill, Crawford county in 1908 when she was 14 years old. She said eight of the twelve children born to them died in infancy and that Schwack died in 1923. his death she said resulted from him drinking ice water after he became overheated. He was a blacksmith.

Her second marriage was in 1931 to Frank Breinser of St. Louis. She said he died
from stomach injuries sustained in a fall.

Marriages were numerous after that and she was unable to give dates of marriages, divorces or deaths. Number three was Frank Lee of St. Louis who divorced her. Number four was Bert Roberts of Cuba, a Frisco employee who died July 21, 1933, according to records, in the St. Louis Frisco Hospital. Mrs. Hepperman said he was poisoned when he ate sardines out of a can. The next was Bill Vaughn of Cuba who divorced her. Then came Schneider and Hepperman.

The woman was arrested early Sunday morning in St. Louis and charged with attempting to murder and kill Hepperman by administering a quantity of deadly poison. The Hepperman’s were married here April 13 and reside on a farm near Wentzville. Steve Hepperman, brother of Tony, signed the affidavit on which the warrant was based.

Dateline: St. Charles, Missouri
Thursday, May 30, 1940
St. Charles Banner News

TONY HEPPERMANN DIES;
JAILED WIFE TAKES NEWS CALMLY, SHERIFF SAYS
CORONER BUSE SEEKS TRACES OF POISON

The Bodies of Sixth and Seventh Husband Subjected to Autopsies Here
PROSECUTOR MAY SOON SEEK MURDER WARRANT    &nbps;     Awaits Chemical Analysis,
Suspect Still Denies She “Did Anything to Tony”

Tony Heppermann, 53, a farmer of near Wentzville, died at 11:30 o’clock last night at St. Joseph’s hospital. His wife, Mrs. Emma Heppermann, 46, has been held at the county jail since early Monday morning on a warrant charging attempted poisoning.

Heppermann expired just an hour and a half after Prosecuting Attorney David A. Dyer had interviewed him. The prosecutor said this morning he may soon seek a warrant against Mrs. Heppermann charging murder.

At Dallmeyer’s parlors at nine o’clock this morning, Coroner John H. Buse swore in his jury over the body. An autopsy was conducted an hour later. Portions of the deceased’s body were sent to Jefferson City for chemical analysis.Coroner Buse said the autopsy conducted on Heppermann’s body this morning showed that “the stomach was damaged severely by some foreign chemical.”

When told of her husband’s death, Mrs. Heppermann showed no emotion, Sheriff Joseph Borgmeyer said. “She took the news as cool as a cucumber,” the sheriff added. Later, she was taken to view the remains of her husband. Since her arrest, she has steadfastly denied she poisoned her husband.

Poison Found

Officers searched the Heppermann residence yesterday and discovered
“household articles” containing arsenic, the prosecutor said. These articles were in the shape of spray fluids, etc.

Coroner Buse said today he does not expect to get a report on examinations of parts of Aloys Schneider’s body and Heppermann’s body for several days. When he does, he said, inquests will be conducted. Schneider’s body was exhumed from All Saints cemetery at St. Peters yesterday morning by orders of the coroner. Schneider, sixth husband of the suspect, died last September 19.

Mrs. Heppermann, who has had at least seven husbands since her fourteenth birthday, also was the mother of 12 children, eight of whom died in infancy. Her husbands included Charles Schwack of Oak Hill, whom she married when she was 14 years old. He died, she said, in 1923 of dysentery suffered after drinking some ice water when he was overheated. Frank Bresner, whose death, she said was caused by a fall in which he injured his stomach; Frank Lee, who divorced her, Bert Roberts, of Cuba, who died July 21, 1933, of “acute gastritis and food poisoning” (he ate sardines out of a can, Mrs. Heppermann said); Bill Vaughn, who left her; Aloys Schneider, who died last September and Tony Heppermann, who died last night.

“Afraid for Aloys”

Coroner Buse said yesterday he learned from neighbors of the late Aloys
Schneider that the suspect often mentioned to these neighbors:

I’m afraid for Aloys. He’s always eating tomatoes and other vegetables which have been sprayed with arsenic of lead.”

Buse ordered exhumation of Schneider’s body Monday night. A death certificate on file at the city clerk’s office gives the cause of death as “ventricular fibrulation,” a heart disease.

Sergt. Frank Hagan, Patrolman Herman Barr and Prosecuting Attorney David A. Dyer have been working on this case several days. A warrant charging attempted poisoning was issued by Justice of Peace Gus Temme at Wentzville Sunday afternoon on complaint of Tony Heppermann’s relatives. Mrs. Heppermann was arrested in St. Louis at two o’clock Monday morning at the home of relatives where she had gone after her husband was taken to St. Joseph hospital. Sheriff Borgmeyer and Deputy L. S. Cunningham have assisted on the case. When questioned, she said time and again, “I didn’t do anything to Tony.”

Death Unexpected

Heppermann’s death last night came suddenly and rather unexpectedly because his condition yesterday was regarded as somewhat improved following two blood transfusions.

Ethel, 13 year old daughter of Mr. Heppermann, has been ill about three weeks, according to Sergt. Hagan.

Mrs. Heppermann is being held in quarters constructed in the basement of the county jail. Although only 46 years old, she has snow white hair and has appearances of being much
older.

Meet Through Want Ad

How Mrs. Heppermann met her seventh husband was explained by Sert. Hagan as follows:

Mrs. Heppermann, who was born at Steelville, Mo., 46 years ago, met
Heppermann last March through a want advertisement in a St. Louis newspaper. Under “Situations Wanted,” she had listed herself as a “housekeeper for a motherless home; neat and pleasant.” She used the name of Emma Lee and gave an address on South Vandeventer avenue where she had a room near the home of one of her daughters by her first marriage. She once had been married to a man named Frank Lee, whose whereabouts are unknown.

When Heppermann sent a reply to the advertisement, Mrs. Heppermann went out to the farm to look it over, highway patrolmen learned.

She Proposes

I like the place,” she was quoted as saying to Heppermann, “but what I really want to do is to get married. I don’t want to be a housekeeper. “I’ll tell you want I’ll do. I’ll work for two weeks. If you like me and want to get married we’ll do that. If you don’t like me, I’ll go back to St. Louis and you won’t owe me a cent.”

After thinking it over for a few days, Heppermann sent for her and she went out to the farm. They were married April 13, by a St. Charles Justice of the Peace.

Dateline: St. Charles, Missouri
Thursday, May 30, 1940
St. Charles Banner News

WIFE DENIES SHE TRIED TO POISON SEVENTH HUSBAND
BODY OF SIXTH IS EXHUMED

Coroner Buse Seeks to Learn What Caused Death of
Aloys Schneider Last Fall

Mrs. Emma Heppermann, 46 of near Wentzville, who is held in the St. Charles county jail on a warrant charging her with the attempted poisoning of her husband Tony Heppermann, still maintains her innocence. After hours of questioning by State Highway Patrolman and county authorities yesterday, she repeated again and again “I didn’t do anything to him.”

Examination of the contents of Heppermann’s stomach by a State pathologist at Jefferson City has indicated poison, it was said.
Heppermann, who is 53 years old is at St. Joseph Hospital. He had undergone two blood transfusions and his condition is said to be improved. He became suddenly ill at his farm several days ago and was taken to the hospital today. Coroner John H. Buse announced last night that he had decided to exhume the body of Aloys Schneider, the suspect’s sixth husband who died last September 19 and was buried in All Saints cemetery at St. Peters. The death certificate signed by Dr. Raymond Cooper and filed with the city there, gives the cause of death as ventricular fibrilation.. Cirrhosis of the liver was given as a secondary cause. Coroner Buse said he is determined to learn whether or not

Local physicians began an autopsy at Dallmeyer’s parlors this afternoon at three o’clock. Specimens of body tissue will e taken to Jefferson City for chemical analysis and the doctors report to a coroner’s jury. An inquest to be held later and sworn in are George…
CoronerBuse said today he heard from neighbors of the late Aloys Schneider that the suspect had mentioned to those neighbors “I’m afraid for Aloys. He’s always eating tomatoes and other vegetables which have been sprayed with arsenic of lead.” Coroner Buse said he did not at this time want to reveal names of persons who told him this, but that it will be brought out at an inquest which is scheduled to be held at Jefferson City authorities reveal their finding on the autopsy this afternoon.

Married at 14

Mrs. Heppermann has had at least seven husbands and possibly more Sergt. Frank D. Hagan said last night. She was married the first time when she was 14 years old to Charles Swack of St. Louis. He died in 1928, she said, of dysentery suffered after drinking some water when he was overheated. She had 12 children by this marriage, of whom eight died in infancy.

In 1931 she said, she married Frank Brenser in St. Louis. His death a short time later, she said was caused by a fall in which he perforated his stomach.

Shortly after, she married Frank Vaughn she told authorities. This marriage ended in a divorce and his whereabouts is unknown.
In 1933, Mrs. Hepperman was married to Bert Roberts, Cuba. He was taken to the Frisco Hospital in St. Louis on July 20 and died the following day. Records at the hospital, it was said, that his case was diagnosed as acute gastritis: and “food poisoning”. Mrs. Heppermann was quoted as saying that he became ill after eating sardines out of a can.

The suspect’s fifth husband was William Vaughn, also of Cuba and this marriage ended in divorce. She married alloys Schneider of St. Peters after that and he died September 19.

The marriage of the suspect and Tony Heppermann was held on April 13. Justice of the Peace Wm. F. Wolter officiated.

Ethel, 13 year old daughter of Tony Heppermann has been seriously ill for about three weeks, according to Sergt. Hagan. Sergt. Hagan, Patrolman Herman Barr and Prosecuting Attorney David A. Dyer, have been working on this case for about two weeks, the Banner-news was told last night. Others assisting in the investigation were Sheriff Borgmeyer and his deputy, L. S. Cunningham.

Continue reading Part II–The Coroner’s Inquest

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6 comments

  1. Hi, my great uncles were Bert Roberts and William Vaughn. My great grandmother was Myra King, Bert Roberts’ mother. She also tried to get to my grandfather. I have a collection of articles about Emma. How did you get interested in this story?

    • I love local history and started reading the weekly newspapers on microfilm, as far back as the late 1880s. My background is in law enforcement so I was interested mostly in crime stories (thus the title “Crime Beat”). I read everything I could find including the coroner’s inquest record and using other records at our local library I was able to track some other information. I’d love to read the articles you have on Emma. If you would care to share them with me, my email address is corley598@aol.com.

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