The proverbial “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is apparently true in Emma’s family. Emma’s grandson, Frank A. Henenberg, was convicted of murder in 1970 for the shooting death of Martin Zlogar in McHenry County, Illinois. Zlogar had apparently picked Henenberg up while Henenberg was hitchhiking; Henenberg shot him and stole his vehicle and credit card; both of which were in his possession at the time of his arrest. He was sentenced to die in the electric chair for this homicide but in 1973 the Illinois Supreme court overturned this conviction on the grounds that his Miranda rights had been violated. The case was remanded to McHenry County were again he was found guilty of murder and armed robbery and sentenced to 150-300 years on the murder charge and 50-150 years on the armed robbery charge. Both sentences to run concurrent.
On June 28, 2013, St. Louis Post Columnist Bill McClellan wrote an article on Emma Hepermann entitled: “McClellan: Remembering Emma’s Deadly Potato Soup”.
“Aloys Schneider was a farmer in St. Charles County in the years between the World Wars. Lou Kampman is one of his grandchildren. Kampman wrote me a note after reading Monday’s column, which was about a poisoning case in Springfield, Mo.
“Today’s column reminds me of my own grandfather’s death from arsenic poisoning. He was murdered by his third wife, Emma Hepperman. She was convicted of murdering Mr. Hepperman and attempting to murder his teenage daughter. Prior to these, she poisoned several other people,” he wrote.
That was enough to send me to the clips to look up some old stories.
Emma Sarana was born in Steelville in 1894. She married her first husband when she was 14. He was 33. He died 17 years later, allegedly from drinking ice water while overheated. There was no autopsy.
Emma went on to have six more husbands. Most of them died. Suspicions were first raised after the death of her fourth husband, Bert Roberts, and his mother. They died after eating potato soup. The doctor who treated Roberts insisted he had been poisoned. A coroner’s jury decided he had died of acute gastritis.
Little is known of the fifth husband.
Schneider was number six. They were married in 1937. Schneider’s six kids from his first marriage were already grown. One of those kids was Antoinette Hepperman, Lou’s mom. She later told Lou that none of the family trusted Emma.
The newspaper stories confirmed that. Three years after Schneider’s death and shortly after Emma was arrested for the poisoning death of her seventh husband, a coroner’s jury was called to investigate Schneider’s death. One of the witnesses was Alphonse Schneider, the dead man’s brother. He told the jury he had lived with his brother and Emma on the farm for a short time, but he left because he couldn’t get along with Emma.
Here is the way the newspaper described his testimony: “She told me three times she wanted to kill me,” he testified. “One day, in the midst of a quarrel, she said she wanted to cook me some soup.” Schneider leaned close to the jury and said, “I sure am glad I didn’t eat any of that soup.”
But nothing seems to have come of the coroner’s jury. Most of the clips deal with the death of Tony Hepperman, Emma’s seventh and last husband.
He was 53, a widower who lived on a farm 3 miles west of Wentzville. Three years after Schneider’s death, Emma placed an ad in a St. Louis newspaper. It was under Situations Wanted. She gave her name as Emma Lee. Frank Lee had been her second husband. (The newspaper stories noted that his whereabouts were unknown.) Emma listed herself as a “housekeeper for a motherless home; neat and pleasant.” Her address was a rooming house on South Vandeventer Avenue.
Hepperman responded to the ad. Emma came out to take a look at the farm. She reportedly said, “I like the place, but what I really want to do is to get married. I don’t want to be a housekeeper. I’ll tell you what 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.”
Hepperman took the deal.
By the way, Emma was 46. She was described in one of the stories as “plump and white-haired.”
Her ad ran in March. She married Hepperman in April. He died in May. They had been married six weeks.
One of Hepperman’s daughters lived with them. She became very ill, too. She lost 23 pounds in three weeks. She testified that whenever she felt nauseated, Emma would say, “Eat some soup.”
Potato soup was Emma’s specialty.
Emma was arrested after Tony Hepperman was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Charles. He told doctors he thought he had been poisoned. After his death, an autopsy confirmed his suspicions.
The trial was moved to Franklin County because of publicity. Emma faced a jury of farmers. That probably did not work to her advantage. Too many of her husbands had been farmers themselves.
A store clerk testified that Emma bought fly paper soaked in arsenic and said she wanted it for water bugs. One of Hepperman’s sons said he had visited several times and noticed that Emma never seemed to eat. She always said she wasn’t hungry, he testified.
Emma was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. She served 27 years. Her sentence was commuted in May 1968 and she was released without supervision. I was unable to find any notice of her death.
She left a strange legacy. Lou Kampman told me that nobody in his family ever ate potato soup.”
Emma went on to serve 27 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections before she was released, presumably gravely ill, and returned to Steelville where she died in October 1968.
Download a PDF of this story here: Emma Heppermann, St. Charles’ Black Widow