You're listening to American Shadows, a production of I Heart Radio and Greyman miles from Aaron Minkey. Pudgy and short, he was far from handsome, if he had one good feature, it might have been his striking pale blue eyes. Some thought he was charming, though, and he knew it. Herman dreamt that emigrated from the Netherlands with his father in 1892, and they settled into American life as farmers in Iowa. But the rural existence wasn't his thing.
He had big plans and the open roads and growing cities had much to offer. As soon as he was able, Herman enlisted and ended up serving in World War One. After the war, he used his charm for a profession far more lucrative than farming. He became an Oklahoma oil stock promoter, while a phony one anyway, and a bogus career required a new identity to match. So Herman soon became Harry Powers and also A.R. Weaver and Cornelius Pierson will just stick with Harry Powers.
Maybe the work was too difficult or there just weren't enough people to con, especially in 1929 during the Great Depression.
Whatever the reason, he switched to a more attractive Khanjar matrimony.
Some would say that love and personal connection are the fires of the soul, people will do anything to find it and even more to keep it for most of us. Love is a fundamental, basic need for others. That intimate connection is an opportunity. Sometimes we're so busy looking into the light in our hearts that we ignore what lurks in the shadows of a partner.
Soul will dismiss the signs and ignore the red flags.
The alternative, after all, is too painful or too frightening to accept.
But if we're honest, the truth is much darker than we'd like, even when it comes to romance here. There may be monsters. I'm Lauren Bacall. Welcome to American Shadows.
Before the era of dating apps, people looking for love might place personal ads or Lonely Hearts ads in their local newspaper. But Harry Powers took a different route. He chose to seek out a lonely Hearts Club, a members only group where men and women found potential partners for a fee. And Harry chose the most successful of them all. Detroit's American Friendship Society, which had opened for business in seven annual membership fees, were a bit more for the men than the women for dollars and ninety five cents as opposed to 195.
But he shelled out the cash and placed his profile. He exaggerated. Of course, his profile stated that he was wealthy, worth one hundred and fifty thousand dollars with an income of two thousand dollars a month. In case you're wondering, that's a net worth of over two million dollars today. Powers didn't stop there? No, he had studied his audience well. He played the sympathy card, enlisting himself as a widow, knowing that ladies were looking for someone smart, too.
He put down his profession as a civil engineer. The next step was security. I own a beautiful ten room brick home. His profile read completely furnished with everything that would make a good woman happy. My wife would have her own car and plenty of spending money would have nothing to do but enjoy herself. But she must be a one man woman. I would not tolerate infidelity. Now, if some of the women reading that had heard the old adage, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is, then they wouldn't have responded.
But they did in droves. In fact, soon enough, Powers was receiving 20 letters a day. But there's one thing he left out of his profile his wife, his real living wife. You see, Harry Powers was already married before, had placed his ad. He had answered someone else's Lonely Hearts ad placed in nineteen twenty six by a woman named Luella Strothers. She was part owner of a small grocery store in Clarksburg, West Virginia, as well as a farm in nearby quiet Dell.
After a brief courtship, they had married in nineteen twenty seven and then settled down in West Virginia to run the grocery store and manage the farm. I know I said that Harry wasn't the farming type, but considering his newly created dating profile, he wasn't the monogamous type either.
It helped that Harry traveled a lot and without his wife too. And all the while he continued to receive letters from plenty of women. Later on, the Postal Service would report that delivered hundreds of letters to another of his aliases, Cornelius Pearson.
Harry's extracurricular lifestyle carried on without a hitch for a few years, right up until late August of nineteen thirty one. Then, on a hot summer day in Park Ridge, Illinois, one William O'Boyle stopped by his former landlady's house to pick up his tools, which he had left behind after his eviction.
The house seemed oddly deserted, though in fact, she'd evicted him specifically so her new fiancee could move in. And that's when O'Boyle heard the footsteps. As he watched a man slipped out a side door. O'Boyle gave him chase, but the man ran into the nearby garage through the door. O'Boyle asked the stranger where Asta and her children were, but the man inside wouldn't answer. Frustrated, he tried the door and found it locked from the inside. Suspicious O'Boyle stuck around attempting to wait the intruder out.
But after a couple hours, it was clear the man was neither coming out nor talking. Suit yourself, Boyle muttered. He locked the door from the outside and headed to the police department to let them deal with the situation.
When the police arrived later that day, they discovered a pudgy, blue eyed man busily removing furnishings from the house, O'Boyle identified him as the man had seen earlier. Apparently, the man had escaped to the garage's rear window.
Naturally, the police wanted to know who the man was and why he was removing items from the home. Cornelius O. Pearson of the Fairmont Hotel in Fairmont, West Virginia. The man replied, According to him, the ICAS had moved to Colorado and he was simply helping them pack up their things.
It must have sounded a bit strange to the officers, but without any real evidence to the contrary, they let Pierson go, taking his word that he would show up at the police station the next day. And oddly enough, he actually kept his word. When he arrived, he repeated his story to the officer on duty that he was helping sell the house and then left as quickly as had come. Just to be sure, though, the officer sent a telegram to the Fairmont Hotel and wouldn't you know it, the manager there had never heard of Cornelius, but by then it was too late.
Harry Powers, a.k.a. Cornelius Pierson, was gone. The Park Ridge police found 54 love letters and asked ICAS home, all from Cornelius Pierson, every single one of them had been postmarked from Clarksburg, Virginia. Let me see you alone. The most recent letter said, I will come in the night. Do not let the neighbors know I'm coming. Leave all business transactions to me till Monday, dear. They also found a receipt on. It was a new name.
Harry Powers intrigued. Police Chief Harold John made a call to the authorities over in Clarksburg, West Virginia. And just like at the Fairmont Hotel, Detective Sothern had never heard of Cornelius, but he had heard of Harry Powers. Detective Sutherland stopped by the local post office and quickly discovered that a man named Pearson had given his address as one one one Quincy Street, the very same address, it turned out, as that of Harry and Luella powers working quickly.
Southern got a warrant for the man's arrest. The detective intercepted powers during his next post office pickup, a search revealed for stamped and addressed letters ready to send to unsuspecting women. Harry also had a list of names and addresses of over 150 women and a form letter he used when contacting them. It seemed Harry Powers was quite the pen pal. The police arrested Powers on possible kidnapping charges next. They searched his residence in Clarksburg, questioning both his wife and his sister in law, who also lived with them.
They found women's clothing with name tags stitched in them, none of which were Luella or Ava. Some of Astiz clothing and even her silver flatware were found there. Lula, meanwhile, staunchly told the officers she had no knowledge of the other women nor how the items had come to be found in her house. Perry also insisted his wife knew nothing of his philandering, but they detained his wife and her sister anyway. After extensive questioning, they were released.
Perry refused to talk, not without a lawyer anyway.
He never denied the affair, but he swore that he'd last seen Asta and the children the Chicago train station had. The wealthy widow tricked the con man. Was she hiding in Colorado under an assumed name, waiting for powers to arrive? Or had Luella and her sister discovered Harry's affair and sought to eliminate Asta? It took a bit of detective work, but slowly the pieces all came together. But not before things got just a little weirder. According to the letters found, Asta had been only one of the hundreds of women responding to powers that she was a widow with three children Greta 14, Harry, 12, and Anabelle, nine.
After a long romance by male powers under the alias of Cornelius Pierson, wrote Asta. That final letter that the police had found had then driven past his home in Park Ridge, and after spending the night the lovers departed on a trip together, leaving the children with the family nurse, Elizabeth Abernathy. Five days later, Abernathy received a letter informing her that Pierson would be coming to pick up the children. On July 1st, the morning after his arrival, Powers sent one of the children to the bank with a note instructing the bank clerk to fill in the check with the entire bank balance and return it to the child.
The bank refused, believing the signature had been forged when the child came home without the check. Pearson packed the car, gathered the children and left town. Now, you might think Harry Powers had his hands full, what with a wife, a fiancee and over one hundred and fifty other women to write to, but Power somehow found time to court another woman in person, Dorothy Lemcke. Three weeks after leaving, Illinois, powers showed up at her Northborough, Massachusetts, home where she lived with her sister and brother in law.
He and Dorothy had been corresponding rather passionately for quite some time, and so on the day after his arrival, Dorothy said goodbye to her sister and left town with her new fiancee, the man she believed to be Cornelius Peerson. The couple made two stops on their way out of town, the bank, of course, was the first where Dorothy took out four thousand dollars. They needed it for their wedding. The second stop was a railway station where Powers shipped Dorthy's trunks and suitcases.
Not to Iowa, though. No. Dorothy's belongings were shipped to his post office address in West Virginia. Several days after that, Powers returned home to Clarksburg alone, where he picked up Dorthy's belongings and the letters that landed him in a jail cell. After the arrest, everything snowballed. The local paper printed the story, and reader Louise Watson couldn't believe her eyes. She immediately called. The sheriff's department should recently been to visit her mother in the town of Quiet Dell, where she and her mother noticed that a neighbor, Harry Powers, had built a garage on his wife's property.
It was strange because he would need a garage when there wasn't even a house.
Quiet delts Sheriff Wellford Grim, not so, too. You see, the powers home in Clarksburg was just 25 miles away from the farm and quiet, Dell Grim immediately filed for a warrant to complicate things. The farmland belonged solely to Luella and her sister, Ava, but the garage was in Harry's name only. Not long afterward, Sheriff Graham, along with the deputy state police, chief of police and Detective Southern, all converged on the farm.
The door was locked, but the deputies found a magic farming tool similar in shape to a pickaxe. And after a few weeks, he busted the lock and everyone stepped inside. The men, however, weren't prepared for what they found. No one was. Powers sat across from the investigators, what's with the juicy love letters, one of them asked. Just good friends, Harry replied. Maybe she went off to marry another man. Officials had discovered otherwise at first that found nothing at the garage.
No oil spills, no tire marks, not even a single tool. Well, almost nothing, they found four hairpins and in a darkened corner, they found a trapdoor underneath it, stairs led to a basement with four rooms. In one, they found bloody fabric and hair. Another contained trunks full of clothing, jewelry, ribbons and a blood soaked dress. In the third, a child's bloody footprint. All three of those rooms had also been fitted with gas lines, and the fourth one had windows looking into the others, an observation room.
Desperate for a confession, police took a handcuffed powers to the scene when they showed him the bloody footprint, he coolly replied, Isn't this horrible? By one p.m., over three hundred people had arrived to watch the officials comb the farm for Asta and her children. While that took place, a 15 year old boy stepped forward and mentioned that had recently helped powers dig a ditch. Officials grabbed shovels and began digging. Within minutes, they came across a burlap sack inside the Unearthed, the decomposing body of a woman.
Her hands bound in front of her. The crowd sickened by the view and the stench retreated.
Later that day, search crews found the bodies of Astor's daughters, each wrapped in a sheet. Their hands tied behind their backs like their mother had been strangled as the son suffered a different fate, though for him, Powers had used a hammer. A bank book from the Merchant Savings Bank of Western Massachusetts was retrieved from a fire pit. The name Dorothy Lemcke in it, Worcester police confirmed that, yes, they did have a missing persons report for that name.
Later, Dorothy's sister positively identified the body. Powers smug attitude incensed the good citizens of Quiet Down in Clarksburg on September 20th of nineteen thirty one, a mob of some 5000 angry people surrounded the jail, demanding his release so they could deliver their own brand of justice. It took two hours to end the standoff and eight members of the mob were arrested inside the jail. Harry Powers wept. Not for his victims, though. No, he claimed he was worried that the crowd outside might turn their rage on his wife.
The police continued to interrogate him about asked his personal effects. Sobbing, Harry placed a hand on a nearby Bible, swearing that he knew nothing about Astor's belongings. But after several hours and an accidental fall down the stairs, a black eyed powers confessed to the murders of Dorothy Lemcke Asta Eicher and asked his three children. But the police suspected more, upwards of 50 more, actually. How many? One officer demanded to know. How many others did you kill?
I don't know, Powers replied. You've got me on five. What good what another 50 do. While Powers refused to discuss other murders, he did agree to tell officials the details about Asta Eicher and Dorothy Lemcke, and his accounts were nothing less than chilling. He told them he drove Asta to his farm, where he locked her up before returning to Illinois for her children. Then he hanged them one by one for turning on the gas to finish them off.
He didn't say how long it took them to die, but he did tell the investigators that watching them gave him much pleasure. Thanks to the investigative work near the garage. We know what happened after that. Powers wrapped his victims up, dragged them to the ditch, and then dumped the bodies and murder weapons inside it. Dorothy Lemcke arrived a day later, he continued. He claimed he took his time with her before hanging her eight hours. He bragged, and he admitted to depleting both women's bank accounts, leaving little doubt about his true motive.
Authorities did eventually find NE body, but no one else's. Still, women from all over the country began to step forward, and their stories were all the same, had proposed to them, stolen their money and then disappeared, leaving them heartbroken. At this point, all the authorities needed was a written confession, but Harry refused to give it. On December 7th of nineteen thirty one, the first day of the trial, a number of boys stood on the courthouse steps holding up books Love Secrets of West Virginia's Bluebeard, the title read referencing the long ago folk tale of a woman who stumbled upon her husband's grisly secret of murdering his wives.
The Clarksburg courtroom couldn't hold the crowds, so the officials moved the trial to the 1200 seat opera house. Their powers alternated between yawning and chewing gum before openly weeping on the stand. He tearfully told the courtroom that his miserable marriage had forced him to seek out other women. Then he recanted his previous verbal confession and complained that his trial was an unfair spectacle. Unswayed by his dramatics, the jury unanimously found him guilty and immediately sentenced him to death by hanging no less.
On March 18th of nineteen thirty two, powers made his way up the gallows steps. A deputy placed a noose around his neck, fitting. I suppose he even had a crowd. Do you have anything to say? An official asked. No, he replied, his voice firm as his blue eyes raked over the crowd before him.
At exactly 9:00 a.m., the floor he stood on opened up, dropping him through 11 minutes later, Harry Powers, the Bluebeard of West Virginia, was pronounced dead. Hindsight, as they say, is 20, 20 today, we can look back at these events and see the cracks, those red flags that we think we should never fall for, but the victims of Harry Powers did. So why didn't they see it? A lot of it probably comes down to trust.
People are hard wired to trust others. Our hearts want to believe that the people we love are trustworthy. Even when we're fooled, we try to make sense of it. After all, love makes us do strange things. Sometimes it's easier to look at the light instead of the shadows. We know there might be monsters in the dark, but while we occasionally peek under the bed and sigh in relief that there's nothing there, we rarely look right beside us.
Exactly how many women was killed as an answer that he took to the grave and while he said only a single word the day he died, he had much more to say afterward. Shortly after Power's body had been removed from the gallows, Warden Scroggins received an envelope. Inside was a note from the late serial killer that contained eight haunting words. There are more in West Virginia than Wisconsin. Another question that's lingered is why Powers hadn't killed his wife, Luella, he claimed their marriage was miserable and like his other victims, she had a bit of wealth.
So why not just kill her, take the money and move on? Officials had a theory when Luella married Harry, he signed a bill making Lwala his beneficiary. It also drawn up another document giving him exclusive rights to his wife's property. But Lewellen never signed that one, nor would she sign a will. Apparently, his charm only went so far with her. Not for lack of trying, though. Luella and her sister inherited their property after their mother died from an unknown cause two months before Loyola's marriage to powers, neighbors would later mentioned to the authorities that they suspected powers had been involved in this mother in law's death.
But unfortunately, no exhumation was possible as the body had been cremated, convenient to say the least. Perhaps Luella remained alive because in some twisted way, Powers believed she gave him the perfect cover. And while Powers insisted his wife was entirely in the dark about his activities, she was the one who paid for that garage ad in the strange hours and frequent trips, not to mention items she found throughout their home. And it seems odd that she missed so many red flags.
And one last thing. Before her death in the 1950s, Luella lived out the remainder of her life as a recluse, having been shunned by the community and although the investigators could never prove her involvement, they did discover something interesting. Luella had been married once before to a man accused of murder. There's more to this story. Stick around after the brief sponsor break to hear all about it. We hear about serial killers all the time, movies, books, television shows, even the news.
So just how common are they? Well, the estimate is that in the United States, there are roughly 50 to 75 active killers, of whom seven to eight are women. It's also interesting to note that, according to the statistics, women, serial killers in the 19th and 20th centuries rarely killed strangers. And like Harry Powers, some of them preyed on romantic partners. Traditionally, men who kill their wives are called Bluebeard's, a name pulled from the Dark French folktale.
Women who kill their husbands tend to be referred to as black widows, hinting at the way a black widow spider sometimes kills her mate and many women serial killers have had one other thing in common with the venomous spider. A lot of them killed with poison. Meet Nanny Das, an Oklahoma housewife whose neighbors described her as a happy, friendly woman, always smiling, often laughing and like powers. They said she was charming. In 1954, Nancy became a widow for the fourth time, she insisted she had loved all her husband's.
Unlike Harry Powers, though, she didn't always kill for the money. Now it seems that she had high expectations for her husband's and the life she thought they'd provide. Reality disappointed her and all her men had failed to measure up to those in the romance novels she had read. And then he had read a lot of them. I guess you could say that Nanny Dos didn't like how the script had gone so far, so she killed her darlings, 11 darlings, in fact, four husbands, two sisters, her mother, a nephew, two of her own children and one grandson.
Some think that her fantasy world stemmed from her childhood. She was conceived out of wedlock. And although her mother had married her father and they had had three more children together, Nanny hated the man which was justified. He was abusive to all of them, both verbally and emotionally. Nanny married her first husband, Charlie, at the age of 16, and they went on to have four children together. Both suspected the other of infidelity and both were right.
Then in 1927, two of their daughters died of food poisoning, or so Nanny claimed, Charlie didn't believe her and soon ran away with one of their surviving daughters while leaving the newborn behind. In addition to her penchant for romance novels, Nannie began a habit of responding to Lonely Hearts adds. That's how she met and married her second husband, Frank, in 1929. But it turned out Frank had a drinking problem, and one night in a blind rage, he assaulted her nanny solution.
She added rat poison to his whiskey jar. Frank died that very same night. After that, she quickly answered another ad and married for the third time. This new husband, Arly, was also an alcoholic as well as a womanizer. To cope, Nanny would disappear for days at a time, but whenever she was home, she played the part of the devoted wife, that is, until Charlie died of heart failure. Eventually, Manny joined a lonely hearts club, hoping for better luck.
There she met Richard, who became husband number four. And while Richard wasn't a drunkard or physically abusive, he was a cheat, perhaps related. Richard died in April of 1953, still looking for true love and wasting little time being a widow. Thus changed her tactics for husband number five. She married Samuel. He was clean cut and an avid churchgoer, but he strongly disapprove of her romance novels. If only he knew just how important they were to her.
Just months after their wedding, Samuel was admitted to the hospital with flu like symptoms after diagnosing him with a severe digestive infection. He was treated and released the very same evening he returned home. Nanny poisoned him with arsenic using 20 times her usual dosage. Samuel's doctor found the sudden death suspicious. And after an autopsy, there was enough evidence to have Nanny arrested. Not only that, but the bodies of our previous husbands, as well as her two children, mother, sisters and nephew, were all exhumed and wouldn't you know it all were found to have been poisoned.
When asked if money had been the motive for killing her husband's nanny, Das, always cheerful, only laughed at the question. I married those men, she said, because I loved them. American Chateaux is hosted by Lauren Vogel Bomb. This episode was written by Michelle Muto with researcher Robin Midnighter and produced by Miranda Hawkins and Trevor Young with executive producers Aaron Manque, Alex Williams and Matt Frederich. To learn more about the show, visit Greyman, Millicom for more podcast from My Heart Radio, visit the I Heart radio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.