In 1893, ex-police officer was arrested in wife's death in Belleville

News-DemocratJuly 12, 2014 

In November 1893, the weekly Belleville Advocate first reported on a sensational murder case involving an ex-policeman that would not wind up for more than 20 years.

On Nov. 17, 1893, the newspaper wrote that Gustave (Gus) Menkhausen had been arrested for the murder of his wife, Elizabeth.

The Advocate noted that Menkhausen had been a police officer for Belleville for about four months before being dismissed in September 1893.

"He was a good officer and did his duty well, but he disgraced himself while off duty by associating with disreputable women and one occasion was guilty of such immoral conduct with a woman known as Annie Lewis, as to result in his being removed from the force," the paper reported.

Before she died, his pregnant wife managed to tell people what she thought killed her.

"She did tell them that she had drank some bottled beer that her husband had brought home that day, and that it had a very peculiar taste -- that it tasted very bitter," the paper reported.

The paper reported that in his defense, Menkhausen said "He gave his wife some beer after she had eaten supper. It was bottled beer and he poured it out in the glass in her presence. He said that the children also drank from the same bottle."

Then he went to see his mistress, Annie Lewis.

"When Menkhausen was informed of his wife's death he was found at the home of Annie Lewis, the woman on whose account he got into trouble while on the police force," the paper noted. "His conduct and relations with the Lewis woman to the neglect of his wife and family have greatly aggravated the feeling against him."

Things looked bleak for the accused killer.

"It was proven that Menkhausen had purchased strychnine at Feicker's drugstore in this city, in March 1893, he stating at the time that he wanted it for the purpose of killing some cats that were catching his young chickens," the paper reported.

OK. So Menkhausen wasn't exactly an animal lover but neither were his accusers.

The newspaper said one of the coroner's jury "Secured a small portion of the contents of the (wife's) stomach which he gave to a dog. The animal died in just twenty-five minutes after swallowing the dose."

In a trial in May 1894, a jury found him guilty of murder and sentenced him to death.

For a while, the story turned to the death watch but on Oct. 12, 1894, the Advocate reported Menkhausen received a 30-day reprieve from the governor from his hanging.

On Nov. 16, 1894 the paper wrote, "The gallows was ready and Gus Menkhausen the convicted wife murderer, would have paid the extreme penalty of the law to-day, had not Governor Altgeld listened to the prayers and petitions of the condemned man's mother and friends and commuted his sentence to imprisonment for life in the penitentiary."

The paper said a large number of prominent and influential citizens of Belleville had signed a clemency petition including the judge who presided over the trial and prominent citizen Gustave Koerner.

Menkhausen was reported to be extremely relieved and went to prison in Chester, seemingly forgotten, until the newspaper reported on Jan. 31, 1913, "After having been almost within the shadow of the gallows, after having stared a life imprisonment in prison in the face, Gustave Menkhausen will be a free man next July."

On Aug. 9, 1913, the paper reported he had been released in July.

But Menkhausen was not destined for anonymity. On Oct. 10, 1913, Menkhausen's name surfaced after he battled a house fire in East St. Louis.

"It became known Thursday in Belleville for the first time that Gustave Menkhausen, who was released from the Chester penitentiary last July, after he had served 20 years for the murder of his wife, had married again since his release. His second wife was Annie Lewis, known to Belleville as the 'woman in the Menkhausen case.'

"During the long period Menkhausen was in jail here, or in Chester penitentiary, Mrs. Burke, then Mrs. Anna Lewis, was wooed and won by Harry Burke, turnkey at the jail here, whom she met while visiting Menkhausen. Burke died a year ago.

"When Menkhausen was pardoned two months ago he went direct to 333 North Sixth street, East St. Louis where Mrs. Burke then was conducting a boarding house. Menkhausen was taken in and immediately began the courtship which terminated in their marriage in Peoria.

"Despite their efforts at secrecy, the new relation between them was suspected by two boarders, each of whom had wooed the widow, and one of them declared she had promised to marry him two years after the date of Burke's death."

On May 14, 1928, an obituary for Menkhausen, age 63, appeared in the Daily Advocate. It listed several survivors, including a son, but there was no mention of Annie.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one of a series of columns about Belleville's history, part of the BND's coverage of the city's bicentennial.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 618-239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com.

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