Chicago's "Constant Widow"

Reads: 37  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Chicago's "Constant Widow"

Tillie Klimek – the bizarre death-day predictor

 

The black lace material the middle-aged Polish lady inspected should suit her purpose perfectly.  It would make the ideal band for the mourning hat she was knitting to wear at her husband's funeral.  When the storekeeper heard her mention the purpose for the material he was meas­uring, he summoned his best con­soling expression.  Employing a hushed tone, he dropped his glance and inquired when her husband had passed away.  Her answer added a singularly bizarre element to their conversation.  Adopting an eerie matter-of-fact manner, Tillie Klimek met his eyes and informed him, "In two weeks."

His resulting confusion had often been shared by Tillie's neighbors through­out the years, when she predicted the exact day of the death of her two previous husbands, as well as several neighbors, and even a local dog.  They grew to believe Tillie had an uncanny ability to predict the future.  In fact, through the years, Chicago's Tillie Klimek became known as a neighborhood psychic by the superstitious residents of the "Little Poland" section of the city.  As rumors spread of her peculiar ability to precisely predict the death day of those around her, residents tended to scurry to the other side of the street when they saw the squatty little lady with the thick accent.

The husband Tillie referred to was her third spouse, Frank Kupszyk.  He followed two unfortunate fellows who had met their unexplained demise after marrying Tillie.Even knowing this, Frank tied the knot in March of 1919.  Despite her lack of luck with husbands (or their lack of luck with her) Tillie did have one redeeming feature as a potential marital partner – she was a fantastic cook.  Potential husbands simply had to overlook her mannish muscular appearance to become the beneficiary of her cooking.  That wasn't a problem – one spoonful of her famous stew could im­mediately soften Tillie's sharp-edged red-faced features. 

Unfortunately, after the marriage, Tillie's cooking didn't always dominate Frank's attention.  Local moonshine also perked up his interest.  And once the booze began swirling through his veins, his roving eyes often fell on other women in the community.  If they returned his glance, Frank's new bride's culinary skills quickly faded to the background of his thoughts.

Two years into their marriage, Tillie, having heard numerous rumors of Frank's drinking bouts and amorous escapades, discussed her situation with her cousin, Nellie Koulik.  Nellie was happy to give her advice.  The answer seemed clear – div­orce the rascal!  During the conversation, Tillie expressed appreciation for her input, but decided not to put Nellie's plan into action.  "I will get rid of him," she replied, with an ominous twinkle in her eye, "some other way." 

That "other way" would eventually put Tillie into the history books, not for her cooking skills, but as one of the most prolific and callous serial killers of all time.  Her stew, all too often included an ingre­dient not typically found in most recipes – arsenic.  The most amazing aspect of her story is the lengthy time those around her simply scratched their heads in wonder at her ability to predict the exact day when one of her husbands, relatives, or neigh­bors would meet their maker.

Before her horrific secret was dis­covered, she poisoned an estimated 20 people; 13 of them succumbing to the effects of the arsenic.  Like her two pre­vious husbands, Frank ingested a goodly dose of poison with every bowl of her scrumptious soup or slab of doctored meatloaf.  Day by day, he grew weaker and less responsive. 

Not only did Tillie knit her mourning hat with the black-lace trim as he lay dying, she purchased a discount coffin she had recently seen in an advertisement.  When Tillie asked her landlady, Martha Wesolek, if she could store the $30 coffin in the basement, Mrs. Wesolek told her the idea of buying the coffin while Frank was still alive was morbid and she would evict both Tillie and her coffin if she did.  So, Tillie simply found another storage location.

Her neighbors noticed Frank had not been out of the house for a while and inquired about his health.  When asked, Tillie couldn't veil her anticipation as she predicted, "He has two inches to live."  While poor Frank was living out those inches, fading in and out consciousness, Tillie taunted him during his lucid mo­ments with comments about the hat she was knitting to wear at his funeral.  When his time came, two weeks to the day of her prediction, she played festive music on her Victola in celebration.  True to her plan, she donned her new black hat and buried him in the discount coffin, then hurried off to cash in his recently obtained $675 life insurance policy.

Tillie's bizarre and lucrative killing spree stretched across an eight-year per­iod, starting in early 1914 with the poison­ing of her first husband, Joseph Mitkie­wicz.  It finally ended in the fall of 1922 when police dragged her out of her house in handcuffs following a tip from the personal physician of her fourth husband, Joseph Klimek. 

Unlike the previous Joseph, Klimek was able to contact his doctor before the poison totally disabled him.  For some time, he had been experiencing pain and some numbness in his arms.  He tried to simply ignore the discomfort, but when his legs suddenly became paralyzed, he immediately called his doctor.

Without hesitation, Dr. Peter Burns arranged for an ambulance to transport Joseph to the Cook County Hospital.  Before long, the doctor's observations and the lab tests confirmed arsenic poisoning."She made me get more insurance," his befuddled patient muttered. "I did not suspect; though the soup and things did taste queer."  The minute Dr.  Burns called the police, they dispatched patrolmen to arrest Tillie.  As the arresting officer, Lieutenant Willard Malone, took her away, Tillie targeted him with a sinister glare and informed Malone, "The next one I want to cook dinner for is you!

Once Joseph's condition was diag­nosed, law enforcement as well as Tillie's neighbors finally realized that their local psychic had been giving fate and destiny a great deal of assistance.  One by one, previously unexplained local deaths over the last several years were examined – almost always leading to a direct con­nection to Tillie.  Former husbands were exhumed to reveal huge amounts of arse­nic remaining in their systems.  Neighbors she had feuded with, a dog whose barking annoyed her, and even family members she had grown tired of, added to the ever-mounting toll.  When the total reached 20, there was a shaking of many heads as the reality emerged that a stone-cold serial killer had been operating for years, right under their noses.

As investigators dug deeper, they found that Tillie's cousin, Nellie Koulik, had played a supporting role in the murders, often supplying Tillie with the poison in the form of a mixture of soot and arsenic called "Rough on Rats."  In fact, Nellie's first husband, Wojek Strummer, was among the victims.  Nellie was also arrest­ed and imprisoned. 

During the ensuing trial, the felonious cousins shared a cell.  Despite being apparent partners in crime, Tillie's mean streak even stretched to target Nellie.Every time Nellie was taken from the cell, Tillie menacingly whispered in Polish, "They're going to hang you today," which often prompted an eruption of tears.  After a prolonged trial, Nellie was actually acquit­ted due to a hung jury – even though several of her own family members testified against her.

Tillie's case, however, was more cut and dried. After a prolonged interrogation, she even confessed to the crimes.  As the interrogator showed her each picture, asking if she had poisoned the person, Tillie simply shrugged and flatly respond­ed, "Yeah."  During the trial, she sat emotionless, still wearing the knitted mourn­ing hat.  Likely due to her gender, she avoided the death penalty and re­ceived a life sentence without parole.  Prom­inent in the written sentencing, though, was an unusual provision.  She would never, the stipulation clarified, "be allowed to cook for other prison inmates."

 

 


Submitted: October 17, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Dennis L. Goodwin. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:


Facebook Comments

More Non-Fiction Short Stories