Britain's Jack the Ripper put a name on a phenomenon, and that name soon became the by-word throughout the world for serial sexual killers. After the turn of the century, it seemed that every major city in the United States suddenly had its own "Ripper"--and one of the most prolific and notorious was in Cincinnati, Ohio.
His first known victim was May (sometimes Mary) McDonald, 24, who was murdered on May 1, 1904. He continued his attacks without success for the rest of the spring and summer, and a dozen young women and girls were able to escape him, describing him as a rough-looking man. On Nov. 23, 1904, one of the lucky ladies, Josephine Hewitt, had a revolver hidden in the folds of her dress. When he grabbed at her, she pulled it out and emptied it in his direction. Unfortunately, her shots missed the mark. The police could find no trace of him.
His second victim was Lulu Mueller, 21, who was killed on Oct. 1, 1904. The third woman he murdered was Alma Steinegewag (also Steinway), 18, who was killed Nov. 4, 1904.
Another woman killed on March 17, 1905, was never identified. The following night, Lottie Lucas, 15, was abducted from an orphanage in Xenia and killed. Her bloody dress and undergarments were found near the scene of the other four murders. While initially thought the Ripper's work, it was later believed these two killings were not done by the same man.
The police arrested many suspects, but none seemed as promising as Dr. Oliver Haugh, who came to the attention of the police in Dayton in 1905 when he murdered his parents and brother. But Dr. Haugh did not confess to murdering any young women before he was electrocuted in April, 1907.
A young man named John Hill, held in Levenworth since 1906, presented himself as a promising suspect. He confessed to his elderly mother that he was the author of the murders of McDonald, Mueller, and Steinegeweg. To her credit, his mother forced him to repeat his confession to the Cincinnati police. They were sufficiently impressed in its details to initially believe the confession true, while noting that Hill was one of those "strange characters steeped in perversion who study the stories of atrocious crime and retain them in memory." They could not place him in Cincinnati at the critical times.
The murders went unsolved, and any theories as to the identity of the slayers were mixed up with the sad news of more murders. On Jan. 1, 1910, yet another body was found--that of Miss Anna Lloyd, a secretary who was murdered in a blitz-style attack near her place of work. Her throat was cut, her mouth gagged, a large amount of money left on her body, and the police attributed the murder to the Cincinnati Ripper based on the nature of the horrors she suffered. The police received an anonymous letter from "S.D.M.," who claimed to be a witness. The City Council offered a reward of $2,500 for the conviction of the murderer to no avail.
The investigators eventually lumped Lloyd's death with those of McDonald, Mueller, and Steinegeweg as having common elements. Then another woman was brutally slain in nearly the exact same spot on Oct. 25, 1910: Mrs. Mary Hackney, 26, who was attacked with an axe and a razor. A boarder at the Hackney home along with Mr. Hackney (who worked as a lumber ripper) were arrested and quizzed.
Were these the works of the same man? The Cincinnati police were never able to solve the crimes. It appears that Cincinnati may have had more than one "Ripper" between 1905-1910--some true crime collections allude to a "Streetcar Killer" on the prowl at the same time. However many serial killers prowled Cincinnati's streets during the first dark decade of the century, the unlucky city had far more than its quotient.
One wonders why some students of true crime persist in believing that serial killings are a phenomenon of recent vintage or an "epidemic" that has worsened in recent years. Balderdash. As this one city in Ohio bears witness, many murderers of the past operated with little fear of capture and murdered more women than we can even begin to count.
Articles about the Cincinnati Ripper include: Iowa Recorder, Nov. 23, 1904; Sandusky Star-Journal, March 23, 1905; Newark Advocate, June 27, 1908; Jan. 3, 1910; Syracuse Herald, Jan. 7, 1910; Indianapolis Star, Jan. 4, 1910; Oct. 26, 1910; and many others.