The most prestigious true crime publishing house, Kent State University Press, doesn’t produce very many titles compared to other houses. But when it does, they’re sure to make genuine contributions to the true crime literature. A couple weeks ago, Kent State published a book about a woman who sends shivers up the back of every student of true crime: Anna Marie Hahn.
Anna Hahn was the object of Ohio’s Trial of the Century. She was a serial killer, a poisoner. The story of her capture and execution is mentioned (too briefly to do it justice) in virtually all encyclopedias of 20th-century crime. Finally, someone has wiped decades of dust off her story and has published a book about it. The title is The Good-Bye Door, and the book jacket explains:
For weeks her Cincinnati trial for “the greatest mass murder in the history of the country” was a front-page sensation across the nation. A thousand or more curiosity seekers came daily to the courthouse to try to get just a glimpse of her. Nearly 100 witnesses gave damning testimony against her, and the jury’s guilty verdict put her on the path to the electric chair. Finally, after a year, all appeals were exhausted, and Anna Marie, age 32, was executed on December 7, 1938, at the state penitentiary in Columbus.
Your correspondent had the chance to quiz the author about the book and about Anna. Here’s the Q & A.
Who was Anna Hahn, how many people did she kill, and why did she do it?
Anna Marie Hahn was a German immigrant who arrived in Cincinnati in 1929. Shortly thereafter she married, returned to Germany to pick up her five-year-old illegitimate son, and then began a life of deadly crime in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine district.
Nobody knows how many people died by her hand, but she was convicted of one death, admitted killing four, and poisoned at least eight others. It is unclear how many died from ingesting her poisons.
Her motive was money, which she needed to maintain her gambling habit (horses). During the Depression, when money was tight, she set a personal daily loss limit of $700. Each one of her victims provided her with money whenever she asked for it, which was often. Sometimes she just took the money she found or committed fraud to get it from old folks, men and women alike.
You're the first author to write a book about Anna Hahn in a long time if ever (are you the first?), though she's often mentioned in encyclopedias. What made you decide to write about her?
THE GOOD-BYE DOOR is the first book about Anna Marie. Most of what has been written about her has been in error. I spent five years of research to get the facts right. I never knew anything about Anna Marie Hahn. I saw the briefest of mentions of her in a newsletter and decided to look up her case in old newspaper microfilm. I became fascinated with the story, untouched for more than 60 years.
You read hundreds of old newspaper articles about Anna Hahn in your research for this book. Do you remember any surprising or shocking elements in the coverage? How did you access these old newspapers -- through a website? What other research did her story require?
(Image added by Clews, from the Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger, via NewspaperArchive)
I researched newspaper microfilm at libraries in California, Texas, Illinois, New York and Ohio, particularly Cincinnati and Columbus. I also found a partial trial transcript in the archives of a library at the University of Cincinnati. Very little other documentation was uncovered: the Cincinnati police and the prosecutor’s office had destroyed her files long ago, and all the principals in the case were deceased.
The newspaper accounts of her arrest, trial, imprisonment, and execution were invaluable. Editors at newspapers throughout the country could not get enough about her. One reporter was writing on a manual typewriter up to 10,000 words a day during her trial, a prodigious output. Much of what was written was brilliant – the words just jumped off the page, making the story alive for the pre-TV reader. You seldom see reporting like that today, and it’s a shame.
What did you learn about Anna that revealed her nature to you? Did you reach any firm conclusions about the verdict or sentence?
Anna Marie was a stoic figure, particularly throughout her month-long trial. She never “cracked.” It was hard to get to know her, but I’d never felt sorry for her or sympathetic. As the trial judge said, the verdict was just, but he cried after he sentenced her to death. He never expected the jury – 11 women and one man – to find her guilty without mercy.
Anna Marie was America’s first female serial killer to die in the electric chair (1938 at the Ohio penitentiary in Columbus).
How did you come to be published with Kent State's true crime line?
THE GOOD-BYE DOOR was offered to several New York publishers through a New York agent but nobody wanted “historic true crime.” Their loss. Kent State University Press wanted the book for their true crime series, so that is where the manuscript ended up.
Will you write any more crime stories after this?
I have two other books outlined that are based on true cases, but at 74 years old I am not sure how much I can get accomplished still. THE GOOD-BYE DOOR took me five years, the majority of that time in research.
Well, CLEWS certainly hopes the author has time to finish those two books and more!