The Cincinnati Streetcar Murders, also known as the Cumminsville Murders, took place over a six-year period between 1904 and 1910. Five women were all killed by a brutal assailant within a mile of each other in an area which would become known as the “murder zone”. The crimes, which are rarely ever written about, remain unsolved.
32-year-old Mary Mcdonald, also known as May and Mamie, had earned a reputation amongst the Cumminsville community by the spring of 1904. A failed romantic tryst with her sister’s husband amongst other hardships had turned her to drink.
Mary spent the evening of May 3, 1904, visiting numerous bars and saloons, The full account of her evening was never fully established but at some point, she met with a male drinking companion named Charles Stagman (differing sources claim the man’s first name was John and not Charles just for the record). Charles would later state he last saw Mary McDonald when he put her on a streetcar between College Hill and Main Street at about 11 pm.
The following morning, May 4, at roughly 6 am an engineer stopped the freight train he was driving near the Big Four railroad tracks just east of Dane Street. Ahead near the tracks, he could see the body of a woman.
The scene was horrific. Mary’s skull had been caved in and a leg had been severed. Initially, the belief was that Mary McDonald had been involved in a tragic accident, colliding with a train in her drunken state. Miraculously Mary McDonald was still alive when she was discovered but tragically she would die shortly after arriving in hospital, surviving long enough to simply state her name.
Evidence given by the conductors of all the trains that passed through Cumminsville rejected the accident theory. Each was adamant they would have known if they had hit anyone. Furthermore, it was noted by the investigating officers that the spot in which Mary’s body was found would have been difficult to get to without help given her drunken state.
The debate continued amongst investigators. Was Mary McDonald’s death just a tragic accident caused by her drunken state? Or was it something much more sinister? Whatever the answer, just a few months later investigators would have another death to investigate and this time there would be little doubt.
I’ve tried to be as accurate as I can on the details but the date of Mary McDonald’s death seems to differ from source to source. Some state she died as early as April 30th, with other dates including the 2nd, 3rd and, 4th of May also given. I have gone with the 4th as it seems the most frequently used.
21-year-old Louise Mueller left her home on the night of October 1, 1904, with the intention of meeting one of the young woman’s lovers, a man by the name of Frank Eastman. Unfortunately for Louise Frank had instead stayed in the company of several employees from the stable at which he worked getting drunk.
At around 9 pm Louise, who was also known as Lulu, was seen near the corner of Spring Grove and Fergas Street. Theodore Salmon and William Wilson along with there female companions Sadie Pierce and Stella Key were seen talking to Louise Mueller, it would be the last sighting of the victim alive.
The body of Louise Mueller was discovered the following morning in a clump of weeds in an area known locally as “Lover’s Lane” near the CH and D railroad tracks. Her skull had been fractured, with two visibly deep wounds on either side of her face.
As with Mary McDonald police originally pondered the possibility that the death was an accident. The coroner, however, made his thoughts clear. He stated that the sheer impact of the blows to the skull would have caused instant death and there was no way she would have been able to stumble to the spot in which she was found. Bruising on other parts of the body was also absent which would be expected on a body hit and thrown such a distance by a train.
Another more sinister sign pointing to murder was the makeshift grave which had been dug near the body. Perhaps a sign the killer was disturbed as he was about to bury his victim.
Police soon arrested Theodore Salmon and William Wilson in relation to the murder of Louise Mueller. Statements were given by the two men and the two women and it was soon found their stories contradicted each other. This led investigators to the belief that Salmon and Wilson committed the murder or at least knew more than they were telling. A lack of any real evidence against the pair or the discovery of a motive led to there release.
Whilst still on the hunt for Louise Mueller’s killer police would soon have another murder investigation on their hands.
On the evening of November 2, 1904, 18-year-old Alma Steinigeweg (also reported as Steinigewig and Steinway) made her way home from work. She worked at a telephone exchange and left work around 9 pm where she was accompanied by her coworker Catherine Schlenker. The two women would often ride home together until Alma switched streetcars at Winton and this evening was no different.
Unlike Mary Mcdonald and Louise Mueller, young Alma Steinigeweg wasn’t known for her love of bars or men but it made little difference to her killer. On the morning of November 3, close to the spot Mary McDonald had been found six months earlier, the body of the dead teenage girl was discovered clutching her bloodstained ticket from the streetcar. Besides her remain were the muddy footprints left by her killer.
Alma’s head had been hit with such a vicious blow that the wound penetrated her brain. The coroner would describe the injury as been caused by a chopping motion and so determined the murder weapon was possible a hatchet or small axe. Horrifically he also revealed the girl’s front teeth had been ripped out and presumingly taken by the killer (one source says this was the case in the previous murders but it isn’t mentioned elsewhere).
Alma Steinigeweg’s body was found close to the bank of Mill Creek. Investigators were again left to ponder whether the killer had been disturbed during an attempt to dispatch of the body. An item of clothing was also found near the creek which police believed belonged to the killer but the owner was never identified.
Police looked at several suspects, including a local man known as Jack The Pincher, but none of the leads they followed took them any nearer to finding the brute behind the attacks.
After the discovery of Alma Steinigeweg’s body, a bevy of women began to come forward describing accounts of how they had been attacked in the same Spring Grove area. How many were genuine and how many were pure fantasy we will never know but with the number of attacks reported it seemed only a matter of time before the killer claimed another victim.
However, this wasn’t to be the case. After a six month reign of terror in Cumminsville, it appeared the Cincinnati Streetcar Murders were over. It would be almost 6 years before the killer would seemingly resurface.
On New Year’s Eve 1909, 43-year-old Anna Lloyd finished work at around 5 30 pm and began to make her way home. Nellie Herancourt, a coworker at the Wiborg-Hanna Lumbar Company were Anna worked as a secretary, later stated that it was the first time in three months that Anna had walked home alone. Sadly it would also be the last time she would do so.
Anna Lloyds body was discovered near the CH and D railway yard, not far from the spot Louise Mueller had met her death over 5 years earlier, lying in a gulley. Her skull had been brutally hit much like the victims of the 1904 Cincinnati Streetcar Murders, however, there were also differences.
Anna Lloyd had been forcibly gagged with a scarf unlike the earlier victims and had put up a fierce fight for her life. She also had her throat sliced open, no such wound was present on the bodies of Mary McDonald, Louise Mueller or Alma Steinigeweg.
A piece of evidence was also found at the scene. In Anna’s clenched fist investigators found a single strand of black hair, seemingly from the killer. Unfortunately, in 1910 this was of little use and no help in identifying any suspect.
The media soon made the link to the still-unsolved 1904 Cumminsville murders and the area soon earned the moniker of the “Murder Zone”. Police, however, were not as quick to jump to the conclusion that the murders were linked. In fact, they at one point worked the theory that the murder of Anna Lloyd was actually an organised hit.
A train engineer stated he saw two men forcing a woman to the ground as his train passed by the lumbar company at which Anna worked. Anna had also spoken with family and friends about problems with a male work colleague and been in fear of a man.
Despite efforts to find a reason Anna Lloyd may have been the victim of a hired hit none were found. The majority of the police force were soon of the belief that the murder of Anna Lloyd was indeed linked to those of the Cumminsville murders committed in 1904.
The murder of Anna Lloyd was starting to grow cold despite the best efforts of the investigating team when a new lead was thrust upon them. They received a letter from an individual who signed the letter S. D. M. The author stated that they had information about the murders and would “clear up matters”. S. D. M. never fulfilled there promise and within a year another brutal murder occurred.
On October 25, 1910, the last of the Cincinnati Streetcar Murders took place. 26-year-old Mary Hackney was found with her skull crushed and throat slit. The killer had inflicted a dozen clear injuries to the victims head including two sickeningly forceful blows to the skull.
The murder weapon which had been used was a hatchet similar to the ones used by a carpenter, with the throat been cut with a sharp knife or razor. The killer had at least this time seemingly left a clue as a bloody thumbprint was found on the door frame.
Although within the so-called “murder zone” Mary Hackney’s murder was slightly different from the other Cumminsville murders as she was found in her own home on Dane Street.
Suspicion initially fell on Mary Hackney’s husband Harley Hackney and a young lodger of the couple, Charles Eckert. The men stated that they found Mary’s body at 6 pm when they arrived home from work together. For whatever reason, police doubted there story and the two men were arrested along with a black man named Herman Schwering, who was delivering milk in the area when police believed the murder had taken place. All three men quickly established alibi’s and were released without charge.
Question marks again were raised as to whether or not the latest murder in Dane Street was related to the previous murders. Dr Ralph Reed, after consultation with two fellow medical experts, was under no such doubt. He believed that due to all the murders taking place in the same area, all lacking clear motive and all displaying a similar level of excessive brutality that they were indeed committed by the same individual.
The letter writer S. D. M. again sent letters to the police stating the Cincinnati Streetcar Murders were all related and that they had details on all of the murders. As was the case after the murder of Anna Lloyd the information promised was never forthcoming. The police came to the opinion that S. D. M. was nothing more than a repugnant hoax.
Despite the best efforts of the police the murder of Mary Hackney joined those of Mary McDonald, Louise Mueller, Alma Steinigeweg and Anna Lloyd and soon became a cold case with no real leads. It would be another three years before the case would be reignited.
In December 1913 acts of violence had been taking place during streetcar strikes in Cincinnati. The Burns Detective Agency were hired to find the culprit but upon doing so they uncovered information which they believed pointed to the man responsible for the murder of Anna Lloyd on New Year’s Eve, 1909.
The Burns Detective Agency asserted that a former streetcar conductor who had since been imprisoned to a lunatic asylum was behind the murder, and thus possibly the other Cincinnati Streetcar murders.
A letter was found in his former home. It was addressed but had not been sent. The letter was reportedly a threat to someone who had seen him “in the act” on December 31. Although no year was written the date did match the night Anna Lloyd was murdered. However, this alone was only circumstantial evidence, no concrete evidence linking the suspect to the murder of Anna Lloyd or any of the Cumminsville murders was discovered.
The new lead was swiftly forgotten and the Cincinnati Streetcar Murders once more disappeared from the headlines. How many of these sickening murders were carried out by the same hands is unknown but all five brutal killings remain unsolved and sadly for the most part completely forgotten.