Chicago wife killer’s mistress buried in GH

Buried in Section 15 of the Grand Haven Township cemetery is one Lena (Fridrich) Habel. Born Lena Hecker in Austria in 1876, she was laid to rest in 1921 next to her parents, Adolph and Dorothea Hecker, and her first husband, Albert Fridrich.
Kevin Collier
Feb 18, 2013

 

Also buried with her is a personal drama that was once the gossip of Ottawa County.

The scandalous tale unfolded in December 1898, when Lena moved back home to Olive Township from Chicago to be with her dying father, Adolph Hecker. Unknown to Lena, the day of her father's funeral, Dec. 17, Cook County authorities had issued a warrant for her arrest.

Police had identified Hecker as the mistress of one Michael Emil Rollinger, a portly 38-year-old cook/restaurant owner and father of two, who had strangled his wife, Theresa, to death on Dec. 16 so he could be free to marry 23-year-old Lena. Adding fuel to the fire, Rollinger had even set his wife’s corpse ablaze in a closet at their residence to conceal the crime. He was arrested and jailed the next day.

Days following the crime, police came into possession of a letter written by Lena to Rollinger dated Dec. 16 that was mailed from Olive Township. Aside from grief expressed over the loss of her father, the letter assumed a secretive tone.

“Oh, Emil, I long for you. So much I have to say to you I cannot trust my thoughts on paper,” Lena wrote. “You can write with perfect frankness to me. No one will see your letters. Keep me in your dreams. Yours forever, Lena.”

After assisting in getting her mother's Olive Township house in order, Lena returned to the Chicago residence of Albert Fridrich on Dec. 21, where her sisters Mary and Dora Hecker were domestic servants and all three lived. Police were waiting. Lena was arrested, jailed and endured hours of interrogation.

Lena was shocked to learn her lover, Michael Emil Rollinger, was in jail and charged with the murder of his wife. Rollinger also stood to collect on a $500 life insurance policy on his wife, money some believed he'd intended to use to start a new life with Lena.

Lena explained to authorities she had met Rollinger two years earlier and that he had always presented himself as a single man. But soon after Oct. 15, 1898, when Lena took a job as a waitress at Rollinger's restaurant, his wife walked into the establishment and a confrontation took place.

With the affair revealed, Rollinger swore devotion to Lena, explaining that he was in a horrible marriage and promised to secure a divorce so he and Lena could be married. Reality was Rollinger routinely abused his wife and, once the affair was revealed, he threatened his wife telling her to leave their marriage asap.

Investigators now knew that at the time of Theresa Rollinger's murder, Lena was aware her “boyfriend” was married.  However, authorities also knew she had nothing to do with the murder — even though evidence existed Lena gave Rollinger as much as $140 to assist in the business of a divorce.

The Grand Haven Tribune broke the story to its readers on Dec. 23, 1898, then sporadically printed news of Lena's involvement in the Rollinger trial through 1899. It was more than just a story for some area residents. Many had actually met Rollinger when he accompanied Lena on visits to her parent's home.

“Michael Rollinger, the Chicago wife murderer, will hang tomorrow,” the Nov. 16, 1899, Tribune reported. “Ottawa County people have followed the case with interest as he often visited Olive (Township) with Lena Hecker, the girl who worked with him and who was principal witness at the trial.”

Due to Lena's testimony, and testimony from his 11-year-old son Emil, Rollinger was convicted of first-degree murder on July 1, 1899, and given the death penalty. He was executed by hanging on Nov. 17 and professed his innocence to the bitter end.

In 1900 Lena found a husband in Albert Fridrich, 22 years her senior, who owned the home she and her sisters lived in. The following year they built the Fridrich Point Resort, a 21-room hotel at Port Sheldon. Albert committed suicide in 1915 at their Waukegan, Ill., residence and in short order Lena married John F. Habel.

Lena's death in 1921 went virtually unnoticed. She is buried beside her first husband and parents in Grand Haven Township Cemetery. A quiet ending for someone who was once at the center of one of the most sensational murder-for-love trials in Chicago history.

 

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