The problem was the sighting occurred four months after prosecutors said the woman had been murdered.
Adolph Louis Luetgert was charged with murdering his wife, Louisa, on May 1, 1897, and dissolving her body in acid, in one of his sausage vats at the A.L. Luetgert Sausage & Packing Co. of Chicago. The location of the murder, a sausage factory, led to rumors that Luetgert had put his wife through a meat grinder and stuffed her remains into sausage casings and sold the sausages to the unsuspecting public.
Mr. Luetgert’s defense attorneys presented a case saying that the accused had not murdered his wife, but that instead, Louisa, 42, had simply run away. Even Louisa’s brother supported the story, having told police that she had run off with another man, possibly boarding a ship in New York bound for Europe. Her husband, Adolf, contended, “You’ll see! She’ll come home one day.”
In Grand Haven, Henry Hubert, who had been following the trial in the local newspapers, was reading about the proceedings when a woman entered the store where he worked. “Is there anything I can do for you?” Henry asked her. The lady turned her back to him and answered, “No, sir.”
“She was acting strangely,” Hubert said, “and was dressed in black, and wore a black sailor hat.” The clerk had seen photos of Louisa Luetgert, and the newspaper on the counter in front of him at that moment displayed one. He glanced back and forth between the photo and the customer, and made the identification.
While Adolf Luetgert’s defense team was contemplating putting a witness on the stand to show that Mrs. Luetgert “probably” was still alive, and living in Nebraska, his attorney, Albert Phalen, received a letter from Henry Hubert’s father, Gustav. The letter stated that Louisa had been “almost positively identified in Grand Haven, Michigan” by his son, three days prior.
The letter, which was also published in the Chicago Tribune on Sept. 26, in part read: “Please find enclosed (a newspaper clipping) of a lady that was seen by my son Henry coming in Mr. Bane’s store yesterday, where he works... When he came home for supper he was telling me about this lady and brought me the picture home.”
While Hubert’s letter might support the notion that Mrs. Luetgert had simply run away, the scenario for prosecuting attorneys grew more problematic as “sightings” of Louisa took place in as many as 12 states.
Henry Hubert's eyewitness account letter was used by Adolf Luetgert’s defense attorney no avail. As its main evidence, the prosecution had human bones and a ring belonging to Louisa that were found in one of the sausage factory grinders. The jury was convinced that Luetgert had killed his wife and convicted him of murder in late 1897.
Henry Hubert's father, Gustav, later asked his son why he hadn’t asked the woman resembling Mrs. Luetgert her name. He explained that “she frightened me by her looks,” and that she displayed a suspicious nature.
After the trial, Chicago Police Inspector Michael Schaack offered a $20,000 reward to anyone who produced Mrs. Luetgert alive and well. In early 1898, a man by the name of Jacob Luthardt met detectives at the police station, claiming that he had found her, and would produce her within 48 hours. But nothing became of the man, his claim, or the reward.
Adolf Luetgert died in Joliet Prison in 1899, after serving only 16 months.
While sightings of Louisa Luetgert continued for several more years, she never did “come home” as her husband predicted. Or did she?
The Los Angeles Times reported on June 3, 1901, that Louisa’s ghost had been seen near the sausage factory and the family’s former home. Troy Taylor, a former employee of the sausage factory, wrote a story titled “The Sausage Vat Murder.” It chronicled his and other eyewitness accounts of those who had seen her ghost. Sightings of the ghost of Mrs. Luetgert still occur to this day.