Stuff of Nightmares

Annie Andrews (middle) with her mother and younger sister, Jessica.

Some people enjoy watching horror movies. The sensation of a tingling spine and racing pulse gives them a little thrill. But when the credits roll, and the TV flickers off, it’s only stories. They can curl beneath the cool sheets, close their eyes, and know none of that can happen. It’s all make-believe. Right?

Well, sometimes the truth is scarier than fiction. Such was the case for Annie Andrews and her family.

The year was 1986. Annie and Jessica’s mother had passed away, leaving them grieving and often alone while their father worked to pay the bills. Their mother had been the glue that held the family together, and Annie wished she could talk to her one more time.

One day, the phone rang, and Annie answered. A neighborhood boy, Danny LaPlante, had begged her number from mutual friends. Without being a total skeez, he told her she was pretty and how much he’d like to get to know her. All the things girls want to hear. After several phone calls, he asked her out for ice cream. It sounded innocent enough, and Annie hoped to somehow fill the void her mother left behind. Maybe a boyfriend was the answer. She agreed, and they made a visit to the ice cream parlor together.

Like teenage girls–or any girl, for that matter–Annie’s mind built Danny into a dream boat he could never hope to be. When she met him face to face, disappointment soured the ice cream. As kindly as possible, she ended things with the anti-Prince Charming.

Needing her mother more than ever, Annie, along with Jessica, grabbed an Ouija board and candles. It was time for a seance. She had to talk with her mother. Tell her good-bye. Let her know how much she was missed. Candle flames bobbed, casting light against the grimy basement walls. Nothing. The planchette didn’t move. It was all just a bunch of baloney

Later that night, when Annie lay in bed, a knocking sound tapped the walls. When she searched the house, everything seemed normal. But the thumps persisted. Was it her mother? Had the seance actually worked?

As months progressed, the tapping continued intermittently. Probably just a friendly greeting from their dear departed. But when the girls started finding personal items and furniture moved around the house, a creepy crawly feeling settled it. Whatever was happening was more sinister than their mother’s presence.

After their father left for work one day, strange sounds filtered from the basement. Together the girls trekked the creaking steps. When they reached the concrete floor, words written in what appeared to be blood dripped from the walls. ‘I’m in your room come find me.’ This wasn’t Mother. The girls ran screaming from the house, looking for a neighbor to call their father and alert him.

The girls’ father, Brian Andrews, hadn’t heard the noises. He believed his daughters’ hysterics were their way of acting out after losing their mother. When he checked the writing on the basement wall, he found the cryptic message had been written in ketchup. Yep, nothing more than a cry for attention.

For the next few days, things in the Andrews’ home returned to a semblance of normal. No more noises, ketchup messages, or misplaced furniture. Annie breathed a relieved sigh. Fear’s clutches loosened their hold. But all good things must come to an end, and one night another message appeared on the wall. Again, the girls ran from the house in an attempt to escape the unknown menace within.

Seeing the girls’ terror, Brian Andrews entered the house with his daughters, planning to find another staged work of art from Annie and Jessica. But when he stood still in the foyer, sounds from upstairs snagged his attention. Slowly, he moved to the second floor. The noises grew louder with each step. Light seeped under a bedroom door, and a shadow played from somewhere inside the room.

Brian pushed open the door. Panic rippled as Danny LaPlante, dressed in the clothing of the deceased Mrs. Andrews turned to face him. The teenager carried a hatchet, poised to strike.

LaPlante chased the family through the house. Once he’d captured Brian, Annie, and Jessica and tied them up, he told them to start praying, because they were going to die. Their prayers were answered when one of the girls broke free of her ligatures and helped her sister and father escape through a bedroom window. They called the police. It was over. Or it should have been, anyway.

Police arrived at the scene, and what they found left them scratching their heads. Messages written on the walls and coins glued to the ceiling. Weird. But they didn’t find Danny LaPlante. Still, the Andrews family was understandably uncomfortable with the idea of returning home and stayed away for nearly two weeks. When they gathered the courage to go back, Danny LaPlate was standing in the window–waiting for them.

Again, the police stormed the Andrews home. They searched the place top to bottom, and in the basement, an officer found something odd behind the washing machine. When they moved it away from the wall, shock prevailed. A hole in the plaster led to a space between the inside and outside walls. Danny LaPlante crouched inside his hiding place, and he didn’t come out quietly.

Danny LaPlante

Eventually, they coaxed him out and arrested him. In the space behind the wall, lay a sleeping bag, beer, and food wrappers. He’d been living there a while. When the whole story came to light, it was discovered he broke into the Andrews’ home for the first time after Annie decided they weren’t a match. He’d watched the seance Annie and Jessica had performed nearly a year earlier. In that moment, he had seen the girls’ vulnerability and determined to terrify them. Annie would pay for spurning his advances. Turns out Annie Andrews’ radar was working. I’d like to say she dodged a bullet, but after the horror movie she and her family survived, that wouldn’t be a fair statement.

I’d also like to say that Danny LaPlate was sentenced to some serious hard time, and they all lived happily ever after, but the story doesn’t end here. Due to the fact Scary McCreeperson (a.k.a. Danny LaPlante) was a minor and no physical harm was done, Annie’s ex-boyfriend spent a few months in a youth detention facility. Then, before the trial, his mommy paid his bail.

Court was scheduled for December 1987, but before Danny could be tried for his crimes, the unthinkable happened. LaPlante disappeared.

Then one day, Andrew Gustofson returned home from work to find his pregnant wife had been shot in the head, and their two children drowned in separate bathtubs. The evidence pointed to Danny LaPlante. Police tracked down the seventeen-year-old triple murderer. It was still unclear whether the killings resulted from a robbery gone wrong or something more evil.

This time, justice was served and the judge sentenced LaPlante to three life sentences. Good call, Judge!

Despite the fact this seriously disturbed man will never breathe free air again, I can’t imagine Annie Andrews is able to crawl into bed at night, knowing the monsters on TV are little more than figments of a writer’s imagination. She knows monsters are real. And sometimes, they live in the walls of your home.

Baby Fever

Cute Little Ice Cream Shop . . . or Death Trap?

Happy Friday, friends! As I pondered which story to share next, I remembered this little gem from not so very long ago. 2012 to be exact. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. Well, I think we all know there’s something a little wrong with me. Why else would I have such an unsettling fascination with this kind of stuff? But I’m talking about a different issue entirely. I’m taking a deep breath as I share my secret with you. Please, don’t judge me too harshly, but . . . I’ve never had what some call ‘Baby Fever.’ Apparently, this is not normal. I work in my church nursery fairly regularly, and hear women ooohing and aaahing over wriggling, crying bundles of joy. They talk about how they can’t wait to have a baby, or another baby depending on their circumstances. I get weird looks when I don’t share in their wishing upon stars. For one, I’m not married, so having children isn’t on the to-do list. For two, I know my limitations. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like kids, especially after they’re verbal enough to tell you what they need. I’m no Miss Trunchbull, snapping my whip and making disobedient little boys eat entire chocolate layer cakes. But I haven’t experienced baby fever like most women my age and younger. And I certainly never suffered a severe case like ice cream parlor owner Estibaliz Carrazna. When this tale is told, I think even the maternal ladies in my church will find their case of the fever to be mild.

Estibaliz Carranza

Owning or working at an ice cream shop would be a dream come true. How could you be stressed or annoyed while surrounded by something as wonderful as ice cream? When have you ever been treated like a second-class citizen by someone scooping your mint chip or cookies n’ cream? Never, right? Well, apparently, Estibaliz Carranza, owner of an ice cream parlor in Vienna, Austria never got the memo regarding the love affair between ice cream and happiness. Not only did she fail to appreciate the blessings of ice cream, she failed to make the necessary repairs to her slice of paradise, and the parlor fell into a state of disarray. Business slacked, but the business school graduate didn’t see a problem. I’d say the education system failed her, but hey, that’s just my opinion. Looking back, I’m sure she wishes she’d kept the place up though.

Married to Holger Holz, Estibaliz appeared to have it all. I mean, she owned an ice cream parlor for crying out loud. Still, there was something missing. A baby. More than anything, Estibaliz yearned to be a mother. To hold a baby in her arms and shower it with love. But after years of marriage and no children, she started an affair with ice cream machinery salesman, Manfred Hinterberger. Estibaliz divorced her husband Holger, but due to financial constraints the pair continued living together. After Manfred dumped Estibaliz for another woman in 2008, her ex-husband found joy in taunting her. Telling her she would never be a mother and would die alone. This played on the business owner’s deepest fears and insecurities. Before long, Holger was no longer in the picture. Financial problems or not, she couldn’t bear living with him.

Estibaliz, Holger, and her new BF, Manfred Hinterberger

Before long, Manfred returned, begging Estibaliz to take him back. Though her trust in him was a thing of memory, her desire to hear the patter of little feet over-rode the fact he was a scoundrel. Despite her career, she believed being a mother was her main purpose on earth, and Manfred was her ticket to fulfillment. Time passed, and no children came, no positive pregnancy tests, nothing. Tick tock, tick tock. Her biological clock trudged on and her anxiety soared. If she didn’t have a child, how on earth was she supposed to live her best life? The life she was destined to live? Soon she ended her relationship with Manfred. What use was he anyway? She wasn’t getting any younger, and there was no time to waste. Like seriously, no time to waste. She was 32 years old for pity’s sake.

With a new man in her life and hope for a happy ending, a pipe burst in her Vienna ice cream shop and dumped cold water on her dream. Estibaliz called the repairmen, and they hurried down the basement to address the issue. They noticed patches of uneven concrete on the floor, but they needed to dig the floor up anyway to get to the pipes. No doubt they’d leave the basement floor in better shape than they found it.

Basement floor

The workers didn’t think much of the janky floor until their tools hit metal. Something wasn’t right. What they found beneath the basement floor was the very thing no human being wishes to find in his lifetime. A freezer filled with the disembodied remains of two men. The decomposing bodies were later identified as belonging to Holger Holz and Manfred Hinterberger.

The infamous cellar

In an ironic twist of fate, Estibaliz learned she was pregnant the day her two victims were found and police hauled her off to the pokey. She would finally have the child she longed for, but would be unable to care for it.

After the discovery of the bodies, many creepy details came to light. And if you know me at all, you know I love creepy details.

  1. When Estibaliz finished shooting each of her former significant others in the back of the head, she brought their bodies to the basement where she used her trusty chainsaw to make fitting them in the freezer easier. To drown out the mechanical drone of the saw, she made sure the ice cream maker was churning out fresh treats. When neighbors asked about the racket, she blamed it on the antiquated ice cream equipment.
  2. Here’s another detail that made my skin crawl. After dismembering Manfred, Estibaliz made a beeline to the nail salon. She got a manicure, because her nails were ‘wrecked’ after her night of hacking up the man who burst her dream of motherhood. I guess when you’re out looking for victim number three it doesn’t do to have jagged fingernails.
  3. The body parts of her victims were not only found in small freezers in the basement, but in garden containers. She had filled the pots with concrete to cover the smell of decomposition.
  4. The father of her child actually married her in 2011 while she was in prison. Yikes! That takes guts . . . or something.
  5. Carranza was so violent that women’s prisons in Austria weren’t equipped for her brand of crazy. She is serving time in a men’s prison staffed by nurses, therapists, doctors, and prison guards.

Well, now you know the story of the Ice Cream Killer and perhaps have a better handle on just how mild most cases of ‘Baby Fever’ are. Of course, this begs the question: If Estibaliz Carranza would kill a man who didn’t give her what she wanted, what would she do for a Klondike Bar?

The Tale of the Sausage King

Remember how the mischievous Ferris Bueller claimed to be Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago in an effort to trick the snooty host of an upscale restaruant? If you weren’t living under a rock in the 80s and 90s, chances are good you’ve seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But did you know there was an honest to goodness Sausage King of Chicago? Well, there really was such a meat monarch. And his story is a little–unsettling.

Meet Adolph Luetgert. I imagine he’s wearing a bib in the sketch on the right. Probably getting ready to eat a plate full of sausages.

Adolph Luetgert was born in Germany in 1845 as the third of eleven children. After dropping out of school and leaving home at age fourteen, he became apprentice to a tanner. Determined to make his fortune, Adolph set out for London when he turned nineteen. He met with no success and in sailed to New York, hoping to make a name for himself in the Land of Opportunity. He soon transitioned from the Big Apple to the Windy City. He worked as a tanner until he’d saved enough to establish his own business in 1872. He attempted to make a fortune in Liquor, but in 1879 he switched to sausage. A good call really, since he made his fortune in the meat industry.

Like most people, Adolph didn’t wish to live the life of a wealthy recluse. He married Caroline Roepke in 1871. They had two children before she passed away in 1877. A quick two months later, he met and married a woman named Louise. Two months really isn’t that fast . . . is it? Not when you have as much in common as Louise and Adolph. Both had emigrated from Germany. Both had worked menial jobs (Louise was a domestic servant) and pulled themselves out of poverty by their proverbial boot straps. The couple had four children together, though only two lived past the age of two.

Adolph and Louise

In 1893, the sausage business reached its apex when A.L. Luetgert Sausage and Packing Company supplied weenies for the Colombian Exhibition in Chicago. A high honor, indeed. At the conclusion of the World’s Fair, Chicago’s economy took a serious hit from the depression embroiling the rest of the nation. Sausage orders nose-dived, and Luetgert found his customers unable to pay in full for orders he’d already shipped. In an effort to recoup his losses, Adolph tried to sell the sausage business, but a potential buyer swindled him, binding him tighter in his financial straight jacket.

Though born into poverty, Louisa had grown accustomed to a posh lifestyle. Hey, it’s easy to get spoiled. One day off work turns me into a lady of leisure. Adolph kept the unhappy truth of their financial predicament from her as long as possible. When Louise learned how the bank roll had shrunk, she began having heated ‘discussions’ with her hubby. Money was at the heart of each argument. Neighbors reported that the altercations were loud and often violent, and some recalled hearing Louise’s threats to leave her husband. Poor Adolph, right? Dude can’t catch a break. First the economy, then a snake in the grass, now Louise.

Well, the rumor mill churned out a few tales of Adolph’s infidelity. It was true, he kept a bed in his private office at sausage factory and slept away from home most nights. That could easily be explained. Why go home when Louise met him at the door with her claws out, ready to nag him to death about their finances–or lack thereof? The gossip took a more believable turn when Adolph and his housekeeper, Mary Siemering, were caught kissing at the factory. Later, a wealthy widow, Christine Fields, alleged Luetgert had courted her. If this was true, I’m sure Adolph saw her as a nice big dollar sign.

May 1, 1987, Louise Luetgert disappeared, never to be heard from again. Adolph claimed she’d made good on her threat to leave him. He guessed she’d returned to Germany, no doubt with another man.

The night before his wife’s disappearance, Adolph had worked late in the basement of the sausage factory. The night watchman helped him turn on the steam , then Luetgert sent him to the drug store for some patent medicine. When his employees arrived for work the next morning, they found foul-smelling reddish sludge in and around a large vat in the plant. Similar looking scum was discovered on the basement floor. When the watchman saw this, he grew suspicious and alerted the police.

Investigators drained the vat and found bone fragments, metal corset stays, and a pair of rings–one engraved with the initials ‘L.L.’

Police also learned that Luetgert had recently purchased a large amount of arsenic and potash, a powerful alkali used in soap-making. The next morning, Adolph Luetgert was arrested for Louise’s murder. Authorities believed he’d poisoned his wife and dissolved her body in a vat of boiling potash.

To say the trial was a spectacle would be a gross understatement. People flocked from all over the region to catch a glimpse of the accused killer. The absence of a body was a major monkey-wrench for the prosecution. How could it be proved the bone fragments belonged to Louise Luetgert? Forensic science wasn’t even an inkling in investigative minds at this point in history. Talk about a problem. The prosecution found an expert to testify that the bone fragments in the vat belonged to a petite woman. On the other end of the spectrum, the defense’s bone analyst claimed there was no way to determine the fragments were even human, let alone the bones of Mrs. Luetgert. Each side experimented by boiling cadavers in potash. Each side proved it’s claims.

After closing arguments, the prosecution failed to convince twelve honest men that Luetgert killed his wife. The jury was hung.

During the second trial in 1897, Adolph testified on his own behalf for a total of 18 1/2 hours. He claimed the potash was used to make the soap that cleaned the factory. He said the bones were not human, but animal. He also stated that Louise had gone insane and ran away. This new jury didn’t need as much convincing as the first. Verdict: guilty.

Adolph spent the remainder of his life in Joliet Prison. He died in 1899 of natural causes. He claimed innocence until the day he died.

Many myths surround the death of Louise Luetgert. Before the trial began, she was spotted in twelve different states but never found. One famous tale was that she was seen boarding a ship bound for Europe. Adolph believed this sighting confirmed his suspicion that she’d fled back to Germany. Unfortunately for him, his beloved wife was never seen or heard from again.

What do you think? Did the Sausage King poison his wife and dissolve her body in a vat of potash? Is it possible Louise got a little tired of her husband’s philandering and decided to cut bait? It’s easy to explain away bones at a sausage factory. But what about the engraved ring and corset stays? Could Louise have planted those items in the vat to incriminate her husband?

We may never know the full story of the Sausage King of Chicago. One thing I know for sure, the one on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a lot more fun.