the case of the crimson ducks

It was the summer of 1897 and pieces of Willie Guldensuppe began bobbing up in the East River.

image found here

His upper torso and arms were found by boys playing on the docks. The lower torso was fished from the water in Harlem. The legs found their way to the backwaters of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

image found here

Each section was neatly wrapped in distinctive oilcloth – a flower design of red and gold, and bound with window-shade cord. Coroners unwrapped the packages and pieced together the body, lacking only a head and a 4-inch square of skin cut from the chest.

magnified skin found here

The human jigsaw puzzle was soon identified as Guldensuppe, a stout man who worked as a masseur at the Murray Hill Turkish Baths. He had missed work for a few days and colleagues identified their fellow “rubber” from an abscessed finger and a missing tattoo (of an ex-sweetheart’s head) where his skin had been carved away.

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Guldensuppe had lived in a small rooming house in Hell’s Kitchen. Reporter George Arnold soon discerned that Guldensuppe had been more than a tenant to the landlady, a native Dane named Augusta Nack who worked as an unlicensed midwife for German speakers in the neighborhood. A rather fleshy mother of seven, Nack, 36, was described by one newspaper as “pleasant but repellent.”

Hell’s Kitchen found here

Guldensuppe had moved into the Nack household about 16 months earlier and soon replaced Herman Nack, a bread deliveryman, in the master bedroomWhen the husband moved out, a second tenant, barber Martin Thorn, moved in.

By asking around the building, Arnold learned that Guldensuppe and Thorn were often at each other’s throats – apparently over the affections of their landlady. Guldensuppe had beaten Thorn senseless at least twice and an eyewitness saw Thorn pull a gun on the rubber during a third confrontation. 

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The reporter smelled a love triangle and Arnold caught Augusta Nack in a series of lies about her relationship with Guldensuppe, including this whopper: “I never saw the man naked.”

At Arnold’s urging, detectives escorted the woman to police headquarters. In her corset they found $340, withdrawn from her bank account in the days after Guldensuppe’s disappearance. Her travel trunk was freshly packed and she had begun making inquiries about steamship passage to Europe.

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Meanwhile, authorities arrested Thorn, who was trying to slip across the border into Canada. Tips led them to a farm in Woodside, Queens, where the owner said a couple matching the descriptions of Thorn and Nack had rented a cottage there just before Guldensuppe was killed.

The farmer noted that waste water from the cottage had formed a blood-red puddle beneath its bathtub drainpipe. His ducks, who had been swimming in the puddle, had turned bright pink. Thorn denied all, but Nack scotched that strategy by confessing.

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She said Guldensuppe had caught her in bed with Thorn several times and the big rubber had thrashed the smaller barber. The couple rented the cottage for the murder and she lured the Dutchman there with a promise of sex. 

Instead, Thorn stuck a blade in his heart and cut him up in the bathtub. They wrapped the body and dumped it in the East River. The head, encased in plaster, never surfaced.

Australian Museum collection found here

Thorn remained mute, but the talkative Nack was unapologetic, explaining that Guldensuppe had an active life of “intrigue” with many women while she was expected to be faithful to him.

Thorn was sentenced to the electric chair. He went to his death at Sing Sing, clutching a crucifix in an execution the press called “a success in every particular.” The confession saved Nack’s hide. She was sentenced to 15 years but served just nine.

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A throng gathered to greet her train at Grand Central Terminal in 1907 after she was released from Auburn Prison. Nack professed her love for Guldensuppe – and asked to be paid for interviews. She returned to her old neighbourhood and opened a delicatessen but for some reason the neighbours found her cooked meats unattractive  and she slipped into obscurity, apparently living out her life in New Jersey.

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47 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. If he was a “rubber” he should have been “protected”

  2. How charming.Given the carvery skills on Goldensuppe I’m not surprised people shied away from her deli!

    • there were probably a few gawkers but I can understand people not buying

  3. Yet another man gone to pieces over a woman. 😉

  4. Could she not have come up with something other than a meat deli??!!
    (Glad I had a meatless dinner tonight – you’re back to murder and mayhem…)

    • Yes I am, though I do try to break the post subjects up a little

  5. I hope my death is “a success in every particular.”

    • I’ll do my best to ensure it is. But it’s more likely I’ll go first, so you’d better do the same for me

  6. I know many people who are “pleasant but repellent”. In fact, I think I’m one of them.

    • Haha…. having met you I can attest to the untruthfulness of that remark

  7. Done in by a leaky bathtub drainpipe!

    • Who’d a thunk it?

  8. I’m scratching my head over “pleasant but repellent.” Isn’t being repellant by definition being unpleasant? Did it mean that she was a nice lady but physically unattractive?

    • It’s an interesting turn of phrase but I think you’ve grasped the meaning correctly

      • It’s an excellent phrase for a bug spray, I think?

  9. I’m sure she’s not the first to slip into obscurity in New Jersey.

  10. Meaty. But they didn’t eat him? Or parts?

    I need a bit of quiet now.

    • No cannibalism was reported

  11. “Pleasant but repellent.” Funny, I’ve been described that way too.

    I must not show the pink duck to my darling wife or she’ll want one.

  12. Augusta Nack sang sang so she wouldn’t have to Sing Sing.

  13. Or was she pleasantly repellent? This post is going to give me nightmares.

  14. She seemed to do OK for sex for someone so “repellent”.

  15. she was a butcher.
    cutting a person into pieces is just gruesome.

  16. Poor ducks! 😦

  17. Great. Now I can’t get the soundtrack from Sweeney Todd out of my head.

  18. They were doing all this in 1897!
    Imagine what they are doing today 🙂

  19. Gruesome.

    I kinda like the pink ducks, though. 🙂

  20. icky tale… but the photo of the fighting mice makes me want to take up taxidermy!

    • My Man has been known to stuff things, I could tell you how…

  21. ‘pleasant but repellent’ Hahaha!

  22. Cool crop of images on this post too.

  23. The stupidity of criminals is an endless source of amusement….except for their victims of course.

  24. Not suprising the locals found her cooked meats unattractive. They must have wondered which of her lovers had provided the raw material.

  25. Duck a l’ (blood) orange – ewww

  26. Fascinating stuff, and the chipmunks boxing was epic.

    • I love taxidermy

  27. That must have been a lot of blood!

  28. Today I learned that ducks love water regardless of how filthy or contaminated it is.

  29. So much drama over a fat and repellant woman…

    It boggles the mind.

  30. Poor old Willie, A Thorne in his side and a Nack for trouble – he was doomed from the start!

    The King

    • He was a rubber who was rubbed out

  31. I imagine that would put people off their pastrami on rye…

  32. Elements of Sweeney Todd here methinks

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