Body parts wash ashore the East Side in 1897

GuldensuppenackThe upper half of the torso and arms were found first, on June 26, 1897, by boys playing on a pier off East 11th Street.

The rest of the torso came ashore near High Bridge. The legs showed up off the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The body was that of a well-built man who had been alive just a few days before, according to the medical examiner. But who was he?

The gruesome details gripped the tabloids, which investigated the story along with the police.

Clues soon emerged, thanks to tabloid reporters bent on solving the murder—and selling more papers. The man had strangely soft hands, and his body parts were wrapped in a distinctive oil cloth with a red and gold floral pattern.

GuldensuppethornjailDetectives traced the seller of the cloth, who pointed police in the direction of a Danish midwife named Augusta Nack (above).

Workers at the Murray Hill Turkish Baths on 42nd Street identified the body as that of William Guldensuppe, a German masseur.

Guldensuppe was a tenant in a West 39th Street building owned by Nack. Apparently Nack was also living with a barber named Martin Thorn (left), and the three were involved in a love triangle.

By July, police had arrested Nack and Thorn, thanks to a confession Thorn gave to a barber friend.

According to the confession, Guldensuppe had beaten Thorn senseless after he found him in bed with Nack. So Thorn decided to kill his rival by luring him to a house in Queens.

GuldensuppenackjeffersonmarketAfter shooting him in the back of the head with Nack in the house as well, Thorn said that “we threw him into the bath-tub, and while he was breathing heavily I cut off his head with a razor, and stripped the body.”

Thorn sawed the body, put the head in plaster, and wrapped body parts in the oilcloth, then threw everything into the East River while taking the ferry back to Manhattan with Nack.

GuldensuppenacknewspaperIn December 1897, a jury found the couple guilty. On August 2, Thorn was electrocuted at Sing Sing. Nack served 10 years in prison upstate, then fell into obscurity.

This “trial of the century” earned its name not only because of the bloody details—but the way the press inserted themselves into the story and made 1897 a banner year of yellow journalism.

[Top photo: New York Times; second: LOC; third: New York World; fourth:]

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5 Responses to “Body parts wash ashore the East Side in 1897”

  1. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    This story has a musical lilt to it, a la ‘SWEENY TODD’, the infamous penny dreadful transformed into a musical. It makes you wonder if there was a sideline business by this twosome, of murdering ‘n butchering folks in the neighborhood. Reminds me of the amusingly clever ‘blue menu offering’ in one of the ST songs / sung by two characters in a sort of musical conversation:

    “…Since Marine doesn’t appeal to you,
    How about Rear Admiral?
    Too salty – I prefer General.
    With or without his Privates – ‘with’ is extra!”

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, very Sweeney Todd, I didn’t even make the connection!

  3. wack60585 Says:

    Reblogged this on wack60585.

  4. JustPaula Says:

    This trial and the competition between Hearst’s and Pultizer’s publications is well chronicled in the very novel-istic true crime book, “Murder of the Century, by Paul Collins. I bought it because I live in Woodside, in the same type of wood frame house that the murder occurred in (back when Woodside was swampy and had farms and was practically “country”), but I was taken away by the story regardless of my personal connection.

  5. V Says:

    There is a very good book about this murder.

    It is a fun read and very involved.

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