It is World Goth Day and for those of you decked in your best black crape, a glossy top hat with weepers, and a dab of noir lip-stick, I present a grim n’ grewsome Gothick tale of a ghastly revenge.
The History of a Betrayed Woman’s Vengeance
The Secret of the Tower Stairway
One of the Most Atrocious Crimes Ever Recorded
The Latest Sensation in a Foreign Capital.
A story of crime has been brought to light in Vienna which has in it some features of a highly novel nature. In 1858 Louis Lemberg came to the Austrian Capital from a small town near Brunn [Brünn Brno], in Moravia. He was just of age, tall, well-made and handsome. His education had not been neglected, and he was a good musician. He was well connected, and had friends in Vienna occupying a good social position. He entered a large banking-house, and was soon advanced until he held the place of cashier. This was in 1861. In that year he formed the acquaintance of Marie Bleirs, a beautiful girl of eighteen, occupying a humble station in life. His attacks on her virtue were unavailing; and he at length promised her marriage. He placed her in what she supposed was a respectable family, and visited her daily. The wedding day was fixed, and all the arrangements tor the event were about to be made, when Louis was taken ill with a fatal malady. Marie was not allowed to see him, and to her inquiries reply was made that he was in a most critical state, After two or three days Marie was told that Louis desired to see her before he died. Bowed down with grief she went to his residence, residence, and. found her lover lying
ON A COUCH IN A DARKENED ROOM.
He was barely able to recognise her, but after a while rallied, and entreated her to remain and take care of him. she consented, and as the night wore on, at his request, put on a wrapper and lay down beside the half-slumbering form of the sick man. She fell asleep, and when she awoke found herself undressed and in the warm embrace of her lover. He tried to pacify her, and. as the past was beyond recall, she submitted to her fate. For some time they lived together happily, but at the end of two years, that is, in 1863, Louis quitted her, and soon afterward married a fashionable lady.
In the meantime Louis’ younger brother Francis had come to attend college in Vienna, a fact well known to Marie. When Louis deserted her she laid a trap for Francis, and he readily fell into her toils. Through him she kept herself acquainted with the affairs of Louis, who was entirely ignorant of his young brother’s intrigues with his discarded mistress, while Francis was, of course, equally ignorant of the connection which had ex is tail between Francis and Marie. It was Marie’s custom to ask with what Francis took for womanly curiosity all about his brother’s habits, his dwelling and the peculiarities of his new wife, her relations, acquaintances and so forth. Francis gave the information as well as he was able, never suspecting any nefarious design.
THE CHILD’S DISAPPEARANCE.
On January 2, 1865, a son was born to Louis, and duly christened August. On the evening of the ceremony Louis gave an entertainment at which his brother was present. The child, elegantly dressed, was shown to the guests, and then removed by the nurse. Five minutes later there was a terrible outcry that the babe was missing. Dreadful consternation seized all, and the mother fell into a deep swoon from which it was very difficult for some time to arouse her. The nurse ran about half frantic, and the father was so dazed that he knew not what to do. When the nurse recovered her presence of mind, she related the facts as follows: As she was ascending the stair, and had reached the first landing, Francis Lemberg, the uncle of the child, springing down from the landing above, said, in a tone of urgency: “Nurse, a lady has just fainted in your mistress’ dressing-room. Go and attend to her, and I will hold the baby until you return.” The girl hesitated, but the uncle reassured her by promising to follow her and remain at the door of the dressing-room with the child. She entered the dressing-room, but found no one there. Hastily returning she found that the child was gone, and every effort to find it was in vain. Then the alarm was given, with the results already known.
A DEEP MYSTERY.
The police were notified, and strict orders issued to search the city for the missing babe. What the object of the brother could be could not be divined. He was on the most amicable terms with his brother and his wife, and seemed fond of the child, for whom he had bought a very beautiful present on that very day. The occurrence was involved in mystery, and, as day after day passed without any clew to the child or its uncle being disclosed, it grew deeper and deeper. What rendered the circumstance more singular was that Francis’ overcoat and hat had been left behind when he fled with the infant.
It would be impossible to describe the dreadful state of mind produced on the parents by this strange and unexplained abduction of their new-born infant. The weary days and nights passed by, messengers came and went at all hours, new clews were continually being followed only to lead to disappointment, and fresh theories adopted only to be abandoned when they were found to be futile. At length the silence and stupor of despair settled down on the bereaved mother, and the father came and went and did his business as one in a dream. Months and years passed away and nothing was heard of the child and its abductor.
In the meantime another child was born to Louis, but he died suddenly at the age of two years, after returning from a walk in a neighboring park with his mother. In less than a month after this. Louis’ wife, who was always ailing, was taken ill with a mysterious malady which belied the physicians, and in 1869 she died, her death being attributed to heart disease. By this time Louis had risen to affluence by successful speculations. He became somewhat loose in his morals, and one night he was brought home suffering from an attack of apoplexy. He never rallied, but died the next day.
A few days after the trial a woman, claiming to be his lawful widow, sought to obtain the interest in his property which the law allows. She produced a paper which showed that in 1861 she was married to Louis Lemberg, and produced all the necessary evidence of the fact. Having no blood relatives living, this woman got possession of his property, and entered into the enjoyment of it in 1871. The house in which Louis lived at the time of the birth of his first child was part of the estate, and there his supposed, widow took up her abode.
A STRANGE STORY.
The facts now to be related are given in their order, although they have only become known within the last month.
On August 17. 1871, the Widow Lemberg went to reside in the house referred to. It was in a suburban part of the city, and had a fair-sized garden around it The widow brought with her two companions, attired as sisters of a religious order, who were continually with her and slept in the same apartments. In the daytime they drove out together in a close carriage, and at night received three male visitors, who joined them in their apartments, where a reckless carouse was carried far into the morning. Then the males departed, and the women kept their beds until noon next day. Night after night this went on for a year.
A SUDDEN DISAPPEARANCE.
On October 17, 1872, awful screams were heard by the domestics coming from the apartments used by the widow. Ongoing thither Madame Lemberg was found lying on the bed in horrible convulsions, and the two women holding her down. This thing recurred from time to time until 1875, when the two companions of Madame Lemberg suddenly disappeared form the house and never returned. In June of that year Madame Lemberg was married to the Baron Kronacher, and the couple seemed to enjoy happiness for a time. In December, following the Baron disappeared, and the Baroness represented that he was a pretender, and had robbed her of valuables and money and decamped.
Two years passed away and the still attractive woman secured several handsome male acquaintances, who visited her from time to time. In September, 1877, she brought to her residence
A MAIMED LAD
Of about twelve years, and installed him in the kitchen in care of the domestics. The left foot and hand of the boy were gone, cut off at the joint. Otherwise he was a well-built, comely boy. He stayed there until the sequel of this strange narrative.
It has been said that the house stood in the suburbs in the midst of a garden. At one corner was a tower stairway leading to a lookout. As the stairs were decayed the place had been closed when Lemberg bought it The entrance to it was form a small ante-room adjoining the chief sleeping apartment, which, during Lemberg’s time, was used as a stranger’s room. On the 7th of January last, madam Lemberg ordered the cripple, who was known as Jean, to carry coals to this room, where a fire had been lighted. The boy did so. It so happened that a new domestic had been engaged a few days before, and this woman was in the act of passing down the stairs when she heard
A NOISE AS OF SOME ONE STRUGGLING
In the stranger’s room. Having heard that her mistress had formerly been subject to convulsions, she turned toward the room and entered. The sight which met her gaze was an astounding one. In the entrance to the ante-room the cripple Jean was struggling in the grasp of his mistress. She had him by the throat, and was forcing him backward to the floor. Horror-stricken, the domestic fled down stars and gave an alarm. It happened that a policeman was close at hand and entered. Ascending the stairs he reached the ante-room in time to save the cripple from death. The door in the tower was open, and the Baroness was forcing him over the threshold into the abyss, for the glacis and floor had decayed, and there was a hole reaching to the foundation of the building. The office rescued the boy and secured the woman.
There is no space to tell at length the sequel to his narrative. A search in the dreadful pit from which the officer delivered the boy disclosed five skeletons. There lay the bones of the unfortunate Francis Lemberg, and beside him the skeleton of a baby. To one side were the skeletons of two females, the musty, half-rotten clothes indicating beyond question that the remains were those of the two women who, under the garb of Sisters of Charity, had entered the dwelling, and had so long been the companions of the widow. The fifth skeleton was that of the Baron Kronacker.
The woman, when arrested, showed no symptoms of insanity, but told freely the story of her crimes. She had resolved
TO AVENGE HER WRONGS
On Louis Lemberg, and through Francis obtained a knowledge of the tower and how it might be entered. On this she based all her plans for vengeance. Night and day she brooded over them, and circumstances more than suited her desires and purposes. On the night of the christening of Louis’ first-born she dressed herself in Francis’ clothes and hid her attire in a capacious over-dress. She found little difficulty in getting into the dwelling. Secreting herself for over an hour, she at length saw Francis enter the stranger’s room. Thither she followed him, and with the agility and vigor of an accomplished highwayman garroted him from behind. In an instant she dragged him into the ante-room, opened the door to the tower and dropped him into the horrible abyss.
Then she threw off her attire, and appeared so like Francis that only a very close observer could have seen the difference.
Watching her opportunity, she carried out her daring scheme to capture the child, and flung it down the tower after its uncle. Then hastily closing the door, she fastened it, and assuming the female attire which she had temporarily laid aside, she managed
TO ELUDE OBSERVATION AND ESCAPE
From the house. For a long time after this she remained quiet. When the second child was born she watched its growth, and resolved to removed it at the first convenient moment by poison. Disguised as a seller of candy, she gave the unsuspecting infant a poisoned lozenge, and its death speedily followed.
Louis’ wife was the next victim. She was removed by a slow poison, introduced into the medicine prescribed for her by a physician by his assistant, a paramour of the murderess. Finally Louis himself was decoyed by a courtesan into his former mistress’ power and brained with a sand-bag. Then he was carried out and laid in the street, where he was found.
THE AVENGING DEMON’S NEXT VICTIMS
Were the women who kept the house of ill-repute into which Marie Bleirs was decoyed and where she was ruined by Louis Lemberg. These women had been guilty of a great crime, and when Marie found them they were in hiding. She proposed to them to assume a sacred garb and join her in her newly-acquired prosperity. They did so, and for a time Marie would seem to have forgotten her vengeance and allow herself to relapse into dissipation. But the end came, and the two women were choked and flung down the well of the tower. So far all was well. But the physician’s assistant was becoming imperious, and so she suggested that he should assume the title of Baron Kronacker and marry her. Once in her power she soon disposed of him, and he was laid at rest beside her other victims.
And the crippled boy—who was he? Her own child by Louis Lemberg. In a moment of horrible passion she severed the limbs of the infant at the joints, and then gave him to a miserable hag to extort charity. Afterward the idea seized her that she would like him to repose with the rest, and so she took him to her dwelling, and would have ended his fate, but for the timely intervention of the domestic.
Two things remain unexplained in the narrative. Nothing is known of the cause of the woman’s convulsions, and she has refused to say how she secured the papers to prove her marriage to Louis.
There is little chance that Marie Bleirs will suffer for her crimes beyond incarceration in a lunatic asylum, the dreadful and unheard-of nature of them naturally suggesting the idea of insanity.
The Cincinnati [OH] Daily Enquirer 19 April 1879: p. 10
What penny-dreadful, Gothick horror motif does this story not contain? A ruined maiden, a whiff of incest, a stolen child, a woman improbably disguised as a man, nameless orgies, wantons dressed like nuns, poison lozenges, a female Bluebeard, forged marriage papers, and, the pièce de résistance: rotting, walled-up skeletons. No one ever seems to notice the stench coming from the oubliette in these stories.
I’ve seen this cited as a true story of a female serial killer, but corroborating evidence is lacking. I don’t have access to European papers, but I haven’t been able to find any mention of the case in the British press, which would have avidly devoured such a lurid tale. It had an unusually narrow syndication in the US—only a few papers, possibly because of the sexual content—and seems to have originated with the Cincinnati Enquirer. Its Grand-Guignol horrors suggest the savage misogyny of an Ambrose Bierce or an episode from Eugène Sue.
Happy World Goth Day!
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.