A Mysterious Death
On August 1, 1937, doctors at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colorado contacted local authorities regarding the sudden and mysterious death of a patient. The victim, 67-year-old George Obendorfer, had fallen unexplainably ill just days earlier. Doctors were unable to determine what had made him sick, and their best efforts had not been enough to save him. After interviewing staff members at the hospital, investigators discovered Obendorfer had been visiting the area, and his primary residence was in Cincinnati, Ohio. Apparently, the elderly man, along with two unknown companions, checked into the Park Hotel on July 30, 1937. Colorado authorities found the circumstances intriguing because the owner of the hotel had just filed a report regarding $300 worth of stolen diamonds. Investigators now wanted to determine whether the two incidents were related.
Shortly after arriving at the Park Hotel, investigators learned that Obendorfer had registered there with a woman named Anna Marie Hahn and her young son, Oskar. According to the hotel owner, Mrs. Hahn had informed him she lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was in Colorado on vacation. A quick check of the room revealed no clues and Mrs. Hahn and her son were nowhere to be found. In an attempt to determine whether the jewels and Mr. Obendorfers premature death were related, investigators began visiting local pawnshops with the hope that the thief might have tried to sell the diamonds. It was not long before their efforts paid off. One local shop owner informed them that a woman, who was accompanied by a young boy, had tried to pawn similar jewels but the owner had decided not to purchase them. His description of the woman matched the hotel owners description of Anna Hahn.
As Colorado authorities broadened their search for Hahn, they learned that a woman fitting her description had tried to withdraw $1,000 from a Denver bank, using a Cincinnati bankbook in the name of George Obendorfer. Even though the woman claimed to be Mrs. George Obendorfer, the bank manager, sensing something was not right, refused to make the transaction. Detectives were convinced the woman in question was Anna Hahn.
According to The Cincinnati Crime Book by George Stimson, investigators wasted little time securing an arrest warrant for Hahn for suspicion of grand larceny in the theft of the hotel jewelry. Suspecting she had fled the area and returned to Ohio, investigators contacted Cincinnati authorities for assistance. It was soon learned Hahn had returned home and Cincinnati investigators promptly picked her up. When asked by Colorado investigators what she knew about George Obendorfers death, Anna responded, The man is a perfect stranger to me. However, when reminded she had signed the hotel registry book for Obendorfer, herself and her son, Anna changed her tune. I met him (George) on the train from Denver, she said. He was Swiss. I felt sorry for him, and was only trying to help him. Both teams of investigators knew Obendorfer was from Cincinnati, and doubted Annas story.
Anna Hahn in custody (The Cincinnati Enquirer)
George Obendorfer’s home (The Cincinnati Enquirer)
Confronted with this new evidence, Anna admitted to detectives that she knew George Obendorfer. She claimed to have met him weeks before in a local shoe shop, but denied the two had been involved in a recent relationship. Instead, she reverted back to her original story. Anna claimed it was by chance she had met George on the train and they were coincidently going on vacation to the same place. According to Anna, she and George got along well during the trip and ultimately decided to share a room once they got to their mutual destination in Colorado Springs. However, shortly after arriving and registering at the hotel, George became ill and went to the hospital. Anna claimed to have had no further contact with him after that.
Investigators continued to doubt Annas claims and decided to look further into her background for answers.
Through continuing interviews with the suspected thief and possible murderer, investigators learned that Anna was a German native, born in 1906, and had immigrated to Cincinnati in 1929, at the age of 23. Before coming to the United States, she had married a doctor from Vienna, and the couple had a child, Oskar. Not long after the birth of their son, the family immigrated together, but the doctor died shortly after their arrival in the states.
Both the Cincinnati Post and The Cincinnati Inquirer obtained several transcripts of Annas police interviews, which they both published several times during the course of the investigation. According to those accounts, Anna had an aunt and uncle in Cincinnatis German district, so she decided to stay in the country and make a new start. During a community dance at the Hotel Alms, Anna met a telegraph operator named Philip Hahn. The couple quickly fell in love and eventually wed. Philip desperately wanted to leave his job, so the couple saved their money and eventually opened two delicatessens. Shortly thereafter, Annas aunt and uncle died and left her their home on 2970 Colerain Avenue.
Investigators soon learned that while Annas marriage to Philip may have appeared solid to outsiders, the young couple had their share of problems, most of which seemed to have revolved around Annas hunger for money. Anna seemed to tire quickly of her duties operating one of the couples delicatessens, and opted to work on various moneymaking schemes. Arson was apparently Annas first choice, as there were three suspicious fires on the books; the first of which occurred at one of the delicatessens, located at 3007 Colerain Avenue. While the fire caused minimal damage, Anna still managed to collect $300 from the insurance company. The other two fires both took place at the Hahn residence — the first on June 2, 1935 and the second on May 20, 1936. Anna collected just over $2000 for both fires.
Regardless of her suspected taste for fire, one of Annas presumed schemes might have required the death of her husband, albeit by mere accident or brutal intent. On two separate occasions Anna tried to secure a $25,000 life insurance policy on her husband, but each time she met resistance from him. Whether it was a simple superstition or the fear of losing his life is unknown. Regardless, what is known is that shortly thereafter Philip Hahn became desperately ill and, against Annas wishes, was taken to the hospital by his mother. Although Philip survived his mysterious illness, the marriage continued to suffer and the couple eventually separated.
After the falling out with her husband, and despite her lack of training or experience in the field, Anna began working as a visiting nurse for elderly patients. It was perhaps this revelation that made investigators decide to follow up with several of her previous patients.
Cincinnati investigators were shocked when they discovered that a separate case, the mysterious death of 78-year-old Jacob Wagner, had ties to Anna Hahn. Whether by accident or through unconscious remorse, Anna told investigators she had been caring for Wagner while working as a visiting nurse. The German native and retired gardener had mysteriously died two months earlier and in his final will he left his entire estate to Anna Hahn. While the coroners report listed heart disease as the cause of death, a suspicious friend had been badgering police to investigate and an exhumation had just been granted, in order to autopsy Wagners remains. As investigators began putting the pieces together they decided to visit Wagners neighborhood. They soon learned that Anna had approached Wagner and claimed to have been a long lost niece. The elderly man knew he had no living relatives and balked at her claim, but soon relented and allowed her to help him with his day-to-day chores. Neighbors also claimed that Hahn had spent several hours in Wagners apartment after his death. Investigators soon met Olive Luella Koehler, an elderly woman that lived in the same apartment building as Wagner. They learned that Anna had befriended the woman and on at least two occasions had brought her ice cream cone treats. However, after eating the second cone, Mrs. Koehler became violently ill and was admitted to the hospital. While the police almost immediately became suspicious, it is unknown whether or not the elderly Mrs. Koehler herself ever connected the ice cream with her illness. Regardless, during her stay in the hospital, someone did in fact steal a bag from her residence, which contained an unknown amount of cash and jewelry.
Jacob Wagner’s apartment building (The Cincinnati Enquirer)
Investigators were beginning to fear Anna was poisoning her elderly patients for money and when they learned of yet another mysterious death, in which Anna was acquainted with the victim, they launched yet another investigation. On July 6, 1937, just weeks before Annas trip to Colorado, another one of her patients, 67-year-old George Gsellman, died in his room at 1717 Elm Street. Friends of Gsellmans told authorities he had become suddenly ill after his last visit with Anna and died shortly thereafter. Investigators worked quickly to secure an order for exhumation and autopsy, which they were immediately granted.
According to Michael Newton’s Hunting Humans, the coroners preliminary examination of George Gsellman, he discovered a metallic poison in the body. The substance was initially thought to be arsenic, but upon conducting further tests it was found to be croton oil, a general household remedy used during the turn of the century. While the drug is usually not fatal in small doses, a large dose could easily kill. Stedman’s Medical Dictionary states that the drug could cause an intense burning pain in mouth, throat, and abdomen; excessive salivation, vomiting and diarrhea with tenseness and passage of blood. In other words, anyone taking a large dose of the drug would meet a very brutal and bitter end.
As investigators worked to gather their evidence, Philip Hahn came forward and gave them a half-ounce bottle of croton oil he had taken away from his wife when the two lived together. Upon doing his own investigation into the effects of the drug, Philip had taken the bottle to work and hid it in a locker, suspecting that his wife had used it to poison him. I kept intending to turn it over to police, he told the Cincinnati Post during a September 1937 interview. A pharmacist at a drug store in North College Hill later confirmed that Anna purchased the oil on July 20, 1936. The druggist knew Anna personally and said she had told him her husband was a German druggist who used the oil in his practice.
Because of her Colorado warrant, Anna continued to be detained by Cincinnati authorities. While Colorado may have wanted to arrest her for theft and question her about George Obendorfers untimely death, Ohio was beginning to make their own case and they were not about to let her go. Not yet anyway.
During a search of Annas home, investigators found a promissory note for $2,000. Money she had apparently borrowed from someone named Albert Palmer. During a follow up investigation on the note, investigators learned that Albert Palmer was a 72-year-old resident of 2416 Central Parkway. However, upon paying a visit to Palmers home, they were informed by relatives he had died on March 27, 1936, after having been ill for an extended period of time. It was also revealed that Anna Hahn had been caring for the man before his death. In addition, relatives also informed investigators that at least $4,000 was missing from Palmers estate.
Ohio authorities were getting more than they had bargained for and their suspicions turned to allegations when the results of Jacob Wagners autopsy came back. While they found no trace of croton oil in his system, they did discover large quantities of arsenic, an all too common poison used by murderers then and now.
Investigators decided to question Annas son, Oskar, in hopes that he might be able to provide them with some answers. While the young boy knew nothing of his mothers patients, he did tell them that, contrary to his mothers statements they had met George Obendorfer by chance at the train station; she had in fact purchased his ticket at Union Terminal in Cincinnati. Oskar also informed them that his mother had served Obendorfer several drinks on the train and that the man began feeling ill prior to their arrival in Colorado.
Deciding to move on Anna before her extradition to Colorado, Ohio authorities arrested her on August 10, 1937 and charged her with the murder of Jacob Wagner. Hamilton County Prosecutors Dudley Outcalt, Loyal Martin and Simon Leis were given the duty of presenting the states case. For her defense, Anna was granted two attorneys, Joseph H. Hoodin and Hiram Bosinger, Sr.
Hamilton County Courthouse (Author)
On Monday, November 1, 1937, the defense began its presentation. With little evidence of their own to refute the states claims, the defense was left only with the defendant. Once on the stand Anna denied any wrongdoing and during cross-examination could not be slipped up. This however amounted to little in comparison to the states mountain of evidence and witnesses. With little else to do, the defense decided to hold their cards for closing arguments and rested their case on November 4, 1937.
Closing Arguments & Judgment
The Cincinnati Crime Book states that Prosecutor Dudley Outcalt was chosen to make the closing arguments for the state and he wasted little time in getting to the point. She is sly, because she developed her relationships with old men who had no relatives and lived alone. She is avaricious, because no act was so low but that she was ready to commit it for slight gain. She is cold-blooded, like no other woman in the world, because no one could sit here for four weeks and hear this damaging parade of evidence and display no emotion. She is heartless, because nobody with a heart could deal out the death she dealt these old men. Weve seen here the coldest, most heartless cruel person that ever has come within the scope of our lives. In the four corners of this courtroom stand four dead men. Gsellman, Palmer, Wagner, Obendorfer! From the four corners bony fingers point at her and say: That woman poisoned me! That woman made my last moments an agony! That woman tortured me with the tortures of the dammed! Then, turning to you they say, Let my death be not entirely in vain. My life cannot be brought back, but through my death and the punishment to be inflicted upon her, you can prevent such a death from coming to another man. From the four corners of this room, those old men say to you Do your duty! I ask of you, for the state of Ohio, that you withhold any recommendations of mercy.
Following the prosecutions closing arguments, defense attorney Joseph H. Hoodin stood up for the defense and addressed the jury. I will not say that a single witness lied, but this case has had such widespread publicity that it would have been impossible for these witnesses not to have preconceived ideas before they ever came into this courtroom. Particularly this is true of the witnesses from Wagners neighborhood, where the case has been the chief topic of conversation for months. Although she is no angel, she is not guilty of the murder of Jacob Wagner.
It took only two hours for the jury to return with their verdict. Anna Hahn sat motionless as the jury foreman read the decision: guilty with no recommendation for mercy. Following the verdict, each jury member was polled and each one affirmed his or her vote. Anna was then handcuffed and led back to her jail cell. While the jury may not have immediately realized it at the time, their decision was historic — the lack of recommendation for mercy meant that Anna Hahn would automatically be sentenced to death and the state of Ohio had never executed a woman before.
Anna Marie Hahn prison photo
Anna Marie Hahn was transferred to the Ohio State Penitentiary on December 1, 1937. Her attorneys kept the court system busy with appeals and her March 10 execution date came and went. Her case passed through the Ohio court system several times before being taken to the United States Supreme Court. Nonetheless, they agreed with the state of Ohio and refused to block her execution.
On Tuesday Dec. 6, 1938, Ohio Governor Martin L. Davey made a formal statement, in which he refused to interfere with the decision of the courts
. Later that day, accounts on local radio, by Special Dispatch from The Cincinnati Inquirer, reported that Annas execution was scheduled for 8 oclock the next evening.
Governor Martin L. Davey (courtesy of the Kent Historical Society)
Oh heavenly father! Oh God! Oh God! I cant go! I wont go! she cried out, according to The Cincinnati Crime Book. She was unable to walk to the chamber on her own and had to rely on the guards to help her along.
As they made their way into the death chamber Anna passed out and collapsed to the floor. Officials quickly revived her with an ammonia capsule and then strapped her into the chair. Dont do this to me, she continued to cry out. Oh, no, no, no. Warden Woodard, dont let them do this to me. Tears began to role down the Warden Woodards face as he solemnly replied, I am sorry, but we cant help it.
Upon hearing the wardens words Anna began to scream, Please dont. Oh, my boy. Think of my boy. Wont someone, wont anyone, come and do something for me? Isnt there anybody to help me? Anyone? Anyone? Is nobody going to help me?
As prison officials let the clock click down, in the off chance that the Governor might call, Anna called out for Father John Sullivan, the prison chaplain. Father, come close, she said. Together the two began to recite the Lords Prayer, but just halfway through the switch was thrown and Annas body jerked and convulsed as the electricity flowed through it. Anna Marie Hahn was officially pronounced dead at 8:13 p.m.
Ohio State Penitentiary electric chair
Final Words – Part 1
Following Annas execution, On December 17, 1938, defense attorney Joseph H. Hoodin announced that the letters Anna had given him the night of her execution had been sold to the Cincinnati Enquirer and the money was put into a trust for Annas son, Oskar. The next day, the paper announced that they would be publishing the letters on the following two days.
I dont know how I could have done the things I did in my life. Only God knows what came over me when I gave Albert Palmer that first one, that poison that caused his death.
When I stood by Mr. Wagner as he was laid out at the funeral home I dont know how it was I didnt scream out at the top of my voice. I couldnt in my mind believe that it was me. I cant believe it even today. I couldnt believe it when in the court those people came to the room and told the jury how they said these men died. I was sitting there hearing a story like out of a book all about another person. As things come to my mind now and as I put them on this paper I cant believe I am writing about things I did myself. However, they must be about me because they are in my mind and I know them.
God above will tell me what made me do these terrible things. I couldnt have been in my right mind when I did them. I loved all people so much. Now I am so close to death. Death is all around me. I have been here (on death row) for what seems another lifetime already. Several other people in this place have been called out.
Anna went on to tell of her life in Germany and her eventual immigration to the United States. She then began to recount the circumstances, which she claimed eventually led to her life of crime.
I went into business again, always thinking about my boy that would have money to raise him properly. However, business was bad again and this time before I lost everything I sold it to pay all my debts. In a little while though, this money went. My husband and I had been out of work and I started worrying about my boy’s future. I became crazy with fears that my boy and I would starve. I signed some notes for my husband, because I had signed these notes they threatened to take my Colerain Avenue house away from me, to sell the house over my head and throw me and my boy out into the street. Then it was that I started gambling and playing the racehorses. I wanted to make some money for my boy.
During one of her outings to the horse track, Anna met Albert Palmer. The two grew closer over time and Anna eventually started to borrow betting money from Albert.
I paid much of it back. Then when I didn’t pay it back fast enough to suit him, then it was that he wanted me to be his girl. He threatened me that if I didn’t do what he asked he would get his attorney to get the rest of the money that I borrowed from him. He wouldnt leave me alone. God knows that I did not want to kill him, and I don’t know what put such a thought in my head. I remembered that down in the cellar was some rat poison. Something in my mind kept saying to me, ‘ give him a little of this and he won’t trouble you anymore. I don’t know what made me do it, but I slipped some of the poison in the oysters. I told him to go on home and he left at the same time, threatening what he was going to do to me.
Albert Palmer’s apartment building
I visited him just as soon as I could and he was very nice to me. He told me that he was sorry for the way that he had treated me. I prayed that he would get well. Nobody knows the things that went through my mind. I told the nurses and doctors to do everything they could to make him well, but on Holy Thursday, Mr. Palmer died. Only I knew why.
Final Words – Part 2
Anna described a struggle within her and the problems she had accepting what she had done. Nonetheless, the battle was short lived and it was not long before she moved on. In describing her encounter with George Heis, Anna denied any wrongdoing, but did admit foul play in regards to Jacob Wagners ultimate fate. Apparently Anna had stolen some of Wagners bankbooks and when he found out she became scared that he would turn her in.
I got scared that if the police would start questioning me maybe all this about Mr. Palmer would come out. Something cried out in me to stop him, so that all my troubles wouldnt start again. I don’t know what guided my hand, but I fixed him some orange juice and placed a half of teaspoon of the powder poison, which I took from my purse in the glass. Mr. Wagner drank it down. … Early the next day, I went back to the room and Mr. Wagner was very sick. I knew what I had done to him. It was another mind that made me do these things. I didn’t do them. I cannot describe how I felt when Mr. Wagner died and that I had something to do with his death. I did not harm Mr. Wagner for his money. I never had such a thought. It was not until Mr. Wagner had died that I wrote the will. I placed in his room on the afternoon that the man from the Probate came to Mr. Wagner’s room. The poison that I used is, for all that I know, still in my house. I found it first in the paint cupboard in the basement. If I had never found that poison in the first place I know that I would not be in all this trouble right now.
Anna had little to say in regards to George Gsellman and George Obendorfer. While she did not describe the circumstances surrounding to two mens premature deaths, she did appear to take credit for them.
I cannot say anything about those other cases that came after — Mr. Yeltsin and that last one, Mr. Obendorfer — except that they died of the same symptoms and as I face my Maker I take full responsibility for what happened in them.
As Annas letter came to a close, she again described the battles she had to fight within her, in order to keep her sanity and touched upon her son and the concern she had for his well-being.
There were times in the courtroom, the times that the newspapers wrote, that I seemed worried, that I was just about ready to cry out. I was just about ready to cry out. I could hardly keep my secret in me. It seemed that I would have to cry out. I wanted to cry out that they were trying the other Anna Hahn and not this one sitting in the courtroom. Somehow I kept the secret. I hope that God will take care of my son, for I would not want anything to happen to my boy. I feel that God has shown me my wrongs in life and my only regret is that I have not the power to undo the trouble and heartache that I have caused.
(signed) Anna Marie Hahn
After reading Annas confession, detectives, while shocked that she actually admitted her crimes, were elated that, in the end, they got most of the answers they had desperately been seeking.
Annas son, 12-year-old Oskar Hahn, was placed with a foster family in the Midwest. The Cincinnati Crime Book claims that the newspaper kept its promise to Anna and bankrolled the boys education and never revealed his name or whereabouts to the public. The only thing ever released about Oskar was that he lived a normal life and eventually fought for the Navy during World War II.