On November 20, 1936, Tillie Klimek — a suspected serial killer and self-proclaimed psychic — died in prison.
Klimek was convicted of only one murder, but police suspected that she may have killed or tried to kill at least 20 victims — including spouses, friends, neighbors, and their children. At the time of her conviction, Klimek was already on her fifth husband.
She pretended to have psychic abilities that allowed her to determine a person’s exact date of death, but in reality there was a darker explanation for her precognition: Klimek knew exactly when she would be slipping poison to her victim.
Tillie immigrated to the USA from Germany when she was about a year old. As an adult, she married and had children.
In 1919, Tillie was 49 years old when she predicted the death of John Mitkiewicz, her husband of 29 years. She told a friend that she had a “psychic” premonition that she would find his corpse on a certain day — and her spouse became ill on the aforementioned date, and died shortly afterward.
She remarried just a few weeks later to laborer John Ruskowski. Her second husband dropped dead within three months, leaving her $1,200 in cash and $722 in life insurance. In Prohibition-era Chicago, when Al Capone ruled the city and murder rates skyrocketed, no one seemed unduly disturbed by the two deaths.
Her third husband, Frank Kupzsyk, became ill at the home they shared at 924 N. Winchester, and she soon began to tell neighbors that Frank “would not live long.”
She even taunted him by knitting her own mourning hat as she sat at his sick bed — which she would later wear to the trial.
In 1921, after Frank’s death, she married Joseph Klimek. When he also became ill, he was taken to the hospital, and his doctors suspected arsenic poisoning. Lucky for Klimek, he survived. But Tillie was arrested after forensic tests confirmed the doctors’ suspicions.
It’s reported that as Tillie was being driven away in the police car, she turned to the officer and said, “The next one I want to cook a dinner for is you. You made all my trouble.”
Bodies of her other husbands were soon exhumed and found to contain lethal doses of arsenic. Police also arrested Tillie’s cousin, Nellie. Tillie claimed that after she told Nellie she was unhappy with her husband, Nellie first suggested divorce. But after Tillie said she wanted to get rid of him “some other way,” she claimed that Nellie gave her a poison called “Rough on Rats.”
After the arrests, it came to light that several relatives and neighbors had died unexpectedly. This included two neighbors who Tillie had quarreled with, and even a dog that Tillie found annoying. In all, investigators found 20 suspected victims — and 14 of them had died. The press referred to Tillie as the Priestess of a “Bluebeard Clique” in Chicago’s Little Poland neighborhood.
The trial took another strange twist when experts stated that Tillie would have stood a good chance of acquittal if she had been more attractive. But, according to media reports, she had a “lumpy figure” and a “greasy complexion” and did not display the usual feminine behaviors that were expected of women and, apparently, murderesses, in her day. Contemporary journalist Genevieve Forbes wrote in an article about the case, “Tillie Klimek went to the penitentiary because she had never gone to a beauty parlor.”
In March of 1923, Tillie was found guilty of the murder of Frank Kupzsyk. She was sentenced to life in prison, the harshest sentence that had even been leveled against a woman in Cook County.
Tillie died in prison on November 20, 1936. Nellie was later acquitted after spending a year in prison.
To learn more about Tillie Klimek, watch the “Beyond Suspicion” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Deadly Women on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Tillie Klimek [Wikimedia Commons]