George Schmous, a German-immigrant iron worker, lived with his wife, Catherine, and their three children on the steep slopes of the South Side. There, in the middle of the night of July 26, 1893, in “one of the most dastardly crimes ever recorded” in the area, Schmous killed his wife and two daughters, Mary and Maggie, beating them with a hatchet and a lamp while they slept, then attempting to set the house on fire to conceal the crime. The beatings were especially vicious. Neighbors intervened before the fire could spread.
The Schmous’s were poor, unhappy, and struggling. Catherine was described as having a violent temper and a “reputation as a fighter;” George was described as simpleminded. They quarreled frequently.
Schmous was immediately arrested. He confessed to firemen and police on the scene, but denied his guilt at trial. Though the motive for the crime was never clearly established, speculation focused on an insurance policy on the lives of the children. The surviving child, Johnnie, served as a key witness against his father.
Schmous was found guilty on September 23, 1893. “The defense was lame,” the Daily Post noted. His claims of insanity and imbecility were unsuccessful in gaining a new trial or a pardon, though the evidence of his mental instability was certainly present. Schmous was hanged on September 20, 1894.