The Sickening Story of Harry Powers: The Lonely Heart Killer
At the turn of the century, being single wasn’t a good time, especially if you were a woman. Widows especially had a difficult path, and many of them sought second marriages through lonely heart ads in the paper. What many women did not realize was that their search for love and security could lead them to a monster, and that was exactly what Harry Powers was.
Harry Powers was born in the Netherlands, and he came to the United States seeking a better way of life. In 1927, he found at least part of his American dream when he married Luella Strother, a well-off woman who owned her own grocery store. This already took him beyond the life of a farmer, which he was desperate to escape, but it wasn’t enough for him.
His marriage to Strother stoked a devious engine in Powers’ mind, and there he hit upon a diabolical scheme that would cause a terrible amount of death and pain to people all over the United States.
Powers, showing a lack of empathy or morals, realized that he had found a group of people who could be easily targeted. Widows at the time were often shunned by society. When a woman’s husband died, even if she had money, she would often be very lonely and extremely vulnerable in many ways.
Understanding this, Powers created ads in newspapers across the country, crafting them to be as attractive as they could be to women who were looking for a second chance at love. His first venture caught the eye of Asta Eicher, a widowed mother with three young children who lived in Illinois. Eicher left her children with a family friend in Illinois to go to visit Powers, who called himself Cornelius O. Pierson. After that point, it is unclear when she died, but it is very clear that Powers killed her not long after.
Writing as Eicher, Pierson went to retrieve her three children as well. He attempted to have one of the children cash a forged check in Eicher’s name, but when that was seen to be a forgery, he and the children hurriedly left Illinois.
Powers would do the same thing to Dorothy Lemke, an older woman living in Massachussetts. Powers convinced her to give him 4000 dollars, a fortune at the time, and then he asked her to come live with him in Iowa. She was never seen again, and Powers continued his deadly trade.
Police became suspicious when they were investigating the disappearance of Eicher and her children. They found that there was no Cornelius O, Pierson in West Virginia, but that there was a Harry Powers leaving in the area who matched that description. The police showed up to investigate, and Powers, knowing when the game was up, gave up without a word. What the West Virginia police discovered earned Powers the nickname, “the Bluebeard of Quiet Dells, West Virginia.”
Underneath the garage of the home he lived in with Luella Strother, there were two cement rooms. In one room, there was only a chair with a pipe above. That pipe could bring in poisonous gas, killing the person in the room by slow suffocation. This room was connected to the other room by a window, a place where Powers could watch his victims die. As he was questioned by the police, he would state several times that he derived sexual pleasure from the death of his victims, and that he would feel powerful as they begged for mercy.
Powers’ victims died in ways other than gassing. There was blood all over the floor of both rooms, and it soon became clear where that blood came from.
When the police began their investigation, one of the first things that they checked out was a fresh-dug ditch by Powers’ house. When it was unearthed, it revealed five bodies and the truth behind Powers’ real depravity. In the ditch were the bodies of Eicher, her children, and Lemke. It was obvious that Eicher and her two daughters had been gassed, and it was even more disturbingly apparent that her young son had been killed by a hammer. Several blows to the child’s head had caused the blood on the floor of the killing chamber, which Powers never bothered to mop up. Lemke had been strangled with a belt, and when the police recovered her body, that belt was still around her neck.
The trial of Harry Powers was so huge that a special courtroom had to be built to accommodate all of the onlookers. A crime like this one had never been seen in the sleep West Virginia town, and now it was the center of a truly dark occurrence.
During his trial, Harry Powers refused to answer whether he had killed more than the five people that were recovered on his property. He muttered, “What’s the difference if I killed five or fifty?” and given the many letters to many widows that were discovered in his possession, it is entirely possible that Powers had victims that were never found.
Powers was sentenced to death, and he was finally executed on March 19, 1932. He was led up to the gallows, where he declined to give any last words. The button was pushed at precisely 9 AM, and the Bluebeard of Quiet Dells was declared dead 11 minutes later.