Crazy Man, Jacob Schmitz, 1873
The recent Audrey Seilor disappearance brings to mind another incident that caused great excitement in Madison, partially stirred up by a reporter for the Madison Democrat.
On April 21, 1873, the newspaper noted that Jacob Schmitz, a tailor who lived and worked at 10 State Street, had disappeared six months earlier. According to various sources, his wife claimed he’d gone to California, gone to Europe, or had been killed for his money. In addition to these inconsistencies, Mrs. Schmitz kept the window shades pulled down and would admit no one to her house. A Democrat reporter’s rap at the door was answered by a little girl who said her father had gone to California and her mother was uptown and wanted no one in the house. But, said the reporter, he saw Mrs. Schmitz peeking through the curtains. The law should search the house, for he suspected foul play.
The following day the reporter brought policeman Buckley to the house. Mrs. Schmitz was outside. They approached her, “the policeman in front, the reporter behind him, since she was rumored to be crazy and carrying a pistol.” The officer tried to get in the house but the door was locked. Mrs. Schmitz said her husband had told her to let no one in when he left, since if she let a man in it would ruin her reputation. She said Jacob had gone to California and three weeks later a stranger had come to Madison to inform her that her husband had been murdered there.
The newspaper reported rumors that Mrs. Schmitz had killed her husband, burned him in the stove, then burned sugar in the house to remove the smell. Neighbors believed the “strong, hearty” Mrs. Schmitz was “fully able to dispose of her better half,” a small, slender man, “if she felt inclined.”
It was feared that Mrs. Schmitz would try to flee town via the eastbound train. Deputy Sheriff Bird followed her when she went out later in the afternoon and arrested her near the UW (in the exact opposite direction of the eastbound depot from her home). She was promptly jailed.
The “greatest excitement was awakened in the city.” All afternoon scores of boys and men surrounded the Schmitz house, examining ashes for evidence of a bloody homicide. About 3 p.m. Bird and Policeman Dyke forced a window at the house and went in. They were assailed by Mr. Schmitz, armed with an axe and butcher knife. Dyke was severely wounded. Bird saved Dyke’s life by blocking the second axe blow with his arm and wrestling the weapon from the raving man. Schmitz was led out before the dumbfounded crowd to be examined by the court. “Doubtless,” reported the Democrat, “both the man and wife will be judged more or less insane.”
The next day the reporter interviewed them in jail. Mrs. Schmitz said her husband was in poor health. Recently he had lost a house to foreclosure and it preyed on his mind. He feared if he went outside he’d be arrested and have his money and property taken from him in a lawsuit. He therefore forbade his wife from going anywhere or letting anyone in. She kept his condition a secret so he wouldn’t be sent to the “crazy house.” Mr. Schmitz said he had never hurt anyone until he saw two men breaking into his house, which he insisted they had no right to do. The reporter concluded they were both mentally deranged, that the wife was the more dangerous, and that they should both be confined in the Insane Asylum.
The next day Jacob Schmitz was sentenced to the Insane Asylum. Eva Schmitz, his daughter, who had been missing since her mother’s arrest, was found in a house near the Fair Grounds (now the Alliant Energy Center), “where she was kindly taken care of.” Naturally, her mother was overjoyed to see her. They returned home, and “have opened the windows for the first time in a year.”