Herman Drenth, alias “Harry F. Powers,” startled the nation in 1931 after he confessed to the brutal murders of three women and two children. This West Virginia based traveling salesman used matrimonial correspondence agencies to ensnare lonely women, whom he robbed then murdered. Police estimated that before his arrest he had killed fifty victims, although that number seems highly doubtful. He confessed to killing only those five whose bodies were found buried next to his “murder garage,” wherein he bound and gassed his victims and watched in delight as they died. The pleasure of the sight, said Powers, “beat any cat house I was ever in.”
Powers announces himself in his correspondence form letter as a man “longing for someone to take [my former wife's] place in my heart,” and promises that his new wife “can have anything, within reason, that money can buy.” The letter begins, “My age is [blank], height 67 inches, have clear blue eyes, medium dark hair.” Powers evidently had used the letter as a model for writing to various women, no doubt adjusting his age to fit the year of writing or the age of his correspondent.
“In a shallow grave beside a garage in Clarksburg, W. Va., were found the bodies of two women and three children. In Clarksburg jail cowered a fat, beady-eyed, flabby little man, battered and bruised into a confession of his sadism. Police in many States followed clues to other crimes, other murders, all linked to Clarksburg’s “Bluebeard” and the matrimonial societies through which he operated. From his papers it was apparent he had conducted at least 115 mail-order “court ships” with lonely, foolish women. Relatives of Widow Asta Buick Eicher, 50, in Park Ridge, Ill., became suspicious when Harry F. Powers, with whom she and her three children had left home after a mail-order courtship, reappeared to claim her house.
“Letters from Powers postmarked Clarksburg, W. Va., were found in the house. Clarksburg police went to Powers’ home (not far from where famed Lawyer John William Davis once lived) and beside a windowless, cell-like garage dug up the bodies of Mrs. Eicher and her children. The two girls, 9 and 14, had been strangled; the head of the boy, 12, was beaten in with a hammer. The police arrested Powers, pounded a confession out of him. Convicts still digging in the foul trench found the body of Dorothy Pressler Lemke, a grass widow who had withdrawn $1,533 from a bank and left Northboro, Mass, with Powers a month earlier.”
Time, Sept 14, 1931
Powers was executed by hanging at Moundsville, W. Va., March 18, 1932. Press coverage of the event, naturally, was breathless.
Source: “The Literature of the American Serial Killer” By Patterson Smith, AB Bookman Publications, 1988