This week in history: Chicago serial killer Tillie Klimek dies in prison

A “merry murderess of the Cook County Jail” in the 1920s, Klimek was convicted of poisoning her third husband in 1923. She was sentenced to life in prison and died there on Nov. 20, 1936.

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The exterior of the Cook County Jail in 1929.

This 1929 photograph from the Chicago Daily News shows the exterior of the Cook County Jail. Railroad cars are visible traveling on railroad tracks in the foreground. Automobiles are parked in front of the building. Those accused of murder, like Tillie Klimek in 1926, would’ve passed through this building. From the Sun-Times archive.

Chicago Daily News

As reported in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

The Chicago Daily News, like most city newspapers of the 1920s, thrived on the sensational crimes of the day, especially those committed by women. Even into the 1930s, those women’s names remained as well known to readers as family members.

That’s why, in 1936, the Chicago Daily News ran a front-page story covering the death of one notorious Chicago serial killer: Tillie Klimek.

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“Mrs. Tillie Klimek, convicted thirteen years ago of poisoning a former husband in one of Chicago’s most sensational murder trials, died today at the woman’s reformatory at Dwight, Ill,” the paper reported.

Convicted and sent to prison for life in 1923, the 64-year-old widow killed her second husband Frank Krupezk, the report said. “She was accused of the crime when her third husband, Joseph Klimek, became ill and poisoning was suspected.”

Klimek’s trial was a media sensation, not only for her crimes but also because she didn’t act alone, prosecutors said. A March 6, 1923 story read, “Tillie Klimek and Nellie Stormer Koulik, the so-called ‘arsenic widows’ of the Polish quarter, were placed on trial to-day for the murder of one of the numerous husbands they are alleged to have poisoned.”

Prosecutors Thomas Penden and William McLaughlin said the women killed Krupezk for insurance money and later married and poisoned other husbands, the report said.

Both women faced the maximum punishment — hanging.

Want more on Tillie Klimek? Subscribe to our Afternoon Edition to get the full story in Saturday’s “This Week in History” newsletter.

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