This week in history: Alice Wynekoop charged with murder of daughter-in-law

On Nov. 29, 1933, a Chicago grand jury charged Dr. Alice Wynekoop with the murder of her daughter-in-law. Here’s how it went down that day.

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Alice Wynekoop in Chicago

Alice Wynekoop was charged with the murder of her daughter-in-law, Rheta Wynekoop, on Nov. 29, 1933.

From the Sun-Times archives

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

On Nov. 29, 1933, a new twist in the “operating-room murder mystery” headlined the Chicago Daily News.

That day, a grand jury in Chicago charged Dr. Alice Wynekoop, a noted physician who treated patients in her basement, with the murder of her daughter-in-law Rheta Wynekoop. The city’s most talked-about crime — at least for the moment — finally had a suspect charged and in prison.

“And so it comes to an end of another chapter in the operating-room murder mystery that started a week ago last night,” a Chicago Daily News reporter wrote that day, “when an undertaker summoned to the gloomy sixteen-room Wynekoop house, at 3406 West Monroe street, was ushered to the basement and there shown the semi-nude bullet-torn body of Rheta, lying on the operating table with a blanket tucked neatly about it.”

News reports about the grisly murder appeared in the Daily News on Nov. 22, 1933, but even though the crime occurred the previous night, the paper, which published in the afternoon, had some dramatic discoveries to disclose about the body and the investigation.

“There was one bullet wound in the back and there were fingernail marks police discovered today, about the mouth and nose, as if the slayer had clamped one hand over her mouth to silence her as he fired the gun with the other,” the reporter said.

The gun sat nearby, but Capt. Thomas Duffy, who led the search of the East Garfield Park home, “took one look at the bullet wound in the back and decided it could not have been suicide, that even Houdini himself could not have done such a trick.”

As more discrepancies piled up, the coroner called an inquest at a nearby mortuary, the paper said. Alice Wynekoop, her daughter and one of her sons attended. Earle Wynekoop, who was married to the deceased, had been delayed coming back from Kansas City, Missouri. The coroner and state’s attorney questioned police and later a witness who lived in the home as a border. Her testimony provided little use to the investigators.

Alice Wynekoop’s original statement — that she had been out shopping during the day and didn’t go to her basement surgery area until about 8:30 p.m. when she discovered the body — began to fall apart when authorities asked about a telegram, the paper reported. The delivery boy testified that lights were on in the home when he tried to deliver a telegram that afternoon, but Alice Wynekoop said the house had been dark when she arrived home. Police, however, found the telegram in the surgery area, which the doctor was unable to explain.

But authorities started to take an even harder look at Alice Wynekoop after it was discovered that a “$5,000 insurance policy with a double indemnity clause was taken out on Nov. 11, just 10 days before Mrs. Wynekoop was found.”

It took investigators a little over a week to gather enough evidence — including a confession — and bring charges to a grand jury. Now charged and imprisoned, Alice Wynekoop waited for arraignment, scheduled for Dec. 4, but she refused to wait quietly. For the duration of the trial, she and her lawyer would released many statements proclaiming the doctor’s innocence and lamenting her always-declining health.

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