What was this story that rocked the foundation of the Alamo City and spread throughout the United States via the news services of the day? The murder of industrialist Otto Koehler made headlines throughout the Eastern Seaboard and Middle West. Along with the trial that belatedly followed, it generates more questions than have been answered.
On a November, 1914 day…the 12th to be exact, multimillionaire Otto Koehler, owner of the San Antonio Brewing Association, producers of Pearl XXX beer, gave instructions to the stable man at his palatial Laurel Heights mansion, to get his black buggy hitched to a horse. He was traveling somewhere. This act brings up the first question in this saga. Why did one of the richest men in the Southern United States, as was stated in various publications, take a buggy and not an automobile? Surly by 1914 he had one or two fine horseless carriages in his large stables. The purpose of his journey gives us a plausible answer. Otto was headed to a modest cottage on the South side of the city. The street, Hunstock Avenue, just off South Presa, was part of the Hunstock addition platted a few years prior. The cottage was originally built by W. A. Baity who had acquired the lot from a developer and erected a small six room house.
A not so guarded secret was the fact that Otto Koehler had purchased the house as a residence for not one but two of his mistresses. Title to the house was held jointly by Emma Burgemeister and Emma Dumpke (often spelled in the press and legal documents as "Dumke".) Both had been born in Berlin, Germany, were close friends, shared the same profession as nurses, and had been and still were on quite intimate terms with Koehler.
The taking of a mistress, usually one at a time, was not unusual for that period as long as the rules ofa etiquette were strictly adhered to, sort of an Eleventh Commandment, i. e., "Thou shall not be found out!" It happened all the time amongst the landed gentry and the common folk as well. Just the trappings were different. Depending on what source you choose to believe, Otto was "dumping" one mistress or recovering from being "dumped" by the other. Various other accounts relate that Dumpke (no pun intended) had dropped Otto for the admirations of another man, married him and moved to St. Louis.
It was a long drive for Koehler no matter which route he took as rush hour was just beginning in the downtown area which he had to pass through, and his horse and buggy had to compete with automobiles and streetcars. The simple conveyance, however, offered a measure of anonymity.
Arrival time of Otto at the house on Hunstock cannot be pinpointed…some said 4:30 and others gave varying times up to 5:30. Hitching his rig, he walked (some say ran) up the steps to the porch and knocked on the door. What happened after that, as related in the press the next day and three years later at the trial, provides the basis to label all of these related events a sort of tragic-comedy.
The door was opened by Dumpke and Otto asked to see Burgemeister. (Last names are used since this tale contains three women named Emma: Dumpke, Burgemeister and Otto's wife.) Koehler was informed that Burgemeister was in the bedroom resting. She subsequently entered the front room and Dumpke, for whatever reason, fled outside screaming "Emma", "Emma."
Dumpke and the neighbors would later testify that gunshots rang out. Here again, no one could actually remember with any certainty just how many shots were fired. Some said three…others four and still others said five.
Burgemeister would later relate that Otto grabbed her and began to choke her with his hands around her neck. She later changed her story and said Koehler produced a gun and threatened her as he advanced toward his very attractive paramour. The second version could be true as NO marks of any kind were found on Burgemeister's neck! We will never know what happened at that point but one thing we can be certain of is the fact that Burgemeister shot Koehler three times, once in the head, once in the stomach and again in the chest…not necessarily in that order. The coroner stated any two shots would have been fatal.
Burgemeister's next actions are questionable. One account has her raising the still smoking gun to her head and firing two shots. She missed the intended mark with one shot going through a window and hitting the house next door. Then she cut her wrist with a silver case knife (purchased by her on one of her trips to Germany with the Koehlers). At this point all we really know is that Koehler was dead, Burgemeister had a jagged cut in her wrist, and the neighbors were either calling the police, entering the house, screaming in the yard or all of the above at the same time..
Police arrived and one officer would later relate that Burgemeister was lying on the corpse of Koehler. In trial, he "could not remember" just what he saw or did.
At trial, witnesses testified that there was another man in the room, an elderly German immigrant who had lived in San Antonio for thirty years and could not or would not speak English. He needed a translator which should have been no problem considering that both Emmas were born and raised in Germany. The elderly gentleman was cradling Burgemeister's head in his lap muttering something which none of the witnesses understood.
Smith photographers arrived to photograph the scene and photos would later reveal that four bullets had found their mark inside the room. There was a second gun found on a bureau in the room. It had not been discharged. Neither weapon belonged to Koehler; in fact he had arrived unarmed! So much for Burgemeister's later claim of "self-defense." The self-confessed murderess did repeatedly tell the police: "I did it…I shot him" She was duly arrested and in light of her self-inflicted injury, taken to Baylor Hospital to have her wrist wound taken care of. Dumpke was also arrested and subsequently released.
According to some reports, Burgemeister was "heavily sedated" for three days and then transferred to jail. She was arraigned and bond was set at $7,500.00 and posted by person or persons unknown.
Burgemeister would later testify that she feared for her safety when she left custody. Her fear was justified. She had shot and killed one of the wealthiest men in the Southern part of the United States, a man with a host of wealthy and influential friends, so the prospect of her "accidently" ending up under the wheels of a southbound Hot Wells streetcar on nearby South Presa was not out of the question.
She then did what any poor, frightened mistress to the millions would do…she jumped bail, left town and supposedly stayed gone for four years. Undoubtedly she must have returned to San Antonio during that time as her signature appears on several real estate dealings in 1915. She would later testify that Koehler had given her two ten thousand dollar notes…she invested the money wisely in real estate.
Her explanation of the absence was far more heroic. She wrote to her attorney State Senator Carlos Bee that she had returned to Germany to nurse the German soldiers wounded in World War I. The explanation was a noble one, however in reality, a strange word for all of this; she had gone to New York and was engaged as a nurse. There is no validation for the previous statement, something that can be said repeatedly throughout this mini-drama.
Burgemeister's bail was revoked and she would later claim she did not know who had posted it, the names on the release were forged, she was released by "people who want to harm me" and any other number of reasons. We will never know as those records no longer exist. She would later file suit against Bexar County for return of the forfeited money.
According to some accounts, the District Attorney of Bexar County somehow found Burgemeister in New York, went there and convinced her to return to San Antonio to stand trial.
Ever one for the dramatic, Burgemeister surrendered to the District Attorney in the courtroom of the 37th District Court and was promptly re-arrested and placed behind bars. She was indicted for the murder and would stand trial.
A trial date was set, however, it was delayed because a key witness, Florence Ramer, did not wish to testify, and had fled the city (to Denison, Texas), and had to be tracked down and returned to San Antonio.
An all-male jury was chosen out of a venue of over two hundred. The gods were on Burgemeister's side, since no women could serve on a jury at that time as they did not yet have the vote.
I apologize for this "spoiler", but due to the fact that Burgemeister was found innocent, no transcript for the trial was actually retained. All that remains as to what transpired during the legal proceedings are newspaper accounts which pretty much give clues as to what actually took place.
Burgemeister retained council, M. L. Campbell, the ex-governor of Texas. One wonders how a "poor" German immigrant nurse could afford such high priced representation. A search of county deed records reveals the answer. Dumpke, now Mrs. Dashiel, of St. Louis, Missouri, had sold her half of the love nest to Burgemeister just before the murderess had left for New York. Burgemeister in turn signed all of her assets over to her Hunstock neighbor, a Mrs. Bessie Campbell whose husband was a local Justice of the Peace. She would later take the property back and use it as collateral against attorney's fees for legal services at the murder trial. While Burgemeister was allegedly living in New York, she purchased seven residential lots in the Harlandale Addition. Otto Koehler had given Burgemeister two notes for $10,000 each and the young nurse had wisely invested them. Later at the trial, she would testify that she had $5,000 in her bank account, $100,000 in 2019 dollars! So much for "poor."
Burgemeister's trial began in 37th district court on January 14, 1918…four years after Koehler's murder. Needless to say the court room was packed to overflowing and the crowds waited breathlessly for testimony to unfold.
Burgemeister's entrance can only be imaged as her wardrobe included a large hat, a veil which entirely covered her face and a fur muff. She defiantly was playing to that all male jury.
On direct examination by the District of Attorney McAskil, Burgemeister contended that she fired the gun in self-defense; however, when pressed for any details, her stock answer was "I don't know." Her defense attorney had coached her well. She was equally vague about the number of shots fired, and had no explanation as to why a pistol aimed directly at her head and fired twice missed both times. As District Attorney McAskill said to the court: "Your aim was better at Mr. Koehler than at yourself?"
The defense council objected to McAskil's statement and called it "Argumentative."
"I think so" responded the judge.
The remainder of the witnesses, all neighbors, could not agree on the number of shots fired. Five shots, four shot, or three shots…that was the question. In reality five shots were fired as all five chambers of the gun Burgemeister used were empty. Counting the three in Koehler's body, there were two more fired, the two that "missed" Burgemeister's head when she attempted to "Go with him", as stated in her testimony. Actually there were three bullet holes found in the room, so it can be safely assumed that some of the shots sustained by Koehler, went through his body and into the walls.
Testimony then centered around Burgemeister's meeting with a San Antonio attorney named Florence Ramer who retained offices in the Gibbs building. Ramer was the first woman attorney to pass the Texas Bar Exam. Burgemeister had met with her the morning of the murder. Ramer, at first, refused to answer questions claiming attorney client privilege.
"I must refuse to testify to what Miss Burgemeister said," replied the witness.
"On what grounds?"
"On the grounds that it was a privileged communication between lawyer and client."
"The court will have to pass on that," said Judge Anderson.
At this point, the jury was excused and a heated discussion between attorneys and the Judge took place. Unfortunately there is no transcript as to what was discussed, but Ramer would later answer all questions put to her by both sides.
Florence Ramer would later leave the legal profession, go to Hollywood, change her name to Florence Bates and spend the rest of her days as a successful character actress. Her most famous role is that of Mrs. Van Hopper in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller…"Rebecca."
Burgemeister's testimony to questions posed by her defense attorney, former Governor Campbell depicted the defendant as a poor German girl who had innocently been sucked into the relationship between Koehler and Dumpke. Burgemeister had left New York, for reasons of health, and come to San Antonio at Dumpke's request. Dumpke had been hired by the Koehlers to nurse Mrs. Koehler who was in a near invalid state from an automobile accident in 1907. Hours of research have found no evidence of such an accident, however, newspapers state that Mrs. Koehler required a wheel chair. Unless the house on Ashby has an elevator, Otto's wife certainly did need assistance.
Burgemeister testified that it was Koehler's idea for her and Dumpke to live together and that they owned the house jointly because Koehler thought Dumpke would leave him. Nice try, Otto. Dumpke did indeed marry and leave him, moving to St. Louis, but he had Burgemeister waiting in the wings.
If Dumpke was married and living in St. Louis, why was she there the day of the murder? A telegram from Burgemeister had invited Dumpke to San Antonio to keep her company and protect her from Koehler. Surely there must have been just a small amount of animosity between Dumpke and Koehler, but that is never mentioned at the trial.
On the witness stand, Dumpke testified that she was there only to protect Burgemeister and yet our pretty blonde headed murderess testified that she killed Koehler to protect Dumpke, married name Dashiel (some references: Doschiel), from Otto.
Burgemeister would testify that Koehler visited her "about once a week" gave her $150.00 to pay bills on the house and an extra $50.00 for incidental expenses. Along with the two $10,000 notes from Koehler, Burgemeister literally killed the goose that was laying the golden eggs!
She testified there were trips back to Germany by she and Koehler, once on separate ships, in which the relationship continued. Koehler, of course, picked up the tab. Only World War I stopped these elegant away from home trysts.
According to further testimony, Koehler's attitude towards Burgemeister was changing and she testified that he had 'changed" and "someone was working on hum." Koehler routinely took her to the St Anthony Hotel and other posh establishments for dinner, so the word discreet does not seem proper in this discussion. Fair to say, Otto's wife just might have had an inkling of what was going on.
Other testimony that Koehler had requested Burgemeister and Dumpke meet him at a brothel on Santa Rosa Street just could not be explained and neither the counsel for the defense nor the District Attorney pursued any questions concerning this incident. Burgemeister's other attorney, Florence Ramer, did attest to the meeting or at least Burgemeister's account of it.
Prosecution testimony relied heavily on Otto's friends…bankers, business partners and other pillars of the community. All related the gentle nature of Koehler and no one who testified "had ever seen him angry."
Testimony and arguments closed on the evening of January 22, 1918. It took the all-male jury three hours to reach a "Not Guilty" verdict. As they filed out of the courtroom past the defense table, each man shook Burgemeister's hand and warmly congratulated her.
A year later, in New Orleans Burgemeister married James Turley, one of the jurors at the trial. Turley owned property on the Scenic Loop, and the newlyweds lived there for a time before moving back to the cottage on Hunstock, no doubt with the bullet holes still in the walls.
The couple adopted Burgemeister's niece and nephew from Berlin and Turley's grown son, from a previous marriage, lived on the property behind the cottage.
James W. Turley died March 30, 1942 and was buried in Mission South cemetery. Burgemeister married Dave Stanley Denyven, an electrician, on November 20, 1944. . He died May 8, 1948. The couple still lived in the cottage on Hunstock.
On the morning of April 6, 1949, Emma Hedda Burgemeister Turley Denyven committed suicide in the house that Otto Koehler had purchased for her thirty-seven years prior. The death certificate lists "Asphyxiation by Gas" as the cause of death and the "Suicide" box on the form is checked.
Since her two husbands are buried side by side at Mission South, the third (unused) space was reserved for Hedda. It will always remain a mystery why the death certificate lists "Burial", however that word is marked out and "Cremation" is hand written in its place. Emma Hedda Burgemeister Turley Denyven's final resting place would have been less than a quarter mile from the obelisk that marks the grave of her victim, Otto Koehler. Then again she may not be buried alongside her husbands.
The house on Hunstock, well over a century old, still stands. Some things never change.