The Lazy Lothario, Full Story
From: “Who Killed Cora Belle Hackett?” by Hyland J. Barnes, The Milwaukee Journal, The Green Sheet, Two Part Series Published on April 4 & 5, 1938, page 1 and page 1.
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HARRY ST. GERMAIN prodded the misshapen bundle which lay across the deserted trail.
He had been sent to this densely wooded area of the Lac du Flambeau Indian reservation near Eagle River, Wisconsin, to repair a broken telephone line and had stumbled over this mysterious object partially covered with leaves.
St. Germain dropped to his knees and began scraping away the leaves. Suddenly he drew back, shocked. He was looking at the body of a woman!
Turning from the weird spectacle, St. Germain hurried to phone Coroner Pat Gaffney. It was Sept. 30. 1930, and he had uncovered a ghastly murder that was to involve seven innocent women, a dapper Don Juan and was to send police of more than a dozen states on a nation-wide manhunt.
No Marks of Violence Seen
In a few minutes Mr. Gaffney and Sheriff S. L. Curter appeared. Together they conducted a detailed examination of the body and the surrounding area.
A perfunctory examination soon convinced them that it would be difficult to identify the body, which was clad in hiking boots, a knitted cap with a bow in front, a green slip-on sweater and a silk dress. There were no apparent marks of violence on the body.
“Can you determine the cause of death?” asked the sheriff.
“‘That will be very difficult because of the wasted rendition of the body,” the coroner answered. “My guess, however, is that the woman was well off. The clothing and gold dental-work indicate that.”
“The hiking boots Indicate she was walking in or near these woods at the time of death,” cut in Mr. Carter. “Since no person has been reported missing in this county for some time, she must have been a tourist. First we must determine how long she has been dead.”
Sheriff Carter called Dr. Edward Miloslavich, Milwaukee authority on legal medicine and criminal pathology. Dr. Miloslavich appeared the next day and after a careful examination announced:
“This woman has been dead since late In June or early In July. She is about five feet, 4 inches tall, and somewhere between the ages of 30 and 45. I cannot determine the exact cause of death at this time.”
Bullet Hole Found
Dr. Miloslavich returned to his Milwaukee laboratory with the clothing and parts of the body to complete his examination. Meanwhile, Sheriff Carter undertook a systematic canvass of the many resorts In Vilas County with the hope of obtaining a clue which might lead to the identity of the dead woman. Back in Milwaukee Dr. Miloslavich made two significant discoveries. A small round hole in the base of the skull Indicated the woman had been shot down from behind. The position and course of the bullet suggested that the death weapon had been held in the hands of a person as short or shorter than the victim.
He also found a faded label on the girdle telling where the garment was bought in Chicago.
While Sheriff Carter hurried to consult the Chicago missing persons bureau, Milwaukee newspapers published a description of the dental work of the slain woman and requested all dentists familiar with the description to report to authorities.
Both steps proved fruitful. In Chicago, Sheriff Carter learned that a Mrs. Cora Belle Hackett, 42-year-old widow, had been reported missing by a friend, Mrs. W. H. Rogers, on July 10, 1030. Her description tallied perfectly with that of the slain woman.
Enter George Perry
In Milwaukee, Dr. J. C. Rupert came forward. After examining the skull for several minutes he announced: “This skull is positively that of Mrs. Cora Belle Hackett, who has been living In Chicago. I recognize the gold inlays on this lower left cuspid and on this lower first molar as my work. The general dimensions of the jaws are also characteristic of Mrs. Hackett.
With the victim positively identified as Mrs. Hackett, police of Vitus County, Milwaukee, and Chicago settled down to untangle the clues in this murder mystery.
The first tangible lead came from the slain woman’s friend. Mrs. Rogers, who told Lieut. Joseph Starshak that on June 11, 1930, Mrs. Hackett answered a want-ad in a Chicago newspaper for a woman traveling companion.
“She arranged an appointment with the advertiser and expected to meet a woman. Instead, a George W. E. Perry appeared and told Mrs. Hackett that he was negotiating for his wealthy aunt, who lived In California,” Mrs. Rogers said.
Perry flashed a pleasing smile, an ingratiating personality, an affable appearance and a cultured approach. Launching a whirlwind romance, the glib-tongued stranger swept the dazed widow off her feet. Four days after they met they were married -despite the fact that Perry admitted he was unable to support his wife.
Mrs. Hackett’s new husband, however, easily hurtled that minor obstacle. He said that his fabulously rich aunt promised him $50,000 if he would marry and substantiated his assertions by producing legal papers from his aunt.
Another Mrs. Perry
“On June 22 they left for a honeymoon to northern Wisconsin in Mrs. Hackett’s sedan,” continued Mrs Rogers. “Cora Belle wrote me several times from her honeymoon cottage near Eagle River, Wis. The last time was July 6.
“Suddenly her letters stopped coming and my letters were returned. I did not become alarmed until I received a letter from a Mrs. Katharine Gebhardt Perry of Cleveland Inquiring about Mrs. Hackett and her husband.
“I learned from her that on July 7 her husband, George W. E. Perry, had dropped a suitcase of women’s clothes at her home, informing her that his ‘Aunt Cora’ had given him the clothes to be distributed to the needy. Because Cora was Mrs. Hackett’s first name, I become alarmed and reported her disappearance to the Chicago Police.”
Lieut. Starshak immediately communicated with Dist. Atty George O’Connor of Eagle River, who set out to discover what happened to the newlyweds after July 6. His investigations led him to the Parker resort on Lac du Flambeau.
“A Mr. and Mrs. George Perry came her on their honeymoon on June 22 and left suddenly on July 6,” Mrs. Parker told him after consulting her records.
“Did they leave together?” Interrupted O’Connor,
Where is Your Wife?
“Not exactly. On the morning of July 6 they were going for drive and a walk in the woods. I loaned her a pair of boots so she wouldn’t tear her stockings. At about 11 a.m. Perry returned alone and began to pack hurriedly. —Where’s your wile?’ I asked.
“’Oh, she finally found those friends she’s been looking for,’ he replied. ‘She went on to Mineoqua with them and I am getting our things to take to her.’
“He crumpled his wife’s clothes into the suitcase hastily and I asked, ‘What about my boots?’
“‘Oh, we’re coming back this way after a week. We’ll return the boots then and stay a few days with you,’ he replied. He paid the bill, loaded the bags into the automobile and drove away. I never saw him or his wife again.”
Mr. Parker verified his wife’s statement. “Perry asked me several times about the wildest parts of the country, places where there are few inhabitants. He said he wanted to show Mrs. Perry.”
“Did Perry ever carry a gun when he went on these walks?” O’Connor asked.
“Yes. He borrowed my rifle, the morning he left. He said he wanted to do a little shooting. After he came back from that walk alone, he handed me the gun and said, ‘Chief, that’s a wonderful little gun.’ Then he packed and left in a hurry.”
Before O’Connor left the Parker Resort he checked the cottage where the Perry’s had been staying. In a drawer he found a sheet of correspondence paper with the engraved bending. “Cora Belle Hackett, 2970 Sheridan Rd., Chicago.”
There was no question now that George Perry held the key to the solution of this murder. But had he murdered his pretty wife? Indications pointed toward it but O’Connor had nothing but circumstantial evidence, much of it hearsay.
Two days later his suspicions were completely confirmed when the report of Lt. Starshak came through from Cleveland. Starshak had interviewed Mrs. Katherine Gebhardt Perry and she told him a significant story.
“I met George Perry In December, 1929 and we were married a few weeks later,” she said. “He told me he was not permitted to work but that his rich aunt had promised him $50,000 after he had been married a year. He showed me a letter to back up his statements.
“He lived with me until June 5 when I told him he would have to make some financial arrangement with his family or go to work. On June 11 he told me he was going to Chicago to see his aunt’s bankers and I gave him money for the trip. I received letters from him frequently and on June 17 he wrote me that his Aunt Cora had given him an auto.
Man Hunt Is On
“At 4 a.m. July 7, I received a long distance phone call from Perry. He said that he was just outside of Milwaukee and had the car but no money. He pleaded with me to take him back, and I told him to come to Cleveland and we would talk it over. ‘The next day he arrived and gave me a suitcase full of clothes marked “C. B. H.” He said it was given to him by his aunt, Cora Belle Hackett, for distribution among the needy. He remained in Cleveland until Aug. 12, when he suddenly drove away with the explanation that he had obtained a job chauffeuring for a rich woman. I haven’t seen him since.”
An soon as this information reached Dist. Atty. O’Connor, he swore out a warrant charging Perry with first degree murder and prepared to launch a man hunt for the scheming bigamist. Milwaukee, Chicago and Cleveland police were asked to co-operate in finding Perry. Photos and descriptions of Perry were distributed to all police headquarters and newspapers in the middle west.
The intensive hunt was just getting under way when a frail, undernourished woman walked into the office of Dist. Atty. George A. Bowman of Milwaukee.
“I am Mrs. Mary Perry,” she began. “George Perry is my husband and the father of my three children. He deserted me in August, 1929, just before my last baby was born.”
Her startling revelation added abandonment charges to murder and polygamy. Bit by bit his incredulous career was being pieced together.
In August, 1929, he left his legal wife who lived at 1117 W. Pierce Str., Milwaukee and In January, 1930, he married Katharine Gebhardt in Cleveland, Ohio. In June he married and apparently murdered Cora Belle Hackett.
But where was he now? Three months had elapsed since he had told Katharine he had a job chauffeuring for a rich woman. Was the rich woman real and if so was she another of his victims by now?
Wanted for Murder
In the lobby of a St. Louis hotel one evening a few days later a guest was reading the afternoon paper. Suddenly a strangely familiar face stared at him from the page. “Wanted for Murder in Wisconsin,” it read. That face—where had he seen it before? Recently, it seemed. A figure hurried past him. He looked up and recognized another resident of the hotel. Quickly he glanced at the newspaper photo again. The guest and the murder suspect were one and the same!
He hurried to the phone and called police, who rushed a squad car full of detectives to the hotel. But the wily Perry was a step ahead of the law. The police found two packed suitcases in his room but Perry had flown.
Authorities reasoned that the glib-tongued Romeo could not have gone very far. They threw a guard about every plane, bus and train terminal, as well as all roads, but Perry had apparently slipped through. Two hours later they picked up his trail.
Another Wedding Day
In searching the luggage that Perry left behind, police found a wire sent from Blytheville. Ark., that morning. It read: “Hope you are well. Expect to be In St. Louis soon to spend a few days with you.—Dorothy Davis.”
Dorothy Davis, they reasoned, was probably another woman upon whom Perry was trying to work his spell. It was logical to believe that he had headed for Arkansas to continue his efforts.
While Blytheville police were on the lookout for Perry, Mrs. Dorothy Hagerty, a St. Louis widow, walked into police headquarters and announced that George Perry and she were to have been married that day.
“I met him through a want ad in which somebody advertised for a woman traveling companion. Mr. Perry told me he was heir to an $875,000 estate but could not got it until he had been married a year. He asked me to marry him and wanted me to lend him $3,000 for the wedding and honeymoon. We were to have been married last Saturday but for some reason he postponed it until today.”
At Blytheville, police learned that Perry’s coupe, the one that had belonged to the slain woman, was in a local garage. Perry then was probably heading this way to pick up his automobile and make his escape. He was walking straight into a trap.
But the elusive polygamist was not as easy to catch as that. He slipped through the guard watching the bus depot and 15 minutes later was seen trying to thumb a ride to Memphis.
Several hours later he appeared at a filling station in Arkadelphia, Ark., but by the time police were summoned Perry had fled. He was next seen in Hot Springs driving a sedan bearing a Texas license and heading south.
Wires were flashed to every nearby town and county to hold all cars with Texas license plates and all men answering the description of Perry. Posses blocked all roads leading from the state. Perry would not escape them this time.
But he did. He was being pursued out of Hot Springs and police were blocking all roads. Yet he disappeared as completely as if he had been swallowed by an earthquake.
A week slipped by, but Perry was still at large. In Eagle River Dist. Atty. O’Connor continued to gather the evidence which would convict Perry, once he was nabbed. The spot where Mrs. Hackett’s body was found was carefully sifted and a gold wedding ring was found. The ring was traced to the jeweler who had sold it to Mrs. Hackett. Mrs. Parker, the wife of the resort owner, also identified the boots the slain woman was wearing as those she had loaned her the day of the murder.
And while the police of every state in the nation were on the lookout for the swashbuckling blue-beard, he went merrily on his way laying siege to the hearts and pocketbooks of women victims. Wives No. 4, 5 and 6 popped up in St. Louis, El Donnie, Ill., and Midland, Tex.
Went Right On
In each case the approach was fundamentally the same. A want ad in a newspaper would bring replies from several eligible women. Choosing the one with the most ready cash, Perry would launch a whirlwind romance which would usually, culminate in marriage. He would insist that he was to inherit anywhere from $50,000 to $875.000 within a year and presented forged papers to verify his assertions.
As soon as his latest wife transferred her money to him, the debonair ladies’ man would disappear and head for his nest victim. His photo was prominently displayed on all police bulletin boards, but Perry still laughed at the law.
Six months skipped by. On May 19, 1931, Inspectors Robert Hughes and James P Johnson of the San Francisco Police were thumbing through the photographs of wanted criminals. When they came upon the photo of George Perry, Johnson cried:
“Isn’t this the man we questioned in connection with an automobile accident about a month ago?”
“It certainly looks like him Let’s pick him up,” suggested Hughes. Together they dashed to the home of the suspect, who had given his name as Frank J Moran.
“Perry, you’re under arrest for the murder of Corn Belle Hackett!” barked Hughes.
The suspect smiled disarmingly “There must be some mistake, gentleman,” he said. “My name is not Perry. I’m Frank J. Moran, a labor union agent.”
At headquarters the suspect denied all knowledge of the crime. He insisted he had been living at New Orleans during the last several years and that the resemblance between George Perry and himself meant nothing.
He elected to fight extradition, but to his identity was not long in coming. Wisconsin officials forwarded fingerprints, still on file from the days when Perry was sentenced to a reformatory for burglary. The fingerprints checked with “Moran’s.”
Finally Perry confessed his identity. “All right,” he said defiantly. “I’ll admit I’m George Perry, but I did not kill Cora Belle Hackett. When I loft her she WAS angry with me, but she was still very much alive.”
He boasted of his success as a ladies’ man. “Give me just two weeks with any woman in the world and she will give me the key to her heart,” he flaunted. “After all, I can’t be blamed for marrying all these women. What’s a popular man going to do? I have to please the women, and they are always chasing me.”
Always a Gentleman
It was difficult to believe that this swaggering egotist with the bald plate, wall-eye and glistening gold teeth could so completely dupe women—respectable, educated, refined women. But with the arrival of a girl reporter, Perry underwent an amazing transformation. The surly, glowering appearance vanished. He perked up, turned on a dazzling smile. Yes, certainly he would answer questions. After all, he was a gentleman among gentlemen.
Here was the George Perry who could bewitch women into marrying him He talked freely and proved to be a good conversationalist. His face was full of expression, he fairly radiated charm.
On July 28, 1931, the genial, smiling Perry went on trial for first degree murder. But the arrogant smile gave way to a worried frown as witness after witness came to the witness stand and tightened the threads in the web of guilt enmeshing him.
Desperately he took the stand in his own defense. Tearfully he told the jury how he confessed to Mrs. Hackett that he was a bigamist and how his bride insisted that they must part. He sobbed as he described kissing his “want-ad bride” farewell and leaving her standing on the roadside, unharmed.
Murder in the First Degree
His performance did not ring true. The jury listened attentively but filed into the jury room with the words of Special Prosecutor A. J. O’Melia still ringing in their ears: “He has sat through this trial with the air of a man who is the hero of a play. I demand immediate conviction for this man without a conscience, who roamed the fields of lust, who never hesitated to sacrifice his wife and children and the happiness of gullible women for his own selfish end!”
Forty-two minutes later the jury returned a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. Perry sank to the floor, his head in his hands, as Judge C. M Davison sentenced him to life Imprisonment at the state penitentiary at Waupun.
Justice had finally caught up with debonair Don Juan. Should he be pardoned sometime in the future, he will immediately be arrested and successively tried for bigamy in five states. The law is taking no chances on turning the marrying Perry loose on society again.