Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Arsenic Anna :The True Story of Anna Marie Hahn

Mounting Evidence

Cincinnati investigators were shocked when they discovered that a separate case, the mysterious death of 78-year-old Jacob Wagner, had ties to Anna Hahn.  Whether by accident or through unconscious remorse, Anna told investigators she had been caring for Wagner while working as a visiting nurse.  The German native and retired gardener had mysteriously died two months earlier and in his final will he left his entire estate to Anna Hahn. While the coroners report listed heart disease as the cause of death, a suspicious friend had been badgering police to investigate and an exhumation had just been granted, in order to autopsy Wagners remains.  As investigators began putting the pieces together they decided to visit Wagners neighborhood.   They soon learned that Anna had approached Wagner and claimed to have been a long lost niece.   The elderly man knew he had no living relatives and balked at her claim, but soon relented and allowed her to help him with his day-to-day chores.   Neighbors also claimed that Hahn had spent several hours in Wagners apartment after his death. Investigators soon met Olive Luella Koehler, an elderly woman that lived in the same apartment building as Wagner.  They learned that Anna had befriended the woman and on at least two occasions had brought her ice cream cone treats.   However, after eating the second cone, Mrs. Koehler became violently ill and was admitted to the hospital.   While the police almost immediately became suspicious, it is unknown whether or not the elderly Mrs. Koehler herself ever connected the ice cream with her illness.   Regardless, during her stay in the hospital, someone did in fact steal a bag from her residence, which contained an unknown amount of cash and jewelry. 

Jacob Wagner's apartment building
Jacob Wagner's apartment building (The Cincinnati Enquirer)
It did not take long for investigators suspicions to reach the media, which immediately published several stories about Hahn possibly poisoning elderly patients.  While most of the initial reports were exaggerated and full of errors, they did serve to provide the police with several promising leads.   One of those came from 62-year-old George Heis.   According to Heis, he had met Anna Hahn a year earlier.   While the two appeared to get along in the beginning, Heis claimed to have become suspicious of Anna when he became violently ill after drinking a mug of beer she pored for him.   While he had since never felt like he was in good health, it was only after seeing reports in the newspaper that he decided to come forward with his story. 

Investigators were beginning to fear Anna was poisoning her elderly patients for money and when they learned of yet another mysterious death, in which Anna was acquainted with the victim, they launched yet another investigation.   On July 6, 1937, just weeks before Annas trip to Colorado, another one of her patients, 67-year-old George Gsellman, died in his room at 1717 Elm Street.   Friends of Gsellmans told authorities he had become suddenly ill after his last visit with Anna and died shortly thereafter.   Investigators worked quickly to secure an order for exhumation and autopsy, which they were immediately granted. 

According to Michael Newton's Hunting Humans, the coroners preliminary examination of George Gsellman, he discovered a metallic poison in the body.   The substance was initially thought to be arsenic, but upon conducting further tests it was found to be croton oil, a general household remedy used during the turn of the century.   While the drug is usually not fatal in small doses, a large dose could easily kill.   Stedman's Medical Dictionary  states that the drug could cause an intense burning pain in mouth, throat, and abdomen; excessive salivation, vomiting and diarrhea with tenseness and passage of blood.   In other words, anyone taking a large dose of the drug would meet a very brutal and bitter end.

As investigators worked to gather their evidence, Philip Hahn came forward and gave them a half-ounce bottle of croton oil he had taken away from his wife when the two lived together.   Upon doing his own investigation into the effects of the drug, Philip had taken the bottle to work and hid it in a locker, suspecting that his wife had used it to poison him.  I kept intending to turn it over to police, he told the Cincinnati Post during a September 1937 interview.   A pharmacist at a drug store in North College Hill later confirmed that Anna purchased the oil on July 20, 1936.   The druggist knew Anna personally and said she had told him her husband was a German druggist who used the oil in his practice.

Because of her Colorado warrant, Anna continued to be detained by Cincinnati authorities.   While Colorado may have wanted to arrest her for theft and question her about George Obendorfers untimely death, Ohio was beginning to make their own case and they were not about to let her go.   Not yet anyway.

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