|Harry F. Powers|
|Died||March 18, 1932 (aged 39–40)
Moundsville State Penitentiary, Moundsville, West Virginia, U.S.
|Other names||Cornelius O. Pierson, A.R. Weaver|
|Murder of two women and three children|
Harry F. Powers (born Herman Drenth; 1892 – March 18, 1932), also known as Cornelius O. Pierson and A. R. Weaver, was a convicted serial killer who was hanged in Moundsville, West Virginia, in 1932. He lured his victims through "Lonely Hearts" ads saying he was looking for love, but in reality intended to take his victims' money and then murder them. The 1953 novel Night of the Hunter and the 1955 film of the same name were based on the crimes of Harry Powers. In 2013, a Jayne Anne Phillips novel entitled Quiet Dell examined the Harry Powers case anew.
Herman Drenth was born in 1892 in the Netherlands. He and his family emigrated to the United States in 1910. They lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and then migrated to West Virginia in 1926. However, Herman did not want to be an immigrant farmer like his father. He wanted a higher standard of living and planned to use the resources and opportunities available in America that were unavailable in his home country to gain money. His death warrant says that he never served in the military.
In 1927, he married Luella Strother, an owner of a farm and grocery store, after responding to her lonely hearts ad in Lonely Hearts Magazine. Although he was now married, Powers decided to take out his own lonely hearts ads to gain more money and companionship. He posted false information in his ads in an attempt to capture the attention of lonely women. Many women wrote in response to his advertisement. "Postal records later indicated that replies to Powers’ advertisement poured in at a rate of 10 to 20 letters per day." Powers constructed a garage and basement at his home in Quiet Dell; the garage was later discovered to be the scene of the murders, of which he was convicted.
Using the alias Cornelius O. Pierson, Powers began writing letters to Asta Eicher, a widowed mother of three children residing in Park Ridge, Illinois. Powers went to visit Eicher and her children, Greta, Harry and Annabel on June 23, 1931 and soon left with Eicher for several days. Elizabeth Abernathy cared for the children until she received a letter saying that "Pierson" was going to come pick up the children to join him and their mother. When he arrived, he sent a child to the bank to withdraw money from Eicher's account. The child returned empty-handed because the signature on the check was forged. Powers and the children then hastily departed; he told neighbors concerned about their disappearance that they were on a trip to Europe.
Some time later, Powers courted Dorothy Pressler Lemke from Northboro, Massachusetts, who was also looking for love through lonely hearts ads. He brought her to Iowa to marry her and persuaded her to withdraw $4000 from her bank account. Lemke did not notice that instead of sending her trunks to Iowa, where Powers claimed to be living, he sent them to the address of Cornelius O. Pierson of Fairmont, West Virginia. Asta Eicher, her children and Dorothy Lemke had disappeared with no explanation.
Powers' murders began to come to light on August 26, 1931 when police started looking into the disappearances of Asta Eicher and her children. Police began by inquiring into Eicher's last known contacts, and Cornelius O. Pierson was one of them. The police soon realized that no one named Cornelius Pierson lived in Clarksburg, West Virginia but that the description matched that of Harry Powers. Powers was arrested as a suspect and Sheriff Wilford B. Grimm obtained a search warrant for his home in Quiet Dell.
Upon searching the home, police found the crime scene in four rooms located under the garage. Bloody clothing, hair, a burned bankbook and a small bloody footprint of a child were discovered. Citizens of the town began to arrive at the scene to watch the unraveling of the crimes Powers had committed. Police began to dig up a freshly filled-in ditch found on Powers' property, and the bodies of Asta Eicher, her children and Dorothy Lemke were uncovered. Evidence and autopsy results showed that the two girls and their mother were strangled to death while the young boy's head was beaten in with a hammer. Lemke was uncovered with a belt wrapped around her neck, with which she was strangled. Love letters were found in the trunk of Powers' automobile. He had written back to many women and had the intentions of stealing their money and killing them, just as with his most recent victims.
Imprisonment and trial
After Powers' arrest, thousands surrounded the county jail where he was being held on September 20, 1931 and demanded that he be given to the mob so they could serve him lynch justice. The Clarksburg Fire Department tried to use fire hoses to disperse the crowd, and eventually tear gas was used. Officials decided to move Powers to the Moundsville State Penitentiary to keep him safe and calm the crowds of people.
Moore's Opera House was used for Powers' trial, owing to the large number of people in attendance. It began on December 7, 1931 and lasted for five days before conviction. An extensive list of people testified against Powers, proving that there was evidence in his home; he had been with the victims, picked up their luggage and so on. Powers also testified for himself. On December 12, 1931, Powers was sentenced to death by hanging. Judge John Southern stated, “It is the judgment of the court that you be taken to the state penitentiary at Moundsville, there to be kept and treated in the manner provided by law and then hanged by the neck until dead on March 18, 1932 between the hours of sunrise and sunset.”
On March 18, 1932, Powers was walked to the scaffold at the Moundsville State Penitentiary to be hanged. He was told he could make a last statement, but he declined. The guard put a cap over his head and at 9:00 am, the button was pushed that dropped Powers through a trap door. After eleven minutes of hanging he was pronounced dead by the prison doctor and a doctor who witnessed the hanging.
- "The Bluebeard of Quiet Dell" (pdf). Charleston Gazette. Archived from the original on October 24, 2011. Retrieved September 26, 2011.
- "Powers Revealed as Former Convict". Washington Post. September 17, 1931. p. 3.
- "This day in West Virginia History, March 18." Jackson Newspapers March 18, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2011. Archived from the original on October 24, 2011.
- "WOMEN: We Make Thousands Happy." Time Magazine. September 14, 1931. Sep. 27, 2011. Archived from the original on October 24, 2011.
- "Mob Surrounds Jail Where Powers is Held; Attempt to Lynch West Virginia "Bluebeard" Feared—Tear Gas Keeps Crowd Back". New York Times. September 20, 1931. p. 26. Archived from the original on October 24, 2011. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
- Kreiser, Christine. Harry Powers. The West Virginia Encyclopedia. October 22, 2010. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
- "Bluebeard Dies on Scaffold, Silent to End." Camden Courier-Post. (1932): Web. Sep. 27, 2011. Archived from the original on October 24, 2011.
- Schechter, Harold. The Serial Killer Files: The Who, What, Where, How, and Why of the World's Most Terrifying Murderers. Ballantine Books, 2003. 432.
- Jarvis, Benjamin. Harry Powers: Bluebeard of Quiet Dell West Virginia State Archives Collection December 12, 1931. Web. Sep 27, 2011.
- Hiles, Joe. Harry Powers: W. Va. serial killer Serial Killer Central. Nick Jones, June 25, 2007. Web. Sep. 27, 2011.
- Phillips, Jayne Anne. Quiet Dell. Scribner Books, 2013.