Harry Powers

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Harry F. Powers
1920 mugshot
Harm (Herman) Drenth

(1893-11-17)November 17, 1893
Beerta, Groningen, Netherlands
DiedMarch 18, 1932(1932-03-18) (aged 38)
Cause of deathExecution by hanging
Other namesJohn Schroeder
Joseph Gildow
Cornelius Orvin Pierson
A.R. Weaver
Criminal statusExecuted
SpouseLuella Strother
Parent(s)Wilko Drenth
Jantje Woltjer
Conviction(s)First degree murder
Criminal penaltyDeath
Victims5+2 not proven
Span of crimes
June – July 1931 (known)
CountryUnited States
State(s)West Virginia, possibly others

Harry F. Powers (born Harm Drenth; November 17, 1893 – March 18, 1932) was a Dutch-born American serial killer who was hanged in Moundsville, West Virginia.

Powers lured his victims through "lonely hearts" advertisements, claiming he was looking for love, but ultimately murdering them for their money. Davis Grubb's 1953 novel The Night of the Hunter and its 1955 film adaptation and 1991 TV adaptation were based on these crimes, with Preacher Harry Powell being the character inspired by Powers.[1] Preacher was played by Robert Mitchum in the 1955 film and by Richard Chamberlain in the 1991 TV movie. Jayne Anne Phillips's novel Quiet Dell (2013) examined the Powers case anew.

Early life[edit]

He was born as Herman Drenth in 1893 in Beerta, the Netherlands. He immigrated to the United States in 1910, first living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and then moving to West Virginia in 1926.[2]

In 1927, he married Luella Strother, an owner of a farm and grocery store, after responding to her lonely hearts advertisement. Though now married, Powers took out his own lonely hearts advertisements. 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."[2] 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.

After his 1931 arrest, police investigation using fingerprints and photographs revealed that he had been incarcerated for burglary under his birth name in Barron County, Wisconsin in 1921–1922.[3] Although not charged, Powers was suspected of involvement in the 1928 disappearance of Dudley C. Wade, a carpet sweeper salesman with whom he had once worked, and the unsolved murder of a Jane Doe in Morris, Illinois.[4]


Using the alias "Cornelius Orvin Pierson," Powers began writing letters to Asta Eicher, a widowed mother of three residing in Park Ridge, Illinois. Powers went to visit Eicher and her children—Greta, Harry, and Annabel—on June 23, 1931,[5] 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.[6] 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.[6]

Some time later, Powers courted Dorothy Pressler Lemke from Northborough, Massachusetts, who was also looking for love through lonely hearts advertisements. He brought her to Iowa to marry her and persuaded her to withdraw $4,000 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.[7]

In August 1931, police began investigating the disappearances of Asta Eicher and her children, beginning with "Pierson", who was discovered emptying Eicher's house.[8] They found love letters, which led them to Quiet Dell, where "Pierson" lived under the name Harry Powers with his wife.[8] Powers was arrested and his house in Quiet Dell was searched. Police found the crime scene in four rooms located under Pierson's 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 investigation unravel. A 15-year-old bystander informed the sheriff that he had recently helped Powers dig a ditch on his property. The freshly filled-in ditch was then dug up, and the bodies of Asta Eicher, her children, and Dorothy Lemke were uncovered.[2]

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.[2] Lemke was the last victim uncovered; she had also been strangled, with a belt still wrapped around her neck.[2] Love letters were found in the trunk of Powers' automobile. He had written back to many women with the intention of stealing their money and killing them, just as with his most recent victims.[2]

Trial and execution[edit]

Shortly following his arrest, Powers received two black eyes and bruising, allegedly from falling down a staircase during his questioning.[2] On September 20, 1931, a lynch mob attempting to take Powers from the jail was dispersed with fire hoses and tear gas.[9] Powers was then moved to the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville.

Powers' five-day trial was held at a local opera house because of the large number of spectators. Numerous witnesses testified to the evidence in Powers' home, that he had been with the victims and picked up their luggage, and so on; Powers also testified for himself. On December 12, 1931, he was sentenced to death,[2][10] and he was hanged on March 18, 1932.[6][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Harry Powers: W.Va. serial killer". skcentral.com. June 25, 2007. Archived from the original on March 28, 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Bluebeard of Quiet Dell" (PDF). Charleston Gazette. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 24, 2012. Retrieved September 26, 2011.
  3. ^ "Powers Revealed as Former Convict". Washington Post. September 17, 1931. p. 3.
  4. ^ "WC Culture". Archived from the original on January 25, 2021. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  5. ^ Erikson, Hal (2017). Any resemblance to actual persons : the real people behind 400+ fictional movie characters. McFarland & Co. p. 312. ISBN 978-1-4766-6605-1.
  6. ^ a b c "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.
  7. ^ "WOMEN: We Make Thousands Happy." Time Magazine. September 14, 1931. Sep. 27, 2011. Archived from the original on October 24, 2011.
  8. ^ a b "Lonely Hearts Murderer". NY Daily News. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
  9. ^ "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 March 24, 2014. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
  10. ^ Kreiser, Christine. Harry Powers. The West Virginia Encyclopedia. October 22, 2010. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  11. ^ "Bluebeard Dies on Scaffold, Silent to End." Camden Courier-Post. (1932): Web. Sep. 27, 2011. Archived from the original on October 24, 2011.

Further reading[edit]

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