In 1912, Chicago Had a One-Legged Murderous Clown

Charles Cramer and his wife in 1911 via Mysterious Chicago
Charles Cramer and his wife in 1911 via Mysterious Chicago / Charles Cramer and his wife in 1911 via Mysterious Chicago

Some people have an irrational fear of clowns, but for Chicagoans of the early 20th century, the fear was probably justified. In 1912, a one-legged murderous clown was on the loose.

That fall, wealthy heiress Sophie Singer and her fiancé moved to Chicago from Baltimore, into a house with another couple, a circus-performing duo that went by the name the Conways. Charles Conway—whose real name was Charles Cramer—was a clown who had at some point lost one of his legs in a circus accident, and walked on a wooden leg he fashioned himself. 

The Conways were con artists, who made their living off whatever they could mooch off others. When the heiress decided Chicago life might not be for her, the housemates’ relationship turned sour. One day, Singer’s fiance, Will, came home from a day of gambling to find the door to the rooming house barricaded and its lock stuffed. When he broke down the door, he found Sophie, who had been strangled to death with the clown’s handkerchief. Her jewelry was gone. 

The Conways (or rather, the Cramers) were soon caught in Charles’ hometown in Ohio. The story made national news. The trial, in 1913, was also covered in papers across the country. And it did include some tomfoolery, as Chicago-based author and tour guide Adam Selzer writes on his blog, Mysterious Chicago:

In the midst of confessing, he did a bit of clowning with reporters and police. ‘Say, Captain?’ he asked. ‘Do you know that in this case you can't hang a man with a wooden leg?’ When the Captain said he'd never heard of a law like that, Cramer said ‘You have to use a rope!’

Charles and his wife were convicted, Charles for life. But he didn’t serve his full term. In 1925—despite his presumed lack of running agility—he managed to escape from the prison farm he was working on. He was last spotted in 1929. 

[h/t: Mysterious Chicago via Time Out Chicago]