Born John Schmidt in 1855, at Horweiler, Germany, Hoch immigrated to the United States as a young man and dropped his given name in favor of assorted pseudonyms, frequently taking the name of his most recent victim . At age 51, Chicago police would dub him "America's greatest mass murderer ," but statistics remain vague in this puzzling case. We know that Hoch bigamously married at least 55 women between 1890 and 1905, bilking all of them for cash and slaying many, but the final number of his victims is a matter of conjecture. Sensational reports credit Hoch with 25 to 50 murders, but police were only certain of 15, and in the end he went to trial (and to the gallows) for a single homicide. Hoch's first -- and only legal -- wife was Christine Ramb, who bore him three children before he deserted her in 1887. By February 1895, as "Jacob Huff," he had surfaced in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he won the heart and hand of a middle-aged widow, Caroline Hoch. They were married in April, and Caroline fell gravely ill three months later. Called to her bedside, Rev. Hermann Haas watched "Huff" administer a potion that Haas believed to be poison , but the minister took no action and Caroline died days later, in agony. "Huff" cleaned out her $900 bank account, sold their house, collected $2,500 in life insurance benefits -- and vanished. Suicide was suspected, with his clothing, his watch, and a note discovered on the bank of the Ohio River, but no body was found. Hoch kept his latest victim's surname -- described by prosecutors as "a warped keepsake stored in an evil mind" -- and moved on to Chicago, finding work in the meat packing plants when he was not engaged with the business of swindling women. Selecting his victims from newspaper "lonely-hearts" columns, Hoch went merrily about his business until 1898, when he was sentenced to a year in jail for swindling a used-furniture dealer. Police Inspector George Shippy also suspected Hoch of bigamy, and murder was added to the list on receipt of a letter from Rev. Haas in West Virginia. Shippy started digging into Hoch's background, turning up dozens of missing or deserted women from San Francisco to New York City, but solid evidence remained elusive. In Wheeling, Caroline Hoch was exhumed in a search for arsenic traces, but surgeons found the body gutted, all her vital organs missing. Hoch was released at the end of his jail term, chalking up another fifteen wives before his ultimate arrest in 1905. Aware that Shippy and others were charting his movements, Hoch killed more often and more swiftly now, relying on primitive embalming fluids -- with their high arsenic content -- to cover any traces of poison in his victims. On December 5, 1904, he married Marie Walcker in Chicago, killing her almost at once. Wasting no time, Hoch proposed to his new sister-in-law on the night of Marie's death, and they were married six days after the hasty funeral. Amelia Hoch bestowed a gift of $750 on her husband, prompting him to vanish with the cash, and she immediately summoned the police. Modern science was Hoch's downfall, his late wife's mortician employing a new embalming fluid with no taint of arsenic. Medical examiners found poison in Marie Walcker's system and Hoch was charged with her murder, his photograph mailed off to every major American newspaper. In New York City, a middle-aged landlady recognized "Henry Bartels," a new tenant who had proposed marriage twenty minutes after renting a room. At his arrest, police recovered a revolver, several wedding rings with the inscriptions filed off, and a fountain pen filled with arsenic. (Hoch claimed the arsenic was purchased as a step toward suicide!) Chicago journalists dubbed Hoch the "Stockyard Bluebeard," trumpeting the speculative details of his criminal career. At trial, he whistled, hummed, and twirled his thumbs throughout the prosecution's case, apparently well pleased by his position in the limelight. On conviction of Marie Walcker's murder, he was sentenced to hang, telling the court, "It's all over with Johann. It serves me right." Mounting the gallows on February 23, 1906, Hoch maintained his innocence, declaring, "I am done with this world. I have done with everybody." As the trap was sprung, a local newsman quipped, "Yes, Mr. Hoch, but the question remains: What have you done with everybody?" Part of the solution was unearthed in 1955, when human bones were found inside the wall of a Chicago cottage occupied by Hoch. It was a meager bit of evidence, the victim unidentified, and Johann's final body count, the names and number of his murdered wives, will probably remain a mystery forever.