The Arsenic Poisoning of Mabelle Badsing and
the unsolved murder in Forest Home Cemetery
Many years ago arsenic poisoning was a very convenient way of committing murder due to the fact that modern forensics technology was in its infancy. It was widely available as an odorless, tasteless, white powder that could easily be disguised in such ingredients as flour or powdered sugar. Since the effects of arsenic poisoning were cumulative you could slowly poison someone over a long period of time and many times the symptoms were misdiagnosed as kidney disease for which there was no treatment.
Karl A. Badsing used arsenic as his poison of choice. Karl was born in 1882 in Indiana, to German immigrants, Alexander and Julia (Schlinski) Badsing.
The story is best told from the end and working back. Karl married his second wife, Mabelle T. Reid, in Chicago on June 15, 1910. Karl had a retail confectionary store at 2339 W. North Avenue in Chicago and the newly married Badsings lived in the second floor apartment above the store.
On July 25th, after only a little more than a month of marriage, Mabelle became severely sickened by what Karl claimed to have been a bad batch of canned corn. Karl, who also claimed to be sickened by the corn, summoned Mabelle's mother, Leona Reid, to the Badsing home to help tend to his new wife. What the family didn't know at this point was that Karl was in the process of applying for two separate life insurance policies for $1,000 each on his beloved wife with himself as the beneficiary. After a full day, Mabelle did not seem to be getting better and the family summoned Dr Martin G. Luken to the residence. Dr. Luken began treating her for ptomaine poisoning and within a day she was feeling better so Leona Reid left her daughter in the care of her husband.
The very next morning, Badsing again made contact with Mabelle's mother and advised her that her daughter suffered from another attack and this time the illness lasted a full week. A second doctor, Dr. J.A. Gessing, was summoned and he agreed with the previous diagnosis of ptomaine poisoning. Mabelle began a slow recovery with her mother, Leona, taking care of her. On August 13th, Leona again left Mabelle in the care of her husband as she seemed to be recovering from her latest attack. That would be the last time that she would see her daughter alive.
The next day Mabelle became violently ill for the third and last time. Badsing had stated that he attempted to contact Dr. Gessing at 1:00pm but that he was out on calls and was unable to be reached. At some point, Badsing's mother, who lived at 3648 W. George St., came to the Badsing residence and was with Mabelle at the time of her death. Dr. Gessing did not respond until after Mabelle had passed. Dr. Gessing filled out a death certificate that listed the cause of death as "inflammation of the bowel".
The story may have ended there if not for the statements of family members to the police. Four days after Mabelle's death a maternal uncle, named George Gerardin, who lived at 723 West Webster, went to the West North Avenue Police Station to voice the family's suspicions. Guy Reid, the victim's brother, supported Gerardin's statement and stated that it seemed odd that the only time Mabelle became sick was when she was left alone with her husband. He also mentioned how Karl had a lack of concern about his wife because, "He just sat around the house reading papers when his wife was sick." He was also told by his sister that Mr. Badsing had hit her with a curtain pole.
One week after Mabelle's death Karl Badsing sold his candy store for $120.00, moved into a boarding house at 821 LaSalle Street and soon after fled to Otis, Indiana.
The police lured Basing back to Chicago with a decoy letter sent from one of the insurance agencies that underwrote Mabelle's life insurance. He was arrested and held without booking or immediate charges.
The coroner and Chicago Police Department quietly exhumed Mabelle's body at Oak Ridge Cemetery and a post mortem examination was conducted by Coroner's Physician Hunter and Prof. E.R. LeCount of Rush Medical School. Her stomach contents were analyzed by Dr. Walter S. Haines and were later determined to contain four grams of arsenic.
Mabelle's family also told police that Badsing, to their knowledge, had been married once before to a Mary McConnell who died in 1907. Karl indeed was married to Mary McConnell on November 9, 1905. They were living at 147 N. 19th Ave (now Broadway) in Melrose Park. The building they lived in is no longer there but is a newer building that currently is an Eagles Club Meeting Hall. After his first wife's death on October 22, 1907, which was according to newspaper accounts listed as ptomaine poisoning, he moved in with his in-laws at 910 N. 20th St. According to Census records Karl was living with his father and mother-in-law William and Robina McConnell, their 26 year old daughter Agnes and her husband, Roy Clarke as well as the Clarkes' daughters, Agnes, 4 and Mary 2. Karl was working as a probation officer for the village of Melrose Park which may be one reason that Badsing was not suspected in the death of his first wife. In fact he lived with his in-laws right up until his marriage to Mabelle.
After the coroner was informed that arsenic was found in Mabelle's stomach, preparations were being made to exhume the body of the first Mrs. Badsing. Karl Badsing got an urgent message to his first mother-in-law, Robina McConnell. In his message he stated that he wanted Mrs. McConnell to remove the sealed letter that he had placed in his first wife's coffin before she was buried and insure that it not be made public. Mrs. McConnell believed her son-in-law to be innocent and contacted the Coroner's office to say that upon exhumation of the body the letter in the coffin would be turned over to her unopened. She also contacted the management of Forest Home to tell them that no exhumation could take place without her permission.
Mrs. McConnell met the authorities at Forest Home Cemetery. Present at the exhumation were Coroner Hoffman, Dr. E.R. LeCount, Detective George Scriver, Sgt. McSwiggin of the West North Avenue Police Station, Mrs. McConnell, and Dr. O.M. Holliday of Melrose Park who had attended the first ailing Mrs. Badsing within two days of her death.
The grave was opened and the body, after three years, was badly decomposed and the clothing was almost completely decayed. What remained of her internal organs was turned over to Dr. Haines for analysis but oddly enough no letter was found! Mrs. McConnell stated that she witnessed the letter being placed in the coffin three years ago and to the best of her knowledge was buried with her daughter.
On April 21, 1911, roughly six months after his arrest, Karl Badsing was convicted of the murder of his second wife, Mabelle T. Reid, by a jury that deliberated for less than an hour. He was spared the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison. He was never charged with the murder of his first wife and the coroner listed her death as Hemorrhagic Gastritis as well as Kidney and Liver failure (all indicative of arsenic poisoning) Unfortunately, probably in part due to the poor condition of her body and to the fact that she was more than likely poisoned over a longer period of time and a measurable amount of arsenic was not found. They also didn't have the more accurate and sensitive testing procedures that we have today. In fact in a longer poisoning case the hair retains traces of the chemical which would not have been a test in 1910.
I made a trip to Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, IL upon learning of this story and visited the gravesite of Mary McConnell Badsing. Forest Home is actually a combination of German Waldheim (est. 1873) and Forest Home (est. 1876). It has many old monuments and is best known for being on the site of a Native American Burial Ground as well as the home of the monument dedicated to the martyrs of the Chicago Haymarket Labor Riots.
Originally I had gone to take photos of the McConnell markers but as I read the marker, which is a large cross and inscribed on all four sides, I noticed something that troubled me. On the south side of the marker is the name Lizzie McConnell who died at the age of 17 less than one year before Mary Badsing. I am assuming that Lizzie is a sister to Mary and the former investigator in me was wondering if Karl might have practiced on Lizzie before he attempted to kill his wife. I hope not. There is a death certificate for Lizzie that I am in the process of retrieving. It may be that Lizzie died of something not so sinister but I wouldn't be so sure.
For now an old monument stands at Forest Home Cemetery and the almost undeniable murder of Mary McConnell Badsing continues to be unrecognized. Of course another exhumation may be able to determine the actual cause of death of Mary but since the family is long since gone and Karl Badsing died in Prison in 1918 there is really no motivation to do so. Part of me is hoping that the cause of death of Mary's sister is something simple like tuberculosis or a fatal accident but time will tell. Unresolved murders are the stuff that ghost stories and legends are born from. To be continued.....