The "Beautiful Blonde" Serial Killer

by Jay Robert Nash

Anna Marie Hahn (1906-1938) was a pleasant-faced woman in her early thirties and, to all who knew her, she appeared to be a giving and caring person. "Why, she wouldn't harm a fly I thought when we first met," said an elderly man, who narrowly escaped her murderous machinations. "Only the Devil would know that she would kill anyone for money—and did!"

The German-born Anna moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband, Phillip Hahn, and their young son, Oscar, in 1929. The couple had married in their native Germany in 1924, and migrated to America when her husband found work as a telegrapher. With her rich contralto voice and her plump, blonde good looks, Hahn delighted the elderly German men in the immigrant community, especially when she visited the many German beer gardens in the city. She sang the old Bavarian beer ballads, moving table to table to sweetly smile and warble to her aging glass-clinking admirers.

Serial killer-for-profit Anna Marie Hahn was the first woman to be exe
Serial killer-for-profit Anna Marie Hahn was the first woman to be executed in Ohio. (image from the Jay Robert Nash Collection)

Many of these elderly German-American men were ailing and the ever-caring Anna Marie Hahn volunteered to look after them, despite the fact that she had no formal training as a nurse. One by one, however, under Anna's "loving care," these men began to die. Relatives grateful for the unstinting care Hahn lavished upon her "patients," paid the self-appointed nurse thousands of dollars from the estates of the deceased.

In 1933, Ernest Kohler died while under Hahn's care, and left her a large boarding house. Dr. Arthur Vos, a resident, who kept an office in that house, soon found several blank prescription forms missing from his desk. He complained to the new owner, Anna Hahn, who shrugged and suggested "maybe one of your patients took them."

As the Depression deepened, Anna Hahn continued in her role of "an angel of mercy," by flitting from one house to another to nurse ailing, elderly men. Despite her indefatigable efforts, they died like flies. On June 1, 1937, 68-year-old Jacob Wagner became Hahn's patient. He died on June 2, 1937. Days later, 70-year-old George Opendorfer, seventy, died under Hahn's care. The fact that both men had died after acute stomach pains and vomiting was brought to the attention of Cincinnati Police Chief Patrick Hayes.

Chief Hayes ordered an autopsy of Wagner's body, and poison was found. Several other bodies were exhumed—the cadavers of Hahn's "patients," and it was discovered that four types of poison were present in these corpses. Subsequent autopsies of Hahn's other patients, including a man named Palmer and another patient named George Gsellman, sixty-seven, revealed more evidence of arsenic and croton oil.

Hayes summoned Hahn to his office, where he questioned the woman. She appeared indignant at the suggestion that she had anything to do with the deaths of these elderly gentlemen. "I love to make old people comfy," she told Hayes. Because these grateful old men left her their worldly goods and fortunes was not a reason to think ill of her, she said. The poor old fellows died from dysentery, she said, or something like that. However, when Hayes pressured her, she admitted that the number of men dying under her care in such short order was "very peculiar, but why pick on me, chief?"

Hayes stared back at her and finally said: "We searched your place, Mrs. Hahn and we found enough poison to kill half of Cincinnati."

Anna Hahn's lips quivered and she then burst into tears, sobbing: "I have been like an angel of mercy to them. The last thing that would ever enter my head would be to harm those dear old gentlemen."

Her fate was sealed when her husband, Phillip Hahn, went to officials to inform them that not only had his wife stolen the prescription forms from Dr. Vos, but had had their 12-year-old son Oscar fetch the poisonous prescriptions from pharmacists. He went on to state that his wife had twice attempted to insure him for more than $25,000, but that he had refused. Shortly after that refusal, he said, he grew ill, having the same symptoms as the old men Anna had nursed. Somehow, he said, he miraculously survived the poison she had administered to him through meals. Anna Marie Hahn was then charged with several murders.

At her trial, Anna's history of theft, adultery, and forgery was brought out by her own defense lawyers, including Hiram Bolsinger, in an attempt to establish robbery, not murder, as her motive for her dealings with the old men. However, the defense's strange arguments only fixed more guilt upon their defendant.

Dubbed "the beautiful blonde killer" by the press, Anna played to the newspapers throughout her trial, especially the sob-sister columnists of that day. She gave interviews in her cell, explaining in detail how she patiently plumped pillows for those "dear old men," holding their quivering hands "hour after hour" while she sat at their sickbeds. "Most of their minds had faded, poor darlings," she said, "but I tried to bring some comfort and joy to them in their last moments. Sometimes I would chuck their chins or tickle their ears to get them to laugh."

Hahn was convicted and sentenced to die in the electric chair. The night before her execution, on December 7, 1938, Hahn refused to see her husband or son, but threw a farewell party for the news persons, who had covered her trial, treating them to punch and cakes in her cell.

"You gave me a good show at my trial," Hahn told the sheepish-looking reporters. "The least I could do was to throw a bash for you. I guess I'm not much like a 'beautiful blonde' now, huh? Well, give me a good write-up when it's all over." None of these reporters attended her execution early the next morning. They had turned back their passes to the prison warden. The 32-year-old Hahn was the first woman to die in the electric chair in Ohio. She had murdered an estimated fifteen men.