When 47-year-old William Krauss married 26-year-old Rae Andermann, it would be natural to think Rae would take on the role of the evil stepmother to 18-year-old Crystal. But she was anything but. Then Crystal died suddenly under mysterious circumstances.
Louise and William Krauss were the perfect couple. There wasn’t a person in their community that had a bad word to say about them. He ran a successful drugstore in Hartford City, Indiana, while she was the dutiful wife who loved socializing. Whether it was a birthday party for their young daughter, Crystal, or an American-themed party complete with a live orchestra playing patriotic songs, the couple’s home was always filled with friends and family. (1) (2) (3) (4)
But tragically, on December 16, 1894, after a sudden and brief illness, Louise died. She was only 33 years old. William was now in charge of raising 8-year-old Crystal. (5)
The couple’s daughter, Crystal, grew up and followed in her mother’s socializing footsteps. Like her mother, no one had a bad thing to say about her. She often threw lavish parties for all of the young people of Hartford City and nearby Bluffton. (6)
Likewise, the Andermann family was prominent within their community in Licking, Indiana. And they were avid Methodist churchgoers. The family matriarch, Sarah nee Drake, was passionate about charity work in the name of the church. She was incredibly committed to building a local hospital for the “unfortunate poor”. (7) (8)
Meanwhile, her husband, Fred, worked as a well-respected local veterinarian. Rae, their daughter, was an active member of the Hartford City chapter of the Epworth League, a Methodist Church youth group. (9)
William and Rae first crossed paths in 1894, when he hired her as a clerk at the drugstore he owned. At the time, she was 17 and he was 40. How long she worked at the drugstore and if the two stayed in contact afterward is unclear. (10)
Nonetheless, the two were eventually engaged in early 1904.
By this time, Crystal was 18, Rae was 26 and William was 47. And, frankly, Crystal was not a fan of her dad marrying a woman so much younger than him. But William was dead set on marrying her. He was willing to do anything to get her blessing. The only thing that would get Crystal to agree was for him to write a new will.
Finally, with his daughter’s blessing, William and Rae were married on June 11, 1904, in a small ceremony at Rae’s father’s home. (11)
Rae quickly took over the role of stepmother. And despite Crystal’s initial reservations about the marriage, it seemed the two got along well. It wasn’t unusual for the two to spend their days shopping, cooking meals or sewing clothes.
There was just one thing Crystal couldn’t stand about her new stepmother. Her cooking. It was awful. She often complained to friends that meals never tasted quite right. Most times, it was so bad she couldn’t eat it. (12)
Her dad’s marriage to Rae didn’t slow down Crystal’s social life. She still continued to throw and attend several parties a week. At one of these parties, she met a young man named Jim Cronin. The two hit it off and quickly became an item.
Everyone loved him. Everyone except William. He was adamant that the two break up. In a letter, he asked Jim to stop coming around the house. Jim, not wanting any trouble, obliged. (13)
When Crystal found out, she was furious. She demanded to know why William was so against Jim. William told her that when he was gone, she’d understand. To that, Crystal replied, “You’ll live longer than me.” (14)
Nevertheless, Jim was unable to keep his promise to William and he and Crystal started seeing each other in secret. (13)
She Was Probably Just Anxious
Her busy social life, coupled with the drama between her dad and Jim, began to take a toll on her health. At the end of July, she was feeling incredibly rundown and tired. Everyone told her all she needed was some rest and to spend some time at home.
She laid low for the next few days, with Rae attending to her every need. But she just wasn’t getting better. So, on Saturday, July 30, she paid a visit to her father’s drugstore, complaining about feeling nauseous. William offered to get her some medicine to make her feel better. (13)
The next day, she was feeling so much better that she was able to go for a horse ride with a friend. Then later she went shopping with Rae. (15)
But by Monday, she was feeling nauseous again. Rae, the ever dutiful stepmother, stayed by her side, taking care of her the entire time. On Tuesday morning, August 2, she was so ill she couldn’t keep anything she had eaten down. When she tried to drink a glass of milk, it came up in chunks. (16)
Crystal knew something was seriously wrong. And by the afternoon, she was incredibly anxious. Finally, a doctor was called. After quickly examining her and noting her frame of mind, he told her she was probably just overly anxious and prescribed her a sedative to calm down. Then left. (17)
Just moments later, Crystal began convulsing and was violently ill. Two more doctors were called. They immediately suspected that Crystal had been poisoned.
An hour and a half after the two doctors arrived, Crystal died.
Immediately, Rae told doctors that she suspected that Crystal had intentionally taken poison. Or, she pondered, maybe it was heart failure.
The coroner was called and he and the doctors conducted a search of the house but weren’t able to find the poison or any other clue as to why she would have done this.
About an hour later, Rae showed the coroner a bottle filled with dangerous rat poison and a note. The note was found in Crystal’s bed and was apparently written by Crystal. It read, “Papa, I can’t live without Jim.”
However, the note didn’t satisfy investigators. Instead, it roused their suspicions. After all, they had already searched her bed and found nothing. How was Rae able to find it?
As their investigation continued throughout the day, Lloyd Sommerville, the milk delivery boy, had something to tell them. He said that on Monday, Rae had asked him to pick something up for her at Logan’s Drug Store. He said she emphasized that it was to be Logan’s Drug Store and not her husband’s.
At the drug store, Lloyd handed over a note Rae had given to him. The pharmacist sent Lloyd back with a box and told him to be very careful with it because there was a very dangerous poison inside. She paid him 5 cents to run the errand. (11)
After investigators obtained the note from the pharmacist, they noticed that the handwriting in that note and the one that had been found in Crystal’s bed were the same.
They figured only one person had written both notes. Rae. (18)
In front of a crowd of neighbors, she was arrested for the murder of her stepdaughter. (11)
Laid to rest
Rae fervently denied that she had anything to do with the death of her stepdaughter. In fact, she had been so affected by her death that she hung a picture of Crystal in her jail cell. (19)
As for Lloyd, the milk boy, she said he must have been mistaken. She never gave him a note to give to the pharmacist. She claimed to have never even met Lloyd. Plus, the note was signed by her neighbor, Mrs. Shewalter, he must have gotten the two women confused. However, Mrs. Shewalter denied sending the note.
And the Krausses’ neighbor Clara Hurley said she saw Rae give Lloyd a note on Monday.
On August 5th, Crystal Krauss was laid to rest in front of hundreds of Hartford City residents. William was so overcome with emotion that he collapsed on his way out the door to attend her burial and had to be carried out to the carriage. (20)
Stands by His Wife?
Through her months of jail time, Rae stayed remarkably calm. She was less concerned about herself and more concerned with her husband’s well-being. She was quoted multiple times as saying, “If only they would allow me to go home to Will, it wouldn’t be so bad. My place at this time should be with him.” (20)
William, for his part, visited Rae in jail every day. And told anyone who would listen that he didn’t believe Rae had anything to do with Crystal’s death. He said Rae had no motive to do it. After all, his will was written in such a way that even if Crystal and he had died, Rae was only entitled to $2,000, no more and no less. (12)
The relationship between Crystal and Rae? As far as he knew, it was perfect. And if it wasn’t, he was sure Crystal would have told him if they had any problems.
He didn’t think it was suicide either. He couldn’t think of any reason that she would have ended her own life. He even went as far as saying he didn’t think she had ingested any poison at all. (20)
William wasn’t the only one with his doubts about the suicide theory. Crystal’s friend, Eulla Martin, said that the note Crystal supposedly left behind didn’t make any sense. She had just seen Crystal on the Saturday before she died. Crystal was in great spirits because her dad had apparently had a change of heart about Will. He had just given his blessing for her to continue to see Jim. Eulla said she was ecstatic because she didn’t have to go behind her father’s back anymore.
She also noted that she had seen Crystal just hours before she died and the two made plans to meet the next day. She questioned why she would make plans for the next day if she hadn’t planned on being alive anymore. (16)
The Grand Jury was called in October of 1904, two months after Rae was originally arrested.
The prosecution presented overwhelming evidence; the supposed suicide note and the note given to the pharmacist were in the same handwriting. Their star witness Lloyd, the milk boy, stuck by his story that Rae gave him a note to bring to the pharmacy. And the pharmacist told him to be careful because the package had poison in it. (21) (22)
On October 27, the grand jury had an indictment. First-degree murder. If convicted, Rae could be facing life in prison. (23)
But a day after the indictment, she had a surprise that would shock the entire state of Indiana.
She confessed to killing Crystal.
It turned out William had suspected his wife all along. Those daily visits to her in jail were a plan between him and the prosecutor to convince her to confess. And finally, she did.
The way she told it, she just wanted William to be happy. And she knew he’d never be happy as long as Crystal continued to see Jim, even if he had given his blessing for the two to continue to see each other. The only way she could think to put an end to the relationship was to get rid of Crystal. That’s when, according to her, some demon took control and the harder she tried to fight it, the harder the demon controlled her.
On the evening of August 1, the demon was too strong to fight. That’s when she asked Lloyd, the milk boy, to pick up the poison from the pharmacy for her. She put the poison in a capsule and gave it to Crystal. Then, she watched as Crystal almost immediately became ill and died.
Rae was sentenced to life in prison. (24)
William wants a divorce
In the fall of 1909, five years into her prison sentence, William filed for divorce. In response, Rae had a shocking allegation.
She wasn’t the one who killed Crystal. It was William and her confession was fake. In fact, she hadn’t even written it. William had.
To her credit, at the time of her confession, it had been reported that the prosecutor wrote it for her and she copied it in her own handwriting, which could signal to jurors that she had been set up.
She went on to claim the only reason she agreed to confess was because William had promised her that he would get her pardoned after two years. (25)
Instead of a regular divorce hearing, it was, essentially, a murder trial.
Rae and her attorney claimed that William was the mastermind behind Crystal’s murder. And it was all because he didn’t want to see her with Jim anymore. He even told her, “I would rather see her in her grave than see her marry James Cronin.”
It wasn’t long before he started planning the murder. According to Rae, William made her write the note to send for the poison. But it was William, the trained pharmacist, who put it into the capsule and gave it to Crystal under the guise of it being medicine.
As her condition worsened, the couple tried to come up with a story to explain her sudden death. William, Rae claimed, then came up with the idea to fake a suicide. (26)
To strengthen their case against William, Rae’s attorneys claimed he had never cut ties with Rae and still loved her even after she had been convicted of killing his daughter. To prove it, they showed letters William had written through the years where he said he wished he was with her in prison and that he wished they could be together.
William denied all the allegations. (10)
The jury ultimately found that while William was in no way connected to the murder, he did condone it after the fact.
The judge denied the divorce. (27)
William filed for divorce again two months later. This time it was granted with little fanfare after Rae decided not to fight it. (28)
Starting in 1914, Rae began seeking parole. She was continuously denied in 1914, 1917 and again in 1919.
Throughout her entire prison sentence, Rae was a model prisoner. According to prison superintendent, Margaret Elliot, she was an incredibly positive influence on the other inmates. And claimed she was a “wonderful daughter” saying she spent her entire prison sentence selling embroidery to support her sick father.
Then, in 1925, Margaret petitioned the state of Indiana to pardon Rae. She argued that Rae needed to be released so she could take care of her sick and aging father, Fred. Rae was the only family he had. Indiana Governor Edward Jackson granted Rae a full pardon.
After serving 21 years, she was a free woman. (29)
Immediately after her release, Rae moved to New York, where her father had lived for years. She met and married a childless farmer named Ray Keaser. (30)
Though Rae was released from prison for the sole purpose of taking care of her aging and dying father, Fred, he spent the years immediately following her release traveling several times from New York to Indiana. And showed few signs of any serious illness. (31)
Fred died ten years after Rae’s release in 1935 at the age of 90. (32)
Rae remained in New York for the rest of her life where she died at the age of 81. (33)
Almost immediately after Rae’s conviction, William, Crystal’s father, sold his extravagant house and moved to a nearby city, Peru. There, he owned and operated a movie theater. He hired a young woman to play the piano to accompany the silent films. Sparks flew between the two and they were married in 1913. She was 23 and he was 56. (34) (35) (36)
However, the marriage didn’t last and the couple divorced in 1921. (37)
In 1911, Lloyd Summerville, the young boy who was pivotal in Rae’s conviction, fell ill with pneumonia. Unfortunately, he never recovered and died on February 9. He was just 15 years old. (38)
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A young woman marries an old man and then poisons his teenage daughter.