On the afternoon of September 26, 1913, Mildred Allison Rexroat, dressed in a dark blue suit, wearing a new hat and white gloves, adorning herself with several hundred dollars worth of jewelry, and carrying a white handbag and a rattan suitcase, left her Chicago rooming house for an appointment with a man she named only as "Mr. Spencer." Mrs. Rexroat was a tango dancer and dance instructor. Inside her suitcase was a pink dancing outfit. She was going to meet with Mr. Spencer to talk about tango dance lessons. Neither her roommate, nor her three children, nor her husband, nor her ex-husband ever saw her again.
That evening, at about 8:23 p.m., a freight train running on the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad struck a dark object on the tracks as it was approaching the village of Wayne, located in DuPage County, west of Chicago. The crew operating the train stopped and went back to see what they had hit. The object, the body of a woman, severed at the waist, was identified the next day as that of Mildred Rexroat. Her death was not an accident. She had in fact been murdered.
At about midday on October 3, Joseph Delahanty and Lee Durkin, two Wayne residents, were searching the murder scene when they discovered, about 100 feet away from where Mrs. Rexroat's body was found, a three-pound hammer wrapped in a towel, which was in turn wrapped in a copy of the Chicago Tribune. One of the men told a reporter:
Right near the place, we found two cards and a salesman's slip. On the cards was the name, "Anthony Melville Rud." The paper slip indicated that a salesman at Marengo, Ill., had been negotiating with the firm of Luhring & Schedd.
We were just going to call up Sheriff Kuhn and turn the stuff over to him to see what it was worth, when two men came up the track. They said they were Pinkerton detectives, and would have to take the clews [sic] right to headquarters. They gave each of us $2. Later I learned they were reporters. (1)Following one of those leads, Marengo city marshal M.L. St. John interviewed personnel at Luhring & Schedd by long-distance telephone. They were not able to offer any information pertinent to the case.
On Sunday night, October 5, chief of detectives Capt. Halpin and two police officers arrested a man named Henry C. Spencer at his flat on Rhodes Avenue in Chicago in connection with the murder. Awhile later, at a Chicago police station, Spencer, fully informed of his rights, confessed to killing Mildred Allison Rexroat. "I killed Mrs. Rexroat because she was trying to make a sucker out of me," Spencer admitted. "She thought she was working me the same way she worked the farmers. She thought I was a farmer like her husband and that she could work me the same way." (2) Spencer described the murder:
When we got out at the station, it was nearly 8 o'clock. We turned around and walked the track until we got where it was dark. I took her right arm, pulled out my gun and shot her through the head. Then I laid her on the railroad track so she would get tore up. (3)The hammer later found at the scene of the crime was placed there by Spencer before the murder. His plan was that if he failed to kill Mrs. Rexroat with his revolver, he would use the hammer to beat her to death.
In all, Henry C. Spencer confessed to about two dozen murders, but it was for killing Mildred Allison Rexroat, the Chicago tango dancer, that he swung on July 31, 1914, in DuPage County, Illinois.
After that article of October 4, 1913, in which two men described finding cards with the name Anthony Melville Rud, there was no more mention in newspapers of that name in connection with the case, at least that I can find. I suspect that an interview with Rud, coupled with the fact that his parents were prominent and respected physicians, eliminated the young man from any suspicion. Rud would go on to write about murder in his career as a pulp author.
To be concluded . . .
(1) Quoted in "Unearth Hammer from Murder Scene," Chicago Tribune, October 4, 1913, p. 3.
(2) Quoted in "Wholesale Murderer," Deseret News, October 6, 1913, p. 1.
Text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley