How a Wheeling Pastor Helped Catch a Serial Killer

Reverend Herman Haas barely acknowledged what he saw that spring day in 1895. His parishioner, the newlywed Caroline Huff, had become severely ill and he was visiting her to lend some comfort. When he saw Caroline’s husband, Jacob Huff, mix a white powder into a glass of water and give it to Caroline, he assumed it was medicine. That was months ago though, and much has changed since then.

Born Caroline Miller, the longtime member of Saint Paul’s Evangelical Protestant Church married Adolph Hoch in 1885. Caroline’s marriage would tragically end in 1892 when Adolph suddenly passed. The Wheeling Register reported that he died from “cramps produced from drinking too much ice water” (Thankfully, medicine has improved greatly since then). Her luck seemed to turn around when she met Jacob Huff. He had just moved to Wheeling and from the moment they met, the two were in love. They married on April 18th of that year, but by June 15, 1895, Caroline Huff was dead. Jacob was not far behind her. By the end of the month, his belongings were found along the shore of the Ohio River with a suicide note. The love-stricken husband could not live without Caroline.

That story, while tragic, was quickly proven untrue. Reverend Haas never forgot what he saw that day. He also remembered his original suspicions of Jacob. He had met with Caroline before the wedding to voice his opinion, but Caroline ignored his concerns. The police dredged the river, looking for Jacob’s body, and found nothing. There were also witness testimonies saying a man resembling Jacob left a rowboat in Bellaire, OH, and bought a train ticket to Chicago. Jacob’s last actions were also suspicious. He emptied Caroline’s bank account, sold her house, and claimed her life insurance. Reverend Haas didn’t know it at the time, but Caroline was the latest victim of the Bluebeard Murderer.

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Freeport Journal Standard
Freeport Journal Standard. Friday, Feb. 23, 1906.


Born in Horweiler, Germany in 1855, his birth name was John Schmidt. John immigrated to the United States in 1883 and started a killing spree that would last until 1905. He had changed his names several times since arriving in New York, and arrived in Wheeling as Jacob Huff. After faking his death, John changed his name once again, this time using Caroline’s previous last name. Jacob Huff died in West Virginia, but Johann Otto Hoch was ready to start a new life in Chicago. Johann never returned to Wheeling, but his memory stuck with one resident for years. Reverend Haas refused to give up. With nothing to go on, Haas resorted to digging through personal ads from across the country. These “lonely hearts” ads were somewhat commonplace in this time (essentially a 19th-century version of Tinder). Soon Haas had not only gathered enough circumstantial evidence to prove Jacob was up to his old tricks in Chicago, but also found an ally in Chicago Police Inspector George Shippy. George met with Reverend Haas in Wheeling and together, the two were able to convince the local police to exhume Caroline’s body. What they found was shocking. Someone had tampered with the grave, removing anything that could be checked for poison, including Caroline’s organs. Once they discovered this, Caroline’s murder was connected with several others in the Chicago area. The murders were soon tied to John Schmidt.


Unfortunately, finding him would take another ten years, and Johann would kill several more times. Without any photographs, it was difficult to prove any person was John Schmidt. It took the work of George Shippy, several living victims to come forward, and the work of Reverend Herman Haas to arrest and convict Johann Otto Hoch. While finding and arresting Johann took longer than it should, without the work of a Wheeling local, it may not have happened at all.

• A true son of Wheeling, Will Wallace was born at Wheeling Hospital on a late summer’s day in August 1988. Since then he has traveled the world, started a business, played in a state championship basketball game, opened an art gallery and plays bass in a band. A graduate of Bishop Donahue Memorial High School (never forget) and West Virginia University, Will has decided that this somehow allows him to freelance for Weelunk. In his free time, he co-hosts a podcast called Appalachian Sound and Color, where he interviews artists living throughout the Appalachian Mountains. You can listen to it where you find podcasts or here.