Asta Eicher was looking for a husband. With some trepidation she put out a lonely hearts ad and got a reply that brought a glow to her cheeks. “Women are the sweetest, purest and most unselfish part of the human race,” declared a suitor calling himself Connie Pierson. “They sing the melodies of human life…”

Who could but be beguiled by such pretty poesy? Certainly not 43-year-old Chicago widow Asta. She was bowled over by it. Even more so when in a later letter he told her he eschewed liquor as an invention of the Devil. He seemed so nice that she decided to surprise him by telling him about her $13,000 nest egg.

What she didn’t know was that some hundreds of miles away in Massachusetts another lonely widow, Mrs. Dorothy Lemke, 51, was receiving the same batch of letters from Connie Pearson. She too felt charmed into revealing her wealth – she was worth a total of $17,000.

On June 22nd, 1931, Cornelius O. Pierson, describing himself as “a wealthy engineer,” arrived at Asta’s suburban home. Apart from the fact that he was a bit fat, she liked him well enough. By the end of that week she and her three children had gone away with him, setting the neighbours’ tongues wagging like dogs’ tails.

Up in North Uxbridge, Massachusetts, Mrs. Dorothy Lemke also received a visit from Connie Pierson. They agreed to get married and drove off, literally, westwards into the sunset.

Amid growing concerns about the disappearance of the Eicher family, the police decided to take a look at Pierson’s post office box in Clarksburg, West Virginia. They discovered that in reality Pierson was Harry Powers, a married vacuum cleaner salesman. At his home they found bloodied women’s clothing in bags.

The trail led to an isolated garage that Powers had built out of town over the cellars of a previous building. The recently dug earth was still visible, and under it were the bodies of Asta and her three children, and Dorothy Lemke.

Powers protested his innocence, but eventually – after vigorous interrogation – confessed to killing all five victims “by using a hammer and strangulation.”

He killed the two women first, he said. “After that, I took care of the children one by one. Young Harry Eicher gave me some trouble, yelling and screaming, so I finished him off with a hammer. It was quite a job burying them all.”

At his trial he repudiated the confession and again claimed that he was innocent. When he was hanged in the West Virginia State Penitentiary on Friday, March 18th, 1932, he was still keeping up the pretext. “I believe only God has the right to take human life,” he said. “Capital punishment is wrong – especially if it is inflicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence.”