Described as a ‘squat’ woman, who only spoke broken English, Ottilie Klimek came to the United States as an infant. Her family settled in Chicago, in a Polish community, where she continued to live when she became an adult. Tillie was married to her first husband, John Mitkiewicz, for 29 years, before his death in 1919. The cause of death was determined as heart disease and Tillie, then 49, remarried shortly after. When her second husband passed away, a short while into their marriage, then a boyfriend who had ‘jilted’ her; many people began thinking that Tillie may have been cursed.
Incredibly, this did not stop her from finding another suitor, this time in Frank Kupzsyk. After their marriage, and he moved in with her, Frank became ill and Tillie started telling the neighbours that he wouldn’t be alive for much longer. She claimed to have foreseen his imminent death in a dream, bought a coffin in advance, and sat by his bedside knitting a mourning hat. Like those before him, Frank passed away and his widow went on to collect the insurance money.
Joseph Klimek became smitten with Tillie, not long after Frank’s death, and married her despite his family’s protests. He also became ill but was quickly rushed to the hospital, unlike Tillie’s previous husbands, by his relatives. Tests for arsenic poisoning came back positive, and the doctor’s notified the police. His wife was immediately taken into custody, and the bodies of her deceased husbands later exhumed. They all contained lethal doses of arsenic. Despite spending more than three months hospitalized, unable to walk, Joseph survived. He told the nurses that Tillie had encouraged him to take out extra life insurance, and he had succumbed to her wishes.
Tillie’s cousin, Nellie, was also arrested after she told them that Nellie had provided her with a ‘goodly portion’ of ‘Rough on Rats’ poison. The investigation showed that several of the women’s neighbours, and relatives, had become seriously ill after eating food cooked by Tillie. She had also ‘predicted’ unfortunate incidents that would happen to a few of these, including foreseeing a family on the block being hit by a deadly plague. After this, three of their children died and it surfaced that Tillie had recently had an argument with the family. Police came up with a list of 20 people who had been poisoned, with 14 dying as a result. Tillie was tried for the murder of her third husband, Frank Kupzsyk, in Cook County. She was sentenced to life in prison, which was the harshest penalty ever given to a woman in the county and died there on November 20, 1936.