An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Seventy-Five

Above, San Antonio Police Patrol Wagon, Photograph courtesy of Farrell Tucker’s San Antonio Police History Archive

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Seventy-Four

Emma Dumpke Daschel, November 1914

“Emmy, I thought he would be here by now.” Hedda’s pacing is nonstop.

“I know. Maybe he won’t come, Hedda. Maybe he’s given up on the idea of fetching his wretched notes.”

“Otto? Does Otto give up on anything?”

“Maybe we should leave, Hedda. Go stay someplace else until his temper subsides.”

“My head is splitting in two, Emmy. I’m going to lie down for a while. Just until I can think more clearly.”

Emmy picks up the pacing where Hedda left off, periodically stopping by the window to peer down the street.

That must be his carriage. She freezes. The hinges of the gate squeak only seconds before his feet hit the porch and the doorknob jiggles. Finding the door locked, he pounds on it.

Emmy unlocks it, and Otto shoves past her. “Where is she?” But he stops, out of habit, and hurriedly slings his hat and overcoat on the rack by the door.

Receiving no answer from Emmy, he barges ahead into Hedda’s room.

Emmy takes refuge in her room, but that fails to muffle the escalating voices.

“No. How dare you try to force yourself on me! Why did you want me to go to that house of evil? Do you want to kill me?”

“What? Have you been there already?”

“God will punish you, Otto Koehler!”

“Curse you, Hedda!”

“Stop! You’re hurting me.”

Hearing a shriek, Emmy bursts into Hedda’s room.

Otto releases his grip on Hedda’s throat to confront Emmy.

Emmy turns and runs out of the house. “Missus Campbell! Missus Campbell!” she screams. “Help Hedda! Help Hedda!”

Whisky. The pungent scent slapped on her face revives her. Mrs. Campbell, Mrs. Mott and Mr. Cordt peer down at her.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Three shots in a row.

“Hedda. We must save her. Please.”

They approach the house. Mr. Cordt reaches tenuously for the front door knob. Bang!

The group makes a hasty retreat from the front porch.

“I’ll go ring the police,” says Mrs. Campbell.

“Please, please,” Emmy pleads with the other two. “I beg of you. Rescue Hedda.”

Mr. Cordt enters ahead of Emmy. No one is in the parlor, and Hedda’s door is ajar. As Mr. Cordt opens it, gunsmoke swirls around in the air.

Sprawled on the floor is Otto. His mouth wide open. Blood pools around him. Hedda kneels beside him, cradling the back of his head. Blood gushes from her wrist.

Otto’s body twitches. Emmy recognizes it as his last twitch. There’s no use in trying to revive him. But Hedda.

“Miss Burgemeister,” asks Mr. Cordt in German, “what have you done?”

“He tried to murder me.”

Mr. Cordt gently lifts Hedda to lean her against the settee. He sits down, and Hedda lays her head on his lap. He applies pressure to her wrist to stem the bleeding.

Emmy hears Mrs. Mott on the phone in the other room trying to reach a doctor.

Two policemen enter. One kneels to check Otto’s pulse, then shakes his head.

“What happened here?” he asks Mr. Cordt.

Not speaking English, Mr. Cordt looks at Emmy for translation. Dazed, she cannot speak.

“Lady,” he says to Hedda, “if you want us to catch the man who killed him, you better talk fast.”

“Is he dead?”

“Yes, ma’am. He most certainly is.”

Hedda places one hand on Otto’s cheek. “I am sorry,” she says to the dead man. “I killed him. I had to do it.”

“Ma’am, you are under arrest.”

The other policeman collects and examines two guns, one from the floor and the other on the table.

Another man enters the room. The policeman calls him Detective. The detective and Mr. Cordt carry Hedda to the bed in Emmy’s room.

Weeping, Hedda looks at Emmy. “I did it to protect my friend. And myself.”   

A doctor arrives. One Emmy has never met. He glances at the dead man, and then goes in to wrap Hedda’s wrist. A wagon arrives, and as they remove Hedda out on a stretcher, Mrs. Campbell returns.

“Please, Missus Campbell. Telephone a Missus Ramer. She’s a lawyer. Please ask her to meet Hedda at the hospital.”

The police take Emmy into custody, and Justice of the Peace Campbell rides with her to serve as witness. In the Police Chief’s office, the District Attorney and his assistants, she knows not their names, pepper her with questions. Her sobs fail to stop them. Emmy is aware some of her answers make no sense, but they keep asking her the same things again and again. How can they expect her to think?

“He was shaking her.”

“He had his hands on her throat.”

“No. No, I saw no shots fired.”

“I fled from the house, screaming for help.”

“No, they had no guns in their hands when I left.”

Finally, the torture stops.

“You stay with us tonight, Missus Daschel,” says Justice Campbell.

“Thank you. How is Hedda?”

“Her wrist is all sewn up,” he says. “They’re keeping her at the hospital though.”

“I should go to her.”

“No, you must rest.”

~     ~     ~

When they pull up to the Campbells’ house, Emmy avoids looking across the street at 532 Hunstock. She wishes she were staying far, far away from there.

Drained, Emmy manages to sleep some with the assistance of the chamomile tea Mrs. Campbell brewed for her.

In the morning she bathes. Joining Mr. and Mrs. Campbell at the kitchen table, she struggles to swallow the coffee and toast set before her. Fig jam. That’s Hedda’s handwriting on the label.

Knock, knock, knock. Two sheriff’s deputies are at the door.

“Emma Daschel, you are under arrest on a charge of murder in connection with the shooting to death of Otto Koehler.”

Justice of the Peace Campbell explains the arrest is at the recommendation of District Attorney Linden. Emmy has no choice. Emmy asks Mrs. Campbell to call Heinrich. Right away.

No bail is set when she is committed to jail.

~     ~     ~

Four days. Emmy spends four days in the county jail.

What could she possibly have said to give them cause to lock her up here?

Four days wanting, yet dreading, for Heinrich to arrive and free her. He has every right to be furious with her. He told her not to come to San Antonio.

“Missus Daschel, your husband has put up a cash bond of $500. You’re free to leave, but you must remain in Bexar County until such time as a trial or the charge is dismissed.”

Seeing Heinrich in the lobby, she runs to him and he encloses his arms tightly around her.

“Please, please, Emmy. Tell me you are alright.”

“Oh, Heinrich, I’m so sorry. What a nightmare. I should never have come.”

“I’ve taken a room at the Menger Hotel. There are fresh clothes for you there. You can take a long bath, followed by a hot meal in the room and a long nap. In the meantime, I’ll attempt to remove you from this massive mess Hedda has made.”

“Where is Hedda? How is she?”

“They still have her at the Baylor Hospital. Hedda must’ve tried to slit her wrist after shooting him. The wound’s improving, but they say she still is too frail to move to the county jail.”

“I vouch this is no place for the frail.”

Once outside, “Emmy, I must ask. I must know. There was no plan, no plan on Hedda’s part to kill Otto Koehler, was there?”

“Oh, Heinrich. Of course not.”

“It was self-defense, correct?”

“Yes. I mean, yes, I believe so. I wasn’t in the house when the shots were fired. But there’s no way Hedda would shoot him unless she feared for her life. When I ran for help, he was shaking her. He had his hands on her throat.”

Footnotes

At last, the fatal bullets are fired. This chapter is taken from newspaper accounts immediately after the shooting and later trial testimony. But is this an accurate account of what happened in the house at 532 Hunstock? It all boils down to whose story to believe. No witnesses agree on every detail of the day’s events. The shock of the shooting gave rise to numerous unreliable narrators. To finally shoot Otto Koehler, the Author was forced to cherry-pick bits and pieces from among their divergent testimonies.

Continue to Chapter Seventy-Six

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