The Psychic Black Widow
Chicago has always claimed a large Polish population, and in the first quarter of the 20th Century most of them lived in the Near North Side. The people, mostly a God-fearing, law-abiding nationality would like to forget one of their own, however.
Her name was Ottilie (Tillie) Gburek.
She had an uncanny talent of foreseeing the future. Better put, she was able to discern — she said it came to her in dreams — almost the exact dates of death for all her five husbands as well as certain neighbors on her block. She was never wrong. Well, only once.
Her bad habits began rather late for the average Black Widow, at age 49, the age when most of them cease their activities. The year was 1919 when she predicted the death of John Mitkiewicz, her husband of twenty-nine years. As she told a friend, she dreamed of finding his corpse on a certain day a few weeks ahead. Sure enough, her spouse fell ill on the named morning and died that night. The acquaintance to whom she had confided her portent was awed, especially to see with what alacrity Tillie flew to the insurance company for the check.
Tillie liked men and she didn't remain in grief long. Before two months were up, she married laborer John Ruskowski. Too sadly, Ruskowski swiftly became the subject of another of Tillie's nighttime reveries. That is what she told neighbors on her block. Those who laughed at the biddy's forewarning alarmed when husband number two did indeed keel over on the figured date.
Frank Kupszcyk came next, shortly thereafter — to the altar for his marriage and back to the altar in his coffin six months later. Like Mitkiewicz and Ruskowski, Kupszcyk had been a man of means; his bride had seen to that. And she had also seen to it that his life insurance policy entitled her to sole beneficiary benefits before she peppered his vegetable soup with arsenic.
Within a year, Tillie had taken the vows again, to Joseph Guszkowski, and then attended his funeral, feigning incredulity at her ill luck and cursing her ominous dreams for all to hear.
Tillie had been verbal about his death, too, in advance. It is believed she even told the victim, Guszkowski, who laughed at her. Now, with her third foretelling proven correct, the seer had gained a local notoriety. "One wonders how Gburek was able to attract...husbands given her chilling reputation," muse Michael D. and C.L. Kelleher in Murder Most Rare. Those who knew her began to avoid her when they saw her nearing on the sidewalk; they did not want to hear about their own death.
Old World superstition maybe, but they had good cause to recoil. It was common knowledge that she had had a vision of a terrible plague striking a particular family on the block, the offshoot being that within weeks that family's three children died agonizing deaths. (What the rumor didn't relay was that Tillie and that family had had a heated argument days before the prediction.)
The Klimek family grew worried when its son and brother, Anton, decided to chuck practicality and marry Tillie in 1921. "She iz a goot vooman," he shouted back at more logical folks, "and I'm a healsy man zat intents to ztay healsy!" The healthy man and the new Mrs. Klimek co-signed a last will and testament, leaving all their possessions to each other. And the healthy man turned feeble overnight.
When he was near the point of death, his family did what Tillie wasn't doing. They rushed him to a hospital in the nick of time. He lived, but an examination showed that he had ingested poison by the tablespoons. The hospital notified the police department.
Faced with the possibility of having her former husbands' remains unearthed, and thus being charged with three murders, Tillie confessed to poisoning Klimek.
An actress to the last, she stood up in the Cook County Courthouse as if in a trance, chanting that the netherworld defied the mortals to send her to death. She would not be executed for her crimes, she oathed. But, it was the law's turn now to be prophetic. It promised to keep her in prison for the remainder of her life. On a side note, there was one major stipulation to her sentence. She was never to be allowed to cook for the other inmates!
The prophecy (of the law) came true.