On Saturday, February 8 1919, a young boy made a grisly discovery in an unoccupied house on West Fourth Street, Cincinnati.
The dismembered body of a man had been stuffed into three sacks and abandoned in the vacant house.
By the time it was found the body had already started to decompose, which made identification difficult. It had been drained of blood before being cut into pieces and left only partially hidden, leading police to speculate that the killer may have been disturbed during the act of disposing of the body.
Through a laundry mark on the dead man’s undershirt, investigators were able to start to trace the identity of the corpse. Salvation Army officers soon identified the body as Albert E. Thompson, who had recently rented a room at a Salvation Army residence in the city, before being evicted the week before for fighting with other residents.
The former farm laborer had headed to Cincinnati looking for work, after a period of time at St. Frances Hospital in Hamilton, Ohio where he’d been treated for heart trouble. Around the time he was evicted from the Salvation Army citadel, Thompson had been due to travel by train to North Carolina as part of a work detail. He arrived at the rail depot, but other workers reported that Thompson had been drinking and when the train was delayed, decided to leave rather than remain waiting any longer.
After failing to board the train on the Wednesday, two days later Thompson turned up at the offices of the employment agency which had secured him the job, asking for help in collecting two notes for small amounts of money, sent to him by his brothers back in Indiana. He told the woman who worked at the agency that a ‘negro’ had robbed him of $1.50, and he was now completely indigent.
Piecing together Thompson’s last movements police in Cincinnati concluded that he had most likely been murdered by “a religious crank”, who he’d been seen associating with in the lead up to his death. They circulated a description of their suspect: a man about 5’5, with brown hair tall, dressed in Salvation Army military-style clothing.
Albert Thompson’s body was shipped back to his brothers in Rose Lawn, Indiana where it was given proper burial.
But there were few solid leads in the case until February 14 1919, when a man of that description was spotted on a freight train, coming west towards Kentucky. The station master sent a telegram to local police who arrived to search the train, only to find the man had already left the train some time earlier.
Then to the surprise of everyone involved, the man presented himself at police headquarters in Maysville, Kentucky, requesting help in getting back to Indiana.
Their suspect claimed that he had been on a train heading north to look for work, when he’d been taken ill and left the train in West Virginia. He claimed his home was Bass, Indiana, but admitted to having been in Cincinnati the previous week. Police suspicions were raised even further when they searched the man’s military-style overcoat and found a large quantity of Salvation Army literature.
When questioned, he gave his name as ‘Albert Thompson’.
The man was arrested, and a Cincinnati police detective – the somewhat unfortunately named John Wank – was summoned to interrogate the prisoner.
A newspaper report detailing the arrest described the suspect “a religious crank, talking religion at every possible opportunity and showing that he is demented from his actions”, concluding that “it is more than likely that the mystery [of the Cincinnati sack murder] will be solved by this man”.
But when Detective Wank arrived, the mystery only deepened.
After several hours of interrogation it became clear the man calling himself Albert E. Thompson, was in fact… Albert E. Thompson.
Thompson told police that he had no knowledge of the murder, nor of the possible identity of the victim who had been buried under his name back in Indiana. He claimed that to the best of his knowledge he had never given anyone his underwear and couldn’t say how a dead man came to be wearing clothes that had been identified as belonging to him.
He did tell police that he had loaned a man his overcoat, which the man had not returned to him. Thompson also told police that he’d a physical altercation with a man who he shared temporary accommodation with at Cincinnati Union Bethel before leaving the city two weeks previously.
The following day February 15 1919, police arrested a man by the name of Harley A. Bixby in Sharonsville, Ohio, who admitted that might have shared a room with Albert Thompson at Union Bethel, but denied having quarreled with or choked Thompson, as Thompson had told police.
Police noticed dark stains on Bixby’s sleeve and the inside of his suitcase, which he explained as being from a nosebleed and furniture police respectively. The items were sent for analysis, but no further action was taken against the man and he was freed without charge.
Hope of identifying the dead man, or determining the circumstances of his death diminished as the years passed.
In July 1922 police questioned a man by the name of Thomas Scott, who had confessed to the murder of one William Shires, whose body was found in a basement near to where the unknown Cincinnati Bag Murder victim had been discovered in two and half years previously. But Scott denied any involvement in the earlier crime and the case went cold yet again. It remains unsolved to this day.