A Murder at Oppenheim: The slaying of Lewis Klose

By Samantha Hall-Saladino

With the multitude of true crime podcasts, tv shows, Netflix documentaries, and fictional Hollywood retellings through film, people often wonder: why are people so eager to study true crime cases now? The reality is that humans have a long-standing obsession with true crime and the evidence is right in historic newspapers, photographs, and other records. Plenty of newspaper real estate has been taken up with details of murders and the subsequent trials. Fulton County has been no different. The murder of Oppenheim farmer Lewis Klose in December 1894 by Charles F. Halling kept the Mohawk Valley’s attention for years after the crime itself.

Lewis Klose was a 53-year-old farmer who lived with his wife Mary Ann and their daughter Alice in Oppenheim, across from the Youker cheese factory. He lost his hearing after sustaining injuries from a fall off a building in Albany. Mary Ann was born deaf. Alice, their 16-year-old daughter, was by all accounts a well-educated, witty girl with dark hair and dark eyes. She began keeping company with Charles Halling, a 25-year-old German immigrant who was working and boarding at the Youker place, much to the disapproval of her father. He forbade her from seeing Halling, but the two weren’t dissuaded. Halling made a couple of visits by climbing up a ladder and into the upper floor of the house, assisted by Alice on at least one occasion. The girl later testified that her father slapped her for disobeying him and nailed the windows shut to keep Halling out. 

On December 14, 1894, Halling told his friend, Judd Youker, that he was going into Schenectady to pick up a check that his brother sent from New York City. Youker, who was busy most of the day butchering a cow, later spotted Halling from the third floor of the cheese factory. He was crouching in the woods. Odd behavior, yes, but Youker let it go. Maybe he was planning a secret meeting with Alice.

A short time later, Youker heard a strange noise and again looked out the window. He saw Halling running away from the barn. Youker decided, this time, to go investigate. In the barn, he was met with a grisly sight: Lewis Klose was dead. He had been murdered, struck with an ax. 

The investigation and trial itself drew hundreds of interested parties and spectators to the area. Halling gave a statement at the jail after his arraignment on December 20th. The crime, he said, was planned by himself and Judd Youker, who “always disliked Klose, also had a grudge against him.” Halling insisted his motive for participating was merely financial – he didn’t care about being forbidden from seeing Alice. But he claimed that Youker “urged me to go and pound the h–ll out of the old man.” Then the pair would run away to Canada, funding their flight with whatever Youker could steal from his father and sell. Never mind that Judd Youker had a wife and children; he was prepared to abandon them. Youker, who claimed he had no part in the crime, was eventually dismissed due to lack of evidence. (And when his name was drawn for jury duty for the same trial, he of course was excused from serving.) 

Charles F. Halling was somewhat of a mysterious character locally. He was born in Hamburg, Germany. His parents remained there and were quite well-to-do. Halling came to the US around 1884 and held a number of jobs in Schenectady, including with GE, before enlisting in the Army and serving in Arizona. After being dishonorably discharged, he made his way back to Schenectady and then to Fulton County. One of his former employers, Dr. Louis Faust, said that “he was a well-behaved person and faithful employee, but he was a most inveterate and consummate liar.” 

The press and the public were fascinated by Halling. The February 12, 1895 edition of the Daily Leader included an article about the prisoners at the county jail painting the halls and ceilings. The ordinary law-breakers had use of a room they called “The Bowery,” while the others had the “YMCA.” The paper stated: “The walls of this room have been nicely frescoed with pictures representing ladies; fans, mammoth circles, and winter scenes.” Halling painted his own cell. The reporter continued: “He has tastefully frescoed the walls of his prison with mammoth stars, arranged in circles and extending about the entire room, which decorations are painted in our national colors, red, white, and blue . . . In conspicuous places within that starry chamber the Oppenheim transgressor of the sixth commandment has frescoed in glaring letters the following inscriptions: ‘Praise the Lord.’ ‘The Lord is my light and salvation; who shall I fear?’ ‘Fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed for I am thy God.’ ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’” 

The coroner’s inquest was held in June 1895 at the Youker cheese factory. Spectators from miles around attended, taking photos of the murder site. The paper noted the large attendance of ladies both at the inquest and the later trial. A rope was placed around the officials, jurors, witness stand, and press tables to keep the massive crowd in check. Dr. Burdick examined the murderer Halling for signs of insanity but declared that he was “physically and mentally sound.” Thus the inquest began.

Alice Klose, of course, was called to testify. The coroner had found a letter at the post office at Ingham’s Mills, signed by Alice and closed with “her love and many kisses.” She testified that she told Halling to stop coming to the house or her father would have him arrested. She never heard him make any open threats against her father. “To certain questions asked by a juror,” the paper reported, “the witness replied that she had not come here to be insulted.” 

Reporters came from as far away as Utica, Little Falls, Albany, and Amsterdam. As Halling was marched from the factory to the carriage for the trip back to the jail, the crowd jeered. At the train depot, “many carriages and buses were loaded with ladies awaiting the arrival of Halling.” Although he appeared nervous around the crowd in Oppenheim, Halling laughed and joked all the way from Fonda to Johnstown. 

Despite the heinous murder committed, Halling received lots of attention from women. When a reporter visited him that summer, Halling was being guarded by Officer Day of Mayfield. The reporter shared that the officer “was constantly besieged by scores of lady callers, who were anxious to see the prisoner and deliver to him their beautiful bouquets.” Not only an artist, Halling was apparently also a poet – or wanted to be – and presented the reporter with several songs he composed while in jail. A few of these were published in the paper “not for their literary value, but as souvenirs of one of the most blood-thirsty crimes ever perpetrated in Fulton County . . .” 

On July 20, 1895, Charles F. Halling was convicted of murder in the 2nd degree for the slaying of Lewis Klose. He was sentenced to imprisonment at hard labor at Dannemora for the rest of his natural life. The courtroom was packed with spectators, though the verdict was not reached until 11:15 p.m. Halling “did not appear to be affected in the least by the result of the trial.” 

There were two more mentions of Halling in the local paper. The first was December 18, 1896, when they reported a letter received from the prisoner describing a religious meeting at the prison chapel and “his own great interest in religious work.” The second was in 1899 when it was reported that he was a part of the prison band. In 1895, Alice Klose married Frank J. Smith. They first lived at the family homestead where the grisly murder had occurred. Alice died in 1905 in Utica; she was 26. Mary Klose died in 1915 in the Utica State Hospital. She’s buried next to her husband in the Rural Park Cemetery at Ingham’s Mills. I was unable, at this time, to find a death record or any other information about Halling. He’s listed on several censuses as an inmate at the prison, but disappears after 1910, when his occupation in the prison was listed as “teacher.”

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