Archive of original letters, photographs, and other ephemera relating to serial killer Harm Drenth

N.p. N.p., 1924-1932. Archive of original letters, photographs, and other ephemera relating to "West Virginia Bluebeard" serial killer Harm Drenth, the real-life basis for the character of Harry Powell in Davis Grubb's seminal 1953 novel, "Night of the Hunter," famously portrayed in the 1955 film version by Robert Mitchum.

A substantial archive, including an autograph template letter in ink, signed by Drenth under his second most commonly used alias, Cornelius Orvin Pierson, in which he declares himself a well-off civil engineer and widower looking "to find the one [underlined]," which he used to draft introductory lonely hearts letters to his unsuspecting victims. The archive also includes items found among Drenth's possessions at the time of his 1931 arrest, given to local newspaper editor Heister G. Rhawn by the district attorney, as well as numerous letters and postcards from women interested in meeting Drenth, contemporary newspaper and police communiques, contemporary newspaper clippings, and two copies of the contemporaneous booklet "Love Secrets of Bluebeard," published prior to Drenth's execution, when the case was sensationalized in the national press. A striking and disturbing collection of first-hand and personal ephemera of the notorious serial killer.

Drenth, known in the press at the time of his arrest as the "West Virginia Bluebeard" or the "Bluebeard of Quiet Dell," preyed on women through matrimonial correspondence agencies and lonely hearts clubs, striking up ardent correspondences under a variety of aliases, including Harry Powers, Cornelius Orvin Pierson, and John Schroeder, before eventually traveling to meet, and ultimately rob and/or murder them. Through early 1931 Drenth was receiving letters at a rate of 10 to 20 a day, and had been supplied with 300 names a month by one matrimonial agency during a six month period. He was arrested on August 28, 1931 for the murder of two women, Asta Eicher and Dorothy Lemke, and Eicher's three children, found buried in a drainage ditch beside a garage he built, under which was found four rooms, in which police discovered bloody clothing, hair, a burned bankbook, and a small bloody footprint of a child. Drenth was sentenced to death on December 12, 1931 and hanged on March 18, 1932. He was the prime suspect for as many as 50 unsolved murders and missing persons cases at the time.

Specifically, the archive includes:

A vintage portrait photograph of Drenth, the type he used in correspondences, with an annotation of "Rush" on the verso in holograph pencil, likely from the aforementioned editor Rhawn.

Eight postcards written to Drenth from five different women, three of which are addressed to Drenth's alias Powers, in Mansfield, Ohio, with the earliest dated 1924. A photograph postcard of "Maud L. Johnson," likely a potential or actual victim, her name and Fairfield, Illinois address annotated on the verso, possibly in Drenth's hand.

Nine autograph letters of varying length (two to ten leaves), from 1926 and 1927, to Drenth under the alias Powers, signed, from Luella Strother, who he would marry in 1927, and with whom he was living in Quiet Dell at the time of his arrest, one of which is annotated on the verso in Drenth's hand. The letters clearly reveal the quick escalation and heightened passions of the relationship, which Drenth's correspondence was so adept at inducing. Police recovered some 40 letters total from Strother to Drenth and released many to the press, who subsequently vilified her, for both the letters sexual content, as well as debunking Strother's claim that the two had been high school sweethearts, and to speculate on why Drenth spared Strother.

A ribbon copy typescript letter signed, dated "Oct 28, 1927," to victim Dorothy Lemke, (here "Mrs. D.A. Lamke") from "Cupid's Headquarters" at the "New Home Club of Quincy, Illinois," the matrimonial agency through which she met Drenth,
notifying her the club will have other members correspond with her directly.

A ribbon copy typescript letter signed, dated September 1, 1931, from Detroit Police Chief to the Clarksburg, West Virginia, Police Chief, advising that "Pierson alias Powers had been supplied" with 1800 names, 300 a month, by the American Friendship Society matrimonial agency.

A Western Union telegram, stamped "1931 AUG 29 AM 11 30," from the Omaha World Herald to the Clarksburg Newspaper City Editor, inquiring as to whether any of the recovered letters were from women from Nebraska or Iowa.

A two-page wire service release, apparently from the Clarksburg paper, annotated in holograph pencil,announcing Drenth's execution.

A clipping from The Charleston Gazette, from March 19, 1932, of the article covering Drenth's (here under the name Powers) execution.

Two copies of "The Love Secrets of Bluebeard" booklet, featuring "the famous 'unprintable' letter, and "unpublished love letters," circa 1931-1932, prior to Drenth's execution.

A clipping of a 1967 retrospective article, "Excitement at Quiet Dell," from Charleston, West Virginia's Gazette-Mail, and a two page redacted letter from Harriette Behringer, the daughter of newspaper editor Heister G. Rhawn, offering the material in the archive for sale, and explaining her father's relationship to the case.

Drenth's (as Pierson) autograph template letter, 8.5 x 11 inches, recto and verso. Near Fine, with one horizontal fold, two light vertical folds, and slight toning. Surprisingly supple and clean.

Photograph, 3.5 x 4.75 inches. Near Fine, with some faint rubbing.

Eight Postcards and Picture Postcard, 3.5 x 5.5. Near Fine.

Nine Letters, two to ten pages. 5 x 7.75 inches. Near Fine, with some toning and faint horizontal creases from mailing. Each letter with original paperclips, with light rusting.

"Cupid's Headquarters" letter, 8.5 x 5.5 inches. Very Good plus, light toning, with two vertical folds and light creasing.

Detroit Police letter, 8.5 x 11 inches. Near Fine, with light toning to the extremities.

Telegram, 8 x 6.5 inches. Very Good plus, with a vertical and horizontal crease, with some splitting at right side crease.

Two page Wire Service Release, 8.5 x 12.75 and 8.5 x 16.25 inches. Very Good. First Page cleanly separated at top crease. Second Page with contemporaneous extention attached at top. Both Pages with three horizontal folds, toned and brittle, with light chipping and splitting at folds.

Charleston Gazette clipping, 2 pages, 4 x 14.5 and 4.5 x 23.5 inches. Very Good plus, with horizontal folds, toning, and some light splitting at creases.

Two "Love Secrets of Bluebeard" booklets, 8 pages, side-stapled, with illustrated orange card wrappers. 6 x 9 inches. One, Near Fine, with light toning a paper clip rust stain to rear wrapper and verso of last leaf. One, Very Good plus, with a horizontal crease, light toning and light creasing.

1967 Charleston Gazette-Mail clipping, Very Good plus, folded vertically and horizontally, with light toning at the extremities.

Behringer letter, 2 pages, stapled at top right, 8.5 x 6.5 and 8.5 x 10 inches. Very Good plus, with sections physically redacted.


[Book #154568]

Price: $8,750.00