Sometimes truth proves to be stranger than fiction. Not even the most ghoulish fiction writer could have created anything more macabre than the murder of William Simmons on January 26, 1876. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle observed that the Simmons killing was “As gruesome as anything ever imagined by Edgar Allen Poe.”
Two young boys were playing one Winter afternoon near a woodpile at the foot of Milton Street in the John Englis shipyard when they made a horrifying discovery- a severed human head wrapped in German language newspaper. A crowd quickly formed and the police were called and they asked for help in identifying the victim’s head. Soon Simmons’ head was identified. He was a workman from North Third Street.
It was now up to the police to solve this spectacular case whose gruesomeness made it the talk of all New York. The headline story of the murder in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced, “The Greenpoint Horror.” The investigation would show the strength of the Brooklyn Police Department (remember Brooklyn was still an independent city with its police force).
As with most murders the killer and the victim knew one another. Andreas Fuchs had worked for Simmons and they had become drinking buddies. Fuchs, a married man, became jealous of the closeness between his wife and Simmons, but Fuchs admitted Simmons to his North side home where he, his wife and the victim began drinking. Running out of drink, Fuchs made a beer run, but when he returned something so aroused Fuchs’ jealousy that he pulled out an axe and decapitated Simmons. At his trial Fuchs claimed temporary insanity, but the facts the trial revealed seemed to contradict the killer’s claim of madness.
Realizing the enormity of his action, Fuchs decided to dispose of the body. Placing the head in a bag he strolled down to Greenpoint where he perhaps intended to dump the head in the river. However, someone saw him and he became frightened so he dumped the head in the shipyard and scurried home. The witness was able to give a description of the killer and the trail was growing much warmer.
One of the cops investigating the murder was Superintendent Patrick Campbell whose guess about the crime was amazingly accurate. He guessed that the killer was a German and there had been a dispute about a woman. He also surmised that the killer had cut up the body and grew frightened when trying to dump it. They soon matched the description of the head with a missing person’s report for Simmons. The police began to investigate all the German acquaintances of the victim, so they came to Fuchs’ North side home where the killer answered the door.
Detectives Short and Corwin appeared at Fuchs’ home and asked him about the murder of Simmons, but he replied in Broken English, “Me knows nothing.” There was a putrid pot of meat on the stove that the detectives would shortly learn was the remains of Simmons. Corwin and Short stepped away from the door and talked. Corwin noticed a blood stain on Fuchs’ pants and they returned to the police station to call the witness to make a positive identification.
They knew that they had their man. They quickly came back to Fuchs’ home and burst in the door. Upon investigating the apartment they found the chopped up body parts of the victim in a vat of lime. Fuchs was arrested and charged with murder in the first degree.
Fuchs tried to argue that he had come in and interrupted his wife and the victim in an embrace. He claimed he killed Simmons in a jealous rage. However, Fuchs’ guilt was sealed by his own wife’s testimony. She denied the charge that she embraced Fuchs and said that she had gone to bed while her husband and the victim continued drinking. In the morning she arose to find the dismembered body of Simmons and when she asked her husband he told her,” Shut up or I will serve you the same way.”
Fuchs was convicted and sentenced to be hanged, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison by the governor shortly before his hanging. The house on North Third where the killing happened was torn down and a condominium stands there today. I wonder if they have any idea about the gruesome crime that happened there.