.....No Justice for Agnes
For three years, beginning in 1906, the mysterious death of servant girl Agnes Polreis, followed by the trials of Emma Kaufmann, gripped the nation's attention. Lurid reports of abuse and even torture in the heartland appeared with regularity in newspapers from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. "I challenge all the pages of literature to show me so sad a case and so awful a case," roared prosecuting attorney George W. Egan in his closing argument in 1907.
After less than six months in the employ of Emma Kaufmann and her husband, a wealthy and influential partner in a brewery business in the region's largest city, sixteen-year-old Agnes Polreis, born in Austria-Hungary, was returned to her parents' farm, dead, her emaciated body showing marks of extreme violence 49 wounds in all, some of them gangrenous. An instance of "diabolical cruelty," editorialized one newspaper.
But more repulsive than the manner of Agnes' death were the outrageous antics of the attorneys, the shifting testimony of witnesses, and the sensationalizing newspaper coverage. A poor immigrant girl with faltering English, Agnes was abandoned by physicians and exploited by the legal and newspaper professions. Her death and the subsequent trials caused the downfall of a United States senator, but brought no justice for Agnes Polreis.