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Looking back at Chicago's one-legged killer clown of 1912

Written by
Adam Selzer

Some Chicago history stories come out of the archives and make you marvel at the fact that the tale hasn't been retold 100 times to you by now. Today, Mysterious Chicago is telling one of those: the legend of Conway, the "One-Legged Killer Clown" of 1912.

Charles Cramer, alias Charles Kramer or Charles Conway, was an itinerant circus performer in the early 20th century. He and his wife took up with a vacationing couple in 1912, one of whom was an heiress. When the heiress was found strangled to death in a rooming house, the Cramers vanished, and a nationwide dragnet was launched as police searched for Mr. Cramer, whose main identifying characteristic was a peg leg (he'd lost one leg below the knee in an accident and declined to get a proper prosthetic).

When captured, Cramer is said to have joked with the jailed. "Did you know you can't hang a man with a wooden leg?" he asked. "You have to use a rope!"

Though a first-degree murder charge had sent plenty of men to the gallows, Cramer was given a life sentence in Joliet. The wooden foot didn't seem to slow him down: He escaped from jail in 1925 and doesn't seem to have ever been found. He'd be about 130 today, so it's assumed he's dead, but how long was a killer clown walking free, perhaps making a living hidden in plain site in some two-bit circus?


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