Otillie Tillie Klimeck or Gbureck lived a poverty-stricken existence in Northern Chicago in 1911. It was an immigrant neighbourhood known as Little Poland; most of its inhabitants were Polish. Gbureck was married to a lazy gadabout named John Mitkiewicz, who drank heavily and never worked. She had to support them both which she did for twenty-six years. Gbureck was a decent woman at that time but the years had taken their toll. She was a tough, hard-looking woman. One day she stood up for herself and ordered her husband to find work or she would throw him out of her house. It had taken decades for Gbureck to stand up for herself but at 55, she was reborn.
Gbureck decided to re-make herself. She quit her menial job and chose to become a psychic. She entered a shop and ordered a black dress. The shopkeeper wanted to know when her husband had died. Gbureck grinned and said “in two weeks.” The ominous answer gave Gbureck respect. No one wanted to mess with a psychic. She became important and powerful in the community, something she had never experienced in her life. Of course Gbureck’s predictions would be useless unless they came true. Not only did Gbureck become a psychic, she became a poisoner too.
Gbureck gave her husband a lethal dose of arsenic. He died a slow, agonizing death which suited Gbureck just fine. In fact, Gbureck was a sadistic woman who got a perverse enjoyment from watching her husband suffer. Gbureck became a serial killer. It was a way of life she wore as easily as her black dress. Just as she had “predicted” Gbureck’s husband passed away within two weeks of buying her dress. She cashed in on his insurance policy of $1,000.00. At that time in her poor neighbourhood that was a considerable amount of money. Murdering husbands provided her a way to sustain herself.
Her second husband Joseph Ruskowski. and third husband Frank Kupczyk both died. Gbureck wasn’t too discreet. She mocked Ruskowski, greeting him in the morning by saying “It won’t be long now,” and “You’ll be dying soon,” and joking with neighbors that he had “two inches to live.” Had he known about her last husband, Ruskowski might have made a run for it. Somewhere in there a boyfriend who annoyed her also died. Gbureck “predicted” all of their deaths. The people in her neighbourhood were both religious and superstitious. They were afraid of Gbureck. She became known as the “high priestess” of a “Bluebeard clique” in Little Poland.
Her reputation as a fortune-teller grew. No one dared to cross her lest she cast a spell against that person. She whispered “you’re going to die soon” to some men in her home. A young woman noticed this and when she commented on it to someone, she also died. Gbureck even poisoned the neighbour’s dog beside its barking annoyed her. Doggone it.
Gbureck’s weapon was her delicious stew. She was famous for being able to whip up a great meal in a matter of minutes. No one knew her secret ingredient. No one dared speak their suspicions to police. Every husband she killed had a generous life insurance policy. Killing spouses was lucrative business . Everyone was in such a stew over it.
However the last husband she would ever have was spared. In 1921, after Kupczyk’s death, she married a man named Joseph Klimek and lived with him at 1453 Tell (lies?) Place (now 1453 Thomas Street). His brother alerted police in time to prevent his death. Gbureck was arrested. Never one for diplomacy, she told the arresting officer that “The next one I want to cook a dinner for is you.” The bodies of Gbureck’s previous husbands were exhumed. They all contained enough arsenic to kill four people. Gbureck was pretty determined.
Police also arrested her cousin, Nellie. Gbureck rolled over on her and told the police that when she told Nellie she was tired of her third husband, Nellie suggested divorce. Gbureck said that “I will get rid of him some other way,” and claimed that Nellie had given her a “goodly portion” of a poison called “Rough on Rats.”. With a name like that it should have been given to Gbureck.
After her arrest, it came to light that several relatives and neighbors of the two women had died. Two neighbors Gbureck had quarreled with became gravely ill after she gave them candy. Gbureck’s trial made the front page of newspapers across the country. She revelled in the attention and enjoyed the spotlight until she was sent to prison. She remained there until she died but not from arsenic poisoning. Nellie was acquitted after spending a year in prison during her drawn-out trial. Ever loyal, Gbureck often teased Nellie in prison for her own enjoyment, once convincing the naive Nellie that she was about to be taken out and hanged.
The number of Gbureck’s victims was at least nine. Some suspect it was as high as twenty. Several of Gbureck and Nellie’s cousins and relatives were found to have become gravely ill shortly after eating at Gbureck’s house. Gbureck was one of the deadliest most sadistic women in Chicago’s history.