In Episode 284 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger head to Haddam, Connecticut, to a location officially known as Cremation Hill — a place where they say a farmer used to hire farmhands for the season, and then murder them and burn the bodies instead of paying them. There’s some truth to the legend… this is the story and trial of Emil Schutte who was sentenced to hang on October 22, 1922, for the murder.
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Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Theme Music by: John Judd
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*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.
JEFF: So we’ll make a right here onto Plains Road.
RAY: Got it.
JEFF: And that hill on our left up ahead is our destination.
RAY: It mostly looks like woods. And not really much of a hill here in Haddam, Connecticut.
JEFF: No, there isn’t much to it. It’s mainly forest and a bunch of trails going through there. We can pull over here.
[CAR STOPS DOORS CLOSE]
RAY: Okay, so what’s the deal with this hill in Haddam?
JEFF: Ray, this hill is officially known as Cremation Hill because they say the farmer who used to own this land long ago used to murder farmhands up here and then burn the bodies to cover the crime.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. And welcome to Episode 284 of the New England Legends podcast. We’re glad you’re with us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time.
JEFF: Did you know that most of our story leads come from you? This one did. Thanks to Lea Tomaszewski for the lead. Be sure to like and subscribe to our podcast because it’s free anywhere you get your podcasts, and reach out to us anytime through our web site with your own tales of local strangeness. We’re always on the hunt for haunts, monsters, odd history, true crime, roadside oddities, and anything else that’s truly weird in our region.
RAY: Before we explore the mystery of Cremation Hill, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals!
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RAY: Okay, Jeff. Cremation Hill in Haddam, Connecticut. I take it there weren’t funerals up here?
JEFF: No there were not. Well, not in the sense that we think of funerals. There’s this story that’s been passed around these parts about a farmer who would hire farmhands for the season. And then when the season was over he wouldn’t pay them. Instead, he’d murder them and burn the bodies.
RAY: That’s awful. I guess that would be the “Cremation” part of Cremation Hill.
JEFF: Right. Which is the official name of this hill, by the way.
RAY: But you know how sometimes you hear these stories and it turns out that’s not really what happened?
JEFF: Yeah… like maybe there was a funeral home up here long ago, and that’s how the hill got its name? And people made up the murder part because it’s juicy?
JEFF: Not in this case. I’ll beg your forgiveness for this one. But it turns out here on Cremation Hill, where there’s smoke there’s also fire.
RAY: Ohhhh I get it.
JEFF: AND a man hanged for this. So let’s head back to 1921 and meet Emil Schutte.
RAY: It’s the spring of 1921 here in the Shailerville section of Haddam. We’re standing by the farm of Emil Schutte. There’s a small shed nearby that advertises grain, hay, and feed supplies are for sale here. The Schutte Family run a small grocery store on the property, and there’s a single gasoline pump out front where Schutte sells gas to the increasing automobile traffic coming down the road in front of his farm. His house is set back a bit, and that’s where Emil lives with his wife Marie, and some of their seven sons.
JEFF: A little more background on Emil Schutte. He was born in Germany in 1867, and emigrated to New York when he was 20 years old. In New York he married another German immigrant named Marie, and the two had their first son there in 1898. In 1899, they moved to Haddam, Connecticut, where they purchased this farm, and this where their other six boys were born.
Ray: So we’ve got a whole family working this farm by 1920.
JEFF: That’s right. The other thing about Emil Schutte is that he isn’t well liked. Maybe it’s because he’s German, and the world just fought a war against Germany.
RAY: You know, you can tell he works hard at hiding his German accent. I mean, I know he’s been in the United States more than 30 years at this point, but when he speaks you can tell he’s trying to blend in.
JEFF: The more likely reason that Schutte isn’t liked is because he’s mean. He doesn’t treat his family well. They scared of him. Plus, he’s a shady character. He’s been sued twice over land dealings where he was accused of selling land he didn’t own, or misrepresenting what he did have to sell. In recent years, Emil moved a lot of his property into his wife’s name to protect himself from further lawsuits.
RAY: And he’s mean to his family too?
JEFF: When you see Marie Schutte working in the store, she seems petrified of her husband. And their son, Julius was beaten so many times by his father that he joined the Navy as soon as he was of age. His father’s parting words to his son? Emil told Julius: “Go, and may the first bullet that comes along strike you dead.”
RAY: Wow. Nice guy.
JEFF: Yeah. There’s rumors about this nasty man. People steer clear when they can.
RAY: It’s Wednesday, May 18th when Emil Schutte’s world starts to crumble. As we said before, he had transferred most of his land into his wife’s name to protect himself from more lawsuits. Well, Emil wants her to sign some of that land back over to him. On the advice of her sons, Marie refuses. An argument gets heated…
[MAN / WOMAN ARGUING]
RAY: and Emil pulls a revolver on his wife.
RAY: Marie runs for it.
RAY: She runs down the street to her son, Walter’s house.
JEFF: When Walter hears what happened, he grabs his shotgun.
[SHOT GUN RACK]
JEFF: And runs back to his parents’ house. Walter can see that his father is in a rage.
JEFF: Walter fires his shotgun over his father’s head… which sends his angry dad back inside.
[OLD POLICE SIREN]
RAY: The police soon arrive, and Emil’s family has him arrested.
[CELL DOORS SLAM]
JEFF: Once Emil is safely behind bars, his sons finally feel safe enough to tell police more information about their father. And that’s when the house of cards collapses.
RAY: Schutte’s sons offer police a tip that they’ll find something bad near the top of the hill of the Schutte’s farm property.
[WALKING IN WOODS]
RAY: Police hike up the hill and there they find a brush pile that had been burned. When they began to sift through the ashes they discover some buttons, a buckle, and then… human bones. After analysis, it seems the fire was set by kerosene.
JEFF: Pretty soon, the connection is made between these remains and a French-Canadian farm hand named Dennis LeDuc.
RAY: Three of the Schutte brothers testify that they had seen their father and LeDuc arguing on the night of April 21st. The following morning, one of the Schutte boys claimed he saw LeDuc with a hole in his skull, and that his brains were pulsating through the hole. Marie Schutte dressed his wounds and then Dennis LeDuc rested in his cot in the barn. The following morning, he was found dead.
JEFF: Calling the police felt like a bad idea, so Schutte burned the remains in a brush fire. The motive? Schutte owed LeDuc $100 dollars for a season’s work and didn’t want to pay it.
RAY: That’s terrible!
JEFF: And only the beginning. Back in 1915 three members of the Ball family died in a housefire nearby. Their death was ruled asphyxiation. But the Schutte brothers told police this was no accident. So authorities drive over to Haddam Cemetery.
[DIG DIG DIG]
JEFF: And exhume the three bodies of the Ball family. They find bullets in the bodies.
RAY: That’s when Julius Schutte testifies that in the early morning hours of December 10th, 1915, he and his father walked less than a mile from their home to shack where the Balls lived. Julius was told to carry a .38-caliber rifle and an oil can. His father brought a shotgun and kindling wood. Once at the house, Emil soaked the wood in oil, and told his son to light a fire at the back door.
[FIRE BUILDING THROUGHOUT]
RAY: As the fire grew and smoke filled the house, soon screams were heard coming from inside. First, Mrs. Ball raced out the front door to escape the fire.
RAY: But she was greeted by Emil who shot her dead. Next, 18 year-old Jacob Ball came running out with a pistol in his hand.
RAY: Emil shot Jacob. And finally when Joseph Ball ran around his house looking for the fire…
RAY: He too was shot by Emil. But 18-year-old Jacob Ball wasn’t killed by the first shot. So Emil walked up to the boy, put his foot on his back…
RAY: And shot Jacob through the neck at point-blank range. Emil and Julius then dragged the bodies back inside and left while the house was consumed in flames.
[FIRE FADES OUT]
JEFF: The motive for this awful crime? The Balls were once wards of the town. They were poor immigrants from the western part of what recently became known as Czechoslovakia. In 1909, East Haddam bought the family a shack of a house and a little bit of land to give them a fresh start and a chance to earn their own way. The Ball’s lived too close to Emil Schutte’s house for his liking. They were undesirable. At one point, Schutte was trying to sell a piece of property near the Ball land and was chased off by a shotgun-holding Joseph Ball.
RAY: So Schutte never liked his new neighbors, and now they were a potential threat to a business deal…
JEFF: Exactly. The deaths of the Ball family were initially ruled a tragic accident. But after they were exhumed and the bullets found, Emil Schutte was found guilty of their murders. He’s sentenced to hang for four murders on October 22, 1922.
[HANGING SNAP / ROPE]
JEFF: His final words were, “Well, good-bye.” And that brings us back to today.
RAY: Schutte was buried in an unmarked grave in Pine Grove Cemetery in Middletown. He represented himself in court, and was described as firm and stoic even when his sentencing was read to him he showed no emotion. But in his final six months, he grew desperate. Writing letters making appeals, and begging. None of it helped.
JEFF: Schutte wasn’t the last to be hanged in Connecticut. But his story is remembered because he was a bad person all around. He killed one person over $100 dollars, and murdered an entire family because he didn’t like them. And today, on maps, you’ll see the name of this hill is officially known as Cremation Hill.
RAY: So there’s truth to the legend!
JEFF: There is. As the story was told and retold, some people imply that Emil Schutte did this to many farm hands. That his M.O. was to seek out workers from far away with no local connections. Make them work for a season, then kill them and burn them. Some say he did it over and over and over. A serial killer. In truth, he did it once. Plus he murdered some neighbors. Add in his nasty reputation and public execution, and a horrific legend is born.
RAY: A legend that left a literal mark in the naming of this hill. And that brings us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and sometimes veer off course.
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We’d like to thank our sponsor Nuwati Herbals. Thank you to our patreon patrons, and our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.