The Killer Who Haunts Me

In 1895, the nation was riveted by the trial of Harry Hayward, accused of murdering a Minneapolis dressmaker. Now, more than a century later, writer Jack El-Hai asks: Was Kitty Ging’s killer a repeat offender—and America’s first serial killer?

Among the many villains, schemers, and scoundrels I have researched over the past few decades while writing about crime and mayhem in Minnesota, one murderer stands out. In old photographs, he wears a tuxedo jacket, starched shirt, and bowtie; a healthy growth of moustache covers his upper lip and his eyes stare untroubled into the distance. He was a handsome man, about 30 years old at the time of his hanging. What makes him stand out in my mind, however, is the utter lack of remorse he showed for the tragedy he caused. He seems a true sociopath, devoid of feeling for anyone other than himself. Thinking of him has always chilled me. His name was Harry Hayward.

You probably haven’t heard of Harry Hayward—few reference books about American crime mention his name. But if you are familiar with Hayward, it’s inevitably because of his association with the 1894 murder of Catherine “Kitty” Ging, the one crime for which he was convicted. Ging, a seamstress, owned a successful dressmaking business on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis and had met Hayward, a man of leisure, after moving into Ozark Flats, an apartment building his father owned. (The building, now called the Bellevue, still stands at 1227 Hennepin Avenue.) Charming and seemingly sophisticated, Hayward caught Ging’s eye. They soon began dating, although Hayward was more interested in Ging’s income than her companionship. He took large loans from her, which he lost gambling, and told his brother that she was “a fool, an easy mark.”

Eventually, Hayward took out an insurance policy on Ging’s life and tricked her into signing papers that named him the beneficiary. He threatened and coerced the Ozark Flats building engineer into agreeing to kill Ging on an evening when Hayward had a solid alibi: a date with another woman. On December 3, 1894, in the guise of transporting her to a spot where Hayward had promised to meet her, the engineer took Ging on a buggy ride, put a bullet through her head with a .38-caliber revolver, and dumped her body along Excelsior Boulevard, not far from the north edge of Lake Calhoun. A railroad employee walking home from work discovered the corpse, still streaming blood.

Police quickly extracted a confession from the building engineer, who implicated Hayward. Newspapers around the country reported on the lengthy trial—for weeks, Hayward tried to implicate his brother Adry in the murder. But the jury convicted Hayward and sentenced him to death. (The engineer, also convicted, was given a life term in prison.) Hayward was the last person hanged in Hennepin County before the state abolished capital punishment in 1911. He never expressed remorse; he laughed over Ging’s fate and disparaged her as a stingy woman unwilling to keep his wallet fat. He joked and kidded his way to the gallows. Only the noose silenced him.

Hayward’s case never closed in my mind, though. I wrote an article about Ging’s murder and Hayward’s execution in 1995, but I felt no resolution. Even as the years passed, I found myself thinking about the case. Hayward’s brutality seems so out of place in 19th-century Minneapolis, so modern. I couldn’t shake off the memory of the killer’s calm, confident face. He seemed extraordinarily manipulative, cold-hearted, and dangerous.

So I kept track of Harry Hayward, reviewing my notes on him every few years and looking for new sources of information. I read old articles about him, dug into newspaper archives, searched for his grave in Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery, and even listened to an audio recording at the Minnesota Historical Society that purportedly featured Hayward reading a confession to Ging’s murder. (It’s probably a fake.) I set up Google alerts to let me know whenever the names Kitty Ging and Harry Hayward appeared online. (The alerts mostly informed me of blog posts about cats, as well as the activities of two men in Seattle and Ann Arbor who have the misfortune of sharing the killer’s name.) My wife’s eyes grew dull when I brought up Hayward’s crime, and even my children lost interest. All this obsessive sleuthing made me feel uncomfortable, like an ex-smoker sneaking a cigarette. More than a century after his death, Hayward was manipulating me.

One book I especially wanted to find was Harry Hayward: Life, Crimes, Dying Confession and Execution of the Celebrated Minneapolis Criminal, assembled by Hayward’s cousin, Edward H. Goodsell, and privately published in the Twin Cities the year after Hayward’s hanging. I hoped it would offer insight into Hayward’s state of mind. No library collection in Minnesota seemed to have it, however, and copies offered for sale were beyond my budget.

One morning last year, much to my surprise, I discovered the Hayward book online—among the millions of volumes scanned for the Google Books project. I had checked before, unsuccessfully, but now here it was. Finding it was akin to running into one’s long-lost brother in a local convenience store. Suddenly, the contents of the book I had been seeking were displayed right on my computer screen. I sniffed around it for starters. A bookplate on the digitized inside cover confirmed that the volume came from the Columbia University library. It was the bequest of a man named Frederic Bancroft. I spent hours trying to learn more about Bancroft, a historian with no personal or professional ties to Hayward that I could ever unearth, then, almost reluctantly, like a gourmand finishing his preliminaries and sitting down to eat, I began reading. I devoured the text in an afternoon.

The picture it painted of Hayward was worse than my nightmares had suggested. Observing that Hayward’s appointment with the hangman was fast approaching, Goodsell had pleaded with his cousin to give an account of his life before it was too late. Hayward was reluctant, but Goodsell persisted. “It was suggested that even if the prisoner did not believe in a future state, or if he did not think that to tell about his criminal acts would make the coming execution easier for himself, it was due to his brother Adry and others that the real facts in the case be given to the world,” Goodsell wrote. This argument persuaded Hayward.

On December 9, 1895, less than 26 hours before his scheduled execution, Hayward agreed to start talking. His words spilled out, filling more than 100 pages. In language drained of emotion, he not only admitted his plan to murder Ging but also laid claim to killing three people in California, New York, and New Jersey (and eluding capture for those crimes). He confessed to plotting two other killings in Minneapolis as well. His motives: money and the thrill of extinguishing life.

If the book can be believed, and if Hayward’s confession can be accepted as true, the killer of Kitty Ging ranks as a psychopath of unusual distinction. His crimes and the emotionless way in which he recounted them brought to my mind Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Ed Gein, and Jeffrey Dahmer. The Minneapolis police do not appear to have taken Hayward’s claims seriously or to have followed up on them.

Hayward’s admission to serial-killing shocked me, although I knew of many other such murderers in Minnesota, including Harvey Carignan, Mark Profit, and Paul Stephani (the “Weepy-Voiced Killer” of the 1980s); in addition, the spree killer Andrew Cunanan found two of his victims in Minnesota during his four homicidal months on the run in 1997. But even more intriguing to me was the timing of the murders that Hayward laid out in his confession. He claimed to have begun his killing during the mid-to late-1880s—“For 10 years, I led a kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde existence,” he declared. This puts him a few years ahead of H. H. Holmes (also known as Herman Mudgett), the Philadelphia and Chicago murderer at the center of Erik Larson’s bestselling book The Devil in the White City). Holmes is generally acknowledged as America’s first identifiable serial killer. But if Hayward’s confession is true, he has wrested away that dubious honor and carried it here to Minnesota.

Of course, I wondered about the truthfulness of Hayward’s confession. He frequently lied, including statements he made under oath during his trial. That’s probably why the police paid no heed to his stories: They probably considered the source hopelessly short on credibility. Certainly some murderers—most notoriously Henry Lee Lucas, who confessed to about 600 murders during the 1970s and ’80s after his arrest in Texas, most of which he did not commit—have exaggerated their crimes and even confessed to fictional crimes to heighten their status and importance.

The possibility of Hayward lying in his confession so confounded me that one afternoon I called some experts on the history of criminology. Frederic Reamer, a professor of social work at Rhode Island College and the author of Heinous Crime: Cases, Causes, and Consequences, a book about criminals who commit unusually shocking offenses, told me: “When offenders confess, they’re usually telling the truth—they don’t often invent crimes that didn’t occur. When a false confession happens, there’s often a psychological reason, with evidence that the person is struggling with delusional thinking.” A longtime member of Rhode Island’s parole board, Reamer believes such cases—as well as attempts by criminals to lay claim to crimes they didn’t commit—to be very rare. “My guess is that most pre-execution confessions are reliable, if there’s no self-deception or mental illness in the picture,” Reamer says.

I began to suspect that the very concept of serial-killing must have seemed, to the Minneapolis police of the 1890s, incredible. Although some Victorian era law enforcers knew of links between different crimes, like the Jack the Ripper murders in London from 1888 to 1891, it wasn’t until the 20th century that the varieties of multiple murder were observed, defined, and studied. “Police undoubtedly had a hard time believing Hayward’s confession because that type of behavior was so foreign to them,” Scott Thornsley, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice Administration at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, told me. Homicides weren’t always reported in 19th century newspapers, and communication between police departments was uneven. The odds that law enforcement would connect crimes committed at different times and places were, at best, poor.

Despite the police’s dismissal of Hayward’s truthfulness, I grew convinced that some of the most damning parts of his confession rang true and merited serious consideration. Hayward did not seem to be bragging. His descriptions of the murders he committed before Ging’s in no way made him look competent, strong, or heroic. One victim, in Long Branch, New Jersey, was a terminally ill tubercular man who met Hayward on a train. Hayward claimed to have robbed the consumptive of $2,000, forced him into the woods, and shot him before disposing of the body in the Shrewsbury River. Hayward’s final victim before Ging was a fellow patron of a gambling den in New York City’s Chinatown. Hayward gave no reason for assaulting the gambler other than, “I was mad to start with. Those things come on a fellow kind of sudden.” Hayward knocked him to the floor, kicked him in the stomach, and gruesomely jabbed the leg of a chair into the victim’s eye. I felt sick as I read that Hayward claimed to have sat down on the chair, crushing the man’s skull, before fleeing.

The killing Hayward recounts in greatest detail in his confession is that of a 20-year-old woman (“pretty good looking and stylish”) he met at a dance in Southern California. Hayward wanted her money, and he convinced her to loan him $700 for a fictitious business investment. She gave him the money, and he could have just run off with it, but he feared she might later identify him and trace him back to Minneapolis. So Hayward invited her for a hike in the Sierra Madre Mountains, a few miles from her hometown of Pasadena. It was a fraudulent excursion—just like Ging’s final buggy ride, I realized. Hayward recalled:

It was a lonely place. There are many lonely places around there. It is prairie until you get to the mountains, and then it is dark…. Well, I made a fizzle of it. She didn’t die very quick. She flopped around…. [I] shot her myself in the back of the head, and turned immediately, and didn’t look at her, but at the same time could see that she was moving…. hayward couldn’t have imagined that this account would add luster to his criminal reputation. He comes off as cowardly and squeamish—even embarrassed by his ineptness as he adds that he buried the California woman “kind of halfway” with a piece of board he happened to find at the site. “Well, I hadn’t made preparations, you know, for it—hadn’t figured this thing out enough, cold-blooded, like I might later on,” he says.

The final argument in support of the veracity of Hayward’s published confession, I believed, could be found in Goodsell’s comments about his interview with Hayward, his attempts to get the matter down on paper: “It was only after persistent questioning, done as carefully and diplomatically as possible, and after some judicious argument, that the murderer was induced to say as much as he did about the four murders…and his manner throughout this final recital was such as to convince his hearers of the absolute truth of his statement.”

I asked Thornsley, the criminologist, if he thought the evidence suggested Hayward was a serial killer. “There’s nothing that would preclude me from saying he could have been engaged in murder with many victims,” Thornsley told me. “If he killed one woman, he was capable of murder over and over again.” I hung up and felt unsettled. If Hayward was not only a killer, but a serial killer—the worst kind of killer—perhaps it explained why I’d had such nagging thoughts about him for so long.

Recast as a serial murderer, Hayward joins the ranks of an “elite” category of criminals—one that both appalls and attracts us. What’s more, if his confession is true and he is indeed America’s first identifiable serial killer, the annals of criminology will have to be rewritten. But what should we Minnesotans make of such notoriety, as the historical spotlight swings our way? We do not celebrate other low moments in our state’s past—like the mass hanging of 38 Native Americans in Mankato in 1862—and our rare public observances of crimes, such as the tours of gangster haunts in St. Paul or the Defeat of Jesse James Days celebration in Northfield, downplay the violence and loss of life associated with the behaviors of the perpetrators. Certainly, no one will propose putting up a statue of Hayward or adding Ozark Flats to the list of must-see attractions published by the state tourism board.

After reading Hayward’s confession, I spent weeks trying to track down newspapers and other records that might offer some corroboration of Hayward’s claims. I’ve found nothing, perhaps because Hayward’s details as to the time and place of his murders were sketchy, or because most of his crimes took place in remote, untraveled locations. Or maybe, even worse, nobody knew or cared about the people whose lives Hayward snuffed out. I freeze inside when I think about them—murdered, abandoned, unknown. They don’t deserve the purgatory to which they’ve been banished. I imagine the fear in their eyes as they realized their fate. I imagine the frustration of their friends and families as the police turned up nothing, as years passed with no recompense from a judge or jury. No justice can reach the victims now, of course, except that which comes from acknowledging their deaths and holding Harry Hayward responsible. Perhaps, as his past is further illuminated, they too will emerge from the shadows.

Jack El-Hai is the author of The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness.

The Confessed Crimes of Harry Hayward


Texas, near the Rio Grande River
Hayward confessed to shooting and wounding the brother of a woman he was romancing; the brother stumbled upon Hayward and the woman together. He was never arrested for this crime.


Sierra Madre Mountains, near Pasadena, California
Hayward claimed to have shot and killed a 20-year-old woman whose money he stole. He later hired another man to dispose of the body in the Pacific Ocean. He was never arrested for this crime.


1880s or early 1890s?
Long Branch, New Jersey
Hayward described robbing a tubercular man, shooting him, and dumping the body in the Shrewsbury River. He was never arrested for this crime.


Early 1890s?
Hayward confessed to trying to burn down his father’s house. While the house blazed, he excitedly watched the assembling crowd, ran inside to retrieve his mother’s trunk, and helped firefighters rescue dishes and other items. He was never arrested for this crime.



Early 1890s?
New York, New York
Hayward said he crushed the skull of a fellow player during a card game in a gambling den in Chinatown. He was never arrested for this crime.


Early 1890s
Hayward claimed he seriously considered killing for her money a young woman identified as Mary C.W. He abandoned the plan when he realized he could get his hands on her funds only by marrying her. “Taking this girl out in a buggy—do you know, for a fact, I could hardly keep from just choking that girl to death. Would just have liked to,” he said.


To acquire life insurance proceeds, Hayward planned the murder of dressmaker Catherine “Kitty” Ging, and he coerced another man into shooting her. He was arrested, tried, and found guilty of this crime; his execution followed in December 1895.


While imprisoned for Ging’s murder, Hayward asked a friend to kill the publisher of a Twin Cities newspaper that had reported on Hayward’s gambling “and other escapades.” The friend refused. He was never arrested for this crime.