The Trunk Mystery

In my very first podcast episode ever (yeah, it’s going to be a little raw), please join me, Laura, on my journey to learn more about St. Louis’s seedy past and unbelievable true crime.  While you are at it, use your own detective skills to see if you have what it takes to determine the difference between fact and fiction.

One of the most infamous stories from St. Louis’s past is the trunk mystery.  A foul smelling trunk is found in a deserted hotel room in 1885.  From the discovery of the trunk to the capture of the man responsible for its gruesome contents, this story is stranger than fiction.   Listen and decide for yourself. 




Martha Hoke’s chalk-plate illustration of Charles Arthur Preller’s body inside the trunk found at the Southern Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri in April of 1885.
Three page letter from Chas Bieger, trunk salesman, describing his account of opening the foul-smelling trunk in the Southern Hotel to find the decomposing body of Charles Arthur Preller. He wrote this letter to K. G. “Jock” Bellairs, a crime reporter for The St. Louis Star and Times, who wrote an article for that paper in 1922 recalling the details of the 1885 Preller-Maxwell case. This letter can be found at the Library and Research Center and is part of the Missouri Historical Society Collection.


“A Letter from Maxwell.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 31 July 1888. 

“Artist, 74, Among Eight Women Who Exhibit Paintings.” St. Louis Star-Times, 4 Apr. 1935. 

Beiger, Chas. Letter to K. Bellairs. 22 June 1922. K. Bellairs Papers, Missouri History Museum Library, St. Louis, MO. Manuscript. 

“Came to Kill.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 29 Nov. 1893. 

“Father and Son.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 24 Oct. 1885.  

“He Killed Preller.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 24 May 1886. 

“His Dying Statement.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10 Aug. 1888. 

“How Preller Died.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 26 May 1886. 

“It Should Be Spurned.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 23 Sept. 1887. 

Linzee, David, and Nick Openlander. Infamous St. Louis Crimes & Mysteries. Palmerston and Reed Pub., 2001. 

“Maxwell’s Defense.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 18 May 1886. 

“Maxwell Will Rejoice.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10 May 1886. 

“Maxwell’s Story.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 19 Feb. 1888. 

“Munchausen-Maxwell.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9 May 1885. 

“Preller’s Death Struggle.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 16 June 1885. 

“Preller’s Murder.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12 Aug. 1885. 

“Still Calls It Murder.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 19 May 1889. 

“Tell-Tale Groans.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 18 Apr. 1885. 

“The Chalk Plate Process | Graphic Arts.” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University, 

“The Criminal Court.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 16 June 1886. 

“The Maxwell Trial.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11 May 1886. 

 “The Body Identified.” St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, 17 Apr. 1885. 

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