The strange case of Wacker v. Wacker: Part II

The house which still stands on Riverside Drive was new when the Wackers moved into it in 1899.

By CONNIE ZEIGLER, Contributing editor

In 1900, August Wacker filed a court case against his wife, Louise, in Marion Circuit Court requesting that, because his wife was insane, the court grant him the power to sell property they owned jointly without her consent. The court allowed the sale to go forward,     provided that August reserve one-third of the proceeds of the $400 sale for his wife, so that her care would not      burden the county.

Over the next few years, he would repeatedly use this tactic to sell property that Louise co-owned without her consent.

A year before August first took his case to court, the Wackers moved into a new home at 2663 Riverside Drive, in 1899. According to the Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Indianapolis website the Wacker home, which is still standing, is a “cozy, cedar Folk Victorian,” and is interesting enough to be included in the organization’s online architecture tour of the Riverside neighborhood. The website mentions that August Wacker began developing the land around the family’s home into the Miller-Wacker Parkway Addition, with 410 lots in 1902. That same year, 1902, August Wacker sued Louise Wacker in court a second time.

The record of the case, as reported in the Indianapolis Journal on March 11, states that he asked the court to sell and deed “his” property “without the consent of his wife who is insane.” The article also noted that August had purchasers for 11 pieces of property in “Miller & Wacker’s Addition, the total offer for which is $19,600.” Once again the judge, Henry Clay Allen, found in August’s favor and the sale was authorized.

The year 1902 was a busy one for the Wackers. On May 14, 1902, another Wacker v. Louise Wacker lawsuit was reported in the Indianapolis Journal. Donald Morris was Louise’s guardian ad litem in this case, presumably appointed to act in her best interest, in a case that, once again, was concluded in August’s favor. Thirteen days later, August Wacker purchased six lots on Webb Street for $13,000, according to a real estate listing in the Indianapolis Journal.

In July 1902, the Journal reported that August sold several lots in Wacker’s 2nd and 3rd Additions in Haughville to his brother John for $2,500. In September he shuffled lots with his brother in the Haughville additions, sometimes selling, sometimes buying. He also bought Lot 406 in the Miller & Wacker addition from Frances M. Myers for $2,400 and sold the same lot back to Frances M. Myers for $400, as reported in the Journal on September 6, 1902.

While it is not possible to know for certain the reason for the unusual back-and-forth buying and selling of Wacker’s, the records do reveal that he was regularly engaging in sales and purchases of property in which his wife had presumably no ownership. And yet, for a third time in 1902 (and the fourth found in old newspapers), August Wacker sued Louise Wacker in order to sell property they owned together.

A small article, titled “August Wacker’s Petition” in the Journal on Nov. 14, 1902, stated that Wacker wanted “to transfer real estate held by himself and wife Louise. Mrs. Wacker is an inmate of the Central Hospital for the Insane and her signature is necessary to the deed unless permission is granted by the court to allow Wacker to deed it as trustee for his wife.” The court granted permission.

Louise was still in Central Hospital for the Insane (later known as Central State Hospital) in March 1903 when August sued again (fifth time) to sell more of their property. Perhaps fearing that even the circuit court might begin to question the need or purity of his motives, this time Wacker’s court suit stated, according to the Journal, that he wanted to sell one house and one lot in order to “devote the proceeds of the sale to her cure in the sanitarium … should he be allowed to sell the property he is satisfied that his wife will no longer be a charge on the State but that eventually she will recover and become mentally competent.” Once again, the court said “sure,” or something equivalent to that in court speak.

Only three months later, in November 1903, the Journal recorded that Wacker was back in court. This Wacker v. Wacker case was not a property case, but a divorce suit. August Wacker had sued to divorce Louise, the woman whom, only three months earlier, he had sworn to save from insanity by the sale of her real estate. A twist was that the Journal report noted that the case had been dismissed. No information appears in the newspaper about whether the plaintiff, August, dismissed the case, or the court did.

The divorce did not happen, but two months later, in January 1904, Louise died in their home on Riverside Drive. She was 53.

Her obituary in The Indianapolis News states that she died “after long illness,” but does not mention her time in the insane hospital, which would have been widely known in the city by this time after so many newspaper reports on Wacker’s lawsuits. Nor does it explain how or why she was back in her home only a few months after a lawsuit for divorce was dismissed and only a few more months after August had sold more of her property in order to pay for her care at the insane hospital.

According to the Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Indianapolis online tour site, Louise’s funeral photo was found wedged into the Wacker home’s walls during a renovation more than 100 years after her death.

August Wacker is remembered in Jacob Piatt Dunn’s book “Indiana and Indianans” (1919) as a man who “has for many years been engaged in developing and building up Indianapolis and has specialized in constructing homes on property owned by him, selling the finished product.”

Louise Wacker is not remembered in any history of the city. But she was the co-owner of much of that property that August Wacker used in “building up Indianapolis.”