Was Harry Hayward America's First Serial Killer?

Was Harry Hayward America’s First Serial Killer?

One of the most sensational crimes in Minneapolis history could have ended the life of America’s Frist Serial Killer. On December 11, 1895, wealthy socialite Harry T. Hayward was hanged before cheering crowds for orchestrating the brutal murder of his mistress, Catherine “Kitty” Ging.

Yet the shocking public spectacle was merely the culmination of a dark life of gambling, manipulation, and multiple murders spanning years.

As Hayward’s grim execution played out, the city was already in the grip of a dramatic 46-day trial that had captivated residents.

While the charming Hayward was well-known among Minneapolis elite circles, the case peeled back the layers of a dangerous double life.

Police alleged that the cunning Hayward had persuaded Ging—his tenant—to take out a $10,000 life insurance policy naming him as sole beneficiary before having her assassinated just months later.

DayTripper is reader-supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small commission. I never promote things I haven’t vetted myself.

The Crime That Shocked Minneapolis

Catherine Ging was by all accounts a friendly and attractive widow trying to get back on her feet. The 30-year-old dressmaker had moved from New York City in hopes of opening a boutique. She rented a studio apartment inside the beautifully renovated Ozark Flats building owned by Harry Hayward’s parents.

Hayward, then 29, worked as a building manager while financing his high-rolling lifestyle through gambling and tailored scams. Though already married, the handsome Hayward conducted extramarital affairs with female tenants. He soon set his sights on the unsuspecting Ging.

After loaning her money which she struggled to repay, Hayward began manipulating Ging more severely. Unbeknownst to the vulnerable woman, Hayward had persuaded her to take out a $10,000 life insurance policy—an enormous sum then—which listed only himself as beneficiary.

Just months later, Ging’s body was discovered shot dead by Lake Calhoun, under orders from Hayward. Minneapolis was shocked when Hayward’s brother Adry exposed the brutal murder plot.

Harry had blackmailed the building’s janitor, Claude Blixt, into shooting Catherine near the lake after luring her into a carriage ride. His motivation was cold-blooded: trigger her policy’s payout to cover his spiraling debts.

The Sensational “Trial of the Century” Grips Minneapolis

Hayward’s murder trial became a booming spectacle covered feverishly in papers across America. The defendant himself only stoked public intrigue, seeming to relish taunting prosecutors from the stand when not laughing with supporters.

For 46 days, the riveting testimony of 136 witnesses exposed secrets of Harry’s sordid hidden life that defied his charming exterior.

Foremost was the betrayal of his brother Adry, whose detailed testimony linked Harry to manipulating both the insurance scheme and Blixt’s role in Ging’s brutal slaying.

Though Hayward’s defense team fought vainly to exclude Adry’s statements, the damage was done. After a month and a half, both Harry and Blixt were found guilty of first-degree murder.

Hayward reacted with rage at the conviction. But in reality, his troubles were only beginning.

Chilling Confessions from Death Row

In the months between the verdict and Hayward’s eventual date with the noose, the callous manipulation that defined his existence continued. From his cell, he gave shocking interviews admitting that his crimes went far beyond Kitty Ging’s death.

In a detailed confession to his cousin, the condemned man casually admitted to no less than three other murders spanning three different states over his 29 years.

Though records are patchy, the apparent brutality of these additional admitted homicides shocked even in an era accustomed to violence.

Hayward spoke of crimes ranging from shooting a “sporting girl” in the back of the head for money in Pasadena, to beating a Chinese man inside a New York gambling den before impaling his skull on a chair leg.

As chronicled in one paper, Hayward “displayed many traits we now know as typical of serial killers – narcissism, sadism…a lack of empathy.”

Yet while these claims seem to indicate Harry Hayward was a nascent American serial murderer of some notoriety, we may never fully separate truth from fiction when it comes to his boasts. Records remain limited outside his home state.

Still, the alarming confessions paired with Hayward’s history point to, as author Jack El Hai contends, a “criminal psychopathology” on par with the most dangerous examples of his age.

If valid, that would place Hayward among the first identifiable serial killers in the country—a terrifying milestone for understanding American violence which Minneapolis found itself grappling to understand.

Final Hours and the Hanging That Captivated Minnesota

Though the condemned Hayward never publicly showed remorse for his role in Ging’s slaying, the approaching execution date did bring cracks in his cocky facade. As winter descended, tensions grew palpable both inside the county jail and across Minneapolis.

Large crowds gathered nightly outside the jail for weeks, anxiously awaiting updates. Hundreds watched in the early hours of December 11 as guards marched a cloaked Hayward to the gallows.

Yet despite wearing black execution attire, witnesses swore Hayward almost seemed to enjoy the moment when asking for cheers from supporters.

After shallowly paying lip service to forgiveness, Hayward’s arrogant smile returned. He told guards to “pull the rope tighter” and made one last gallows joke before the floor dropped from under his feet at exactly 2:08 am.

But in a twist foreshadowing later controversies, Hayward died slowly, apparently strangled over 13 agonizing minutes due to an improperly positioned noose.

Somehow, even this gruesome final blunder played into mythologizing Hayward’s crimes for a rapt Minnesota public.

As papers reached rural towns describing the killer’s fearless remarks before being “ushered into eternity” by a bumbling sheriff, the sense of dramatic theater was undeniable—leaving a uniquely dark, lingering imprint on the state’s early history.

The Legend Lives On

In the years after his execution, the enigmatic figure of Harry Hayward continued to loom in Minnesota lore. As if the confessed killer had the last laugh, urban legends oddly claimed Harry’s hanging had been faked by a secret society and that he was living free.

Others around Minneapolis whispered for decades that his angry ghost was responsible for the Minnesota Vikings’ chronic failures in their new stadium which had been built near the former jail site.

Hayward’s story simply refused to neatly end, much as his crimes had evaded resolution during his cunning life.

The enthralling tale also continued to entice true crime chroniclers wrestling with the unanswered questions in America’s early murder history.

Among historians, the debate rages on whether Hayward rightfully deserves the infamous label often assigned to him in retrospect: America’s overlooked “first” serial murderer.

The arguments around Hayward representing some precedent for the predators that followed still show no sign of ceasing today.

Over 120 years later, the handsome killer’s legendary capacity to manipulate realities and fantasies alike remains undiminished. And for Minnesota, the name Harry Hayward continues to resurface as a chilling reminder of the evil that once preyed inside its backyard.

Similar Posts