“The Great Billick – Cardreader and Seer”
In 1904 Herman Billick met a fellow expatriate Bohemian by the name of Martin Vzral. Vzral had worked in the milk trade and built up a considerable fortune of around $6,000. He also had a nice home on West 19th Street in Chicago that he shared with his wife and seven children. Billick’s real name was Vajicek but he had changed it to the more pronounceable Billick. He had arrived in Chicago from Cleveland, Ohio, and was everything that Vzral was not — scheming, cheating and lazy. His business was very different — he was a magician and had cards printed “The Great Billick — Cardreader and Seer”. He also sold love potions to his neighbours.
Billick decided to relieve Martin Vzral of his fortune and, one day, visited his milk depot where he suddenly began speaking in tongues before blurting out, “You have an enemy. He is trying to destroy you.” As it happened, Vzral was caught up in rivalry with another milkman and Billick offered to cast a spell for him. Billick began to visit the Vzral home to work his magic and get some financial reward.
On 27 March 1905 Martin Vzral died after a short illness punctuated by stomach pains. On 28 July his second daughter Mary died after suffering a similar complaint. She left $800 insurance money, which went to her mother, along with the £$2,000 left by Martin Vzral. In December another daughter, Tilly, died and her insurance policy was worth $600. In August 1906 Rose Vzral, 18, died after suffering stomach problems. She had been insured for $300. On 30 November 1906 Ella, 12 years old, died. Her life had been insured for $100.
West 19th Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Monday 27 March 1905—Friday 30November 1906
As locals gossiped, the police moved in and arrested Billick. A warrant was also issued for Mrs Vzral as an accomplice but she committed suicide by taking arsenic before the warrant could be executed. Billick was charged with six counts of murder after the bodies were exhumed and found to have been poisoned with arsenic.
At his trial in July 1907 Billick confessed to swindling the Vzral family but denied involvement in their deaths. There was no evidence that Billick had ever possessed arsenic but the jury still found him guilty and sentenced him to death. His execution was stayed several times before it was commuted to life imprisonment. He was released in January 1917.