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It all began on January 12, 1928 when Mabel Schneider saw her five-year-old daughter Dorothy being abducted into a car just a block from her home in Mount Morris, Michigan. The little girl had been running home from school.
After the frantic mother contacted police, an extensive search was launched and volunteers came to help canvas the area. Eventually the search came to a grim conclusion when Dorothy's body was found by a deputy about three miles north of the town of Mount Morris, Michigan where she had lived. While forensic science was still in its infancy, the coroner had no trouble determining that her body had been dissected by a sharp knife.
Police initially suspected that the murder had been committed by an escaped lunatic from a nearby psychiatric hospital but this was quickly ruled. Which still left the question of who could have committed such a horrible crime since all that the poice had to go by was the vague description provided by Dorothy's mother. Still, there was a break in the case when a farmer reported helping a man whose car had become stuck not far from where the body had been found. Unfortunately, he could only recall was that the driver was about fifty years old and wearing a light suit and a dark overcoat. The car the suspect had been driviing was a late-model sedan but otherwise unremarkable.
To help aid police in their investigation, an $8000 reward was posted for any information leading to the arrest of Dorothy's killer. This much money largely guaranteed that the state police would be swamped with "helpful" suggestions and false leads that went nowhere. And then something very odd happened....
According to one newspaper description of what happened next, Harold J. Lotridge, a 25-year-old construction worker and his father were on their way to a construction site near Flint, Michigan when they were both working. On the way, Harold described a vivid dream he had the night previously. "I dreamed about the murder of that little girl in Flint," he said. "I thought I saw it being done and saw the murderer and the impression has stayed with me every since I woke up." When the father pressed him for details about the murderer, Harold provided a description that matched someone they both knew very well.
Adolph Hotelling was a 50-year-old construction worker who was well-respected in the community. Married with five children of his own and a church elder at the very church that the Lotridges attended, Hotelling seemed like the last person anyone would suspect of such a gruesome crime. It was Harold Lotridge who was appointed deacon at the church to fill the position vacated by Hotelling when he was promoted to elder. They had even both attended a church meeting together the day after Dorothy Schneider's body was found.
Accusing him of murder based solely on a dream seemed incredible so the two Lotridges decided to ask their construction foreman for advice before making any claims. As it happened, another construction worker overheard them talking about the murder and, acting on a hunch, told a state trooper about Lotridge's accusation. Since state police were desperate to make an arrest, the trooper came to the construction site and interviewed Harold Lotridge briefly before leaving again.
Later that day, Adolph Hotelling was questioned over Dorothy Schneider's murder. According to newspaper reports, Hotelling eventually gave police a complete statement in which he dispassionately described the murder and claimed that he had no idea why he did it. "I don't know what came over me," he was quoted as saying. "I was driving along and I saw Dorothy. I got her into the car thinking I would take her home..I carried her part way across the field. She still cried and wanted to go home. " The statement went on to describe the killing and later mutilation of the body. There was also a list of women's names found in Hotelling's pocket when he was arrested but they proved to be names of women in his church congregation. Why he had those particular names were never discovered.
His wife collapsed in shock over his admitting to killing Dorothy and to attacking two other girls previously. She then publicly insisted that he must have been tortured into confessing since he was incapable of such an act. The wife also stated that she saw him soon after the murder and there were no spots on his clothing. At some point in the hours after confessing, Hotelling attempted to cut his throat with a knife he had been concealing but police managed to stop him.
While authorities were likely relieved over the end of one of the most intense manhunts in Michigan history, the question of how Harold Lotridge knew about Hotelling's guilt still needed to be settled. That evening, Lotridge was thunderstruck to find himself under arrest as police accused him of having guilty knowledge about the murder. After intense questioning, the police eventually released him and concluded that Hotelling had acted alone in killing Dorothy Schneider.
When news of Hotelling's arrest spread, over one hundred national guardsmen had to be called in to protect him and the jail from being attacked by enraged mobs. Even tear gas bombs did little to disperse the crowds and seven men were later arrested. Hotelling was eventually moved out to an undisclosed location and the mob broke up. Investigators also determined that he had a handkerchief belonging to Dorothy Schneider at the time of his arrest and the farmer, Archie Bacon, who had helped the man whose car had become stuck near where the murder happened positively identified him. As for the Dodge Sedan Hotelling had been driving, it was later found in a garage where he had apparently been trying to change its colour.
A forensic assessment, conducted by state psychiatrist A.S. Rowley, concluded that Hotelling was a "susceptible and highly illiterate animal" who was subject to dizzy spells believed to be "epileptoid in character." While there was no evidence that these "dizzy spells" had anything to do with the murder, the doctor suggested that he be moved to the state hospital if his condition worsened. Otherwise, Hotelling was deemed to be sane enough to stand trial. Despite speculation that his brooding over a recent high-profile case involving a child murder may have driven him over the edge, nobody was able to determine why a middle-aged church deacon would commit such crime.
The evidence against him, along with his confession, was enough to ensure Hotelling's conviction. After an extremely quick trial, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The only real dispute afterward was who would collect the sizable reward for helping police solve the case. While the workman who had originally contacted police about what he overheard about Hotelling claimed the reward, Harold Lotridge decided that he was entitled to a share as well. He eventually hired an attorney and, after a legal battle, managed to win a share of the reward money. Afterward, Lotridge largely faded into obscurity and died in 1934 at the age of 32.
Considering the circumstances of his arrest, including Lotridge's alleged dream, this would seem to be nothing more than a curious story of crime and punishment. Except, in 1953, Adolph Hotelling made headlines when he applied for a new trial after decades of imprisonment. He based his application on the improper actions of the police and the courts in convicting him so long before. While he did make a confession at the time, Hotelling insisted that it was a false confession that the police had forced out of his due to repeated physical abuse, including kicking and beating him. He even said that they even dragged him behind a car to scare him into admitting his guilt.
Hotelling's accusation may actually have been true considering this kind of physical intimidation in police interrogations was legal before the groundbreaking Brown vs Mississippi Supreme Court decision of 1936. Considering how desperate police were to close the case, it seems perfectly plausible that he was intimidated into confessing his guilt. That, along with the very real threat of lynching considering the mob that had formed around the jail while Hotelling was there can certainly have played a role in Hotelling's confession. As for the extremely speedy trial and conviction he received, police and the courts later justified this over their own fear of mob violence if he hadn't been convicted quickly. Whatever the merits of his claim, Hotelling's application was denied and he eventually died in prison.
So, did Harold Lotridge's dream actually catch a murderer? Or did his accusation lead to a case of police intimidation and false conviction? You be the judge.
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