On this day December 10: Gay murder at ‘Hitler House’

december 10 gay murder hitler house dr engelberg
Dr Walter Engelberg. Inset: Ernie Kehler. Images: New York Daily News

On December 10, 1939, New York police launched a manhunt for a tall, muscular Swedish prize-fighter. He was the main suspect in a gay murder case — the killing of Dr Walter Engelberg in a place known to local kids as Hitler House.

After Walter Engelberg failed to show up for work at the Nazi Consulate or answer his phone, a clerk went to check on him. He found the battered nude body of the 40-year-old spy in his bed. Despite an awareness of the true nature of Dr Engelberg’s job, police ruled out any connection to espionage. From the beginning, they believed it was a ‘crime of passion’.

The medical examiner said the first blow proved fatal.

“He never knew what hit him. The first blow literally blew the top of his head off.”

Questioning of known associates provided no leads. Although the crime showed all the hallmarks of a crime of passion, no one knew of Dr Engleberg being involved with a woman. Neighbours said the German often hosted late-night parties but with no female guests.

However, a search of the house turned up 18 boxes of porn, books on nudism and 60 individual photographs of nude men. The penny dropped.

The police called in 25 of the previously questioned friends. The lead investigator did not accuse those witnesses of lying or omitting information. But the more informed questioning did provide fresh leads. Police began to treat the crime as a gay murder case.

On December 10, Engleberg was cremated. And a search commenced for a boxer named Ernie Haas.

Ernie Kehler

Ernie turned out to be Canadian. His real surname was Kehler. He’d fled to Canada with his wife and 5-year-old the day following the murder. Dragged back to New York, he confessed. However, by then, the cops knew most of the story. It appears the doctor liked rough trade. Another boxer introduced him to Kehler two months before. At the time, the fighter was broke, separated from his wife, and camping out in a gym.

The new friendship proved beneficial. Kehler moved into a nice hotel and began to smoke expensive cigars. His wife paid the deposit on a pricey swing set as a Christmas present for their kid. On Monday nights, Engelberg took Kehler to dinner at restaurants. They then went home together to Hitler House.

However, Kehler claimed he had no idea of Engelberg’s designs on him until the night of the murder. He was violently offended when Engelberg ‘got fresh’ with him while undressing for bed.


Let’s look at the facts.

Engelberg had a history of generosity to the boxer and some of his gym buddies. Kehler often visited Engelberg at home — a home littered with gay porn. And, he was in the man’s bedroom as Engelberg prepared for bed.

It is difficult to believe it was the first time the nude bachelor hit on him, or that it concerned the boxer.

The defence described the murder as ‘justifiable homicide’.

“Dr Engelberg was a filthy beast, and when a beast attacks you, you are justified in killing him.”

The judge didn’t buy it, calling the boxer ‘a cheap bum’ and perhaps by ‘cheap’, implying that bum was paid for.

“There were only two men who could tell what really happened, and one of them is dead. I don’t believe Kehler killed Dr Engelberg to defend himself from attack. Kehler was doing what the doctor wanted, and he had been doing it for some time.”


Isn’t it ironic?

Found guilty of first-degree manslaughter, the judge sentenced Kehler to 10 – 20 years. After the US entered the war against Germany, he applied for parole in 1942.

“Isn’t it ironic?” he asked in his plea. (Not the last Canadian to ask that.)

“While the mission of all Americans now is to kill Nazis, I’m in an American jail for killing one.”

It seems his lawyers probably wrote that for him. As the judge more or less stated at his trial, Ernie Kehler was dumb as dogshit. He wouldn’t have known irony if he stood on it in the street and it stuck to his shoe.

Kehler was released in 1946 and returned to Canada.

Read More: December 9 <— On this day —> December 11

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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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