Whether you’re choosing between a cozy bed and breakfast or a 5-star resort, one of the greatest parts of traveling is deciding where to stay. Knowing fresh sheets and room service await you at your home away from home is a comfort that is hard to beat. However, every place has a history, and sometimes that story is so grand it becomes the place itself.
For anyone traveling to San Antonio, Texas, the up-and-coming Pearl District is a must-see stop. What is quickly becoming the hippest part of town is all centered around one monumental hotel, and it’s this central figure of San Antonio that holds the darkest secret of the whole city’s past. A secret so slick, the locals only let it slip after a drink… or three.
Strolling through the popular Pearl District of San Antonio, Texas, you’ll be surrounded by posh boutiques, hip eateries, and dazzlingly high-end spas. The real star of the Pearl, however, is an upscale hotel known as the Hotel Emma.
This 19th-century Brewery-turned-hotel is the ultimate place to lay your head for the night if you are passing through the historic Alamo land. But guests should beware: while it may sound sweet, this hotel’s ominous past has been branded right into its name.
It all started back in 1902, when a German immigrant named Otto Koehler left his job as a manager at the Lone Star Brewery to take the Helm of the Pearl Brewing Company. He had big plans to turn the Pearl into one of the biggest breweries in the country.
After leaving Germany, Otto settled in St. Louis, where he learned all the ins and outs of the brewing business. By the time he moved to San Antonio, he was a force to be reckoned with, and it was not long at all before he became President of the Brewing Association.
His expertise in the beer trade, coupled with his successful investments, made Otto not only a very respected man but an extremely rich one. In fact, he was known as one of the wealthiest men in the Southwest until his untimely death in 1914 — this is where his wife, Emma, comes in.
Mrs. Emma Koehler, also a native German, was right by her husband’s side through all of his success, even helping him run the business at the brewery. That was until 1910 when she was in a devastating car accident that confined her to her bed.
Her condition required full-time care, so Otto sought to hire a home-nurse to look after her. It wasn’t long before he found the woman for the job. Yet another German immigrant, Emma’s nurse seemed perfect for the position. Strangely enough, her name was also Emma — Emma Dumpke.
Emma Dumpke (Emma II) was in her 20s when she took on work with the Koehlers. She was described as a petite woman with sparkling hazel eyes. Of course, it wasn’t long before Otto was charmed by the new Emma in his life, and their relationship turned romantic.
Otto, who was in his mid-50s at the time, didn’t do much to cover his affair with Emma II. With his wife bed-ridden and him being as wealthy as he was, who would even dare speak out against him? But the barrels were soon to turn in a way no one saw coming.
Not long after Otto took Emma II as his mistress, she invited her close friend to come to San Antonio to live with her. Emma II’s friend also happened to be a nurse who immigrated from Germany. And, strangely enough, her name was also Emma — Emma Burgermeister.
Emma Burgermeister (Emma III) was certainly no less striking than her friend. She stood tall with blonde hair and a certain charm that just seemed to make her irresistible. Otto at once offered to buy the two women a small cottage in town where they could live. Only there was a catch.
Otto became nervous about Emma II’s loyalty, so he bought the cottage in Emma III’s name. That way, if Emma II were to ever leave him, he wouldn’t also lose the cottage. He gave the two women a monthly allowance as well: $125 for Emma II and $50 for Emma III.
From the outside, it may have seemed that Otto was doing the gentlemanly thing in also providing some security for his mistress’s friend. But Otto was a brilliant investor — it’s how he made his fortune after all — and a good investor always looks out for his best interests.
And Otto’s interests were not surprising in the least. Why have one Emma when you can have two? Better yet, why have two Emmas when there are three? With the arrival of Emma III, Otto’s Emma love triangle was finally completed.
But if geometry taught us anything, it’s that triangles and hearts are incongruent. By 1913, Otto’s leery feelings about Emma II proved true. She found love with a man named Doschel and ran off with him to St. Louis, where they were wed.
Though he had his suspicions about Emma II for some time, that did not make her abrupt departure any easier for the beer mogul. In his grief, he flung himself even harder at Emma III, upping her allowance, taking her on trips abroad, and even proposing marriage.
Though she claimed she loved Otto, the marriage proposal brought everything to a screeching halt for Emma III. She could not allow Otto to abandon Mrs. Koehler like that, especially in her weak condition. But a man like Otto does not take rejection lightly.
Not long after Emma III turned Mr. Koehler down, he took another trip to Germany, only this time he didn’t invite her along. Emma III didn’t hear from Otto the whole time he was abroad and upon his return to San Antonio, he didn’t visit, let alone call.
It quickly became apparent that Otto had moved on to a new flame, but with all her security tied up in the old man, Emma III gave one last fighting shot at getting what she deserved. When she got in touch with Otto to ask to meet up, he agreed. Just on one condition.
Otto demanded that Emma III meet him at a bar in the red light district of San Antonio and that she bring “all of her papers.” Essentially, he wanted letters, credits, and anything else she could possibly use as blackmail against him.
It was then that she realized just how much their relationship had turned. Emma III began to fear for her own safety. In a desperate attempt to cover herself, she called the one person she knew could protect her from Otto…
From the beginning, it was clear how deeply infatuated Otto was with Emma II — he would do anything for her. Emma III knew if she could convince her friend to come down from St. Louis, she would have the upper hand against Otto.
Emma II needed little convincing. As soon as she heard her friend was afraid, she packed her bags and headed back down south. By the time she got there, Emma III had come up with a plan. Instead of meeting Otto in the red light district as planned, she sent Emma II to the Pearl brewery to ask Otto, in person, to come meet Emma III at the cottage.
Stunned by the sudden reappearance of his former mistress, Otto agreed to change the plan and meet at the cottage. Just before 5 pm, on November 13th, 1914, Otto drove his horse and buggy to the little house on 532 Hunstock and hurried inside.
When he entered the home, Emma II was in the parlor, but she told Otto he should go and see Emma III first, who was lying down in her bedroom with a headache. Obediently, Otto agreed if that would earn him time with Emma II. But moments later everything erupted.
Just minutes after five o’ clock, a neighbor heard gunshots. When she ran outside, Emma II was in the front yard screaming for help. The police were called to the scene, and with a pack of nosy neighbors, they broke down the door and entered into the melee.
Accounts of what was seen when the police entered the little cottage vary. Some say Emma III was lying over Otto, covered in blood. Others say she was found with her head in the lap of a neighbor who arrived before the police. But the question remained — what happened?
The crime scene looked like a small guerilla armory. There was a .25 caliber revolver on the nightstand, an open case knife on the floor, and a .32 caliber automatic — the official murder weapon, still hot from being fired — laying on the floor in a pool of red.
The one thing for certain, however, was that there, lying on the floor, dead as a doornail, with a broken neck and three bullets in his head and chest, was the richest man in the south, Mr. Otto Koehler.
Emma III was immediately taken to the hospital to be treated for a gash on her wrist and bruises on her neck (some witnesses claim they saw no such injuries on Emma’s body). From the hospital, the police escorted her directly to the county jail, although her stay there would be brief.
Emma III spent no more than a few nights behind bars before an anonymous person posted her $7,500 bail. Still, a grand jury indicted her for murder, but suddenly she was nowhere to be found. However, State Senator Carlos Bee, who was acting as her lawyer, offered the only pardonable excuse for her absence…
The murderess in question had abruptly left for Germany to fulfill her patriotic duty and aid wounded soldiers in the war. This would be a somewhat legitimate reason for Emma III to skip town when she stood to stand trial. The only problem was, she never left the country.
Instead, Emma III made her way up to New York City, where she stayed for three years until 1917 when she called the court and announced she was ready to stand trial. By then, she had arranged for the former Texas Governor to handle her case. There was no mistaking, Emma III was a very slick woman.
In January of 1918, Emma III made her return to the Alamo City to face her charges. The prosecution had prepared a fool-proof argument as they convinced one of Texas’ first female attorneys, Florence Ramer, to testify that Emma III had shared her plan to kill Otto. Only there was one problem.
On the day of the trial, Florence Ramer was nowhere to be found. In fact, she had fled in the middle of the night but was later arrested a few towns away and brought back to San Antonio where she pulled a move that threw everyone.
Ramer invoked attorney-client privilege and denied everything. That was also one of the last courtrooms she ever saw. After the trial, Florence Ramer left town once again, but this time for Hollywood, where she kicked off her grande dame acting career as Florence Bates.
The courtroom was rife with contradiction. Otto was at once coming at Emma III with a pistol and going after Emma II in the parlor. Emma III even tried to “shoot herself in the head”… but somehow missed. The only thing confirmed was Otto had arrived unarmed.
Nonetheless, after four years of suspense, the trial only lasted one week, including the Ramer delay. On January 22, 1918, the all-male jury found Emma III not guilty. All charges against her were dropped while each juror lined up to shake hands and congratulate the newly free woman.
Just one year after the trial had wrapped, Emma III married J.W. Turley (one of the 12 jurors on her trial) in New Orleans. However, they soon moved back to San Antonio, where they settled down into that same cozy cottage on Hunstock street where Otto Koehler took his final breath.
In all the unsavory mess, however, one person truly came out on top: right after her husband’s death, the O.G. Emma miraculously rose from her bedridden state and got straight to business. By the time Emma III stood trial in 1918, Mrs. Koehler had achieved Otto’s dream and turned Pearl Brewing into the largest brewery in Texas.
Even during the prohibition years, Emma managed to keep her doors open by switching to soft drinks and food production. However, the same day the Volstead Act was repealed, Emma rolled out those barrels, and the good stuff flowed strong in Texas once again.
At a time when women couldn’t even vote, Emma Koehler was single-handedly running the most successful company in a male-dominated industry in the entire state. To honor her, the posh hotel erected from the old brewery assumed her name.
Today the Sternewirth Bar inside the Emma Hotel even offers a drink called “The Three Emmas.” Pearl beer, rose cordial, amontillado sherry, botanist gin, grapefruit, and lemon juice make up this infamous cocktail. However, hotel staff warns, “one is great, and three will kill ya.”