Serial-Killer Harry Powers: Did the First U.S. Serial Killer Live in Quiet Dell, West Virginia?

QUIET DELL, W.Va. — In 1932, Harry Powers was executed at West Virginia Penitentiary after being charged with violent murders. Powers, one of the first labeled as a serial killer, has inspired books, movies, and podcasts, keeping his story alive in popular culture.

Born Herman Drenth in the Netherlands in 1892, Powers emigrated to Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1910. At the age of 32, he moved to Quiet Dell, near Clarksburg, West Virginia under the name Harry Powers. There, he began assuming the character of an Oklahoma oil-stock promoter and married Luella Strother, connecting with her through personal advertisements.

As Powers’s taste for lonely-heart correspondence grew, he began taking out personal advertisements, posting false information to capture the attention of lonely, wealthy women. Responding to his ads, many women wrote to Powers, leading to a tragic series of events involving the disappearance of victims like Asta Eicher and Dorothy Lemke.

The horrors carried out in Quiet Dell unfolded when the authorities found secret rooms beneath Powers’ garage containing evidence of his crimes. He was found guilty and taken to Moundsville for state execution. The public’s thirst for blood reached theatrical proportions during Powers’ trial, and a crowd gathered outside the prison as he was executed.

Only five of Powers’ victims were identified, although some believe there may have been more. Patterson Smith, a reviewer of serial killings, proposed that Powers might have killed far more. The full extent of his crimes may never be known, but his story lives on as one of the earliest and most disturbing cases of serial murder in the United States.