The most famous murder trial in all of western Michigan had its roots laid down in the old Peck Building. Now, the victims of this meticulously planned murder walk between the walls of the condos sitting along Division Avenue.
In 1916, the murder of John and Hannah Peck shook the nation. The Pecks, successful and wealthy drug store owners in Grand Rapids, had just welcomed a new member to their family. Their young daughter Clara fell smitten with a young dentist from New York named Dr. Arthur Waite.
She had unknowingly let the Devil into her and her parent’s life. Waite would go on to murder both parents in shockingly devious and cunning ways. The subsequent trial became one of the most talked about in the nation and is still studied by law students today.
Now, the Peck building, a 10-bedroom Queen-Anne-style mansion, is haunted by the spirits of the Pecks. Their footsteps are heard late into the night, and an apparition of John Peck so often appears in the room where his office used to be.
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The Peck Family was among the wealthiest of Grand Rapids’ early citizens. Their lineage in the city goes back to a time before Grand Rapids was even incorporated, and their family tree is closely intertwined with the Rathbones, another prominent Grand Rapids family.
By 1887, the Peck’s had amassed a large enough fortune to build the 6,500 square foot, 10 Bedroom, Queen Anne style building seen on Division Street today. The family made their money in the pharmaceutical business and operated their drug store here upon moving in.
In 1967, the Peck Drugstore was sold to Revco, another pharmacy chain, which eventually moved out in 1988. The Building was renovated in 1999 and has been rented out as condos and as a multi-family home since.
Its most recent listing in 2021 placed it at just under seven hundred thousand dollars. A real steal! If you can put up with the spectral tenants, of course.
The murder of John and Hanna Peck was one of the most talked about cases in the nation in the late 1910s. The trial seemingly had it all: deceit, adultery, poison, and eventual justice. It is still a commonly studied case by law students due to the cunningness of the killer, Arhurt Waite.
It all began when Waite married Clara Peck, a young heiress to the Peck family fortune. Waite was the poor son of a grocer from Grand Rapids and a recently graduated dental student, although his credentials have been contested. His less-than-pure intentions with the young daughter of John and Hannah became all too clear as their relationship continued.
Shortly after the marriage, Waite went to New York with some Peck family money. He believed he was short-changed by the Pecks, although he received a rather large dowry from John and Hannah.
It was here in New York that his plot to gain all of the family fortune began. He and his mistress, New York cabaret sing Margaret Horton, wanted the Pecks gone, and they devised exactly how to do it.
Waite invited the elder Pecks out to his Manhattan apartment for a nice relaxing getaway in the big city. Here, he slowly attempted to poison them.
Hannah Peck went quickly; her immune system was not as strong as her husband’s. Waite put germ horticulture of diphtheria and influenza in Mrs. Peck’s food. She eventually succumbed to these diseases in January of 1916. Her cause of death was officially deemed kidney failure, and upon Waite’s orders, her body was quickly cremated.
John Peck did not succumb to these illnesses quite as easily, however, and after repeated attempts at poisoning the man with germs, Waite decided to try a different route. He put arsenic in Peck’s eggnog in March 1916 and finished him by suffocating him in his sleep.
John Peck’s death was initially deemed a heart attack, but many grew suspicious, including Clara’s brother Percy. He was alerted by a family friend via telegram that both his parents had died while staying with Waite. Percy immediately booked a train to New York and, with the help of a local reverend, discovered Waite’s devious plot.
Arthur Waite was sentenced to death and died in the electric chair at New York’s Sing Sing Prison in 1917. His cunning attempt at gaining the family fortune is not forgotten and is still used as a case study by law students.
While the Peck’s and their business may be long gone, their spirits still reside in their former home. Hannah Peck can often be heard walking around certain parts of the home. A faint whisper, sometimes a whimper, of a female voice can be heard outside one of her old rooms. Many hear here, but none of them have witnessed her.
John, on the other hand, has been seen by many. He often appears in the room where his office used to be as if his spirit feels it has some unfinished business to attend to.
The old Peck Building tells us a sensational story about murder, money, and a malcontent marriage. There are many stories like this in Grand Rapids, the second-largest city in Michigan. Find out the truth of the city’s dark history with one of our experienced tour guides. Our ghost tours will keep you coming back for more and leave you awake at night wondering what if?