Many come to the Block of Hope, a collection of low-income housing set up by the Salvation Army, looking for a new start. Thousands of the hungry, needy, and desperate visit the one-square city block Barton Center for shelter and resources.
Others, a more peculiar crowd, gather outside of what was once the Delaware Flats apartment building. They are captivated by the mystic and legend of Dr. Helene Knabe’s spirit, a woman whose murder shocked the city.
She was found dead in her bed, her throat slit from ear to ear, yet many authoritative figures decried the murder as a suicide. Her death became a clear example of how America viewed successful, independent, and intelligent women in the early 1900s.
Now, her ghost haunts the first floor of the Barton Center building, floating around in the navy blue kimono she wore the night she was murdered.
Her story, however, lives on night after night as tour guides recant the death of Dr. Helene Knabe to eager visitors. Go on a tour with US Ghost Adventure on your next visit to hear it for yourself. Read on, if you dare, until then.
The Barton Center was once comprised of separate apartments and some of the finest in the city. In the 1890s, the corner of E. Michigan and N. Delaware was easily accessible by street car, making it an ideal place for young families and professionals to make their home.
The Arundel, Vendrome, and Delaware Flats were constructed in 1902 by local architects and business leaders. They came fitted with the most modernized architectural features at the time, built in the Beaux Arts and Neo-Classical style.
They housed the working class and professional families of Indianapolis for many years. Laying just outside the busy commercial district, their location also made the buildings ideal for individual professionals.
Dr. Helen Knabe, a single and successful woman, an anomaly in those days, was one of these tenants. Soon, her name would make the headlines of newspapers all over the city.
On the morning of October 25th, 1911, Dr. Helene Knabe’s assistant, Katherine McPherson, came to grab the German doctor from her quarters. She was a rarity in those times, a woman doctor, and no less, one that ran her own practice.
Knabe graduated from the Medical College of Indiana in 1904 and went on to fight bacterial and pathological diseases, especially those sexually transmitted. This was a taboo issue at the time, and her groundbreaking work helped lay the ground for better protection against STDs.
She worked for the State Board of Health before starting her own practice in this contentious subject. Her departure, in her own words, was because the board “expected an employee in the laboratory to have a man’s brain but be paid a woman’s salary.”
These early strides for women’s rights in the professional field made her several enemies. A subject that was brought to light when McPherson found Knabe dead in her bed, her throat slit from ear to ear.
There were many suspects after the murder of Dr. Helene Knabe, but most involved seemed to denounce her death as a suicide. She was a 35-year-old single woman who had a struggling career. At least, that is what most involved in her case believed.
In reality, she was pulling in $150 a month and sending most of it to her out-of-work Uncle. She had several suitors, among them, a woman, many of whom would be brought to trial for her murder.
She was a successful single woman, living her life the way she wanted while helping others, and this upset someone. Police Chief Martin Hyland of Indianapolis claimed that due to her size and stature, 5’ 6” and 150 pounds, she was well suited to defend herself from an attacker and that it had to be a suicide. Many sided with him out of laziness and a bias towards gender stereotypes.
But one man, coroner Dr. Charles O. Durham, deducted that because there was no weapon at the scene and Knabe had defensive wounds on her arms, it was indeed murder.
Her friends, knowing the local police were unwilling to help, hired a private detective to investigate the matter. For fifteen months, he investigated the horrific case, and what he found was shocking. A former lover, Dr. William B. Craig, was brought to trial in 1913.
Craig was the Dead of Students and a lecturer at the Indiana Veterinary College. He fell for Knabe but intertwined personal with professional when he offered her the Chair of Hematology and Parasitology in 1909.
It seemed the two had plans to get married, as proven in a letter Knabe wrote home and by a wedding dress she had commissioned. The two were heard arguing by Craig’s maid the night before her murder, and he was seen carrying off a large bundle of suspected evidence in the morning. Rumors swirled that he had called off their marriage for another love interest.
At the end of it all, Craig was acquitted on lack of evidence, and to this day, Knabe’s murder is unsolved.
Many tenants moved out of the Delaware Flats after Knabe’s murder. In 1914, the building was turned into the Barton Hotel, which it would remain, with some slight additions and subtractions, over the next 50 years.
In 1966 it was a nursing home and was bought by the Salvation Army shortly after. They have owned it for 50 years, offering housing and shelter for those in need.
Many have seen Helen Knabe and wish they hadn’t. Stories of her murder still circulate around the building, especially when the lights flicker. Her apparition is seen floating around the first floor, wearing the telltale kimono that she was murdered in. Her spirit will remain at rest until her killer is brought to justice, something that will likely never happen.
Experience the ghost of the Barton Center for yourself on a ghost tour with US Ghost Adventures. The Barton Center is just one of many haunted locations around Indianapolis! Read our blog for more information, and follow up on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok to stay updated on all things spooky!