The people of Lebanon were stunned when they read in the newspapers on February 6, 1879, that Joseph Peters, an army deserter, had filed an affidavit before a justice of peace, charging that the drowning of Joseph Raber was not accidental but was a murder committed by his father in law, Charles Drews, with the help of Frank Stichler. The murder was the result of a conspiracy involving the purchase of life insurance on Raber's life by Henry Wise, George Zechman, Israel Brandt, and Josiah Hummel. The real motive for Peters' delay in reporting the murder unfortunately will remain forever shrouded in mystery and doubt.
Joseph Raber was a man of some sixty years, who lived in poverty in a charcoal burner's hut at a lonely spot on the Blue Mountains, known as Indian Gap. He had no steady job and did not work other than odd jobs, depending mainly upon the charity of his equally poverty stricken neighbors. His crude hut was shared by Polly Kreiser, who was described as his friend and housekeeper.
The initial accounts of the Raber murder were not wholly spotted by the testimony produced at the trial, but it was fairly well agreed that the instigator of the plot had been Israel Brandt.
It would be an understatement to characterize Brandt as unusual. He was born in Lebanon and trained as a tailor. But gifted with a wanderlust, he spent most of his early life traveling throughout the county, engaging in many different enterprises. When he was twenty-three years old, he enlisted in the famous Myerstown Dragoons. Brandt gloried in reminiscing about the accounts of the crack company of Dragoons with their fine military bearing and resplendent uniforms. The Dragoons were especially prominent on occasion such as the Fourth of July, when adorned in their gaudy uniforms, they would lead parades on white horses. When the first gun was sounded at Fort Sumpter, this renounced company of light dragoons met and voted by a large majority to stay at home.
During the Civil War, Brandt moved to Lebanon and there kept a tavern known as the Washington House. This enterprise lasting only two years, he then moved to Cold Spring Township, where he had a hotel by the same name. Later, he moved to East Hanover Township where he was the landlord of the Halfway House. For a number of years preceding the Raber murder, Brandt operated the St. Joseph's Spring Hotel, an unlicensed establishment.
Brandt was surrounded by a host of cronies, because he was quick-witted, strong, and handsome. He reportedly resembled Abraham Lincoln. Although he lost his left arm at an early age, he was quite strong and relished contests against men with two arms. This then was the man who, at age forty-five was the pilot of the scheme to kill Raber as a result of a conspiracy involving Hummel, Wise, and Zechman for the insurance on old may Raber's life. There remained only the problem of employing someone to do away with the old man.
Among Brandt's regular customers at the St. Joseph's Spring Hotel was Charles Drews, his next door neighbor. Brandt approached Drews and engages him to drown Raber. Brandt promised Drews three hundred dollars for the job and told him that the other three conspirators would each give him a like amount after the old man was disposed of.
In early July, 1878, the conspirators met at the hotel and agreed to insure Raber's life for a total of eight thousand dollars. Later, they went with George W. Schweinhard, an insurance agent from Lebanon, and arranged for the purchase of policies on the life of old man Raber. Schweinhard was told that the four men had agreed to take care of Raber for the rest of his life and to see to it that he got a decent burial.
The original plan was for Drews to take Raber on a fishing trip on Kitzmiller Dam and to drown him. Drews, in turn, approached Frank Stichler to help, but when Stichler learned of the financial arrangements, he was not too much impressed with the plan. According to reports, Drews then engaged his son-in-law, Joseph Peter to take Raber to the dam. Peters vehemently denied this at the trial. Nonetheless, this plot failed, because, as Drews later said, when he and Peters had got to the dam with Raber, they had found the raft submerged and the old man too cold to fish.
A few days later, Drews again talked with Stichler and they arrived at agreeable financial terms, Stichler agreeing to help Drews drown Raber. According to testimony given at the trial, Joseph Peters was to witness the drowning, but the accounts of it are curiously conflicting.
Peters testified at the trial that he had seen the drowning from the second story window of Drews' house, a few hundred yards from the creek. There was a twelve foot wide plank crossing the Indiantown Creek. Drews and Stichler had connived to have Raber go with them across the bridge to get flour and tobacco. Peters said that when they had reached the plank, Stichler had gone first, old Raber had been in the middle, an Drews had brought up the rear. When they had reached the middle of the plank, Stichler had turned around, caught Raber by the shoulders, and knocked him off his feet, throwing him into the water. Stickler had then been out of sight. Peters said he had seen Drews walking back across the plank toward the house.
The account testified to by Peters at the trial seriously conflicted with the account given by Drews in a confession written by him in German for the Lebanon Daily News, translated by a German scholar, given under oath with the request that it not be published until after his execution. In this account Drews admitted his part in the drowning of Raber. However, there was a difference perhaps without much distinction, yet a serious difference in how the drowning had occurred Drews confessed, "Raber said he must have some flour yet, so he thought he would go to Peter Kreiser's and there he could get some; and then Raber went out, and Stichler said to me, 'We will go along to J. Kreiser's. So we went on; I first, Raber Second, and Stichler third; and when we got to the water, Stichler got Raber by the legs and threw him in the water, and got on him, and held him down until his life was extinct, and I went back to the fence. That I can prove with Peters that I did not help drown him"
The precise order of the macabre procession over the Indiantown Creek is of little importance. Yet it is curious that one of the people in the parade confessed he had taken the lead and an eyewitness swore it was not so but Drews had brought up the rear.
At the trial, the defendants tried to prove that Peters and his wife had been intoxicated at the time Raber had drowned. They further sought to show that Peters could not see out of the second story window since it had been broken and replaced by rags. The end result demonstrated that the defense was apparently not too persuasive.
The fact and circumstances surrounding the Raber case can hardly be described as dramatic or sensational. Nevertheless, the trial did attract interest throughout the world; and newsmen from all parts of the globe came to Lebanon to cover the trial with, until then, unparalleled detail. It remains a mystery whether the case itself or the coverage of it that recorded the trial of the "Blue-eyed Six" as the most outstanding murder trial to ever be heard in Lebanon County in all of its history.
The six defendants had little in common except that they all had "piercing blue eyes." A reporter covering the case noticed this on the first day of the trial and dubbed the group as the "Blue-eyed Six." The description perhaps more than anything else about the case sensationalized the trial and preserved it in the minds of the local people.
Charles Drews was a fifty-eight year old immigrant from Germany, A butcher by trade, he lived by doing odd jobs for farmers. He was a veteran of the Civil War. He knew Hummel, Wise, and Zechman for only a few months prior to Raber's death.
Wise was born in the Monroe valley area and lived there most of his life. In the summer he worked in the coal mines and in the winter he eked out a living by cutting ties for the railroads. Wise was married and had seven children, the youngest having been born only a week before his arrest. He was thirty three years old and earned the title of "the squealer" by confessing and testifying against Zechman at his retrial.
Zechman, on the other hand, was only twenty-nine years old and worked in the coal mines most of his life, He, too, was married and had six children, the oldest being only eight years old at the time of these events.
Stichler was the youngest of the group. He was single and reputed to be popular with the young ladies of the Gap area. His life was a monotony of the dreary complements of poverty, lack of education, and lust for life. He posthumously confessed to actually throwing Raber in the creek and holding him under the water.
Hummel was clearly the handsomest of the group. This predominant characteristic did not escape the fair ladies of the neighborhood and precluded the requirement of marriage. Nonetheless, it was rumored that he had been at least thinking of marriage at the time of the tragedy, primarily as an alternate to being put in the same place as he later found himself, namely the County Jail.
The Winter of 1878 was an anguished one for the prosecutor, John Adams. The district attorney's office was hardly overburdened for nearly fifty years. Only a handful of major criminal cases were brought to trial each decade. Now, with a little more than a year in office, Adams had experienced one murder trial and was facing the most important and certainly the most notorious trial in the history of the county. More importantly, Adam's friend John Benson could no longer be count upon for help. The work and strain involved in prosecuting Spattenhoover had left the aging Benson spent. Nonetheless, Adams would need help, and he knew it.
There is no record accounting for the effort he spent assembling his formidable team of prosecuting attorneys. One can only speculate that he was unusually persuasive. One reasons this way, because his colleagues for the prosecution, while all distinguished, well known, and reputable members of the Bar, had a common denominator; they disliked and avoided criminal cases.
Notably among this group was Grant Weidman, who had been practicing for more than twenty years. Some believe and there is some truth to support it, that lawyers are bred rather than trained. Grant Weidman had a fine pedigree. His father had been district attorney of Lebanon County. His grandfather had represented Jimmy Quinn in the county's first murder trial. His great-grandfather had presided as an associate judge at Quinn's trial. Flippantly, it was said that Weidman was not only read but bred in the law.
Adams also enlisted the service of Cyrus P. Miller. Miller was another twenty-year veteran of legal battles in the county. He was known for his ability to cross-examine hostile witnesses.
The fourth member of the team was Charles H. Killinger, an young member of the Lebanon County Bar. Killinger had been practicing for only eleven years but was an able trial lawyer. Without a doubt, Adams had formulated the strong team for the prosecution. The volunteer defense team was equally imposing, however. The defendants, unable to afford hiring their own lawyers, asked the court for the appointment of attorneys to represent them. It is not known, but it is suspected that the defense attorneys volunteered their services. After all, this was to be a water shed event.
Zechman was represented by William M. Derr. Derr was a popular lawyer in Lebanon, who had been practicing for nearly thirty years. He was gifted with quick perception and a sharp tongue. He began his educational career as a doctor but never completed his study of medicine, switching to the law at an early time. He was a leader of the Bar and a courageous advocate.
Brandt and Hummel were represented by Colonel John Peter Shindle Goblin. Colonel Goblin's life and career were both varied and famous. As a young man he was trained as a printer, but he abandoned the trade for military service. This pursuit in turn was abandoned for the legal profession. He served as the county's solicitor, a state senator, and later Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania. Colonel Goblin was an imposing figure. What motivated him to represent these men remains a mystery, for their is no known account of his reason. One thing is certain, he did not do it for money.
Stichler was represented by Cyrus R. Lantz. Lantz was a school teacher turned lawyer. While still a grammar school teacher, Lantz read law in the office of Josiah Funk, a leading Lebanon attorney. Lantz was admitted to the Bar ten years prior to the trial. Shortly after his admission, he was elected district attorney and served a three-year term. After that he served as state senator for a district which included Lebanon. Again, the motives for his representation of Stichler remain a mystery. Certainly Stichler could not afford to pay a fee.
Wise was represented by Frank E. Meily, another prominent lawyer. He began his career as a law student in Derr's office. Meily later was appointed judge of the Courts of Lebanon County when the county became an independent judicial district. Although he was the youngest member of the defense team, his ability and later success highlight his importance as a member of that team.
Finally, Drews was represents by Penrose H. Mark, the oldest member of the defense team. Mark had been admitted to the Bar during the Civil War and had earned for himself a very fine legal reputation. Though not as flamboyant or perhaps as aggressive a trial lawyer as the others, he was looked upon as the legal technician of the defense team.
The morning of Thursday, April 17, 1879, marked the beginning of the longest trial in the history of Lebanon County. The courtroom was filled with spectators, many of whom had to be turned away. The area between the bench and the bar was cluttered with tables, chairs, and people. The courtroom was designed for ordinary, two-party litigation, but the Raber case was not an ordinary one. There were four attorneys representing the Commonwealth and five representing the defendants. Additional counsel tables were set up, and the place looked disorganized. There was barely room to walk between the tables.
Promptly at 10 a. m. Judge Henderson and his associates, Judges Rank and Light, filed onto the bench; and the court was called into session. A jury was chosen with remarkable speed. While most prospective jurors had heard or at least read about the case, only a few had formed a fixed opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendants. The jury as finally selected consisted of all men, six women were not allowed to serve on juries. By statue, jurors were to be selected from all the qualified electors of the County, and it was not until the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution that women became eligible as voters and, consequently, jurors.
Prosecutor Adams made an opening statement to the jury. His offers of proof were neither startling nor new. He told the jury simply that the Commonwealth was gong to prove that Wise, Hummel, Brandt, and Zechman had plotted to kill old man Raber in order to collect insurance on his life. He said he would prove that they had arranged for life insurance through Schweinhard and that the plotters hired Drews, who in turn employed Strichler, to kill the old man. His opening statement was brief and took less than fifteen minutes.
On the other hand, the trial took eight days, during which the Commonwealth called twenty-five witnesses and the defense, twenty-seven. In rebuttal the Commonwealth summoned twelve witnesses and the total of sixty-four witnesses in the criminal case remains a record to this day. The trial record consists of two hundred forty-seven pages of single-spaced typed testimony, most of which was given in German and translated into English during the trial.
Despite the number of witnesses called by the Commonwealth, only one witness proved the essential elements of the Commonwealths case. The testimony of witnesses established that Joseph Raber was found face down, dead from drowning in the Indiantown creek. There was no visible sign of force or violence on his body. Life insurance was taken out with George Schweinhard by Brandt, Hummel, Wise, and Zechman. The avowed reason was that they intended to provide for Raber the rest of his life and see that he was properly buried. The four men were seen frequently at Brandt's tavern. However, to sustain the conviction, the Commonwealth had to have testimony of Joseph Peters accepted by the jury.
Peters told the jury he was the son-in-law of Drews and that he was on an extended leave from the United States Army. During the early evening of December 8, 1878, he and his wife had been drinking and were in Drews' house in the bedroom on the second floor. He swore he had looked out the second floor window an had seen Drews drown Raber with the help of Strichler.
The cross examination of Peters by William Derr was devastating and exciting. In his cross examination of other witnesses, Derr had brought one to tears and caused another to faint on the witness stand. Peters, however, was more formidable. Peters vehemently denied that he was an Army deserter, resting rather on the mild explanation that he merely did not return when he was supposed to. He denied that the reason he stayed beyond his leave was that he ad heard rumors that Frank Stichler was having sexual relations with his wife. Derr drew the admission that Peters was with fifty persons when Raber's body was discovered and said nothing about having witnessed Raber's murder. Derr made a point when he had Peters admit that he had been present at the inquest and later at the funeral where there were many people, and did not disclose this information. He extracted from the witness, it was only after Drews had refused to continue supporting him and his wife and had actually sent them away from his home that he had gone to the justice of the peace and had told this story under oath.
On the other hand, Peters took advantage of mistakes Derr made. Derr asked too many "whys". Having established that Peters had ample opportunity to tell many people this story but waited two months to do so, Derr then asked him why. Peters' reply was that he had been afraid for his life, and he told the jury that Drews and Stichler had threatened to kill him if he told anybody. Unfortunately for the defense, this opened the door for District Attorney Adams to make a telling and persuasive argument to the jury in his closing remarks.
It was the custom and the practice of the time for the Commonwealth to make the first closing argument to the jury. The defendants were then permitted to present their argument, after which the Commonwealth made a brief rebuttal.
In his closing address, Weidman anticipated that the defense would doubtless refer to Peters as having been at the scene of the drowning, at the inquest, and again at the funeral, and since he had not told that story then, the one he now told was manufactured. However, Weidman expanded this argument and told the jury, "Peters was afraid form his life. You recollect Schuylkill County's reign of terror. All were afraid over there. No one dared to speak. The people were powerless, and I can well understand Peters' situation. I don't wonder he was afraid to tell it. It was natural and reasonable" Obviously, Weidman was referring to the celebrated trials of the Molly Mergers in Schuylkill and Carbon Counties. He must have made his point, because the jury accepted Peters' testimony.
Weidman spoke for two and one half hours, reviewing in detail most of the testimony in a persuasive, eloquent manner. It was obvious to observers that the jury was receptive to his arguments. He spoke until after five in the afternoon, and then Judge Henderson recessed until seven o'clock in the evening.
Promptly at seven, the evening session opened with a fair attendance, including many of the women of the town who had maneuvered themselves into the front row seats. Although all of the attorneys for the defense made closing arguments, the most memorable was that give by Colonel Gobin. The Colonel spoke for two hours in a passionate and convincing manner. He held the audience spellbound when he denounced insurance companies and slyly suggested that it was they that were trying to hang the defendants in order to save their money. He was more direct and emphatic in his renouncement of Joseph Peters as a perjurer and an arrogant coward who would swear six men into their graves "by the war of the airline the gallows."
After all closing arguments had been made, Judge Henderson charged the jury at length. he opened with the time honored instruction that the jury's duty was to determine innocence or guilt. "The law fixed the punishment," said Judge Henderson. Unlike today, whereby the jury has a choice of fixing the punishment at either life imprisonment or death, if the jury found the defendants guilty of murder in the first degree, death by hanging automatically followed.
On hearing Judge Henderson's charge it was evident that he was concerned with the case against George Zechman. Zechman's involvement in the conspiracy, as a later study of the record disclosed, was based solely on statements made by other defendants. There was no evidence connecting Zechman to the plot which would have been admissible in trial of Zechman alone. The legal conundrum facing Judge Henderson was to instruct the jury to disregard any statement involving Zechman which was not made by him, of course, Zechman had made none and only consider the declarations in the case of the defendants who made them. This was a clear and precise statement of the law as it existed and exists today. The conviction of Zechman by the jury in convincing proof that this is a difficult, if not impossible, chore for a jury to do. Fortunately, the law provides legal machinery to remedy such an injustice, and Derr was quick to use it. Immediately after the verdict was announced, he asked for a new trial. Judge Henderson carefully studied the trial recorded, and Zechman was given a new trial.
The jury deliberated only a few hours before returning a verdict of "All prisoners guilty of murder in the first degree." All defendants immediately asked the judges to grant them a new trial, but only Zechman was successful.
It is not unusual for the aftermath of a trial to be as exiting as the trial itself. On the fifth day of July following the trial, Ezra B. Light filed an affidavit with the court, swearing that one of the jurors, Aaron Smith, had told him before the trial that he was in favor of the whole party being hanged. On his voir dire examination prior to selection as a juror, Smith had told the lawyers that he had not discussed the case and had made no opinion as to their innocence or guilt. Smith promptly filed a counter affidavit stating that he had never formed or expressed an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendants. Judge Henderson, in dismissing the motion for a new trial for this reason, wisely noted that the complaint was rather tardy, especially since it came from the lips of the defendant Brandt's cousin.
Judge Henderson worked carefully on his opinions, granting Zechman a new trial and denying new trials or the remaining defendants never ruling against the five defendants, he called them to appear for sentencing on the afternoon of August 18, 1879. At this time, District Attorney Adams moved for judgment against Drews, Stichler, Brandt, and Hummel. Zechman had been granted a new trial; and two days beforehand, Wise had made a confession to the attorneys for the Commonwealth and had agreed to be a witness against Zechman at the retrial.
Judge Henderson asked the defendants individually if they had anything to say before sentencing was imposed. The fact that Wise had confessed had not been publicly revealed, but from what Hummel and Brandt said, it is evident that they had gotten some wind of it. Hummel, speaking in German said, "I have nothing to say at the present." Brandt merely said, "No, not now, but when the time comes, I'll tell." It is equally apparent that Drews and Stichler got the word. Said Drews, "Nothing, I am not guilty. Two weeks later he was to make a full confession, conveniently putting the blame for the actual drowning of Raber on Stichler. Stichler's allocution before Judge Henderson was even more forceful than Drews'. In a loud and angry voice Stichler said, "I am not guilty and did not get justice here," He apparently did, for two days later, after Drews had confessed, Stichler called for his attorneys, Lantz and Goblin, to come to the county jail; and there he gave a full confession, differing from the one given by Drews only to the extent that Drews had helped him hold Raber under the water until he had drowned.
Two days after Stichler confessed, Brandt called Colonel Gobin, Derr, and Lantz to come to the jail so that he could make a statement. In his attempt, he emphatically denied having anything to do with the plot to drown Raber. He told the lawyers after the trial, Drews had told Stichler they should make a statement that Peters and Brandt had chloroformed Raber and dragged him to the creek and drowned him. He promised Stichler that his wife would swear that this was what happened. He explained his ownership of a policy on Raber's life as a security for a debt Schweinhard owned him.
Hummel also got into the act. He called his lawyer to the jail, and he, too, made a statement. However, his statement was rather simple. He denied knowing anything about the whole thing and merely admitted that he had had a policy on Raber's life which was sold to him by Wise. He maintained this was an innocent thing and commonplace around the county, which indeed it was.
Subsequently, both Drews and Stichler made supplemental statements in which they tried to make matters worse of it "squealer" Wise. Stichler told of Wise's involvement in a plan to rob and kill a man by the name of Henry Hauer. Drew spoke vaguely of a plot concocted by the attorneys for the Commonwealth to get a two-year penitentiary sentence for Wise if he would tell the attorneys that he, Wise, had advised them not to drown Raber. For this, Drews was also to get a penitentiary sentence. Both the logic and the veracity of this statement leave much to be desired and apparently were little noted by anyone.
Although executions promptly followed the jury's verdict, in this case they were postponed pending the retrial of Zechman. His trial of Friday, November 7, 1997. Wise and Drews were the principle witnesses against Zechman. Wise's testimony, however, was rambling and at times incoherent. At one point, both the judge and counsel acknowledges that "they were all at sea." If Wise could be believed, if understood, the tenor of his testimony was an indictment of the insurance industry for permitting people to insure people and property without having a real insurable interest. In any event, the combined testimony of Wise and Drews had no weight. On Thursday morning, November 13, 1879, the jury returned a verdict of "not guilty." Zechman breathed a visible sigh of relief as the decision was announced. This was to be his last good breath of air. His many months of imprisonment had laid the groundwork for a respiratory ailment that plagued him the rest of his life. The local folklore attributed his painful coughing seizures to the "vengeance of the Lord" for his part in the conspiracy rather then that to an illness.
For Drew and Stichler the final chapter came to a conclusion of Friday, November 14, 1879, the day following Zechman's' acquittal. Wise, Brandt, And Hummel had won a delay in execution, pending a hearing on their plea for commutation of sentence before the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons.
On the evening before hand, a young boy, about twelve years old, came into the sheriff's office. He wanted to see the execution. He heard that the tickets were selling for twenty-five cents. He held out his hand and offered a quarter. The deputy ran him out of the office. The thought of selling tickets for an execution was repulsive to the deputy. Perhaps that is why he was only a deputy.
The execution was to take place at 11 a.m. in the yard of the county jail. The street's surrounding the jail were filled with the morbid minded people from all of over the county. Because of the size of the jail , Sheriff Deininger had issued only one hundred and fifty tickets to friends and cronies.
Neither of the condemned men slept very much the night before, realizing perhaps that they needed no rest for what was in store for them. Promptly at nine in the morning, four ministers arrived at the county jail to prepare the doomed men spiritually for their journey. The cell block resounded with the sound of prayers and hymns. Drews more than Stichler, was up to the occasion. He could be heard singing and praying. He took a few minutes from the devotions to wander around the cell block to give his last farewells to fellow inmates.
Major Henry Ernst of Harrisburg, the hired executioner, interrupted the prayer session long enough to take measurements of the condemned men as to ascertain the depth of the drop. As irreverent as this may seem to some, in this particular business it is important that mistakes are prevented rather than corrected. Ernst had read of and witnessed some bungles affairs. If the drop was too short, the man on the rope writhed and wiggled as he slowly strangled to death. On the other hand if the drop was too long, the head was sometime completely severed form the body. Neither result was considered very professional thus the macabre ceremony of the measurements.
Promptly at 10:45 a.m., Sheriff Deininger gave a shout down the cell block for the condemned men to prepare themselves for the execution. Only fifteen minutes remained in this world for Drews and Stichler. By that time they were filled with hymns and prayer. Now was the time. Again a gruesome procession in celebration of justice was formed in the Lebanon County Jail. Since some mystic source of protocol dictated that the sheriff and his deputy were to be the grand marshals of the parade. They lead out first, followed as if acolytes, by the Reverends Ezekial Light and George Trabert. The guests of dishonor, Drews and Stichler, walked side by side. There were two other ministers, Reverends John and Shaffer, who joined the parade. The Jail physician, Dr. George P. Lineweaver, brought up the rear.
A light misty rain was falling as the procession entered the jail yard and headed straight for the gallows. When the group reached the platform, brief but rather impressive religious ceremonies were conducted. The prayer and hymns, like most of the trial testimony, were said in German with both Drews and Stichler vigorously participating. As the courthouse clock began to strike the hour of eleven, the assemblage found themselves in the middle of the Lord's Prayer. Instinctively, the cadence quickened. Finally, and as a cautious concern for the Lord's linguistic ability, a final, feverish prayer of benediction was said in English. The sheriff took over.
After exchanging words of greetings with the men, Deininger quickly bound both men with leather straps, adjusted the rope around their necks, and placed white hoods over their heads. Just before the trap was sprung, Drews cried out, "Frank, now we go to Heaven. Now we go, oh Father, help." Promptly at 11:08 in the morning of Friday, November 14, 1879, Charles Drews and Frank Stichler were vaulted into eternity with the dubious distinction of being the first dual executions in the county's history, a record not to be held very long.
For historical purposes only, the bodies were cut down and put in plain coffins provided by the directory of the poor of the county. Drews was buried in the Mount Lebanon Cemetery, and Stichler was buried in his father's garden at Indiantown Gap.
The final chapter in the tale of the "Blue-Eyed Six" was written on Thursday, May 13,1880. The appeals of Wise by Colonel Seltzer and of Brandt and Hummel by Colonel Gobin has been denied on March 30,1880. Governor Henry M. Hoyt had fixed May 13,1880, as the day of execution, and the warrants were read to the three men at the county jail.
One week before the scheduled date of execution Brandt and Hummel attempt to escape from the jail. On May 6, after considerable effort, Brandt and Hummel manages to bore a hole through the wall of their cell only to find themselves in the high walled jail yard, where they were quickly spotted, recaptured, and separated in individual cells.
As certain as night follows day, May 13 arrived, so did hundred of Lebanon County's civic minded citizens, bent on witnessing the first triple execution in the history of our community. Eighth Street, in the neighborhood of the jail, was a sea of men, women, and little children. The only thing that had changes since Drews and Stichler were hanged was Deininger was no longer sheriff. And the unpleasant task was passed to the new sheriff Harry Krall. Former Sheriff Deininger, due no doubt to his expertise in the matter was appointed as a deputy sheriff for the hanging ceremony.
There was a bee hive of activity inside the county jail. The usual services of devotion were conducted with fervor. A local tailor had made the new suits, and Miss Agnes Hartman, of Lebanon, had presented them with neat little bouquets of flowers which were pinned on the lapels of their coats. The men were duly measured for proper rope adjustment. Some time was spent by them visiting fellow prisoners. And then, as is not unusual in times of strife, there was a departure form the usual ritual.
Henry Wise notified Sheriff Krall that he was ready for is execution immediately but that he wanted to go out first and make a few remarks to the people before Brandt and Hummel were brought out. The sheriff complied and immediately escorted Wise to the Gallows. Wise nimbly scrambled the steps, turned and faced the crowd, saying in German: "What I have to say is that all are guilty, as testified and confessed. I said all about it, who the first man was that spoke to me about insurance and how Hummel got in. That is all I have to say." This was not terribly startling, but it was unusual.
Immediately, thereafter Reverend Israel Hay started to sing hymns, and the crowd and Wise joined heartily. Meanwhile, Deiniger had gone back to the jail and marched Brandt and Hummel to the gallows. The three men formed in a line beneath the nooses facing the crowd. Reverend Santz read a prayer, while all three knelt reverently. On rising, both Brandt ad Hummel appeared pale and about to cry, but Wise took the whole thing with clam and in stride.
The sheriff asked Brandt and Hummel if they had any thing they wanted to say. Neither did. The three were promptly bound with leather straps, followed by the rope and white hoods. Precisely at 11:15 a.m., Sheriff Krall stepped from the gallows, turned, and sprung the trap. And more justice had been served, and those in charge were credited with having performed a very smooth operation.
From every other event in history, there flows a lesson. Nearly the hundred years after the famous case of the "Blue-eyed Six" the precept is not quite clear. Certainly the insurance industry did not profit from the adverse publicity, and the concept of "insurable interest" became more of a reality than a gamble. Clearly the case against public hangings was strengthened. The deterrent value of the death sentence was re-examined and debated throughout the state and at the end retained as punishment for murder. One thing is entirely clear. If Brandt and Hummel were as innocent as they maintained to the very end, The controversy is for all purposes resolved against them.
Late in the afternoon of May 13, 1880, the scaffold was disassembled by workmen and carried one half block away to the basement of the courthouse, where it was stored alongside of the historic gallows used to dispatch Jimmy Quinn some fifty years beforehand. The day ended a long and trying period for Colonel Seltzer, John Benson, and Cyrus Lantz. On the other hand, they were not too depressed by the hanging of their clients because, on that evening, each of the attorneys gave inspiring addresses at a banquet held to commemorate the thirty-first anniversary of the formation of the Perseverance Fire Company.
Click Here for pictures and bios of the Blue Eyed Six!
If anyone reading this transcript
has information regarding "The Blued Eyed Six", please e-mail me, or write
me at the address listed below.
Email Bud Shott - budshott-at-gmail-dot-com
Earl H Shott Jr
1863 SE Buddy Avenue
Crystal River, FL 34429