In the Quiet of the Cabin: Part Two

“The iron-gray hair was deep-dyed with of blood. Even the walls and low ceiling of the little living room bore evidence of the tragedy in dull garnet blotches.”

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Taken about the same year as Jane Bowers’ murder, this photo shows the cabin home of the A. Melangton Wolfe family in Garfield, Frederick County, Maryland. The Bowers cabin may have appeared quite similar, based on descriptions in contemporary newspaper reports.

Continued from Part One.

On Saturday morning, 8 February, the temperatures were frigid. Henry Flook was up early, hauling wood. As he drove his team past Jane Bower’s cabin, Flook noted immediately that there was no smoke issuing from the chimney and no other sign of activity. By piecing together the newspaper accounts, it can be surmised that a concerned Flook returned at lunchtime with two other local men and found the cabin’s front door open a crack. After knocking and shouting raised no reply from within, the Sun reported that the trio entered and beheld “the ghastly sight of a human body cut into ragged pieces scattered on the floor before them.”

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Hagerstown Herald, Monday, 10 February, 1908.

The newspapers went on to print every salacious detail of the murder scene found by Flook and his companions. For example, from the Sun, “The little living room was bespattered with blood and chunks of flesh and bone all scattered in a heart-sickening disorder. From beneath a portion of the woman’s torso, the bloody handle of an axe protruded…. Surrounded by blood-soaked garments lay parts of her dismembered body. In a corner, Flook found the woman’s head, the jagged flesh of the neck telling how the murderer hacked and hacked in his apparent insane desire to sever it from the body. The iron-gray hair was deep-dyed with of blood. Even the walls and low ceiling of the little living room bore evidence of the tragedy in dull garnet blotches. Bits of bone and tatters of flesh were stuck to the window panes …. The mass of flesh and bones, chopped into little bits the size of a marble, presented a sickening sight [that] declared the murderer must have hacked at the body fully two hours before completing his fiendish work.”

After making the terrible discovery, the frightened men went straight to the authorities. The resulting investigation found that “there was little, if any, struggle on behalf of the victim. In the death chamber, there was an overturned chair that seemed to have fallen with the woman when she was struck and killed. In a puddle of coagulated blood was a leather purse containing a little money, showing that robbery was not the motive,” noted the Sun. The beds in the cabin had not been slept in and a wound 24-hour clock was still working on Saturday afternoon—both indicating that the killing occurred late Friday afternoon or evening.

Continue reading “In the Quiet of the Cabin: Part Two”

In the Quiet of the Cabin

“Officers and others familiar with the circumstances [think it] one of the most brutal and fiendish crimes in the history of this section of the state.”

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Jane McPherson Bowers and her brother Thomas are buried in the graveyard behind Pleasant Walk Church.

At Pleasant Walk United Methodist Church (formerly Mount Olive United Brethren), two miles from Myersville, Maryland, visitors may find the grave of Emma Betts, who arrived with the spring of 1900 and departed with summer, lacking even one milk tooth. They may also see the grave of Henry Dusing, a 70-year-old champion violinist who, in 1954, on a dark night, fatally encountered an automobile atop South Mountain. There is also Tiny Dagenhart. In 1913, the five-year-old girl was shot dead in the family’s kitchen by her brother when he dropped his hunting rifle. There are two more vestigial residents of interest for whom no grave markers call out: Jane Bowers and Thomas McPherson. During one week in the winter of 1908, however, newspapers bellowed their names and described in orgasmic detail Jane’s bloody, gore-soaked, and horrifying murder at the hands of her elder brother.

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A Childhood Beside Poffenberger’s Well

“Mother, mother, where’s your daughter?/ Oh, my laws, she’s gone for water/ Three times daily I must yell her to and from the well….”

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Once, more than 150 years ago, Myersville’s de facto town well likely stood beyond that white picket fence. The well had almost been forgotten when this postcard photo was taken circa 1911. Author’s Collection.

In December 1951, Rev. Horace Ehrman Zimmerman wrote of his childhood in Frederick County, Maryland, for the Middletown Valley Register, which printed the story on the 28th of that month. “Of all the memories of [my] boyhood days in Myersville, none are more vivid to the writer than the old Enoch Poffinberger home well, across the street from the Lutheran Church. While not called a ‘village well,’ it virtually amounted to that for that part of the village in which our home was located. There were several other neighboring wells nearby, but none gave forth the clear, cold water that this well produced,” Zimmerman noted.

In small Maryland towns, the public well was not just a source of clean, drinkable water, but was also a social anchor point. “From its platform political speeches were often made; the village wiseacres … whittled and discussed the country’s problems; women gathered about it to gossip … [and] auctioneers cried public sales,” Zimmerman wrote of the common scenes of his childhood during the decade after the Civil War.

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Sarah Hoover Weddle: Lost to a “Criminal Operation”

“State’s Attorney Worthington is investigating the death of Mrs. Sarah E. Weddle, widow, who died near Myersville April 14th. Certain discoveries have aroused the suspicion of the authorities.”

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Although this advert looks innocent enough, terms such as “special strong for obstinate cases” and “will quickly bring about the desired result” indicate these pills were meant to induce miscarriages.

Dayton (Ohio) Herald, 25 February, 1903: “Mrs. Amy Snyder, 52, the wife of Aaron Snyder, an expressman, of 223 South Montgomery Street, was arrested Tuesday afternoon by Sergeant Fair and assistants, on suspicion of having performed a criminal operation on Miss May Smith, 19, of Xenia, which resulted in her death.”

Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal, 26 March, 1903: “Miss Stella H. Stork, a pretty young woman whose home was at Huntingburg, Ind. … died at the private hospital of Dr. Sarah Murphy, 1018 West Chesnut Street, Tuesday afternoon. While peritonitis was the direct cause of death, this was brought on by a criminal operation….. George Lemp, a Southern Railway conductor, who came to Louisville with the girl last week, was arrested … but denied he had any knowledge of the girl’s condition.”

Scranton (Pennsylvania) Tribune, 27 March, 1903: “The sudden death of Mrs. Martha E. Rosengrant, widow of the late William Rosengrant, was the occasion of an inquest by Coroner Tibbins…. Mrs. Rosengrant was found dead in her bed at her home on Foundry Street on Wednesday morning…. The verdict of the jury was that Martha Rosengrant came to her death from a criminal operation performed upon her by someone to the jury unknown.”

Frederick (Maryland) News, 30 April, 1903: “The people of Myersville and vicinity are excited by the discovery of what appears to be evidence that the death of Mrs. Sarah E. Weddle, which occurred April 14, was due to a criminal operation. Mrs. Weddle was sick for about two weeks before her death.”

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When she died during the quickening Spring of 1903, widow Sarah Weddle left five young children as orphans. The lingering evidence shows she was one of the uncounted thousands of Victorian and Edwardian women who, when they fell pregnant, turned to “female pills”—herbal abortifacients advertised openly albeit with coded language—or to “criminal operations,” as illegal abortions were termed in the press.

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When an Apple Falls Far from the Tree: Part Three

“Koogle said that leaving Myersville that night, he passed a young man about his height, dressed in dark clothes and wearing a slouch hat, like his own.”

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The former George W. Bittle store in 1992. The shooting took place directly under the awning.

Continued from Part II.

During the months before the jury trial of George H. Koogle, merchant George Waters Biddle fully recovered. According to the Baltimore Sun, the gunshot wound to his thigh had nearly proven fatal but the newspaper did not elaborate whether it was from the onset of sepsis or another cause.

Perhaps tellingly, further robberies in Myersville were not reported by the press in the last quarter of that year. This did not mean the little town saw no excitement. On Election Day, 8 November, as President Teddy Roosevelt was reelected, “Some dynamite was exploded [in Myersville] and the shock shattered glass in the Flook, Gaver, Leatherman Bank and in the residence of Mr. George W. Wachtel,” the Hagerstown Daily Mail stated.

A little more than a week later, work was freshly completed on the electric railway between Myersville and Hagerstown. “The railroad runs the full length of the main street of Myersville, the track being laid in the center of the street. The poles and wires are all up and work cars have been running into Myersville from Hagerstown since Tuesday,” reported the Frederick News on 18 November.

This march of progress nearly trampled Myersville resident Martin Wachtel, who made “a narrow escape from being killed by electricity while the wires for the new road were being stretched,” the News noted. A wire fell across the street and Wachtel tried to lead a wagon across it, believing it not live. “When the horses stepped upon the wire, they were violently thrown to the ground. Mr. Wachtel … was also severely shocked. The horses were unhitched from the wagon and assisted to their feet when the one horse accidentally touched the wire a second and third time and was thrown each time. The horses were uninjured, excepting a few burns.”

Continue reading “When an Apple Falls Far from the Tree: Part Three”

When an Apple Falls Far From the Tree: Part Two

When it was Koogle’s chance to defend himself, he told the judge and state’s attorney that he had not committed the shooting nor any of the burglaries.

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The scene of the attempted robbery and shooting.

Continued from Part One.

Amazingly—almost miraculously—on 8 August, just four days after the shooting, George Waters Bittle was able to give testimony to Justice of the Peace Christian H. Eckstein whilst propped up in a chair in the bedroom of his Main Street home. Also present during the testimony was State’s Attorney for Frederick County Arthur D. Willard (1872-1959), the counsels for the defense, the accused, Captain Jacob Koogle, Dr. Ralph Browning, Rev. Otto E. Bregenzer (abt. 1877-1920) of  St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and Mrs. Bittle, the former Mary Elizabeth Routzahn (1865-1936.)

Bittle told Willard and Eckstein that on the night of the attempted burglary,  “He had seen the burglar around his place early in the evening [and] though he recognized his walk,” the Frederick News noted.The party wore a  dark slouch hat, dark coat, and trousers. He did not see the face of the man at the door sufficiently well to say it was George Koogle, but he could say from what he had seen of Koogle earlier in the evening and what he could say of the man at the door he thought it was George Koogle, although he was sorry to say so.” The dolorous look Bittle may have given Captain Koogle as he spoke can well be imagined.

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Justice of the Peace Christian H. Eckstein heard Bittle’s testimony.

Bittle, like his fellow citizens, probably saw Koogle as somewhat of a superhero. For example, the merchant would surely have heard this wartime anecdote from Myersville veteran Daniel Mowen, Koogle’s brother-in-law, who included it in a series of articles he wrote for the newspaper, The Globe: “At the assault of Petersburg, on the 17th of June, 1864, and while the Seventh [Maryland Regiment] was in line, Jacob Koogle, first sergeant of company, saw a shell bounding toward them. He called to the men to ‘look out!’ Watching its course, he attempted to step out of its way when it lodged against his breast. Its force being about spent, he threw it off with his arm without injury to himself and, as it didn’t explode, it injured no one else.” This was before the affair of stealing of the Confederate colors and returning with the secessionist banner and a uniform full of bullet holes. Those twin events could make anyone wonder whether Koogle was divinely blessed.

Continue reading “When an Apple Falls Far From the Tree: Part Two”

A Union Soldier Remembers

“About this time, we were visited by heavy thunderstorms. Having shelter, we were obliged to hunt high places upon the ground to spread our blanket, and with knapsack for a pillow, lay down wet and shivering with our gum blanket over us for the rain to beat upon.”

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Courtesy Library of Congress.

Daniel Hosea Mowen, who lived for many years in Wolfsville, Myersville, and Hagerstown, was born 28 November, 1839, probably in Middleburg, Snyder County, Pennsylvania. He was eldest child of what grew into a large family headed by his father Peter Mowen (1818-1857) and his mother Susan Rebecca Renner Mowen (1815-1861).

Mowen was raised in Greencastle, Franklin County, not far over the Pennsylvania line from Hagerstown, Maryland. Peter Mowen died, aged 39, when Daniel was 17. His mother died in 1861 when he was 22. By August 1862, when he entered the Union army, Mowen had relocated to Frederick County.

According to an interview in the Frederick News of 21 July, 1976, on the occasion of his 100th birthday, Mowen’s son Waldo claimed that “For awhile, my father must have debated which side of the war to fight on,” although from the invaluable memoire Daniel Mowen left us, which is the focus of this chapter, one would ever take him for anything other than a strict Union man.

Mowen enlisted in C. F. Anderson’s Company I of the Union 7th Maryland Regiment for a three-year term. During the course of his service, he was wounded at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, heard the last speech of Abraham Lincoln at the White House, did guard duty at the Old Capital Prison on the night of the president’s assassination, and was present during the trial of the conspirators.

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