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.”

During the night of 23 November, a large quantity of dynamite was purposefully exploded on a hill at the edge of Myersville, breaking windows and causing panic. “A large glass was shattered in the bay window of Mr. Isiah Moser’s residence, another in the window of the Myersville Savings Bank, and a number elsewhere, including the residence of Statton Smith,” stated the Daily Mail.

The Baltimore Sun reported, “After the explosion, the dynamite chest belonging to the Hagerstown Electric Railroad, near the town, was broken open and 100 pounds of the explosive stolen. Now the citizens of this town are in mortal fear of another explosion.” The Hagerstown Railway offered a $25 reward for identification of the guilty parties, but the culprits were never found.

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George Koogle’s trial was held in the circuit court in Frederick in mid-December, after a postponement from its original slot in October. On 30 September, Koogle had been found not guilty of the charge of robbing Peter Langdon’s store. No details were reported, including whether the man who purportedly sold the photo album to Koogle, S. A. E. Johnson, was ever identified.

The trial began with “much difficulty” in selecting a jury, reported the Sun on the 17th. “Twenty-six talesmen were summoned after the regular panel had been exhausted.” This may be reflective of the notoriety of the case, as well as the status of Captain Jacob Koogle.

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George W. Bittle in middle age.

George Biddle testified as he had in August; nothing in his story changed, and he maintained that the man who shot him was George Koogle, whom he recognized by his clothing, build, height, and walk. Joseph Wolfe again swore that he had walked down Main Street with Koogle that night, leaving him near Bittle’s store, and Mary Bittle testified that she had seen and recognized Koogle from her window.

One new aspect of his testimony was the victim’s identification of a bone-handled knife found beside the store’s front door after the shooting. Bittle told the court that it was identical to one stolen from the establishment in early June. He said he’d previously sold another identical knife to Tilghman Grossnickle (1852-1937), who had it in his possession, but no one else purchased one. Myersville locals Harry C. Dusing (1886-1952), Joseph C. Moser (1881-1933), and Edward Kline took the stand to testify that Koogle had offered to sell them an identical knife on a Sunday before the shooting.

Koogle was first in the witness chair when his defense began and his testimony included significant new elements. He stated that what brought him into Myersville on the night of 3 August was the collection of money owed by an unnamed person. Koogle stated that he headed home at about 10 p.m., and upon “leaving Myersville that night, he passed a young man about his own height, dressed in dark clothes and wearing a slouch hat, like his own. In fact, the person was practically dressed like him and was about his stature, but [Koogle] did not know him,” stated the News.

George Huffer (1863-1952) of Middletown then attempted to bolster this rather convenient assertion, testifying that at about 6 a.m. on 4 August, “he was on his way to to do some work for the county on the road running from Middletown to Broad Run. In the suburbs of Middletown, he saw a man dressed in dark clothes, a slouch hat, and of medium build standing along the road who seemed to have been coming towards Middletown. On seeing Mr. Huffer the man ran across a field toward a straw stack and seemed … to wish to hide himself,” the News reported.

Clara Koogle then testified on her brother’s behalf about the timing of his return to the family home. Next, according to the Hagerstown Herald and Torchlight, the defense tried to recruit sympathy for Capt. Koogle, who told the court that “the accused was his only son at home and his sole reliance for the managing of his farm.”

After closing arguments by the state’s attorney and defense lawyers, the jury in the George Koogle trial withdrew to deliberate. After about seven hours, around 9:30 p.m., the jury “announced to the court that it was unable to agree upon a verdict and was dismissed. The jury stood 8 to 4 for acquittal,” reported the Herald and Torchlight.

Amidst what must have been a gallery of disbelieving faces, as the court ordered a retrial during the next term, after the end-of-year holidays.

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Batimore Sun, 18 December, 1904.

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After marriage, Clara Koogle Warrenfeltz and her husband became tenants on the Samuel Bower’s farm on Antietam Creek north of Chewsville. Less than a year later on 27 November 1908, Clara gave birth to a son they named Jacob, after her father.

The following Spring, just a few days before Easter, on 8 April, 1909, Clara’s husband Oscar and a farmhand headed into the freshly greening fields. After a morning of hard work, the two walked back to the house for their midday meal. They found four-month-old Jacob sleeping peacefully in his cradle, the table empty, ingredients sitting out in the kitchen, and Clara missing. Another farmhand, Leander Harbaugh, would later tell authorities that he had seen Clara at about 10 a.m. “working around the stove, preparing for dinner,” reported the Sun.

Oscar shortly found his wife’s footprints transversing the 30 yards from the house to Antietam Creek. They ended on the shore. Police and neighbors were quickly summoned, and boats and grappling hooks were gathered to drag the creek. Capt. Koogle also arrived, deep in dread.

The Sun noted that after Clara was missed from the house, “the belief was general that she had committed suicide.” They surely did not conclude this without reason. Was Clara suffering from what is recognized today as post-partum depression? Had she experienced extreme lows and highs or attempted suicide before? Unfortunately, no one remains who can answer these questions.

That afternoon, searchers found Clara. She was in the water near the dam breast by the stone, three-story Old Forge grist mill. The body was hooked and pulled ashore whilst her father and husband watched. According to the Sun, “Both wept hysterically.”

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Clara’s body was recovered close to this point on Antietam Creek.

When the body was seen, it was apparent that Clara had not killed herself. “Nearly all of the woman’s clothes were burned from her body and her breast,” the Sun noted. “Her limbs were badly charred and her hair and eyebrows singed….. Justice Elias B. Hartle (1869-1937) being convinced there was no foul play, decided an inquest unnecessary.”

As the horrible day ended, it was concluded that Clara’s clothes had caught fire whilst she was readying dinner; she had run ablaze to Antietam Creek, falling in to extinguish the flames, but Clara’s burns were so severe that she lost consciousness. The Chambersburg, Pennsylvania Public Option, which published a 10 April item about her death titled it, “Burned, then Drowned.”

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For reasons that remain obscure, George Koogle was never retried for robbery and attempted murder. The entire matter disappeared in the new year of 1905 and was not addressed in newspapers again. Most likely, the state realized it could never empower a jury not awed by Jacob Koogle. Having been treated with deference since the Civil War ended, the men of Frederick County saw no reason to tarnish his reputation through the conviction of his son.

Clara’s death may have begun a period of rapprochement between the Koogles and Myersville. Jacob and Mary Koogle wanted their daughter buried in the clan’s hometown, at the Myersville Lutheran Church (now St. Paul’s) where they had worshipped and been part of the tight-knit congregation for many happy decades. That Clara’s husband agreed to this is evident from the tombstone that now bears her name, his own, and that of Bessie Catherine Koogle (1887-1972), Clara’s younger sister, whom Oscar married on 9 February, 1911.

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Jacob Oliver Warrenfeltz (1908-1978), grandson and namesake of Capt. Jacob Koogle.

Bessie raised her sister’s son, and she and Oscar also had a number of children together. They both died in 1972 after a marriage that lasted more than sixty years. Jacob Warrenfeltz remained in Washington County, marrying Elta Launa Showman (1911-1981) and fathering five children. He is buried at Cedar Lawn Memorial Park in Hagerstown.

When Mary Koogle died on 21 March, 1914, she, too, was buried in the Lutheran churchyard at Myersville. Almost exactly a year later on 16 March, 1915,  Capt. Koogle passed away from pneumonia in his house on the Boulevard, Hagerstown. Newspapers all across the region carried the death notice.

On the day of the funeral, Koogle’s body was taken from Hagerstown to Myersville on a special electric railway car and then carried to the church by a set of pallbearers who were all friends from Hagerstown. However, there was a second set of “honorary pallbearers”: Dr. Alvey J. Smith (1865-1929), John C. Leatherman (1852-1952), John P. Flook (1859-1928), W. Edward Bittle (1868-1963), William Harshman (1871-1913), and Joshua Summers (1845-1922)—all old friends from the Myersville area.

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Jacob Koogle’s grave. Photo by Duke.

George Koogle stayed clear of his hometown, remaining in Hagerstown and marrying Norma D. Cashman (1884-1904) in 1909. The couple first lived with his wife’s family then set up home at 112 Rose Hill Avenue. George worked as a carpenter to support a family that included two sons and three daughters. Years later, the Daily Mail noted, “To date, he has built 102 corner cupboards and dozens of gateleg tables, coffee and end tables, blank and cedar chests, and desks. When he undertakes the building of an antique ‘reproduction,’ his workmanship plus his technical subterfuge can confuse even the most sharp-eyed experts.” (One wonders how many fake antiques by Koogle are out there today.)

In August 1933, Koogle was accused of possessing a brazing machine stolen from the Statton Furniture plant the previous April. That the pilfered brazer was in his workshop was not in question, however, “Magistrate Sweeney said that there was insufficient evidence to connect him directly with the theft of the machine or of having received stolen property, so he dismissed him with the understanding that the machine was to be returned to the plant.”

After this second lightning strike of leniency, Koogle avoided the law. This did not mean, however, that he was absent from local newspapers. In the 1950s, articles were published about him on multiple occasions—one with an unsettling topic. The Daily Mail of 2 September, 1950, reported,  “George H. Koogle … who has killed more snakes, both poisonous and nonpoisonous, perhaps than any living person hereabout, proved to a few of his doubting friends last Sunday that the female snakes carry their young in their throat and mouth. Mr. Koogle, who estimates he has killed in his time several thousand snakes from Pen Mar to the Potomac River, was strolling through an alley … when he espied a snake crawling toward some bushes. Before the reptile could get away he stomped it to death. As he put his heel down upon the snake, three young snakes crawled from the mouth of the old snake, a garter. Mr. Koogle said that in his younger days he made a business of catching deadly rattlesnakes and sold their skins for the making of belts…. He put the young garter snakes out of their misery very quickly after he disposed of the mother.”

In August 1958, the Daily Mail ran a picture of a stern-faced Koogle gripping a large broad axe. The caption read, “George Koogle shows how people grasped [an] axe back in the old days.” The chopper from his collection was going on display at the Washington County Historical Society Museum, but the overall impression disturbs.

George Koogle died in his home just a few months later, in December. He was buried with his wife in Hagerstown’s Rose Hill Cemetery. By the time of George’s passing, there were few who recalled his father’s gallantry. The hero who had shaped George Koogle’s life and whose reputation had shielded him rested quietly in Myersville’s earth. Near Capt. Koogle was Clara, the sister who provided his alibi and met a gruesome end. His Aunt Susan and Civil War veteran uncle Daniel Mowen were also there, as was George Waters Bittle, whose life Koogle had almost certainly nearly taken on that humid summer night in 1904.

On 20 November, 1953, the Daily Mail printed an article titled “Another Medal of Honor Turns Up in County.” It read, in part, “George H. Koogle … had his [father’s] Civil War uniform until a few years ago when the moths finished it off. At the time he put it away, Mr. Koogle said it carried five bullet holes.” Ω

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The Bittle store today.