“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.”
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 a single 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, papers both local and far bellowed their names and described in orgastic detail Jane’s bloody, gore-soaked, and horrifying murder at the hands of her elder brother.
“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….”
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
The night was hot and sultry, but with a luminous Moon. George Bittle closed up shop but did not go to bed. As he had done on recent occasions, Bittle sat on his front porch, armed with a breech-loading gun, to watch over his store.
On 12 July, 1946, the Hagerstown (Maryland) Daily Mail printed the obituary of local notable George Waters Bittle, who died on 10 July in Frederick City Hospital, aged 79. Bittle was a long-standing board member of the Myersville Savings Bank and had operated a general merchandise store on Main Street for more than half a century. In hindsight, the newly deceased Bittle had likely enjoyed an extra 42 years of life. Against the odds, Bittle survived three bullets fired into him during an attempted burglary of his business in August 1904.
Bittle’s near murder was the byproduct of a series of break-ins in Myersville. Frankly, the town had a crime problem. The young man most likely responsible for these thieveries was the child of another notable citizen—a Civil War hero who’d won the Congressional Medal of Honor for exceptional battlefield bravery—Captain Joseph Koogle.
When James Hard died on 12 March, 1953, in Rochester, New York, the final firsthand battle memories from U.S. Civil War were forever lost. Hard was the last verified soldier on either side of the conflict who actively fought—in his case, as a teenaged infantryman in the 37th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment—at First Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg.
There were others still alive, however, such as John Caleb Leatherman, who were children and teens during the war years. In Maryland’s Frederick and Washington Counties, and just across the Potomac in West Virginia’s Shepherdstown, these elders possessed indelible memories of South Mountain, Antietam, or Monocacy lain down through civilian, juvenile lenses.
One example was Jacob E. Eavey. On 15 August, 1948, he died in the Guildford Nursing Home in Boonsboro at age 97 after a professional life spent running a grocery shop at 29 North Main Street, Keedysville. Eavey was the son of Samuel Eavey (1828-1911) and Catherine Ecker (1828-1868) and was born in Porterstown on 21 October, 1850. He would marry Clementine Eugenia Keedy (1850-1929) and father five daughters and one son.
Like John Leatherman, Eavey kept vivid memories of 16 September, 1862. Whilst John spent the 16th in Middletown, helping his mother nurse wounded soldiers from the previous day’s fighting, 12-year-old Jacob spent it “sitting on a fence beside the road, watching the soldiers striding down South Mountain” on their way to meet their individual destinies at the Battle of Antietam, reported the Hagerstown Daily Herald of 16 August, 1948. When fighting kicked off at Sharpsburg on the 17th, Eavey stood near his parent’s smokehouse in Porterstown, just to the east of Sharpsburg, as a Rebel shell tore through and wrecked the building but spared his life.