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 The Joseph Raber Murder

 

Joseph Raber Murdered for Insurance Money.
Conviction of Charles Dews, Franklin Stechler (Stickler), George Zechman, Henry F. Weise (Wise), Josiah Hummel and Israel Brandt for the Murder.
George Zechman's Second Trial and Acquittal.
Execution of the Murderers

Millheim Journal. volume (Millheim, Pa.), May 15, 1879
Six Men tried for the Murder of an Old Man to Obtain Insurance on His Life
All Found Guilty of Murder in the First Degree
Lebanon, Pa., April 26, 1879


Messrs Editors: It is impossible in the short space allotted to a correspondent to give a minute report of the proceedings in one of the most notable murder trials that is upon the records of the courts, and also endeavor to write a synopsis of the most important points.

As the press has generally given a full history of the life, the home and surroundings of Joseph Raber, the drowned man, it is unnecessary here. The dead body of Raber was found in the Indiantown Creek on the 8th of December last, and at the time of finding it was supposed that he came to his death by falling into the creek and accidentally drowning, he being a man of some sixty years of age. It is alleged by the commonwealth that Joseph Raber came to his death at the hands of Charles Drews and Franklin Stickler, two of the prisoners, as testified to by Peters' son-in-law of Charles Drews. Sometime after the drowning of Raber suspicions were aroused and an investigation mad by the insurance companies, resulting in the arrest of Josiah Hummel, Henry Wise, Israel Brant and George Zechman, who held insurance policies on the life of Raber, also Charles Drews and Franklin Stickler, employed by the conspirators to commit the foul murder. The arrest was mad upon the information of Joseph Peters and a hearing had before a Justice of the Peace, who bound them over to be tried at Court for causing the death of Joseph Raber.

Joseph Peters was the principal witness for the commonwealth. He testified substantially as follows: That Raber was drowned on the 7th or 8th of December, and that at the time he lived with Drews; that Raber was drowned on Saturday afternoon about half-past four o'clock; that when he was drowned he was upstairs in Drews' house with the wife and Pelrose Drews; that he knew Raber and he was at Drews' when he went upstairs; heard him talk below; Drews and his family were with him; heard Drews ask Raber if he had any tobacco; Drews said he would give him some; there was no one on the first floor but Raber, Drews and his family; then Stickler came; heard them leave the house; went to the window and saw Raber, Stickler and Drews go through a corn field - Stickler first, Raber in the center and Drews in the rear; they went to the plank; when in the middle of the plank Stickler turned around, knocked at Rabers' feet and then threw him into the creek; Raber then disappeared; afterwards went to the window again and saw Stickler and Drews returning through the corn field; then I talked with my wife; Stickler and Drews came towards the house; I then went downstairs with my wife; found the two men there with the whole family; Stickler took off his wet clothing and Drews gave him some of his own to put on; Stickler asked to have his wet clothes hung up to dry, and hid if anyone came in to the house; then Stickler went away to get a team to take Brandt to Zechman's; he then came in shortly afterwards and asked Drews whether it was true that Raber was drowned, when they had a conversation about it; Drews stated that he saw Raber fall in, and when he went to see him he was dead; that Drews said as his children often fell into the stream and got out themselves without any assistance, he thought Raber might do the same.

These were the salient points in the testimony of Peters, with corroboration by other witnesses, that effected the conviction of the prisoners, and as he was put to a severe and rapid cross examination, occupying nearly a day, it would be impossible to give the details in a newspaper report. Lenah Peter, wife of Joseph Peters and daughter of Charles Drews, one of the prisoners, testified substantially to the same effect and state of facts with the exception of witnessing the drowning. When she was on the stand her father occupied a position in the circle of the defense directly opposite to her, yet their eyes never met, she gazing downwards, while he was ever engaged in conversation with his counsel. They presented a striking resemblance in features, but what the father lacked in cranial affectation the daughter fully made up for in blooming healthy-looking cheeks. Sitting face to face, they presented a spectacle calculated to awake a shudder at the fluctuation of life - a daughter testifying against the life of her father, for her testimony was the most strongly corroborative of Peters, the principal witness, and doing it in an exceedingly cool and calm manner. She made a very good witness, answering questions in a plain, straight-forward way, using the German language. During her testimony, the poor girl's feelings overcome her, and she burst into violent weeping, restraining herself with difficulty at times sufficient to enable her to talk. Her position under the circumstances was certainly a very trying one, and she bore up under it with remarkable fortitude.

The representatives of the insurance companies testified as to the policies taken out of the life of Joseph Raber and of their assignment to four of the prisoners; that the last premium was about to become due at the time of Raber's death; that word was sent them and the necessary death proofs were made out.
The window sash through which Peters saw the act committed was exhibited on the part of the commonwealth, and proof shown that it was the same window, but that a pane of glass which was considerably broken at the time had since been put in the sash, which compared favorably, with the others, made so by greasing and smoking it.

Witnesses for the defense testified that it was the same pane of glass. One of theories set up by the defense was that the bottom of the creek where Raber fell in was stony and rocky, and that Raber came to his death by falling upon the stones. In rebuttal the commonwealth proved by a number of witnesses who had known the stream for a number of years, that the bottom of the creek at the point of the drowning was never stony, but on the contrary was a sandy and muddy bottom, so that one may justly suppose that the stones were put into the creek by someone friendly to the prisoners when the terrible revelations were made.
A day and a half was consumed in the arguments of counsel to the jury. Col. Gobin, one of the counsel for the defense, and formerly from Sunbury, spoke rapidly for two hours and did full justice to his side of the case as well as to himself, often emphasizing his comments with passionate outburst of eloquence and vindictiveness against the commonwealth's principal witness and the insurance business. At the conclusion of the argument the jury retired to their room, and after deliberating for four hours returned to the court room with a verdict of "guilty of murder in the first degree" as to all the prisoners on trial. Three-quarters of an hour was consumed in pelling the jury, after which the prisoners were remanded into custody of the Sheriff. - Exchange.


Murderers Sentenced for Hanging
Juniata sentinel and Republican. (Mifflintown, Juniata County, Pa.), August 27, 1879


At Lebanon on the 19th, Judge Henderson sentenced to death four of the men convicted of the murder of Joseph Raber in December last. Raber's body was found in a creek about fourteen miles above Lebanon, and it was at first supposed that he had been accidently drowned, but investigation led to the arrest of Charles Drews, Charles Strechler, George Zechman, Henry F. Weise, Josiah Hummel and Israel Brandt. In the trial it was shown that Raber's life was insured for $10,000, which had been assigned to the benefit of Drews and Strechler, and that the other prisoners had been paid by them to put Raber out of the way, so that they could claim the insurance money. The six men were convicted of murder in the first degree. New trials were refused except in the case of Zechman, and on the 19th instant Drews, Strechler, Hummel and Brandt were sentenced to death. Sentence was deferred in the case of Weise, who will be used as a witness against Zechman in the forthcoming Trial. Weise's confession covers thirty-two pages in his own handwriting.


Zechman's Re-trial
Juniata sentinel and Republican. (Mifflintown, Juniata County, Pa.), November 12, 1879


Last week the Raber murder case was again before the Lebanon County court, George Zechman being the man on trial. Witness, Henry F. Wise, testified as follows:

I had several conversations about insuring old Joe Raber with Zechman, Hummel and Brandt. Zechman spoke to me in the first place about insuring a man for five or six thousand dollars and then having him worked out of the way for $500. I told him I did not want to do that kind of work and did not want to take anyone's life. He says: "Why you don't take his life; you are always talking of not being able to pay your debts; if you do this you can then pay them and have money to go out West." I said that would be all well enough if they could not do anything with us. Zechman said the law would not affect us, but only the one who did the killing. He then asked me if I had any money and I replied I had about one hundred and fifty dollars. He then said, "We will insure Raber for five or six thousand dollars in the United Brethren Company, of Lebanon, and Charles Drews will work him out of the way to raise some money." Zechman put a note in the Jonestown Bank on which he got twenty five dollars. Raber was insured through Dr. Shuey, in the latter part of July, 1878. Zechman said he also heard that he had Raber insured in the Hartford Company for $3,000. I said: "George, what do you mean?" He replied: "I want to put him in right now;" also, that he had tried to have him insured in a Baltimore company, but they would not pass him. Was also insured in the New Era, of Philadelphia; in a Westerville Ohio, company; Home, of Lebanon, and Mutual, of Reading. It was arranged to drown old Raber in Katzmiller's dam. Zechman, Brandt and myself met at Brandt's house and were talking as to getting Raber to go fishing with us. We did not know how to get the old fellow along. Zechman said, "I have old Joe in a good tune now and when we get ready I can easy get him along. I'll just tell him my wife is hungry for fish and he will go along, but we must be careful that he does not get any marks on him." Brandt said: "We can easily catch him by the trousers and throw him in the water and hold him there until he is drowned, and when he is dead one of us can notify the Coroner." Brandt suggested that Squire Shuey be the man to hold the inquest, but I said that was not necessary, as the Coroner was the sworn law officer. Sometime after Raber was insured we went to Lebanon and had the different policies assigned between Hummel, Brandt, Zechman and myself. At another meeting at Brandt's house, when Brandt, Hummel, Zechman and I were present, I told them I wanted to go West and Raber was to be drowned while I was there. Raber was to be drowned and Zechman was to telegraph me when it was done, after which I was to go to the insurance office of the Westerville, Ohio, Company and notify them and draw my money, and throw off two hundred dollars in order to get my money sooner. Charles Drews was the man hired to do the work, the figure being five hundred dollars in the first place, but afterward it was arranged that he should come in as a partner in the insurance money. Zechman, on the Sunday before Raber was drowned, said to me that I should tell Drews to work old Raber out of the way before the coming Saturday of that week, or he would sell his reading policy to Dave Hummel, as he was not able to pay his assessments any longer.

This ended the direct examination, and the witness was handed over to Hughes for cross examination. It was very severe, but the witness stuck to his original story with great pertinacity. Wise was on the witness stand during the entire day. He denied having had conversations with certain prisoners in jail that he expected to receive a pardon if he testified against Zechman, and said that the only person he ever had insured beside Raber was his mother. - Philadelphia Sunday Times


Zechman Acquitted of Murder
The New Bloomfield, Pa. times. (New Bloomfield, Pa.), November 18, 1879


The jury in the case of Zechman, indicted for the murder of the old man Raber, after being out all night, came into court, looking haggard over their long confinement. On being asked by Judge Henderson whether they had agreed upon a verdict, the foreman answered Yes, and said "Not guilty." The court room was crowned during the scene and the verdict was received with much dissatisfaction, the general opinion being that Zechman was as much guilty as any of the others. The two who are yet to be tried feel much encouraged over the verdict.


Execution of Drews and Stichler
The Columbian. (Bloomsburg, Pa.), November 21, 1879


Charles Drews and Franklin Stichler were hanged at Lebanon, Pa., last Friday for the murder of an inoffensive old man known as Joe Raber who resided in a hut with a woman a few years his junior, to whom he was not married. He subsisted on the charity of his neighbors. This man, Israel Brandt, Josiah Hummel, George Zechman and Henry F. Wise insured for $10,000, the policies having afterwards been assigned to them. A few months subsequently Raber was drowned, and the crime was traced to those who had him insured, and two who had been employed to work the old man out of the way. The principal conspirator was Israel Brandt, a one-armed man, and Charles Drews, aged about sixty years, was selected to drown the unsuspecting Raber, who expressed his willingness to be insured to any amount to the interest of the conspirators under the inspiration of a promise that he should never want for the necessaries of life. The four men accordingly had made out policies aggregating $10,000, which they were to receive at the death of the insured. The applications were made in August, 1878, and on the evening of the following 7th of December the dead body of the old man was found in Indiantown Creek, about 100 yards from the residences of two of the murderers. Death proofs were soon made out in the presence of the conspirators, but the money was never paid because of a suspicion that Raber had been murdered. A searching investigation was instituted and facts were soon developed, showing beyond doubt that the old man had been forcibly drowned, and the authors of his death were Stichler, Drews, Brandt, Wise, Hummel and Zechman and they were arrested. A number of persons outside this party had knowledge of the intended murder of Raber, and one had seen the crime committed, but owing to threats repeatedly made, that it they revealed the secret they would be shot, they kept their lips sealed for several months, except among those concerned in the plot.

The first person who gave the insurance companies interested, and the authorities, important information relative to the crime was Joseph Peters, a young man who is married to Drew's daughters. He had been in the army and coming home on a furlough he was fully apprised of the scheme to murder Joseph Raber, and saw Franklin Stichler throw him into the stream in which he was found. Shortly before the commission of the crime, while chopping wood in the mountain, his father-in-law approached him with a proposition to make "a nice pile of money without sealing." He said that Brandt had offered him $500 if he drowned the old man, and that he had agreed to perform the work. He, however, desired the assistance, and suggested to Peters to join him in the plot. Peters says he refused to have anything to do with the murder, when Drews threatened to shoot him is he disclosed the conversation. Drews has also asked Elijah Stichler, aged about 20 years, to aid him in the proposed drowning, offering him $100 if he poled the flat in which it was proposed to take Raber on a saw mill dam several miles distant. Brandt was in doubt whether, Raber would be induced to make the trip, but Zechman replied that he had him in tune now, and, that by stating that his wife was hungry for fish, he could get the old man to from one of the fishing party. Brandt afterwards saw Elijah Stichler, and urged him to accept the proposition made to him by Drews who was to throw the victim in the water, while Stichler, ws to pass over him with the flat, and after he had been drowned jump in and save him, exchanging his wet clothing for dry clothing in the neighborhood, and thus making it appear that Raber had been accidentally drowned. Stichler refused the bribe, and he too, was told that if he exposed the plotters his life would pay the forfeit. The murderous mission was undertaken, Joseph Peters accompanying him, according to Drews' confession two months ago; but Raber was not drowned, owing to Drews' lack of courage. The next plot was to drown the old man in Indiantown Creek, and to assist him in this undertaking he employed Franklin Stichler, 20 years old last month, for $100. Stichler had been previously solicited to commit themurder by Brandt, but for some unexplained reason, the negotiations were not pressed to a successful issue.

On Saturday, December 7th, 1878, Drews paid several visit to Raber's hovel, and between four and five o'clock lured him into his house. Then he made an arrangement to accompany him to the other side of Indiantown Creek to get him some meat. Joseph Peters, Drews' son-in-law, who was upstairs, heard the two leave the house, and looking through a dingy window, saw them and Franklin Stichler proceeding by a small path toward the stream, the shores of which were connected by a narrow foot bridge. When Raber had reached the middle of the stream, Stichler caught the old man by the shoulder, tripped him and threw him into the water. After they had accomplished their mission they returned to the house.

All this was witnessed by Peters. As Stichlers' clothing was soaked with water by reason of the difficulty he had in keeping down the head of the struggling Raber, he exchanged it for some belonging to Drews on the return of the murderers. In the presence of Peters, Stichler remarked, that if anyone came into the house the wet clothing should be kept from sight. Later in the day Stichler returned to Drews' residence and inquired if the report that Raber had been drowned were true, to which Drews replied that he had seen the old man falling into the creek from a window in the house. This was the story concocted by the two men to mislead the people. About a week later Stichle was a visitor at Drews' house and while there both of them, in the presence of Peters and Drews' family, talked boldly of the crime, both remarking that it required their combined effort to drown Raber, who weighted between 170 and 180 pounds. Prior to the commission of the crime Drews told his wife that he was to get $1,500 for killing Raber, which elicited from her the response that he might be cheated by those who had employed him.

Early in February last Joseph Peters made information against the four conspirators and two other participants in the crime and last May they were all convicted, after an eventful trial of seven days. The testimony against the accused, except Zechman, was overwhelming. The principle witnesses against Drews were his own daughter and her husband, whose testimony was not shaken by the most searching cross-examination. These statements have been corroborated by Drews and Stichler in their confessions.


Date Set for Wise, Hummel and Brandt Hanging
Juniata sentinel and Republican. (Mifflintown, Juniata County, Pa.), March 24, 1880


Governor Hoyt has set Thursday, May 13th as the day on which Henry Wise, Josiah Hummel and Israel Brandt, three of the Lebanon Raber murderers, are to be hanged. The application of Hummel and Brandt for a commutate of the death sentence to imprisonment for life is to be considered by the Board of Pardons at its next meeting in April. Wise was refused a commutation at the meeting on last Wednesday. There is no possible hope for any of the condemned men.


Execution of Raber's Murderers
Lancaster daily intelligencer. (Lancaster, Pa.), May 13, 1880


Lebanon, Pa., May 13

Very few people were admitted to the jail yard this morning to witness the execution of Brandt, Hummel and Wise. The entire morning was taken up with religious services. Rev. Geo. Trabert, assisted by the Rev. F. J. F. Schantz, of Myerstown, attended upon Brandt and Hummel, while the Revs. Israel Hay and Ezekiel Light gave spiritual consolation to Wise.

At 10:15 Wise gave notice to the deputy sheriff that he was in readiness to proceed to the gallows. The solemnity of the scene was intense. Wise left his cell first, preceded by Revs Hay and Light, and ascended the scaffold with a firm step and a smile upon his countenance. He was allowed to make the following statement: "What I have to say is that all of us are guilty, as I testified in court, and confessed all about it, and how Hummel got in. That is all I have to say."
Rev. Mr. Hay accompanied Wise to the scaffold and prayed and sung the familiar hymn in German. "There is a fountain filled with blood."

Both Brandt and Hummel were asked if they had anything to say and they replied in the negative. All three men knelt upon the platform of the trap and engaged in prayer while the Rev. Mr. Schantz read appropriate passages from the scriptures. All persons having withdrawn from the scaffold, Sheriff Call sprung the trap at exactly 11:18. All three of the men swung in the air without a contortion or even a movement of a muscle. A slight tremor was observable in Hummel's knees, but beyond that nothing indicated but that death was sudden and easy. At 11:30 Dr. Lineweaver examined the bodies and declared them dead.

 

 

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