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Dynamite and Diphtheria: The Strange Trial of Lloyd Wintersteen

In the early hours of September 10, 1896, the sleepy town of Bloomsburg became of the center of one of the most spectacular and diabolic murder plots ever concocted by the human mind. Poison, dynamite and deadly microbes-- these were the tools used by Clifton Knorr, a disgruntled son of a wealthy businessman hired by a prominent local lawyer to murder a former Congressman and poison Clifton's own stepmother.

Levi Waller was a leading citizen of Bloomsburg during the second half of the 19th century. Waller, a highly-regarded lawyer and politician, was the son of a noted Presbyterian minister, while his wife was the daughter of Charles Buckalew, the American ambassador to Peru. In spite of Waller's success, or perhaps because of it, he had many rivals scattered throughout Pennsylvania. His chief nemesis was another successful lawyer by the name of Lloyd S. Wintersteen.

Waller and Wintersteen had hated each other for years. The tension between the rival attorneys began, it was s…

Holy Rollers: PA's strange religious sect

Many of us have heard the term "holy roller". Over the years it has come to mean a term for anyone who is particularly zealous in their religious beliefs. However, this term stems from the dismissive name given to members of a peculiar group of religious practitioners who lived in northwestern Pennsylvania during the late 19th century.

The strange behavior of the "Holy Rollers" was well known throughout the country, as the following article demonstrates. The following article comes from the St. Louis Dispatch on March 29, 1896.

Scattered over Crawford, Erie and Warren Counties, Pennsylvania, and Chautauqua County, New York, is a curious band of religious enthusiasts calling themselves the "Holy Band". They are about two hundred of them. Their headquarters at at Elgin, Pa. There the leaders are stationed and religious services are held. These are so many that one meeting is scarcely dismissed before another is called.

The meetings have been held nightly in t…

The miner who claimed to have captured the devil

A rather strange story from the March 19, 1893 edition of Wilkes-Barre's Sunday News.

More on the Mystery of New Castle's Murder Marsh

In Lawrence County's Taylor Township, west of the Beaver and Pennsylvania Railroad yards and east of the Pittsburgh, Lake Erie & Baltimore yards just south of New Castle, was a putrid, stagnant swamp known as the Murder Marsh, so named because, in the fall of 1925, it was the site of a gruesome find-- two headless male bodies and the skull of a female.

To this day, the mystery of the murder marsh has never been solved. The killer or killers have never been brought to justice and the unfortunate victims have never been positively identified. Much of this can be attributed to the laziness and apathy of local law enforcement; police closed the case on October 24, 1925-- just four days after the last body was found. Calling the case "unsolvable", they claimed the number of volunteers needed to scour the swap was too small, and that the bog was too deep and dangerous.

The facts seem to point to organized crime; the murder marsh was used as a dumping ground over a period of…

Boy's brains scattered by angry mule

Pottsville woman shoots herself while guarding against ghosts

An unusual story from the Pittsburgh Daily Post, December 1, 1882:

POTTSVILLE, November 30.-- Mrs. Thos. Moore, of Lac Gap, died to-day from the effects of a wound inflicted personally by herself yesterday morning while in bed. Eight months ago her husband, who was then employed as a night watchman at Spring Colliery, began to imagine that he was haunted by spectres and weird and mysterious forms. So confident was he that he saw these objects that he repeatedly fired a pistol at the ghostly visitors.

He said nothing to his wife of the matter until quite recently. At her request Moore obtained day work and the apparitions disappeared until within a few weeks ago when Mrs. Moore claimed that she was haunted as her husband had been, and that ungainly spectres and phantoms prowled around their house both day and night. This time the apparitions were accompanied by sulphuric odors.

Mrs. Moore invited a number of her neighbors to her home and they all positively declare that the building was …

A graveyard of stillborn children

You never quite know what you may dig up while building a new house, as this following newspaper story demonstrates. From the Lebanon Daily News on May 1, 1905:

Workmen, while making excavations for a new house at the corner of South alley and Partridge avenue, this morning, unearthed two small rough coffins, which are supposed to contain the skulls and decayed bones of three bodies. The coffins as found are really only old wooden boxes and their rotten condition would indicate that they had been in the ground for many years. The find attracted considerable attention, and the exaggerated stories set afloat soon aroused Coroner A.B. Schultz and Deputy Coroner C.D. Weirich, who promptly made an investigation.

One box, when opened, was found to contain two tiny shells about as thick as paper, which, it is believed, were the backs of two skulls. Some ashes in the box were thought to be the crumbled bones of rudely buried corpses. The other box contained even less to identify as bones and i…

The Aeronaut's Fate: The Story of Wash Donaldson

Norwegian fishermen plying the icy waters in one of the narrow, rocky gorges of the remote island of Lofoten found human remains wedged among the rocks one mid-October day in 1901. There was no way to identify the body; the clothing had been ripped away, and all that remained was a gold ring on the left hand, engraved "Wash D." The mysterious discovery of the mysterious body wearing a ring with a mysterious inscription, in such a remote region of the world, aroused much curiosity-- but not enough to solve the riddle. The man's remains were buried in a tiny Norwegian churchyard overlooking the vast expanse of the great North Sea.

When the reports of the discovery crossed the Atlantic, it was determined that the remains were those of Wash Donaldson, a Harrisburg native who, at one time, was the most famous aeronaut in America. According to reports, Donaldson was last seen four months earlier, in a balloon over the Scottish city of Montrose.

This is the story of famed balloo…

Skeleton of suicide victim found in Mahanoy City

From the June 29, 1922 edition of the Harrisburg Telegraph:

The Secret of Sunbury's Buried Stone Slab

The following strange story appeared in the October 4, 1906 edition of the Tyrone Daily Herald, and describes the nightly hauntings by the ghost of Samuel Hayward, who appears to be looking for a mysterious object he buried in his yard shortly before he died.

Strange Apparition at Sunbury

According to the Sunbury Daily, residents of the third ward in that city are greatly excited over a strange apparition which is seen nightly in the yard of Mrs. Samuel Hayward, of Lombard Street.

It is now two months since the death of Mr. Hayward. Before he died he buried a large stone in the yard beside his home. What was the idea in so doing people in the neighborhood cannot tell. But they say that every night he returns to visit the buried slab. Certain it is that a ghostly shadow appears from the deep shade of the trees in back in the yard, that it moved forward to the stone and then disappears. Sometimes it is seen again, but generally it has vanished as if by magic.

The curiosity of the Hayward f…

The Loomis Street Affair: Haunting or Hoax?

In November of 1890, the Rolling Mill Hill section of Wilkes-Barre was thrust into the spotlight, thanks to a bizarre haunting which attracted crowds of hundreds to a plain wooden house on Loomis Street. According to one of the house's residents, Sophia Stiebel, she was upstairs making beds when she saw a ghostly black coffin lower itself through the ceiling, before the apparition of a beautiful young woman appeared and instructed Sophia to dig up the floorboards in the basement.

While many neighbors provided their own "evidence" supporting the haunted condition of the house, others insisted that Mrs. Stiebel wasn't in her right mind. Still others said that the Stiebel family was guilty of perpetrating a hoax, in the hopes of scaring away other prospective tenants so that they could obtain the property dirt cheap.

In any case, the Loomis Street haunting earned its reputation as one of the most unusual paranormal incidents in Wilkes-Barre history.

This is the origina…

This is why you shouldn't sleep on a railroad track

From the April 18, 1896 Harrisburg Daily Independent.

Body pounded into a jelly

The following gives a rather graphic account of the death of a coal miner at the Luke Fidler colliery in Shamokin. From the Nov. 14, 1889 edition of the Altoona Tribune:

Death of an Aviatrix

The mountains of Pennsylvania have been called an aviator's graveyard since the earliest days of flight. One of the great tragedies of Pennsylvania aviation history occurred in Perry County, in January of 1932, when a plane piloted by two daring young women with hopes of setting a world record, crashed into the side of Bower's Mountain, near the site of present-day Colonel Denning State Park.

On Tuesday, January 5, the plane being flown by Ruth Stewart, of St. Louis, disappeared into a cloud bank, seemingly without a trace. With her was a passenger from Toronto, Debbie Stanford. The two female pilots were en route to New York, where they planned to refuel and attempt a one-stop flight to Buenos Aires, in the hopes of setting a new world record. Stewart and Stanford were following a plane piloted by Stewart's parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Woerner of St. Louis. The aircraft remained lost for two days, until its wreckage was spotted from the air by volunteer flyers. The wreck…

The Tragic Fate of Homer Swaney

When Homer H. Swaney, former lawyer, president of the Pacific Steel Company and prominent citizen of McKeesport, lost his life in the sinking of the steamship Clallam off the Pacific coast in January of 1904, it seemed to conclude a strange tale of superstition and native curses.

Four years earlier, Swaney and a McKeesport real estate developer named James L. Devenney traveled to Port Townsend in British Columbia. Among the many souvenirs they brought back was a totem pole that had been carved by the chief of a local Indian tribe. Although British law forbade the taking of Indian relics outside the territory, the two men managed to sneak the totem out of Port Townsend and into the United States.

Misfortune appeared almost from the first moment the artifact was brought to Pennsylvania.

The totem pole was first displayed inside White's Drugstore in McKeesport, where it attracted a great deal of attention. Among those who came to see the relic was James Petty, a newspaper reporter who…

The Broad Mountain Mystery (Part 3 of 3)

When the charred remains of a young woman were found atop Broad Mountain in the spring of 1925, about three miles from Heckscherville, one of the largest police investigations in Pennsylvania history was launched. In spite of three false positive identifications of the remains having been made, more than 175 different leads having been pursued, and reports of more than 60 missing girls having been investigated, the crime has never even come to close to being solved. As late as 1932-- seven years after the discovery of the charred remains-- there was at least one full-time detective from Troop C of the Pennsylvania State Police in charge of running down leads connected to the crime. As late as 1937, Dr. Spencer kept the preserved head of the victim available for inspection at the Fountain Springs Hospital in the hopes that the victim would be identified.

The first two articles about the Broad Mountain Mystery explored the facts and rumors pertaining to the crime and its subsequent inves…

The Broad Mountain Mystery (Part 2 of 3)

On April 28, one local newspapers made a bold claim-- that the Broad Mountain victim was indeed Lillian Tyler. The Mount Carmel Daily News reported that Lieutenant Carlson, who claimed to have found the missing girl working as a waitress in Detroit, did not actually see Lillian or speak to her. Neither did Mrs. Davis, who accompanied the trooper to Detroit. It was widely reported that the searchers had returned to Pennsylvania empty-handed, and had based their findings on third-party information. This conflicted with the reporting of the borough's other newspaper, which held fast to the story that Carlson and Davis had actually met and talked to Lillian Tyler in Detroit.

Things were also getting out of hand in Indiana, as authorities tried to solve a strikingly similar murder in Chesterton. After Margaret Bishop (initially identified as the victim) was found alive and well, the charred body was positively identified by relatives as that of Lucille Sweeney. And, in yet another biza…