On September 30, 1902, the Indianapolis Journal reported on “one of the most remarkable cases of grave robbing ever known” in Indianapolis. Authorities arrested a ring of grave robbers who were supplying corpses to Dr. Joseph C. Alexander, an anatomy professor at the Central Medical College.
In 1885, neighbors of James and Mary McMullen recovered their smoldering bodies from their burning house near Elmdale. Examination of their corpses revealed that they had been physically assaulted. Authorities arrested 23-year-old John Coffee for the murders. A jury subsequently convicted Coffee of the double homicide, and the judge sentenced him to be executed by hanging. Coffee became the first person executed in Montgomery County on October 16, 1885.
The execution was held in the courtyard of the Montgomery County Jail, a building which still stands and exists as a museum today. A newspaper account of the execution described it as “one of the most horrible affairs of the kind ever witnessed. When the drop fell, the rope broke and the body dropped to the ground. The neck was not broken, but the shock caused the blood to spurt from the wretched man’s ears.” The executioners carried him back up the scaffolding, readjusted the noose, and Coffee was dropped a second time when the rope broke again. After a third try, the executioners succeeded with their grisly task in front of a throng of admission-paying citizens who were “nearly overcome with horror.”
It wasn’t long thereafter that stories about Coffee’s ghost began circulating in newspapers. Do you believe everything you read in the papers? Or not? Happy Halloween reading!
On February 16, 1868, John Baer left his home in Thornhope, Pulaski County, Indiana. He had $3,000 on his person to buy livestock at Star City. Baer was never seen or heard from again. Unless, of course, you believe the testimony of one of his neighbors, Gabriel Fickle, who contended that on the 30th anniversary of Baer’s disappearance his ghost appeared to him. What did Baer’s ghost say? You can read about the spooky encounter in the Marshall County Independent by clicking below.
October is here, and soon it will be Halloween. Halloween celebrants may be interested to discover what can be found in historic newspapers, including tales of ghosts and hauntings. I stumbled across the following article (see image) yesterday about a haunting near Big Lake, better known as Lake of the Woods, near Bremen in Marshall County.
As a historian, I immediately wanted to know if there was primary source evidence of the person and event the paper referenced. I found Gottlieb Haslinger in the 1870 U.S. Census. He was born about 1826 in Württemberg, Germany. He immigrated to the United States in 1854. In the 1870 census, the census taker listed him as a hotel keeper with his brother, William.
Gottlieb Haslinger did in fact exist, but the paper was recounting events from two decades earlier. Was Haslinger really murdered, or was it local lore that started circulating? Then I found this article reporting his death in the January 7, 1875 issue of the Marshall County Republican. The article also recounts another mysterious death that occurred at the same place a year before.
Was the area really haunted or not? Does Haslinger’s ghost still roam the area? Only a team of ghost hunters could presume to answer the questions. As for historical researchers like me, it is interesting to find primary sources for a person and event that might just as well be dismissed as fanciful fiction and folklore concocted to drive newspaper sales.