Unsolved: The Lamb’s Gap Murders

graves 2
The graves of murder victims Harry Ganster and Leah Ellenberger

Resting near the rear of Evergreen Cemetery in Duncannon is a simple grave that gives no hint of the tragedy that befell the young lady resting there. Buried next to her parents, the stone only states her name and her birth and death dates: “Leah E. Ellenberger – 1902-1924.”

Roughly fifteen miles south of here, just inside the gates of Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Marysville, is another simple stone that hides the tragedy that happened to the young man buried in the sacred grounds. The stone marking his grave only has his first name and middle initial, but the memorial that stands guard over the family plot lists his name along with his birth and death years: “Harry L. Ganster 1903-1924.”

The only thing that the average person may notice about the two graves is the year of their death is the same: 1924.

I had arrived that day to pay my respects to the young couple whose murder on May 17, 1924 remains unsolved. On what should have been a beautiful, spring morning for the region turned dark when the young couple was discovered murdered near the top of nearby Lamb’s Gap.

Harry and Leah were well liked by the community. According to both families, when Harry, age 21, and Leah, age 22, met, they instantly fell in love and, when classes were not in session, they spent all their free time exploring the mountains around Marysville. Note: The dates on Leah’s stone indicate that she was 22 years old, but many newspaper accounts at the time state her age as 18.

Harry was a local boy who was a senior at Marysville and would be graduating at the end of May. The son of Joseph and Louisa was planning on attending Susquehanna University to study medicine that fall. Harry was described as having a curious and investigative mind. He was known for carrying a pocket-sized notebook in which he detailed his journeys and observations.

Leah, originally from the Marysville area, was a teacher living with her parents near Hollidaysburg. She would spend her free time at the home of George and Nancy Albright, her aunt and uncle (Nancy was her mother’s sister). Leah taught school at Clover Creek, located near Williamsburg, and had been in Marysville for the two weeks leading up to the murder.

The afternoon of May 16 was a typical day for the duo. Around four-thirty that afternoon Harry announced that he was going out to pick flowers for the upcoming graduation ceremony at Marysville. Leah eagerly joined him on another adventure into the mountains. Harry promised to be home by six that evening. Six came and went without either of them returning – though the adults were worried, panic did not set in until darkness began to creep over the land. At this point Joseph sought out George’s help and the two of them gathered a couple more men and the search for the young couple began. The search continued throughout the night and the young couple was discovered by Joseph Ganster at four in the morning on the seventeenth. In the light beam of the flashlight he carried, Joseph had thought that the two had fallen asleep in the car they had driven off in the day before.

As Joseph approached the car he realized that something was wrong and the moment he touched his son, Joseph knew the truth: Harry and Leah were dead. Harry was on the passenger’s side of the car. He had one foot on the ground and one on the car’s running board, with his body slumped on the passenger’s seat. Leah was slumped over in the driver’s seat with her left hand resting on the car door. Harry’s left thumb was wrapped in a bandage having been injured at some point before the murders – the first aid kit still sat on the front seat between the two lovers, implying that they had possibly just finished wrapping the wound when the murders occurred.

Note: Many retellings of the murder state that Harry was lying on the running board, this comes from the first articles printed in the newspapers. Newspapers went into detail about how the bodies were found in their May 16 editions. The accounts at the time say one foot on the running board, one on the ground, as if he was in the process of getting into the car, and he was slumped into the vehicle. His body was on the floor with his head close to Leah’s feet. In some recent version of the murder, it is also hinted that his father moved the body from behind the car to the running board, but I have not discovered in any of the initial accounts this to be the case. It does say that he touched the body of his son and realized he was dead, but no accounts at the time hint at the body being moved..

Upon realizing the young couple was dead, Joseph remained at the scene while George returned to Marysville to alert the authorities. Residents began arriving at the scene as word of the crime spread, but it wasn’t until noontime the state police finally arrived on scene. By that time any clues at the scene were destroyed or disappeared due to the number of people who wanted to help or were merely curious about the murders.

The state police took over the crime scene looking for any clues that still existed at the spot. It was originally believed the murders would be quickly solved, but the scene’s contamination proved it to be impossible. Studying the bodies, it was discovered that Leah and Harry had been killed by a single shot. The bullet hit Harry, passed through him before entering Leah. The bullet continued through her and ended its fatal journey in her left arm. With no signs of struggle at the scene, investigators believed that Harry was in the process of getting into the car when the shot was fired.

Authorities expanded their search and found that Leah and Harry had walked along an old logging road. It was discovered at one point on their walk they had been followed by an unidentified person. The state police also found a location roughly one hundred feet away from the car where they believed the shot was fired from. But they failed to discover a shell casing or any other evidence about the identity of their killer.

The question arises of who had a motive to kill the couple.

The most popular theory presented at the time stated the young couple was killed by a local moonshiner who had targeted Harry —  Leah was an innocent bystander. Harry’s hobby of photography had included photographing a number of the stills located in the region and some of those pictures had been published in a local newspaper. The moonshiners had threatened Harry for his actions and the police believed this was a case of revenge. In addition to the photographs, Harry had been involved in an altercation with moonshiners about a year and a half before that resulted in shots being fired. Amid the gunfire, one of the moonshiners was shot in the leg and claimed the shot came from Harry’s gun. Harry claimed that he did not fire the shot that hit the moonshiner, but insisted that the shot was from one of the other moonshiners. Note: This altercation was between Harry, his school professor, and some moonshiners. Despite some claiming otherwise, Leah was not present during this altercation.

Police searched the mountain for any active stills. The stills discovered near the crime scene had been abandoned and, from the looks of them, had been for a while. While this theory is the one police believe happened, no arrests were ever made nor were any suspects named.

Other rumors began to quickly circulate around the Marysville area. Another popular theory was the young couple was shot by a jealous husband. The story whispered was the man’s wife was cheating and he followed the car, believing Leah was his cheating wife. In a blind rage he shot the two from ambush, thinking he was killing his wife’s lover. Police looked into this theory and dismissed it.

Another theory at the time was Leah was being stalked by a former boyfriend from Hollidaysburg. Supposedly the man was spotted in Marysville during the two weeks before the murder. The unknown stalker had followed them to the gap where he killed them. Police looked into this theory, but Leah’s parents stated firmly that Harry was Leah’s first love – the talk of another boyfriend was just a rumor.

Two other rumors circulated, but were easily dismissed. The first was Harry killed Leah and then himself. With no gun found, and with only one bullet discovered to have killed them both, the state police quickly squashed that theory. This theory was presented from the start as newspapers asked if this was a murder-suicide or a double murder.

The other theory was the whole thing was a complete accident. Police quickly pushed aside the theory that the young couple was hit and killed by a stray bullet due to the terrain. In order for a single bullet to hit both Harry and Leah, it had to have been fired from a point above the car, about one hundred feet above them. The point the fatal shot was fired from, the shooter knew they were firing at a person.

There was one piece of evidence police discovered that made no sense to them and still cannot be explained. While searching the bodies, a hypodermic needle was discovered in one of Harry’s pockets. While Harry did have an interest in medicine, it is unsure why he had taken the needle with him that day. One possibility is Harry was doing something with it earlier in the day and had slipped it into his pocket and forgotten about it.

The only solid evidence that the police were able to obtain was the identity of the murder weapon. Examining the bullet, they determined that the couple was killed by a bullet fired from a 1892 model .44-40 Caliber Winchester rifle.

The funerals of the young lovers were opposite in nature. Leah’s was a simple, private one held at the house of her aunt and uncle. It was attended by family members and some close friends. Her body was taken to Evergreen Cemetery in Duncannon for burial. Harry’s funeral was held at the local Evangelical Church and was attended by the residents of the community. The school was closed for the day for fellow students to attend the funeral of their classmate who would have graduated May 31. Harry’s body was laid to rest at the Chestnut Grove Cemetery in Marysville.

Almost a century has passed since the tragedy that shocked the community of Marysville and captivated the region. The case that had grabbed the headlines and that the police thought would be solved has since been forgotten by most. Unfortunately, due to time, their murders will most likely forever remain unsolved.

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