A Killing in Karthaus: The Murder of Clara Price

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Memorial along Route 879, east of Karthaus,

On the hill overlooking the West Branch of the Susquehanna, roughly a mile east of Karthaus, on the north side of Route 879, rests a small granite marker many travelers have passed without realizing its existence. Those who do stop to visit the marker are greeted with a very simple statement of remembrance:

Clara Price

Murdered 1889 By

Alfred Andrews

Unfortunately many visitors leave thinking this is the gravestone of the unfortunate girl – growing up even I was guilty of this believing she had been buried at this lonely spot, but Clara Price does not rest here – she rests with her parents in the nearby Keewaydin Cemetery on the opposite side of the West Branch.

Clara was the daughter of David and Margaret Price and in 1889 she was sixteen-years-old. Clara had sought employment doing chores at the home of Eugene Meeker, located roughly two miles east of Karthaus. On the morning of November 27, Clara left the Meeker house to walk home. She had planned to visit her parents and do some shopping in town. Sadly she never arrived home.

Note: Using Clara’s tombstone as a source, Clara’s age would have been sixteen at the time of her death. However, many of the newspaper sources state her age as being eighteen. I’m not sure why this is the case.

A number of people saw Clara walking towards Karthaus that morning. Some of these witnesses reported seeing a man wearing a brown derby hat walking quickly in the same direction. The man they saw that morning would later be identified as Alfred Andrews. Andrews was a native of England who moved to America when he was eighteen. He was described as a short, stocky man with a distinct walk. Note: A number of newspaper articles refer to his unique walk, but I’ve never been able to determine what was unique about it. I’m guessing he might have had some sort of limp to make his walk distinctive, but again that is just a guess.

After arriving in America, Andrews found work doing odd jobs around the region spending time in Altoona, Lock Haven and roaming as far west as Pittsburgh. Andrews was familiar with Karthaus having spent some time there too. At the time of Clara’s murder Alfred was married, had two children, and was living in Brisbin, just north of Houtzdale.

On that terrible morning, Andrews hid in the woods on the opposite side of the West Branch of the Susquehanna making his dastardly plans bot robbing a store in Karthaus. Throughout the morning, he followed a number of peddlers, hoping to rob them of their goods, but the opportunity to go through with his plans never occurred.

At some point, Alfred encountered Clara as she headed towards Karthaus on the narrow dirt road. The next people to see Clara were James Marsteller, William Oswalt, and James Bechdel who came across the body of a young lady lying face down in the middle of the road as they headed towards Karthaus. The trio of hunters ran to Karthaus to contact authorities about the crime.

While there were no witnesses to the brutal crime, the signs of a struggle were present in the muddy road. The coroner discovered she was shot three times: one bullet hit her in the back and pierced her heart, one near the left ear that entered her brain and one entered her chest. Ripped clothing suggested that somebody had attempted to sexually assault Clara before killing her. Tracks showed that her killer had chased her for roughly fifty yards before ending her life, but the numerous tracks around her body only added confusion to the scene.

One of the last people to see Clara alive was Mrs. Watson. She saw Clara pass by her house and disappear into the woods, followed immediately by a person she would later identify as Alfred Andrews.

Alfred would next be spotted at Moyer’s lumberyard, about a mile away from the murder scene. Andrews had arrived there to seek a job, but was not able to find a foreman so he returned home. A couple days later he was arrested for the brutal murder and sent to Bellefonte to await trial. Alfred was not the first person who was questioned by authorities. He, however, was the only one to admit that he was in the area at the time of the murder.

The evidence presented at his trial in January 1890 was circumstantial. Authorities presented their case with sixty-some witnesses but they could only state that they saw Andrews that morning. Alfred stated that he had been on the road that day. He also admitted he had planned on robbing a peddler, followed him for a short distance, but gave up on his evil intent when the chance failed to present itself. Instead he followed the road to Moyer’s lumberyard where he attempted to find work. Failing to find the foreman, Andrews returned to his home in Brisbin.

After a mere two and half hours of deliberation, the jury returned with its verdict of guilty. The testimony and circumstantial evidence was enough to convict Alfred of the murder.

Alfred was sentenced to be hanged for the crime and on April 9, 1890, the sentence was carried out. In the time after his sentencing Alfred became remorseful for the murder. He even had a booklet printed about the crime in hopes of it selling to provide some income for his family. Note: It was a common practice at the time for murderers to “produce” a narrative or poem in which they admitted guilt and begged others not to follow in their steps. While those narratives are supposedly the story by the criminals, most often they were created by newspaper reporters or some other local writer for their own profit.

After his execution, Andrews was buried on the ridges overlooking Milesburg, but rumors at the time believed his body was given to a medical school for dissection.

Note: Before I go into these issues, I want to state I do personally believe that Alfred Andrews did murder young Clara Price, but researching this article, there are a couple issues about the crime that I questioned.

Growing up in Central Pennsylvania, I was familiar with the story of the murder of Clara Price. However, since I started taking a closer look at the case I found some things that have caused me to ask questions about what I thought I knew.

First, Andrews was convicted completely upon circumstantial evidence. There were no witnesses and the evidence at the scene was nil. The muddy shoe prints could have been made by almost any man. Around her lifeless body there was a mass of tracks – by the time authorities arrived there was no possible way to determine who made which tracks. How they could distinguish anything and make one set of tracks out of the mess is a mystery to me.

A second issue I question deals with the blood evidence presented. Alfred had blood on his shoes that he claimed was chicken blood while authorities insisted it was human blood. It had been five days since Clara’s murder and I have no clue how authorities  could tell that the blood had been human. The prosecution’s case rested up this blood being the proof that Andrews had assaulted Clara.

A third issue deals with the question: was Clara sexually assaulted as the story has often been told and how the prosecution presented it? Andrews admitted he grabbed her, but denies sexually assaulting Clara. I find it odd that he would admit to numerous crimes growing up including arson and theft, but there were no other assaults or murders that he admitted committing. Considering all the bad things he did, this is the one thing that Andrews continued to state until the time of his death was: he had not violated Clara.  If he didn’t, then how did her clothing appear disheveled and ripped? There is a clue in his confession that may explain the condition of the clothing. Alfred admitted he knew Clara, so he grabbed her to threaten her. Possibly, her clothing may have become disheveled and ripped during a struggle to get away from Andrews.

I’m left with one last question. With the case against him circumstantial and the evidence questionable, why did Andrews admit to killing Clara Price in his confession? I believe that Andrews made the confession as a means to avoid being hanged. Only months before, Seely Hopkins was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged for the murder of his wife and mother-in-law. I believe Alfred thought if he confessed to the details of the crime as the prosecution presented them, he would be spared the hangman’s noose.

He failed and on April 9, 1890 Andrews became the sixth man hanged in Centre County for murder. He was hanged on the same scaffold used to execute Seeley Hopkins less than a month before.

One thought on “A Killing in Karthaus: The Murder of Clara Price

  1. Wow. I love this site already. My husband and I spent a decade camping at Parker damn state park every September to follow the elk. Everyplace you’ve mentioned I know. My husband and I even managed to track down that remote site that used to be Tom Mix’ homestead. When we were out at dusk and dawn looking for Elk, we were driving all over the Allegheny Wilds, down to Johnstown, Schemksville,, Altoona, passing many historical sights along the way, including a cabin that evidently some Civil War protesters holed up in that I had never heard of.

    Every year, I wrote a serial account of our vacations and posted them on the Yahoo site that is now defunct. My dream is to collect all the stories and publish them in a little book that could be sold out the gift shops and state park offices.

    Thank you for this story and I will be following you Avidly.

    Like

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