Unsolved: The Murder of Josiah Dale: Part Two

24 centre hall
The grave of Josiah Dale, whose murder remains unsolved

This is part two of a two part article. The first part can be found here: Part One.

As I stood before the simple stone in the Reformed and Lutheran Cemetery, located on the western edge of Centre Hall, that marked the resting place of Josiah Dale, I had to ask myself two questions that were answered: who murdered him and where was he murdered? While Jacob and James From were arrested for the murder, the case against them never went to trial and the case quickly went cold and vanished from public memory.

Many theories about who killed Josiah Dale abounded as people came forward to offer their opinions in the immediate aftermath of the murder and the first one I have to address is: was it committed by either Jacob From or his son, James? From the start, they were the primary suspects. Jacob and Josiah had a tense relationship. Jacob From had wanted Josiah Dale to sell his cattle and then purchase From’s cattle, a plan Dale did not follow through with and was used as the motive behind the case against From.

In the habeas corpus hearing, there was a lawsuit mentioned, one that had been in the courts shortly before the murder, strengthening the idea that one of the Froms had killed Josiah. The habeas corpus hearing gave another possible reason. Twice during the hearing it is mentioned that Josiah had posted his land, which possibly caused the dispute between him and the Froms. While this was brought up, the prosecution never followed up on the questioning in regards to the posting of the Dale farm and the murder. If they were trying to connect the murder to the posting of the land, they failed.

So if it was not the Froms, then who killed Josiah Dale?

A possible suspect in the case was brought up in the testimony: Samuel Meyer, the son of Mary Decker, the “star witness” against Jacob From. Near the end of questioning Mary, the defense asked her if she agreed to testify against Jacob in order to allow her son Samuel to go free. Mary denies this and this is the only time I encountered Samuel being considered as a suspect. The reasoning he was considered a suspect was because he too worked for Josiah, so he had a connection to the dead man. In her testimony, Mary proclaims her son’s innocence, but adds that Samuel had not been in the area since the time of the murder.

The next two theories involve a white horse that had been spotted on the mountain that night. Both theories immediately gained the attention of those living in Centre Hall and also Pleasant Gap. The first version of this theory was two men were spotted in a buggy being pulled by two horses, one of which was white. This version was quickly squashed as it was revealed the buggy was driven by a Mr. Packer and his two sons who lived on a neighboring farm. Mr. Packer came forth and said it was his buggy that was seen and authorities immediately dismissed him as a suspect.

There was a second theory involving a white horse that also circulated throughout the two communities. A number of people in those towns reported seeing a lone rider on a white horse carrying a lantern that evening. One of those who reported seeing the white horse and its rider was Andy Moyer, who claimed it passed the Dale farm sometime after Josiah had left for home. Mrs. Weaver, who operated the Pleasant Gap toll gate, reported a lone man on a white horse passed through at some point that evening, but the vague recollection could not provide any clues.

Another man who immediately was considered a suspect was John Sweetwood, who had lived on Josiah Dale’s farm before the Moyers moved in. The morning after the murder, Sweetwood and Dale were to appear at court in Bellefonte. Sweetwood was quickly dismissed as a suspect when he provided an alibi: he had been at a lumber camp from noon on Monday through noon Tuesday. A number of witnesses saw him there and John Sweetwood was removed as a suspect, though many believed he still had something to do with the murder.

Note: Before I go on, I want to state that I am not accusing anyone of the murder, but want to point out the obvious suspects who were overlooked and seemingly immediately dismissed by detectives.

In researching the murder, there is a major question that keeps coming to mind: why weren’t the Moyers looked at closer? From the start, they were largely ignored as suspects by authorities. They were the last two to know of Josiah’s whereabouts, despite their claim of never actually seeing him that day.

A possible motive for them killing Dale is in Mrs. Margaret Moyer’s testimony. She reported that Andy Moyer and Josiah Dale had an argument about “making cider and potatoes.” The argument was serious enough that she claims she had not talked to Dale in months. Note: Exactly when this argument occurred is not clear, nor is the reason behind the argument over “making cider and potatoes” as reported in the newspaper.

And then there is Margaret’s testimony on the stand during the habeas corpus hearing. There are some minor differences between her initial statement and the story she presents on the stand. The most notable involves whether or not she had seen Josiah that day. When the murder happened Margaret claimed that she had not seen Josiah Dale at all on that fateful day, only knowing he was there due to his buggy being spotted outside the barn. However, on the stand her story changes slightly and she admits that she had indeed spotted him on the day of the murder, around two in the afternoon.

One of the more interesting pieces of information that came out in the aftermath of the habeas corpus hearing also involves Margaret. Hidden deep within an article days after the hearing, it is revealed that Margaret Moyer was Jacob From’s niece. If the Moyers and Froms had a good relationship, it is possible they were working together in a larger conspiracy to either take advantage of Josiah Dale or to possibly to gain control of his lands at the top of Mount Nittany. However, without knowing if they were on talking terms or if they were fighting among themselves too, this theory cannot be proven.

Reading through the newspaper articles, a second question arises that muddies the case: “where did the murder happen?” Most believe it occurred at the top of the mountain as Josiah rested his horse before starting down the mountainside. The murderer(s) then prevented the buggy from going down the mountain until a later time. The shot was determined to be a level blast as Josiah leaned back on the seat causing blood to be found on the curtain of the buggy. As the buggy descended the mountain, Josiah rolled forward to become lodged between the seat and dash. If it had happened as it descended the mountain it was suggested that the body would have fallen forward over the dash, rather than between the dash and seat.

However, there are a number of people at the time who believed  Josiah was ambushed near a road known locally as “Adam’s,” located about two-thirds the way up the mountain. The reasoning behind this being the location of the murder is due to locals hearing a shotgun blast coming from the area. There were signs in the area of a horse having tramping back and forth at the spot. Note: “Adam’s” was the road leading to Adam Nearhood’s farm at the top of the mountain.

And then there are those who believe it happened at the farm itself, and while it is mentioned, this theory is mostly ignored in the newspaper articles.

At no point does the prosecution present a location where they believed the murder actually happened. But then again, at no point did they produce a solid witness, a solid theory on why Josiah Dale was murdered, or even a weapon that was used in the murder. All that was produced was a dead body, a shotgun wad, and a number of theories that went no where.

Standing before the simple grave I was left with numerous thoughts, questions and theories about who murdered him and why. Once Jacob was released, the murder disappears from the newspapers and within a generation, the unsolved murder vanishes from the memory of most residents in the region. Was it Jacob who killed Josiah? In reading through everything available, it appears he was most likely involved somehow, however, the case was muddled from the beginning, not only by local authorities, but by the Philadelphia detectives who held the promise of solving the case.

I finally walked away in silence, leaving Josiah to rest in the field of stone. As I returned to my vehicle, I realized that the years have prevented Dale’s murder from ever being solved and will again disappear unanswered into the mists of time.

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