Note: Numerous modern sources spell the victim’s name as Adaline or Adelina. Her name, as spelled on the tombstone is Adeline, which is the spelling I’ll be using in this article.
It had been six years since I had last stepped foot on the sacred grounds of Salem Belleman’s Church and Cemetery near Mohrsville. I paused for a moment and studied the historic cemetery. The last time I had been here, I had been joined by Jim, a local resident, who had helped me find the grave I sought – the grave of a young lady whose 1857 murder remains unsolved.
I wandered carefully among the old stones, moving towards the rear of the cemetery. Although I knew the general area of the stone, I walked along the back row, scanning the stones for the one I sought. After a couple of minutes, I spotted the silent memorial that tells of the brutal slaying of the young Adeline Baver.
The stone is marked by a rose at its top while the words beneath it are chiseled in German. The first time I visited the Adeline’s grave, I only recognized two words: born and murdered. Translated, the stone reads: “In memoriam / Adeline Baver / She was born May 15, 1838 / She was murdered October 7, 1857 / Age, 19 years, 4 months and 22 days.”
Although the yard had been recently mowed, tall grass still clung to the old stone and I knelt before it to do some weeding. I carefully cleared the tall grass from around the headstone, I began reflecting upon the tragic events of so long ago that claimed the life of this young lady.
From all accounts, Adeline was the respectful daughter of local farmer and she was well known and liked by members of the community. Adeline was described as a very pretty girl whose beauty had caught the attention of many young men in the community.
October 7, 1857 started out as a normal day as Adeline prepared to go out to a dance at nearby Leesport. The social was well attended and those in attendance were the last to see Adeline alive. Nobody at the dance seemed to know when Adeline left nor did they know if she left the party alone or with somebody. All that is known is sometime during the evening, Adeline slipped away from the social gathering and was never seen alive again.
At some time during the night Catherine Seaman, who worked at the Mohrsville Hotel, went out to the shed for some supplies. She heard someone moaning and dismissed the noise, thinking it was a drunk canal worker sleeping off a night of drinking.
The next morning Adeline’s lifeless body was found under the Irish Creek Bridge, near the location where the present-day Dauberville Bridge crosses the Schuylkill River. Adeline’s body was first discovered by a deaf-mute, who tried to signal to others the gruesome discovery. Unable to understand him, locals ignored him. A short time later a group of railroad laborers reported finding a lifeless body lying face-down on the muddy bank of the Schuylkill Canal. With the report of a body, Catherine Seaman arrived and rolled over the body and discovered it was Adeline. The cause of death — her throat had been slashed.
Note: Almost every modern source states the cause of Adeline’s death was: her throat had been slashed. However, a number of early sources report other wounds to her body. A couple articles mention she had also been stabbed twice in the chest. Other newspapers state she had been struck in the back of the head by an axe which had been taken from her father’s woodshed. If this is true, and the killer(s) had taken the axe from her father’s woodshed, then the killer(s) was familiar with the Baver farm and knew where a weapon could be obtained.
Investigators discovered Adeline had been attacked and killed just outside the Mohrsville Hotel. Adeline’s killer then moved her body to the location where it was discovered the next morning. Authorities believe that she may have been placed there in order to make people think she had been struck and killed by a train while she was crossing the bridge.
When it was revealed she was murdered, popular opinion whispered she had been killed by a jealous admirer. Police theorized the attacker had attended the dance that evening and was probably someone she knew very well. With this is mind, a number of arrests were made, but those questioned were soon released from police custody.
Initial reports state she was seen with a man that evening who was never positively identified – he may have been among those who had been questioned, but the name was never revealed.
The November 21, 1857 edition of The Berks and Schuylkill Journal announced the arrest of Patrick O’Neal and Charles Beatzel, on suspicion of being involved in the murder of Adeline Baver. Nothing was revealed during the questioning to implicate them and they were released. A warrant for the arrest of an unidentified man from Schuylkill County was also issued. In the November 28, 1857 edition of The Berks and Schuylkill Journal mentions the arrest of Samuel Heilner. The arrest happened after a long prayer in which supposedly the vision of Samuel Heilner appeared, convincing those praying he was responsible for Adeline’s death.
The May 3, 1858 edition of The Compiler (Gettysburg) states that Jackson Williams, the alias of Tom Williams, had been arrested for the participation in the murder of Adeline Bavor (sic), along with David Gumbert and Samuel Hyler who were currently in jail and charged with the murder.
Soon after her death, many residents began reporting seeing Adeline’s ghost wandering along the canal and train tracks. For the superstitious it became a place to avoid, while the curious were drawn to the scene. But that wasn’t the only place she has been spotted as numerous people have reported seeing Adeline wandering about the region, softly singing a mournful song.
But I had not come to Mohrsville in search of a ghost. In this field of stone I had come looking for the resting place of a cruelly murdered young lady so I could pay my respects to a life that had come to a tragic end. What rage existed that allowed somebody to so cruelly end the life of such a popular girl? Was it a snubbed suitor or was it a friend? Was it a complete stranger or was it someone she personally knew who savagely killed her? All hopes of her killer being identified and brought to justice faded away years ago.
I finished clearing the tall grass from around her grave and stood up. I said a prayer that she would find peace and that possibly, though sadly doubtfully, her case could be resolved. The secret of her murderer’s identity was taken to the grave with her that fateful night and any evidence is long gone, as are any possible suspects.
Note: The Genealogical list of the descendants of Christopher Bewer (Baver), includes the following story: Legend has it that one of the suspects denied he had any part in the act and hoped the Good Lord would take his life immediately if he had done it. Shortly afterward he was killed while, as a brakeman, he was coupling cars on the railroad. Another of the suspects is to have fallen from the hayloft into a hay-fork which caused a lingering death. Because of this injury he could not die until he had confided to an intimate friend that he had taken part in the act.
While I was researching the murder, I stumbled upon a newspaper article from Squatter Sovereign (Atchison, KS) that adds an interesting detail to the case that I have not found in any of the regional newspapers. It records the unsolved death of Esther Fisher on November 17, 1857, a couple of days after Adeline’s murder. Esther left Manayunk – near Philadelphia – on a canal boat, headed towards Reading. She was found murdered before she reached Reading. According to the article, Esther was the sister of Adeline’s mother and the article states that it is possible the two murders are related. However, this is the only newspaper article that I’ve come across that mentions the murder of Esther Fisher.