Who Killed Lillian Wager?

Area where Lillian Wager was killed

I was returning to the stretch of road on Route 6 between Roulette and the Potter-McKean County line. The stretch of road has ghosts, lost treasure, and the possible lost Halfway Hollow. Note: more about these legends can be found here: Halfway Hollow.

However, it was nothing in the realm of folklore that caught my attention and once again had me exploring this stretch of highway. A couple days after posting the article on Halfway Hollow I received an email asking if the phantom hitchhiker could be connected to a murder that happened nearby. He really did not know much about the murder, but knew it happened “near the county line.”

After a lengthy search through the newspaper archives, I stumbled upon a murder that grabbed newspaper headlines in the September of 1931. The September 24, 1931 edition of The Potter Enterprise (Coudersport, PA) ran the headline “Death of Buffalo Nurse Unsolved.”

The death of Lillian Wager has created more questions than answers as I read through the limited information from the newspaper articles of the time. For a murder that grabbed the attention of newspapers across the United States when it happened, the death of Lillian Wager quickly vanished from the headlines before disappearing from the public memory.

Lillian Wager was a forty-six-year-old widowed nurse from Buffalo, New York who was taking a vacation around the east coast with Henry Felber, age twenty-nine. Newspapers did make note that Henry was married, but was planning on leaving his wife and marrying Lillian. Note: There is a debate on Henry’s last name. Potter and McKean County newspapers identify the companion of Mrs. Wager as Henry Felber. Newspapers outside of the region call him Henry Selber. I believe Felber is the correct last name and that is the name I’m using in this article. Also, it is interesting the local newspapers have Lillian’s age correct, but newspapers outside the region state she was thirty-three-years-old, which is wrong. I’ve found where she is buried in Buffalo, New York and the records state her age as forty-six.

Lillian and Henry left Buffalo, went to Albany, New York and then to Washington, D.C. before returning to Buffalo via the Roosevelt Highway, also known as Route 6. The two left Washington, D.C. between noon and one in the afternoon and had arrived in Roulette late Friday night.

At a point west of Roulette, near the Potter-McKean County line, they pulled off the highway and parked under an apple tree where they sat eating apples and listening to a radio program out of New York. As midnight approached, Lillian retired to the rear seat and Henry lounged in the front.

Around one in the morning, Henry heard Lillian sit up and exclaim: “Something terrible has happened!” Lillian then slumped back down onto the rear seat. Henry thought Lillian was having a heart attack, so he drove her to the Port Allegany hospital.

Lillian was declared dead upon arrival. The cause of death was not a heart attack, but it was discovered she had been shot. The bullet was fired from outside the vehicle, passed through the rear driver’s side, the seat, Lillian’s spine, aorta, her left lung, and lodged in her left side. It would be determined a .38 was the firearm that killed her.

McKean County Justice of the Peace Seltz questioned Felber. Felber claimed that he never heard the shot that claimed Lillian’s life, stating he had been asleep when the bullet was fired.

The McKean County detectives took Felber to the place where the tragedy occurred and discovered that the crime scene was actually in Potter County. Authorities from Coudersport soon arrived on scene and detectives from both counties searched the area for evidence.

Examining the ground near the spot where the car had been parked, detectives failed to discover any footprints in the damp soil. They spread out searching where the assassin might have stood when the fatal shot was fired. Despite the search, their search failed to discover any shells, the murder weapon, or the place the bullet was fired from.

The case was turned over to Coroner McConeghy from Potter County. A coroner’s jury was held and Felber was questioned by McConeghy and also District Attorney Crandall. Felber’s story never changed throughout all the questioning – the same story he originally told was the same story he would recall in the coroner’s jury.

The main point brought up in Felber’s questioning was about the bullets discovered in Felber’s pockets. He claimed the bullets were from a hunting trip he had taken the previous autumn. Note: There are a couple questions that I have about Felber’s questioning that are not answered in the newspaper articles. First, it is not revealed if the bullets found on Felber were the same caliber as the fatal bullet. I’m assuming they were different due to his release after the coroner’s jury. The second thing that is not revealed is where were the bullets found? They say they were in Felber’s pocket. My guess is they were found in a jacket or coat he had with him. However, keeping live bullets randomly in his pockets for almost a year does seem slightly odd.

In addition to Felber’s testimony, there were a number of witnesses questioned, but the most important one was Charles McElwee of Port Allegany. McElwee had spent the evening with a companion in Roulette and as he walked along Route 6, he managed to hitch a ride. A large sedan stopped with three men in it and McElwee got into the backseat behind the driver. The other man in the backseat was firing randomly at objects they passed – while they drove toward Port Allegany the man fired at least three times. The men left McElwee out in Port Allegany before they continued their journey towards Cleveland, Ohio. Authorities believed one of those bullets struck the car, killing Lillian Wager.

Lillian’s sister arrived in Coudersport and arranged to have Lillian returned to Buffalo, where she rests in Forest Lawn Cemetery. The last Felber is mentioned, he was leaving Potter County with Lillian’s sister, headed back to Buffalo.

Lillian Wager’s murder disappeared from the newspapers after the articles printed on September 24, 1931. Scouring through newspaper databases, I could not find anything more about the senseless murder of Lillian Wager. As far as I can tell, there was never any follow-up by the newspapers and I cannot discover anything that suggests the authorities were able to find anything more about the possible suspects.

The murder of Lillian Wager remains unresolved and forgotten, hidden in the mists of time.

3 thoughts on “Who Killed Lillian Wager?

  1. I find it interesting that Felber is close to Felker. Also, if he had bullets in a pocket… was it in an over coat pocket? In September, it would have been colder at night, so an overcoat would have been appropriate.
    There is no mention at to the caliber the 3 men were randomly firing.

    Like

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