The Blue Eyed Six: Trials and Executions

St. Joseph’s Springs, Indiantown Gap

Note: This is part two of “The Blue Eyed Six” which begins with The Murder of Joseph Raber and concludes with The Legends.

Having heard shooting coming from the military grounds earlier in the day, I slowed as I approached McLean Road which entered the grounds of Fort Indiantown Gap. Having been here a couple years back, I knew the road was sometimes closed due to military training.

Seeing nobody around the junction of the roads, I turned onto McLean Road and drove slowly back the road to St. Joseph’s Springs. A short drive along the spring appeared on my right and finding a place to park, I stepped out of the vehicle and listened – I could hear the firing in the distance, but these were farther away and gave me no worry.

Near the spring was a marker placed by the Lebanon Historical Society that explained the importance of this location. Brandt’s Inn and Charles Drews’ house stood near the spring and along the road I had just drove on, Frank Stichler’s house once stood. Turning my attention toward Indiantown Run, the area where Joseph Raber was drowned, I studied my surroundings – the forested lands looked nothing like the open fields pictured on the informational plaque. Time had changed the landscape, but the story of what had happened at this place long ago still echoed.

It was at this location in December 1878, Joseph Raber was murdered by “The Blue Eyed Six” as a part of their insurance scheme. The men involved in the plot were: Charles Drews, Frank Stichler, Henry F. Wise, Josiah Hummel, Israel Brandt, and George Zechman.

From the start, Raber’s death was questioned by the residents of northern Lebanon County. Many had heard the six men bragging they were going to get insurance money because of Raber’s drowning. Despite the reports of the men bragging when they were drunk, it was not until Joseph Peters, the son-in-law of Charles Drews, came forward with the story of the insurance scheme that caused the men to be arrested.

The men went to trial in the April of 1879. It was decided to try all six men in one case, rather than having six separate trials. As a means of presenting their case, the prosecution called fifty-eight witnesses. Many of these witnesses were German speaking and required a translator to testify. In addition to their neighbors, there were doctors and insurance agents called to testify against the “Blue Eyed Six.”

The most damaging evidence came when Joseph Peters and his wife, Lena, where called to the stand to testify. They both claimed that they watched from a second-floor window as Stichler and Drews took Raber to Indiantown Creek and drowned him.

Lawyers for the “Blue Eyed Six” did all they could to discredit the scenario presented by Joseph and Lena. The window they claimed to see the incident through had multiple panes and were claimed to have been too dirty to see through. One pane was partially broken and had a rag stuffed into the hole.

In addition to the issues with the window, witnesses testified that Joseph had been seen by numerous people drinking all day and had been drunk at the time he claimed to have watched the murder happen. Another issue the defense attacked was Joseph was AWOL from the US Army. They also attempted to create doubt about their testimony when it was revealed Lena had an affair with Stichler.

As the trial went to the jury, part of the instruction given to the jury was “if they found Drews and Stichler guilty, then all six must be found guilty.” The jury only debated for five hours before returning with a guilty verdict. All six men demanded a retrial, yet only Zechman was granted a new trial. The reason Zechman received a new trial was due to him being found guilty on evidence that would have been inadmissible had he been tried alone. Drews, Stichler, Hummel and Brandt were all immediately sentenced to death and Wise would be sentenced later to the same fate.

When Drews, Stichler, Hummel and Brandt saw Wise had not been sentenced at the same time they were, they believed Wise had made a deal to escape the noose. They quickly made their own confessions, blaming Wise for the scheme. Their confessions did nothing to save them from death.

The executions would be delayed until Zechman’s second trial. In his second trial, the prosecution again called Joseph Peters to the stand as their main witness. Wise also took the stand, stating that Zechman had been a part of the conspiracy from the start. Mrs. Drews – Charles’ wife – had testified that Zechman had been the one who wanted to hurry along Raber’s death because he was tired of paying the insurance dues.

David Hummel, the father of Josiah Hummel, testified that Zechman’s version of events on the night of the murder were not entirely correct – Zechman seemed unphased by Raber’s death. Zechman claimed he was the one who decided to contact a doctor and coroner for Raber. David Hummel’s testimony was that he had to force Zechman to call for the doctor and coroner because Zechman was in no hurry to go get help for Raber.

The result of the second trial found Zechman “not guilty” of the murder of Joseph Raber. The jury acknowledged Zechman had insured Raber, but – to the dismay of the public – was determined he had no part in the conspiracy to murder Raber. Zechman was known to have insured other people before this incident and none of the others had been murdered. In addition, Zechman had taken out a policy on his mother who was still living and had made no attempts on her life.

The day after Zechman was found “not guilty,” the first two involved in the conspiracy were executed. Drews and Stichler were executed on November 14, 1879. Charles Drews was fifty-nine years old when executed and left behind a wife and six children. His wife originally wanted his body brought back to Moonshine Cemetery and buried there, but it was decided that he would be buried in the Mount Lebanon Cemetery in Lebanon.

Franklin Stichler had just turned twenty when he was executed next to his partner in crime. On the day of Stichler’s execution, his father came to Lebanon, placed his body in a wagon and took it home. Stichler was buried in the backyard of the family homestead. Note: modern sources state family members carted Stichler’s body home in a wheelbarrow. However, all newspapers at the time state his body was placed in a wagon driven by an unknown person, with Mr. Stichler riding in the back with his son’s body. It is also interesting to note that while the others were all buried in cemeteries, Stichler was the only one who would be denied burial within hallowed ground.

On May 13, 1880, Brandt, Hummel and Wise were executed in Lebanon. Israel Brandt was forty-six years old, leaving behind a wife and six children. Brandt, who had lost his arm in a farming accident years before, had operated the hotel where the plans on Raber’s death where formulated. After pronounced dead, his body was taken to Mount Lebanon Cemetery and buried next to Charles Drews.

Josiah Hummel was thirty-one when he was executed for his part in the conspiracy. He was an unmarried laborer who was buried at the Sattazahn Lutheran Cemetery in Jonestown, Lebanon County.

Henry Wise was thirty-four years old and left behind a wife and seven children. He was buried at Green Point Cemetery, in Green Point, Lebanon County.

George Zechman was thirty-nine when death caught up with him on March 19, 1887. He died of consumption at Swatara Gap, Lebanon County, leaving behind a wife and eight children. He was buried at Sattazahn Lutheran Cemetery, a short distance from Josiah Hummel.

I was preparing to leave St. Joseph’s Spring when I heard a vehicle approaching. The blue car I had seen earlier parked next to mine and the middle-aged couple got out and began walking toward me.

To be conckuded

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