Unsolved: Who Murdered Harold Guy Coll?

Unsolved murder victim, Bellefonte’s Union Cemetery

I was wandering the grounds of Bellefonte’s Union Cemetery photographing some of the notable people buried there, when I decided to seek out an ancestor buried near the grave of Governor Daniel Hastings. While I had a rough idea where she was buried, I found myself wandering back and forth among the stones, seeking out her grave.

Then I spotted a tombstone that caused me to pause. The marker was a simple granite one with a name and date on it, but the name was one that was familiar to me. “Harold Guy Coll / 1896 -1934.” Guy Coll’s 1934 murder remains unsolved to this very day.

I was first introduced to the unsolved murder in the late 1990s. I was doing research on Centre County’s unsolved murders and one afternoon, another researcher – who was much older than I was – and I were discussing what we were at the historical library for. When I mentioned I was looking up unsolved murders, he asked if I had the unsolved murder of the Bellefonte barber on my list.

I had never heard of a murdered barber and was definitely eager to learn more. He didn’t have much information, just he remembered being told that it was a barber who was found dead in the alleyway near his house.

At the time, I didn’t have a lot to go on, and – despite constantly searching for the murder – had not been able to discover anything about it.

It was almost twenty years later that the murder would be brought back to my attention. I was discussing Centre County’s unsolved murders with a co-worker of mine and he asked if I knew anything about the unsolved murder of a Bellefonte barber.

With my curiosity revived, and more newspaper databases available, I soon found some information about the unsolved death of Harold Guy Coll, whose death certificate reads as a cause of death: “Bodily injuries – cause of said injuries unknown.”

Coll was born in Lamar, Clinton County, on January 30, 1896 to Harold and Sarah Coll – having been named after his father. Harold Guy Coll, often went by his middle name Guy. Coll had married Maude Ellen Corl and they resided on Pike Street in Bellefonte. Coll worked as a barber and had a shop in the basement of the Farmer’s National Bank building on West High Street.

Coll was thirty-nine-years old when he was discovered savagely beaten on May 19, 1934. He would be taken to the Centre County Hospital in Bellefonte, where the true horror of his beating was revealed. His beating had blackened his abdomen, thighs, and back, he suffered from a ruptured bladder and fractured skull. Harold Coll died from his wounds on May 22, 1934 without revealing who attacked him.

Dr. Leroy Locke, the doctor who attended Coll at the hospital, stated the severe injuries were not caused by falling down the stairs.

The known timeline leading up to Coll’s death was provided by Mrs. Coll. She stated she went to her husband’s barbershop in the basement of the Farmer’s National Bank building around eight on Friday evening. There the Colls met with Mr. and Mrs. Carver, where they shared a pint of alcohol. From there they went to a local emporium and then to the Carver’s home, where they continued drinking.

It was roughly midnight when the Colls left and made a stop at the home of Harry Nighthart and then stopped at the home of Willard Eckel. How long they were at the Nighthart home is not known, but Mrs. Coll reported they had only stayed at the Eckard house for roughly fifteen minutes.

Coll had left the Eckel house first and Mrs. Coll followed a couple minutes later, afraid her husband would not make it home due to his intoxicated state. She claimed that they both made it home and went upstairs to bed.

When she awoke around 5:30 Saturday morning, Harold Coll was not in bed. She searched the house and was about to check the basement, when she heard him calling out for her. She went down the stairs and found Harold lying on the front seat of the car with his head under the steering wheel.

Before calling for medical help, Mrs. Coll called Mr. Eckel and the two of them removed Harold from the car, carried him upstairs and placed him back into bed. Only then did Mrs. Coll call for medical help for her husband.

According to Mrs. Coll, Harold’s last words were about what had happened. According to her statement, Harold went down the stairs to put wood on the fire. As he was going down the stairs, he slipped and fell. He struck his head against the vehicle and ended up inside the car. Note: I’m not sure how striking his head against the vehicle resulted in Harold ending up lying on the front seat and Mrs. Coll’s testimony did not clarify this.

Despite Mrs. Coll’s testimony, her neighbor, Annie Hockenberry, reported a much different version of what happened that night. She reported that she had heard loud talking coming from the porch of the Coll residence at one in the morning. She was awoken around 2:30 that morning by the sound of somebody yelling. Looking out her bedroom window, she saw Harold lying on the ground outside his house calling for his wife. She thought he was merely drunk and went back to sleep. She stated that Coll was wearing pants, but no shirt and she did not recall hearing any cars passing in the alleyway.

Authorities at this point believed Harold Coll had either been beaten by persons unknown or had possibly been run over by a car.

Oddly, his death barely made news at the time. However, in less than a year, his murder would make headlines across the nation.

The March 14, 1935 edition of The Centre Reporter (Centre Hall, Pa) reported that two men had been arrested and held for Coll’s murder. Willard Eckel, who had lived in Lock Haven since the time of Coll’s death, and David Carver of Bellefonte were being held for the beating of Coll, but no charges had been brought against them at the time.

Both Eckel and Carver were released from custody after they passed a “truth serum test.” The “recently discovered scientific test” was administered to the two men at Rockview. The formula was declared to be “almost 100 percent effective” and when given it, both men stuck to their original stories. The result of administering this “truth serum,” authorities released the two men, believing their alibis to be reliable.

After this, the murder of Harold Guy Coll almost completely vanished from the newspapers, with only an occasional, brief mention hidden in other articles. Even the listings of unsolved murders that appeared in local newspapers in the 1990s and 2000s failed to mention the Coll murder, although much older murders were among those listed.

I finished remembering the victim of the unsolved murder before I continued my search for my own ancestor among the older stones of Bellefonte’s Union Cemetery.

Note: Under normal circumstances, I would have placed one of my co-worker’s emails within the article, however, there are a number of things that I cannot verify within his email. I’m not saying the information he had been told by his grandmother is wrong – I’m saying that there are some things that unfortunately do not match up with known facts and cannot be verified. I have discussed these differences with him and he is aware that I’m adding his email to this article.

“You asked me to send you the story about the murdered barber. Here’s the story my grandmother told us.

“Back in the 1930s, when prohibition was in full swing, there used to be a speakeasy out (Route) 550 near Roopsburg. According to my grandmother, it was so popular that the police left it alone because the influential residents of Bellefonte were known to frequent it.

“In the early 1930s, there was a barber from Bellefonte who used to go there quite often. He was known to drink and to gamble and the more he gambled, the worse he played cards and he was soon in debt to a lot of nefarious characters.

“One evening, he decided he was going to cheat at cards and unfortunately he was terrible at cheating and was quickly caught by some of the gangsters who hung out at the speakeasy. They took the poor barber out back and beat him. Once they were done, they tossed him into a car and then dumped his body in the alleyway behind his house in Bellefonte.

“Due to many influential people being at the speakeasy that night, authorities were forced to ignore the case and it went cold and forgotten. But it was not a secret who did it, because everybody in town knew it, but were afraid to speak the killers’ names aloud.

“But that’s not the strangest part of the case. The state police got involved and the following year they brought the two men in and injected them with this truth serum. Not joking. They gave them this stuff that was supposed to cause the men to only tell the truth. They repeated the same story they had given the police before and because their story did not change, they had to be telling the truth and were let go.”

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