David's Reformed Church Congregation

David's Reformed Church Congregation
Congregation of David's Reformed Church, Montgomery Co, Ohio, Circa, 1900

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Black Sheep Sunday - The Hanging of Felix Munshower

When I began my journey through my family history about 7 years ago, the only thing I knew about my great great grandmother Norris was written in the family Bible.  "Alice Norris died in 1888".  For a long time, I didn't know anything more.  Since I had so many other names to work with in different branches of my family tree, the Norris side languished for a while until I finally "buckled down" and got my "Google" on!
Starting with census records, (always a great place to start!) I found my great grandfather, Harry,  living with his family in Frederick County, Maryland.  It was here that I discovered not only his sister, Effa, but also his brother, Vincent, about whom I have written previously.  I then began to do some newspaper searching.  Luckily for me there are many Frederick County, Maryland newspapers available on various genealogical websites.  On one of these sites, I found Effa's obituary and for the first time I discovered my great great grandmother's maiden name, "Munshower".  But, finding which Munshower family Alice belonged to was more of a challenge.  Seeking the help of the Emmitsburg Historical Society, we determined that she was most probably Sarah Alice Munshower, daughter of Jacob and Elizabeth Munshower of Emmitsburg.
Once again, the search was on, only this time the results I discovered included a murder and a family tragedy.
According to the 1870 United States Census, Jacob and Elizabeth "Munshour" were living in Emmitsburg, Maryland with their 6 children.  Alice was 12, her younger brother, Felix was 10.  But, ten years later, in 1880, I found Felix is listed as a "prisoner" in the Frederick County jail.
This required further research.
Now I was searching on the name "Felix Munshower" specifically and I discovered a wealth of information about his crime. According to all accounts, he had murdered his own cousin, James Wetzel, apparently only for his money.  The best account of the murder came from the Emmitsburg Historical Society and was written by Michael Hillman. In his story, Michael tells of how the murder occured on 5 August, 1879 when Felix followed his cousin into the woods, shot him in the back of the head, stole his money purse, and buried his body in the woods. The investigation into the murder eventually led the sheriff to examine bootprints found in the woods next to the body and the heels of Felix' boots were a perfect match.  After his first trial ended in a mistrial because some of the jurors left deliberation to get haircuts, Felix was declared guilty of murder at 11:10 am on Wednesday, 28 January, 1880.  On 4 January, 1881, it was announced by the judge, "The sentence of the court is that you be taken in charge by the sheriff of Frederick County, and conveyed to the jail of Frederick County until such time as the Governer of Maryland shall appoint for your execution, and there and then be hanged by your neck until you are dead, and may God have mercy on your soul."
There were several appeals and delays of the sentencing, but on November 11, 1881, Felix Munshower was hanged for the murder of James Wetzel.

Tragically, on 16 January, 1881, Elizabeth Munshower, the mother of Felix and my 3rd great grandmother, died after suffering a heart attack at the home of her daughter, Amy.  Surely, the stress of the trial had weighed heavily upon her.  She did not live to see her son executed. Her daughter, my great great grandmother, Alice, lived only 7 years longer.  I don't know to what her death was attributed, but I wonder how much the actions and the death of her closest sibling affected her health.

It is amazing where one shred of information can lead you. One name in a census lead me to one of the family "Black Sheep".  I wonder where my journey will take me next?