"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

This odd little tale appeared in the (Hazleton, Pennsylvania) "Plain Speaker" on July 25, 1932:
Hornell, N.Y., July 25. --A bullet hole through a clergyman's hat today added another chapter to the story at the minister's old and isolated hill top home. Several other tenants have fled from the dwelling in terror of what state troopers call a "phantom rifleman."

Lieutenant Gerald Vine of the state police said the rifleman, who has never been seen, apparently wanted to keep the house unoccupied, for some reason highly important to himself.

Reverend Herman Lee Henderson took it a short time ago as a summer home. In a note he found upon the well outside the house, weighted down by a rifle bullet of large caliber, the clergyman was warned to keep away from "the well."

Troopers say the writer meant the house, too. As he read the message, which carried a threat of death, a bullet sang through the air and lifted his hat from his head.

The rifle report was faint, he said, and Lieutenant Vaine suggested that the weapon had been fired from a considerable distance and sighted by an expert marksman. Later Reverend Henderson learn ed that at least five other tenants had been frightened from the premises by the "phantom." Lieutenant Vaine said he would stay on the case until the "mystery" surrounding the house is cleared up.

Two days later, the "Princeton Clarion" carried further information:
A phantom rifleman whose whining bullets have struck terror into residents in the hills near here was sought Monday night after his latest attack on the hilltop home where a clergyman now resides.

Convinced that the solution to the mystery lies at the bottom of a well on the property occupied by the Rev. Herman Lee Henderson, county authorities prepared to siphon the hole dry while the state police searched the hill sides for the elusive gunman.

The hill country secret leaked out for the first time yesterday when the clergyman appealed to state police for protection after being fired upon last week. He occupied the isolated farm house a short time ago as a summer home, learning later that three other tenants had been driven out by the mysterious rifleman.

He received his first warning in a note he found upon the well outside the house. The message told him to keep away from "the well" and carried a threat of death. As the clergyman hurried across the fields to a neighbor two miles away, a bullet plowed through his hat. The rifle report was faint, indicating the gunman was at a considerable distance.

Lieutenant Gerald Vine of the state police, who has taken over the investigation, said the Rev. Henderson had no known enemies and was at a loss to account for the attack. One theory held by authorities is that a still may be located in the woods near the farmhouse and its operators fear detection if the place is occupied. Another theory is that a treasure may be buried at the bottom of the well.

The "Elmira Star Gazette, July 29:
Hornell Sheriff Stanley T. Hoagland's office and State Police, under Sergeant Charles G. Burnett will not say for publication that they believe the story of the Rev. Herman Lee Henderson to be a hoax. They will not admit that they suspect such to be the case for publication, as intimated as coming from them in some newspapers. Both branches of these authorities state emphatically that they have not given up the search. They still seek to determine who has been firing a gun at the minister and the motive.

Rev. Henderson resides in an almost inaccessible place on the border line between Windem Hill and Oak Hill. He lives alone and claims to have received a warning to get out. Then he was shot at.

County officials in searching the the well have come across "some junk," but also enough evidence to warn them that "something was wrong." Objects found in the-well are being analyzed by chemists, while others are being studied by criminologists.

"We can't be expected to make everything public before we determine what is what, and thereby give our hand away," one officer said. County officers assured them selves of one thing Thursday and that was, "they have been shooting at Rev. Henderson."

Former Sheriff W. B. Page, who resides about five miles from where Rev. Henderson lives, says that he has personal knowledge that not only has the minister been bothered, but other tenants as well.

"If anyone expresses the belief that Rev. Henderson does not fear for his life and does not have good reasons for it, then they have no knowledge of crime."

One of the best known women in the city, and prominent, furnished county officers with one clue they are working on. She observed a figure slink through the woods, acting in a furtive manner, and saw him enter a home nearby with a rifle in his hands.

"No one had better make any effort to discredit me in the eyes of the public," Mr. Henderson said Thursday. It was learned that after first being shot at Rev. Henderson obtained counsel from an attorney, and at his direction visited Police Chief Clarence Bailey.

By the end of July, the police, unable to find any evidence leading them to the mysterious sniper--or even any evidence the sniper really existed--abandoned their investigation. The story subsequently disappeared from the newspapers, leaving the whole matter frustratingly unresolved. If, as some of the stories suggested, Rev. Henderson was pulling everyone's leg, he picked a damn strange way of doing so. It is hard to see what the Reverend--by all accounts a sober, respectable sort--would gain by inventing such a wild tale. On the other hand, who could have wanted the house vacated, and why?

Speculate away.


  1. Another great story...
    Reminded me of this..I had to look it up to to make sure
    of my facts....
    Police in Connecticut arrested a man who had an outstanding warrant concerning suspicious circumstances surrounding a report of gunshots being fired in a home in Tolland. When confronted with the reason for the warrant – that his story didn’t match up to the evidence found by police investigators – the man claimed he was a paranormal investigator and had actually been shooting at a ghost! Is that possible? Is it legal?
    (The story then goes on to fill in the details)...
    And..finishes up with this..
    All of that ghostly activity around Tolland could easily support Devaux’s claim that he’s a paranormal investigator and shot at a ghost … except a good (and even not-so-good) paranormal investigator knows that bullets can’t kill or even harm or scare a ghost.

    Will Devaux beat the charges of illegal discharge of a firearm, making a false statement to police, second-degree reckless endangerment, misusing an emergency call, and disorderly conduct? It appears he doesn’t have a ghost of a chance.

    If anyone wants to read the story in full...

  2. they didnt even tell us what they foudn int he well?

  3. A strange tale. At one point, the authorities say it was a hoax, but are still looking for the person shooting at the clergyman. What part was the hoax? And they found something that had to be examined by criminologists, but later gave up the investigation. It seems like different sources of intelligence on the matter were at cross purposes with each other. And as for the minister having a laugh at everyone’s expense, that doesn’t account for others having been warned away from the house, as independent sources claimed - unless the clergyman was doing that, too, which seems unlikely.

    1. As is usual with newspapers, different stories gave different, sometimes contradictory, details. That just made it all the harder to theorize about what was really going on here.


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