"...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, October 20, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

On December 3, 1890, the body of a young woman named Emma Pfitzenmayer was found in the Chester, Pennsylvania home she shared with her sister and brother-in-law, Caroline and Henry Schmidt.  She had died from multiple stab wounds.  Pfitzenmayer had been killed in her bedroom shortly after attending a ball where she had been "the gayest of the gay."  The following year, Caroline Schmidt was tried for Emma’s murder.  The defense put up a vigorous argument that the girl had committed suicide, and the circumstances of her death were just murky enough for “reasonable doubt” to take center stage.   Mrs. Schmidt was acquitted, leaving Pfitzenmayer’s death unresolved.

Well, if this sequel to the case is to be believed, how she died certainly was no mystery to Emma herself.  The “Philadelphia Times,” March 9, 1892:

One of the strangest manifestations known to occult science occurred in Chester last evening in the house in which Emma Pfitzenmayer lived with her sister and brother-in-law, and where she died by violence, either self-inflicted or at the hands of others. The mystery attending her tragic death was most effectually cleared up last night, so far as occult science can do it. 

The Rumford family, who do not believe in ghosts or any kind of spiritual manifestations,and who about one year ago rented the house in which Emma Pfitzenmayer met her fate, declare that for several months past at different times various members of the family have had their attention called most unwillingly to strange manifestations and occurrences, which, though not frightening them, have caused a great deal of perplexity as to their origin or purpose.

First Joe Rumford, tho 15-year-old son of Delaware Rumford, says he saw most distinctly the forehead, eyes and a part of the nose of the departed Emma as if peeping over a chicken coop in the yard just before dusk in the evening. This strange occurrence was commented on and laughed at by the family, which consists of three generations, all living under the one roof. A short time after, as Mrs. Delaware Rumford was passing through the room in which the girl was murdered, she was seized by the arm, but could see no one, and a voice. apparently in dire distress, asked her where her white dress was. Soon after this the spirit of  Emma Pfitzenmayer appeared at irregular intervals to every member of the family except the baby. No particular attention was paid to these strange and peculiar manifestations of an apparently disembodied spirit until about two weeks ago, when Miss Mattie Rumford, the 19-year-old niece of Mrs. Rumford, on going to the room occupied by the murdered girl, was startled to see a young woman dressed in ball costume, with a wealth of blonde hair flowing over her shoulders, rummaging in her bureau drawers.

She was about to speak to the strange intruder, when the blonde turned and seeing Miss Mattie, gave a heart-piercing shriek and suddenly seemed to become enveloped in a peculiar cloud of white smoke. Miss Mattie was so overcome that she fainted and fell down the stairs and when picked up by her sister was bleeding profusely at her mouth and nose. After this strange occurrence the family assembled and discussed the strange manifestations from every possible standpoint, but no definite mode of future procedure was decided upon. 

Soon after the story was made public Mr. and Mrs. J. Jeanes, who keep a photograph gallery and stationery store next door, at 702 Edgemont avenue, and who are well-known Spiritualists, suggested that a competent clairvoyant be brought to the house and that a seance be held in the room in which the girl was murdered.

After considerable persuasion on the part of the Jeanes family it was finally agreed to adopt that course and Mrs. Phillips, wife of Dr. H. S. Phillips, who together have a suite of rooms on the first floor of the Hotel Plunkett at 510 North Eighth Street, and who claim to practice the healing art under the title of magnetic physicians, were engaged to come down and give a seance with the intention if possible of finding out why the spirit of Emma Pfitzenmayer continued to reappear in her old home to trouble the present occupants of the dwelling. 

Last evening was selected as the time to try the gruesome experiment, and what happened at the seance if not calculated to fully convince the most skeptical, was full and varied enough in its features to satisfy the most exacting. Mrs. Phillips has considerable reputation as a platform speaker, besides being considered by the fraternity of Spiritualists as a clairvoyant medium of full power and ability. On the advice of their next-door neighbor, Mr. Jeanes, a small cabinet had been made and put up in the second-story front room, which, however. Mrs. Phillips declined to use, saying she was opposed to all kinds of quackery.

Shortly after 8 o'clock fifteen persons, including the baby, assembled in the room facing the cabinet. Among the party were three patriarchal-looking old men, who have each passed the three score and ten mark. At the suggestion of the clairvoyant Delaware Rumford produced a violin and his son seated himself at the organ. Several well-known melodies were played. All enjoyed the music, but there were no manifestations until the enlivening strains of a waltz floated over the room, when suddenly Mrs. Phillips full into what she terms a trance and exclaimed: "That's It, that's it; it is the last waltz I ever danced!" Her husband, Dr. H. S. Phillips, kindly explained that Mrs. Phillips was now practically no longer herself spiritually and that her body was now actuated and dominated entirely by a spirit of some one not possessed of a living physical body.

"Oh, where is my white dress?" cried Mrs. Phillips, as she got up and walked across the room. As she tried to open the door the knob came off, when she exclaimed: "Not been fixed yet; it was always this way." Proceeding she entered the bedroom formerly occupied by the Pfitzenmayer girl and began rummaging around, all the time asking if any one knew where her white dress was. "Oh, I want my dress; I must have my white dress," and she began to cry in a most realistic manner. Soon she wended her way to the identical room where the tragedy occurred, and a series of performances there occurred that beggars description. The whole scene of the frightful tragedy was rehearsed as if by the living Emma, and if put on or assumed, was certainly artistically done and calculated to fully deceive anyone not entirely bereft of sense or feeling. 

After a time she became more calm and finally returned to the second-story front room. After a long period of silence she suddenly exclaimed: "He put it there; he hid it." 

"Hid what?" was asked by Mr. Jeanes. 

"Why, the dress.”

"Whose dress?" 

"Her dress, her ball dress, the one she wore at the ball that evening." 

"Where did he hide it?" 

"Down by the river, between the boardwalk and the water, in soft mud, and it is there now." 

Prompted by Dr. Phillips, Mr. Rumford asked why she came back to trouble the living? Her answer was, "I did not do it, I was not a bad girl. I did not murder myself and I am troubled because a cruel world has cast a most unjust blight on my character.  I did not kill myself." When asked by gentlemen present if she had ever appeared to her sister, she replied, "Yes, I saw her last week and I will her again soon, but I no longer care to look at her. She suffers worse than I suffer and her tortures are those of the damned. She drinks heavily, but it brings her no relief and when I try to speak to her she shrieks and covers her face with her hands and runs away. I have forgiven my sister, but I no longer love her. No, since the night of the ball, when she told me she would dance with Harry oftener than I and she took Harry away from me." 

"Did Harry cut your throat?" she was asked. 

"No, Harry did not do it." 

"Did you do it?" 

"No, I should not have come back to earth except to tell the world that it has done me an unjust and cruel injury to ever think so." 

After a lapse of considerable time, during which silence reigned, the medium, in the voice of the departed Emma, suddenly pointed her finger to the aperture of the cabinet and said: "She did it!  She did it! It was she who did it all! Poor Harry was asleep on the lounge at the time, and she did it. " 

All strained their eyes toward the cabinet, but to the eyes of ordinary mortals only the dark aperture was visible. After this forcible speech, in which an unseen spirit was denounced as her murderer, the supposed spirit of Emma Pfitzenmayer left the corporal body of Mrs. Phillips, and, with convulsive shudder, she regained consciousness and the seance was at an end.

Well, this was all very entertaining stuff, but just try introducing it in court.  If Caroline Schmidt did indeed murder her sister, she never paid for the crime.  Officially, at least.


  1. This story featured one of the creepier seances from this blog; I wouldn't have wanted to be a part of it. Nor would I have wanted the baby to be included in the assembly...

  2. So...didn't anyone find it a mite suspicious that a pair of spiritualists just happened to live RIGHT next door to Emma's old house, and who also recommended a clairvoyant friend?

  3. Spiritualism was very popular at the time. Some people treated it more as a diversion than a religious belief. It could have been a contrived "coincidence" or it could have been like finding out your neighbor knows a guy interested in joining your fantasy football league.

  4. Was Harry assumed to be a nickname for Caroline's husband, Henry, or was there another man the sisters were supposed to be fighting over?


Comments are moderated. Because no one gets to be rude and obnoxious around here except the author of this blog.