52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #34 – Josiah K. Repsher

Relationship: 3rd Great uncle
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Okay, this is about a murder trial! Yay! Something “black sheep in the family” related.

Jesiah [or Josiah] Kichlein Repsher was the brother to my 3rd great-grandfather, John J. Repsher. He was born 08 July 1866 to parents Jacob H. Repsher and Suzanna Williams.[1]

When he was 51 years old, on the morning of 03 December 1916, Josiah had an altercation at his hut, a short distance from Tannersville, Pennsylvania, with Charles F. Paul, a friend living with him, which resulted in Paul’s death.[2]

The murder trial was reported on in the Stroudsburg newspapers and the following are the transcripts of those articles. Many thanks to the unnamed reporter who wrote up the story for us to read nearly 100 years later!

February 12, 1917:
“Murder and Manslaughter Defined …” – Cold weather did not mar the interest in the opening features of February Court, a number of spectators appearing in the court room. This session is scheduled for the holding of a murder trial. … County Detective Gilliland was directed to wait on the grand jury.  Samuel Borger, William Herman and John Oyer are tipstaves at this session of court, one extra tipstaff being appointed. When the names of the Grand Jurors were called it as found that there were two absent – Robert Shotwell and Michael Hoffecker.  Samuel B. Mikels was chosen foreman of the grand jury, whereupon the grand jury was formally charged as to its duties. The Court called the attention of the grand jury to the murder, or manslaughter case – and defined the difference; also cases of persons charged with arson. It will be remembered that Josiah K. Repsher killed his companion Charles F. Paul in their hut some distance form Tannersville, on the morning of December 3, and that the defendant gave himself up several hours afterward at the office of Justice Warner.  The slayer of Paul contends he took his friend’s life in self-defense. Connected to the act and the matters leading up to the killing of Paul there is considerable indirect evidence.

February 13, 1917:
“Murder Trial Draws Many to Court; Ladies Included in Number” – Large crowds have attended the preliminaries to, as well as the opening of the murder trial, at court this term.  Josiah K. Repsher is charged with the murder of his companion Charles F. Paul, at the home of the former near Tannersville, early Sunday morning, December 3.  The defendant gave himself up at the office of a justice of the peace several hours after committing the awful deed.  The trial promises to be one of the most important murder trials ever fought in this section of the State.  Defendant’s counsel is Dorothy O’Dea, of Scranton, and C. C. Shull, a former District Attorney.  Miss O’Dea is said to be the first female lawyer ever to appear in the local court. Defendant Repsher on his first appearance during the trial looked fully composed and manifested interest in every phase of the proceedings. Nearly all of Tuesday morning was spent in an effort to poll the jury in the murder case; and it was nearly noon when the sixth man had been secured. … Oscar Slutter: second cousin of Repsher; excused. … The jury was sworn at 2:30 p. m., and the indictment read to them. The jurors arose and the Court asked Repsher to stand while the indictment was read. Suddenly Developed Opinions? Many of the jurors called were strong in their convictions against capital punishment, and there is some speculation among those present as to whether these opinions have long been held, or whether they have suddenly developed. District attorney LaBar opened the case for the Commonwealth by reciting the events and circumstances attending the shooting of Paul. He told of Repsher’s calling on neighbors to have them come to his house and told them he (Repsher) would go back and shoot or kill Paul. Commonwealth will show details and incidents in the case in which is asked conviction of the defendant. The first witness for the Commonwealth, Alfred G. Brion took photos Dec. 3, 1916. Photos offered in evidence.

February 14, 1917:
“Murder Trial Crowd Large; Court Orders All Doors Closed!” –  “Details” of the Slaying of Charles F. Paul Given By Number of Witnesses. – Dolly O’Dea, of Counsel For Defense, Takes First Active Part in Case. It is believed that the murder trial will continue until late Thursday afternoon. All day Wednesday witnesses were heard – and attorneys for the defense were quite busy, as well as the Commonwealth’s side. Old residents say there never was the visible interest in a murder case in the county that could quite equal that in which Josiah K. Repsher is defendant, unless it was that surrounding the Charley Grether murder trial many years ago. The crowds at the trial continue, and many women as well as men are listening to the examination and cross-examination of witnesses. The defendant seems to maintain the same cool bearing he did the very minute the airing of the case began.  The Wednesday morning crowd is said to have been the largest that has ever appeared at a trial in the new court house.  Persons filed into the court room in an almost steady stream – and then the Court gave explicit orders that the doors be closed and no more admitted.  The proper officers carried out the instruction in a jiffy. Wednesday Morning Abraham Bush was called first [paper is too damaged to read] … scattered on the gate post. At this point because of the crowded condition of the room the court ordered the tipstaves to close the doors and admit no one. Abraham Bush on cross-examination; no new testimony of importance. Peter Warner, Justice of the Peace since 1877, told of Repsher coming to his office to deliver himself up; said he shot Charles Paul and killed him; said he shot him in the back of the head and “he lays there in the house.” Warner said he then went to fetch Dr. Wertman and others to the scene of the shooting; saw the wound; saw it was below the left ear and came out of his right eye; and he held an inquest on the body, found no other wounds or abrasions on the body; saw the body after the clothes had been removed; no marks on it except the gunshot wound; saw the parts of flesh, blood and brain on the gate posts. Peter Transue said Repsher told him that Paul chased him with a butcher knife and afterward with a gun; that he ran around the house and fired two shots at Repsher and that Repsher said he took the gun from Paul and shot him.  He then described his visit to the scene of the shooting; also described the position of Paul’s body and conditions in the room where the body lay. Court here adjourned 1:30 o’clock p. m.  Court requested audience to clear out of the court house and not loiter in the corridors as he wished the jury to have free and open passage from the court room and did not want them to come in contact with anyone. The Court said this order was not strictly observed yesterday, and must be obeyed. Afternoon Session Stogdell [?, this is a guess at the first letter] Tucker said Repsher came to his house on Sunday morning of the shooting later on; 7:00 to 8:00 o’clock.  Repsher told him he shot Charles Paul and he did it in self defense. Said Paul had shot at him twice, then he took the gun from his hands and shot him. Joseph Mader said Repsher told him he had shot Paul and Mader said, “Well, what do you think will happen to you;”  “Well, I only have [missing text] once.” Miss Dolly O’Dea, the Scranton attorney, first took an active part in the case in the  examination of Mr. Mader, when she asked a number of questions of the witness.  Mrs. Gertrude Walters said Repsher came to her house on the morning of the shooting and said he shot Paul and killed him deader than hell; said Paul had fired two shots at him but he dodged them. He asked her husband to take him to Tannersville but her husband refused to do so.  Albert Smith said Repsher came to his house in Tannersville about 8:00 o’clock Sunday morning and asked him to take him in his auto to Henry Learn’s office to give himself up.  He said he shot Paul in the back of the head and he was dead; said if he hadn’t shot Paul, Paul would have killed him.  Milo Kistler said Repsher came to his house; said he had killed Paul; said he “shot at me twice. I watched my chance and got the gun and shot him.”  Ernest Storm said he hunted with Paul last fall. Paul used the same gun with which he was shot later; said there was no automatic shell extractor on the gun at the time and that Paul extracted the shells with a stick. Elmer Stinger said Repsher and Paul came to his store and bought groceries and tobacco. Paul told Repsher to better bring plenty of tobacco as before he got through with Chas. K. he would want plenty of tobacco. Harry Springer said he visited the house where the shooting occurred, and later assisted in removing the household goods and searched for empty hells [sic] at the time and found none. Will. McWilliams said he hunted about the house for shells about ten days after the shoting [sic], made careful [missing text].   Arthur Post said he was at the Repsher home on Thanksgiving day last year; he was on a hunting trip; said he had no shells. Went to Repsher’s home and there borrowed shells which he now produced in court. Olive Post said she returned five black shells to Repsher, which were given her by her brother for that purpose. Tuesday Afternoon  Miss Maria C. Paul, sister of the late Charles Paul, occupied a seat at the Commonwealth table. Miss Paul was the next witness; she resides in Philadelphia. Very little evidence was obtained from this witness as the questions asked were about all objected to, and the court sustained the objections. Charles K. Smith said he knew Repsher and Paul; said he served a subpoena on Paul to appear at the hearing of the hay-stack fire. John S. Oyer told of bringing Repsher, Paul and Peter Singer to Justice Gruver’s office for the hearing in the matter of firing a haystack and Paul offered to bail Repsher but the Justice said his property was not valuable enough to accept him as bail.  Jerome Butz rented the house where Repsher and Paul lived; said he saw Paul and Repsher the day before the shooting. They stopped at his house on their way to Tannersville; saw them again between 11 and 12 o’clock at his house on their way home. Thought they had both been drinking. They left his home around 12 o’clock.  Repsher came to Butz’s home at about 4 o’clock; told him Paul had one of his spells and said Paul was breaking dishes and the lamp; wanted Butz to come to the house and pacify him. Butz refused to do this, when Repsher said he would go back and kill the s—- of a b—–.  [I have here rearranged some of the text that was obviously mixed up in the transition of the article from page one to page four.] About 7 o’clock next morning he saw Repsher again. During the forenoon of Sunday, Dec. 3d, Butz with others went to the home of Repsher and there saw the body of Charles Paul; said there was a hole through Paul’s head and blood upon the floor; found five loaded shells on his porch, after Repsher’s visit to his house. Said on Repsher’s second Repsher said he killed the s— of a b—–; said Paul shot at him and he took the gun away from Paul and shot him dead.  Butz said: “You didn’t do that did you?” Repsher said: “Yes I did.” Butz said he then advised Repsher to give himself up. In cross-examination Butz said Repsher and Paul had a bottle of whiskey with them and just before they left they all (including Butz) took a drink from the bottle. Said Repsher on his coming to his house at 4 o’clock told him that Paul was after him with a butcher knife and if the door was not closed he believed Paul would have cut his throat. Butz told him that if Repsher had knocked Paul down he was probably asleep and when he woke up everything would be all right. Repsher said he would go home but if Paul said any more he would kill him; said the head had two holes in it, one just below the ear and one taking out the right eye, as though the charge went in below the ear and came out through the eye. Abraham Bush, on the stand, said he lived nearly opposite Butz and about two-thirds of a mile from Repsher. Said Repsher worked for him about two years ago. “I saw Repsher and Paul about 5 o’clock on the day before the shooting. They were going toward Tannersville,” he said; adding he saw Repsher again on Sunday morning at his (Bush’s) house and told him about Paul breaking dishes and lamp and pursuing him with a butcher knife; wanted Bush to go back with him. Bush refused. Repsher said he would go back and kill the s— of a b—-. Later he came back and said he killed the s— of a b—- deader than hell. Bush advised him to give himself up.  Bush went to the Repsher home on Sunday morning about 9 o’clock. Said he saw a gun lying alongside of the road; said Peter Transue brought the gun to the house. One empty shell was in it. District Attorney LaBar produced the gun which Bush identified. Bush said the floor of the orom [sic] was littered by broken dishes, beans and a broken lamp. Court adjourned at 4:45 p, m. until 9 a. m. Wednesday.

February 21, 1917:
” ‘Not Less Than Fifteen Nor More Than 20 Years’ Sentence of J. Repsher” – Defendant in County’s Murder Case Will Have To Do Time in Eastern Penitentiary – Number Hear Sentence Imposed on Slayer of Charles F. Paul – Repsher a Model Prisoner – “The sentence of the court is that you be imprisoned in the penitentiary for not less than 15 and not more than 20 years.” With these words Judge Staples, sitting in special court at 10 o’clock this morning, invoked a sentence upon Josiah K. Repsher, convicted last week of second degree murder, which will confine him behind the walls of old Cherry Hill until he shall have about reached the biblical limts of man’s allotted three score and ten years.  Repsher is now 53 years of age. The penalty meted out to him is for the murder of Charles F. Paul, whom he felled with a load from a shot-gun on the morning of Sunday, December 3rd, last. Males predominated in a well-filed court room which assembled shortly before court convened. Fully 10 minutes elapsed – a time of tense and peculiar calm – before Judge Staples called Repsher to the bar of justice. The latter showed no sign of feeling; in fact, his outward poise was indicative of an inner feeling of resolution to take what came, stoically, insensible to grief or mental pain. When the branding-iron of the law fell upon him not a twitch of a muscle, not a grimace – but a firm sense of composure which he displayed during the entire trial, was his portion and his well-played part. If he felt strain or unrest of mind, well did he conceal it.  Just when Repsher will be taken to the penitentiary to begin his sentence, Sheriff Miller had not decided when seen today. It will probably not be before next week, thus allowing the prisoner an interim in which to put his affairs in order and receive a number of comforting visits from his wife and little daughter who have been a source of constant consolation to him since the Sabbath morn, when booze-crazed, he laid low his former companion and friend.

After the trial and sentencing Josiah was sent to the penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is found in the 1920 census[3] there:Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 3.13.10 PM

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The census says he was widowed but his wife and daughter are mentioned in the the final article. That makes me wonder if she divorced him or left him and that made him list himself as a widower.

[1]Jacob Repsher (Pvt., Co. I, 147th Pa. Inf., Civil War), pension no. W.C. 632,252; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
[2] Stroudsburg Daily Times and Democrat, 12 February 1917, Stroudsburg, PA. Stroudsburg Daily Times and Democrat, 13 February 1917, Stroudsburg, PA. Stroudsburg Daily Times and Democrat, 14 February 1917, Stroudsburg, PA.Stroudsburg Daily Times and Democrat, 21 February 1917, Stroudsburg, PA.
[3] 1920 U. S. census, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Philadelphia, ED 308, p. 9B (penned), Eastern State Penitentiary, line 94, Jesiah Repsher; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 08 August 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1621.


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