The Ancient and Esoteric Order of the Jackalope

Frank Stichler and Charles Drews, on the eve of their execution

Make Insurance Double Sure

the incredible tale of the Blue-Eyed Six

Joseph Raber was dead.

Raber was a retired charcoal burner in his late 60s, with a body worn down by long years of hard labor and longer years of hard drinking. For over a year now the old man had been suffering from fits and shakes, a sure sign that the end was near for a dipsomaniac. No one would have been surprised to hear that he had suddenly dropped dead.

They were a little surprised to hear that he had drowned. An unnatural death required an investigation, so Lebanon County coroners V.H. Allwein and Armand Weber loaded up their wagon and started up Blue Mountain into the Indiantown Gap just as the sun was rising.

It was December 8, 1878.

Indiantown Gap is one of several passes through Blue Mountain, a prominent ridge of the Appalachians located in southeastern Pennsylvania. Today the Gap is just off of I-81 and home to a Pennsylvania National Guard training center. Back in the 1870s, it was the middle of nowhere. Despite its isolated location (or perhaps because of, if we’re being honest) the Gap was home to an insular community of Pennsylvania Dutch hill folk. They were simple folks who prized their freedom above all, who eked out a hardscrabble living working as farmers, woodcutters, and charcoal burners.

The coroners arrived at 9:30 AM to find Joseph Raber’s body lying on its side in the middle of Indiantown Run. The body was about 8′ downstream from a plank footbridge, almost but not quite covered by the 18″ deep water. A small crowd of friends, neighbors, and other assorted rubberneckers had gathered along the banks of the creek and watched with rapt fascination as the coroners went to work.

Charles Drews, a 65-year-old butcher who lived a stone’s throw from the creek, told them the the whole sad story.

On December 7 Raber had dropped by the Drews home, complained about headaches, bummed a shot of whiskey to settle his nerves, then set out again to borrow some flour from the Kreisers, who lived nearby. From his kitchen window Charles Drews watched the old drunk totter towards the creek, teeter on the footbridge, and fall in the water. He wasn’t worried; the creek was low and Raber wasn’t as feeble as he looked. Drews figured the he would be back in a few minutes to dry off by the fire.

When fifteen minutes passed with no sign of Raber, Drews went out and found the body in the middle of the Run. He immediately ran to the nearby St. Joseph’s Springs Hotel; owner Israel Brandt had a horse and a wagon, and could get down into Lebanon faster than anyone else in the Gap.

That’s where the coroners entered the story.

It sounded pretty straightforward to Allwein and Weber. The body was clean with no bruising, and there were no signs of a struggle nearby. They ruled Raber’s death an accidental drowning and carted the body to the nearby Moonshine Church, where a full autopsy conducted by Dr. Levi Shirk confirmed their findings. (Dr. Shirk’s state-of-the-art examination consisted of pulling out a chunk of Raber’s brain and tossing it into a bucket of water to see if it would float. It did, which meant Raber had drowned. Science!)

That would have been the end it, except for one thing: somehow Joseph Raber, a sick, penniless retired charcoal burner was insured for almost $10,000.

Graveyard Insurance

The life insurance industry of the 1870s was quite different from the life insurance industry of today. Today we have premiums, but back then they had “assessments.” When an insurance company had to make a payout a it took the amount of the death benefit, divided it by the total number of policies, tacked on a small fee for operating expenses, and asked each policyholder to cough up their fair share.

There were three major issues with the assessment insurance business model.

The first issue was that the insurance companies were terrible at risk management. Their insurance pools included policies with a wide range of benefit held by people with a wide range of financial means. If you wound up in a small pool when a large assessment came due, you might find yourself on the hook for a significant amount.

That leads right into the second issue: most American households can budget for a small regular expense, but not for a large irregular expense. Whenever a large assessment came due, many small policyholders would cut their losses by defaulting on their policy. There were no real penalties for it, and the increased cost was passed on to everyone else in the pool.

The third issue was insurability. To take out a policy on someone today you need to have a financial stake in their death, an “insurable interest.” Back then you could take out a policy on anyone, at any time, for any reason.

These all combined to create the dark side of assessment insurance: “graveyard insurance.” All you needed to do was find some feeb who was about to pop off, insure them for some exorbitant amount, and pray that they died before assessments whittled the payday down to nothing. If you made a bad bet you could cut your losses by defaulting on the policy and sticking everyone else with your share of the bill.

Astoundingly graveyard insurance was 100% legal, though Pennsylvania’s insurance commissioner was desperately trying to get it outlawed. It was, after all, literally gambling with the lives of others. And like any form of gambling it attracted unsavory types who were more than willing to put their thumbs on the scale to guarantee that they came out ahead.

The life insurance companies of Lebanon, PA started crunching the numbers and realized that Joseph Raber was covered by six different policies at six different companies with a combined death benefit of $10,000.

That was a huge amount of insurance for an old drunk with no income, no savings, no investments, and no property —  and at one point, the death benefit had actually been larger. Over the fall policyholders had defaulted on nearly $20,000 worth of policies on Raber.

This was the most clear-cut and egregious case of graveyard insurance anyone had ever seen, and the insurance companies immediately suspected foul play. On December 21 they announced there would be no payouts until they had conducted an independent investigation of Raber’s death.

Killing with Kindness

Suspicions immediately fell on the policyholders: Israel Brandt, Josiah Hummel, George Schweinhardt, Henry Wise, Isaac Sattazahn, and George Zechman.

Schweinhardt and Sattazahn were easy to find: they were insurance agents. They had underwritten several of the policies on Raber, and later used their own money to help out the policyholders when they were having trouble paying assessments — in return for a small share of the death benefit, of course. That wasn’t exactly kosher, but they had done it for dozens of policyholders so they had no particular interest in Raber’s death.

That left Brandt, Hummel, Wise, and Zechman. 

You already know Israel Brandt. Born in 1833, Brandt was apprenticed to a tailor, quit that job to live as an itinerant farm laborer, and at some point had his left arm torn off by a thresher. Returning to Lebanon he became a member of the Meyerstown Dragoons, a local militia unit famous for their elaborate marching routines and peacocking uniforms — and also for their steadfast refusal to volunteer for service in the Civil War. Lately Brandt had been running a series of unlicensed taverns in progressively sketchier locations. His latest, the St. Joseph’s Springs Hotel, was in Indiantown Gap. He was the one who had ridden down into Lebanon to let the coroners know that Raber had died.

Josiah Hummel and Henry Wise were two local ne’er-do-wells, unskilled laborers who managed to earn a few bucks in the coal mines when they were feeling honest, and through less-than-legal means when they weren’t. They both had criminal records as long as your arm, for offenses ranging from petty theft to insurance fraud. (Though to be fair to Hummel, he had never been convicted.)

George Zechman was another local ne’er-do-well but he had a clean record, at least on paper. Locals suspected him of several petty thefts, and knew he had helped Wise burn down a barn to collect on the insurance.

All four men lived in Indiantown Gap, and had taken out insurance policies on Joseph Raber over the course of the summer.

The first few insurance agents they approached outright refused to cover Raber. The old man was infested with lice and fleas, constantly drunk, and looked like he already had one foot in the grave. Eventually they won a few agents over by revealing that it was a quid pro quo arrangement: they were taking care of Raber in his dotage, and the insurance would not only cover his burial expenses but provide a small sinecure for his caretakers after he was gone.

No one thought to question the arrangement or why so many people were involved, not even Joseph Raber. Why would he be? He was living high on the hog. The four conspirators bought him everything he wanted — fried food, dodgy tobacco, cheap liquor. It was almost as if they were trying to kill the old man with kindness, letting him overindulge his worst habits until his heart gave out.

Their graveyard insurance scheme was an open secret. They even tried to convince other Indiantown Gap residents to join them. There were no takers, mostly because they just didn’t have the money. Frankly most residents of the Gap were surprised to learn that Raber was insurable in the first place, because he was “too lazy to live and too lazy to work.”

They openly discussed their plans at the St. Joseph’s Springs Hotel, bragging about the potential windfalls that were heading their way. As summer turned to fall they began commiserating about the assessments that were eating into their profits. As winter approached they began grumbling that the old man had better kick off soon. (By the way, that was why Wise burned down his barn — he needed the insurance payout to cover his assessments.)

They didn’t bother to hide their financial interest in Raber from outsiders. Coroners Allwein and Weber recalled that Israel Brandt had tried to tip them $20 in exchange for a “good report.”

Of course, this was all circumstantial. There was nothing illegal about taking out an insurance policy, and there was nothing directly tying the four men to Raber’s death.

So the insurance companies did the only thing they could: they sat on their hands and waited for the evidence to come to then.

At the beginning of February, it did.

Killing with Murder

Twenty-two-year-old Joseph F. Peters was a “stubby fellow” with a “generally stubby appearance” with stubby hair and a stubby mustache and a stubby beard. (And also somehow, improbably described as, “not bad looking.”) He was a soldier, stationed in Rhode Island, but in November he was given leave so he could visit his wife Catherine Magdalena (or Lena), the oldest daughter of Charles Drews. Drews, if you recall, was the butcher who talked to Raber right before the drowning and later found the body.

Peters wound up unilaterally extending his furlough by a few months. He had a good reason. Lena had been fooling around with local hoodlum Frank Stichler in his absence and Peters was afraid that the affair would start back up the minute he returned to the Army.

Charles Drews was not happy to have an extra mouth to feed. He called Peters a freeloader and a leech, a no-account bum who brought nothing to the table. He was constantly threatening to kick his daughter and son-in-law out of the house — as far as he was concerned they weren’t his problem.

In early November Drews approached his son-in-law with a proposition. Brandt, Hummel, and Wise were offering him $1,500 to kill Joseph Raber. If Peters helped him drown the old man, Drews would cut him in for a share. (If that amount seems absurd, well, it is, because Drews would be making more off the murder than some of the actual policyholders. Later estimates lowered Drews’ estimated take to $500, which is far more reasonable.)

Peters refused, saying that, “no good would come of it.” Drews cursed him out and then recruited Frank Stichler to do the deed. Lowballed the young punk, too, cutting him in for a measly $100 even though Stichler would be doing all of the dirty work.

In late November Drews and Stichler invited Joseph Raber to go fishing in the pond above Kitzmiller’s Dam, intending to chloroform the old man and throw him overboard. Nothing went according to plan. They couldn’t get a hold of chloroform, and on the appointed day Raber decided it was too cold to fish and stayed home drinking instead.

That pissed off Israel Brandt and Henry Wise, who for some reason blamed Lena Peters for the failure. They went over to the Drews home where Brandt launched into a lengthy tirade and let slip that Raber needed to die before December 10 or the conspirators would default on their policies because of their failure to keep up with assessments.

Wise took a more threatening tone, telling the would-be assassins to get the job done soon… or else.

Drews and Stichler decided to take care of the old man once and for all on December 7.  They invited Raber to come over and drink with them. Raber arrived right before sundown to find everyone was drunk already. Joseph Peters, Lena Peters, and 14-year-old Penrose Drews had been drinking since early afternoon and stumbled home with a quart of whiskey from Shelly’s Tavern. While they slept that off upstairs, Charles Drews, wife Sallie Drews, and Frank Stichler stayed downstairs and polished off the bottle.

Drews suggested the men should go up to Kreiser’s to get some tobacco, and so they did. As they made their way across the plank bridge over Indiantown Run, Stichler suddenly turned, threw Raber into the creek, jumped in after him, and held his head below the icy water. Charles Drews leaned against a nearby fence and watched. When the old man refused to die he waded into the creek and added some extra leverage by leaning on Stichler’s back.

After ten minutes of struggling, Joseph Raber died.

Joseph and Lena Peters had witnessed the entire murder through a sooty upstairs windows. They ran downstairs to discover the two murderers changing out of their wet clothes. The men were not in the least bit repentant, smiling and joking about how much fight the Raber had left in him. When they realized their crime had been witnessed, they announced they would shoot anyone who went to the police.

Then Charles Drews went off to tell Israel Brandt that the deed was done. Frank Stichler went off to a party to establish an alibi — after the final indignity of changing into Joseph Peters’ dry clothes.

At first the conspirators were elated. Brandt and Wise openly gloated about the vast sums that would be coming their way any day now.

When the insurance companies refused to pay out, the conspiracy began to unravel. Brandt, Hummel, Wise, and Zechman all had savings they could fall back on, and were willing to out-wait the insurance companies. Stichler, who was dirt poor, was not. He began loudly demanding his cut from Drews, who demanded his cut from the conspirators, who told the hit men that they would just have to wait like everyone else.

By mid-January Drews’ financial situation was dire. To economize he kicked the Peterses out of his home, though not before threatening to kill them if they ever told anyone what they had seen.

The Peterses drifted off to nearby Hummelstown, where they found work as woodcutters. After a few weeks Joseph Peters had a revelation. He was troubled by what he had seen, but had been hesitant to speak up while he was dependent on Charles Drews for support. Now he was on his own, Drews was miles away, and he was finally thinking clearly.

If Charles Drews went to jail for murder, well, that would be a fine revenge for Peters’ ill-treatment at his hands. And it would serve Frank Stichler right for sleeping with Lena while he was in Rhode Island. That sealed the deal right there.

On February 3, 1879 he told the Home Mutual Insurance Company of Lebanon everything he knew. 

The Blue Eyed Six

On February 4 Isiah Brandt, Charles Drews, Josiah Hummel, Frank Stichler, Henry Wise, and George Zechman were rounded up, arrested charged with murder.

At the time Pennsylvania did have any sort of conspiracy or racketeering charge on the book, so all six defendants were covered by the same indictment for murder — the largest group ever covered by a single indictment in Commonwealth history. To make it more interesting, they also chose to forgo separate trials. That meant their guilt or innocence would be decided as a group. They would all hang together… or they would all hang together.

Brandt, Hummel, and Wise pooled their money to get a good defense lawyer. Zechman, who had some family money, went out and got his own counsel. Unfortunately for Drews and Stichler they were indigent, and the Commonwealth was not yet required to provide a public defender. They had to hope that the others’ attorneys could get the job done, and wouldn’t throw them under the bus somehow.

The trial started on April 17, 1879. 

It wound up being a media circus. Why wouldn’t it be? It was the first trial for insurance murder in Pennsylvania’s history, and the story had something for everyone: secret conspiracies, a hapless dupe, inter-family drama, hill folk and their mysterious ways, a one-armed man, you name it.

Reporters from Philadelphia descended on Lebanon in droves to write breathless, sensationalistic dispatches that were circulated nationwide. They unfairly portrayed the defendants and their neighbors as ignorant and savage hillbillies. Here’s an example from the Philadelphia Times, describing the residents of Indiantown Gap in less than flattering terms:

…[a] low order of human beings that dwell in squalor and filth in the low, thatched cabins that at wide intervals dot the mountain side… Few of them speak English at all. They profess no Christianity and lead a life only a grade above the existence of a brute.

Philadelphia Times, 23 Apr 1879

The media’s most enduring contribution to the trial was when one reporter looked across the dock and noticed that all of the defendants had blue eyes. He started calling them “The Blue-Eyed Six.” The name was catchy, and helped the story gain even more traction.

Since most of the Blue-Eyed Six didn’t speak English very well, large portions of the trial were conducted in German and then translated into English for the trial record. You might think that would be an impediment to the proceedings, but most of the courtroom observers understood enough of the Pennsylvania Dutch vernacular to get the gist of what was being said.

Due to the small nature of the community, jury selection proved unusually difficult. Some three dozen prospective jurors were dismissed for reasons ranging from “already formed an opinion” to “testifying as a witness” to “related to one of the defendants and also testifying as a witness.” It took a day or two but they eventually found twelve presumably honest men.

As soon as the trial opened, defense counsel made a motion to squash the indictment on the technical grounds that it was too general and not specific enough. A valid point, but to satisfy the defense’s demands it would have had to include the prosecution’s entire theory of the case, which was ridiculous. Judge Henderson quickly overruled that. Their second motion, to exclude witnesses not currently testifying from the courtroom, was granted.

The prosecution’s case was pretty straightforward. They produced dozens of Indiantown Gap locals who could testify about the movements of Raber and the Blue-Eyed Six; about how they had openly conspired while sitting around the bar at the St. Joseph’s Springs Tavern; about their mounting debts and urgent need for a large cash payout. The star witness was Joseph Peters, of course.

The testimony also revealed a few facts unknown to the general public. Apparently Joseph Raber wasn’t the Blue-Eyed Six’s first patsy — they had tried to insure several others to no avail, but after defaulting on those policies they went out to find the oldest, feeblest person in Indiantown Gap. (Lucky Joe.)

Likewise, their first choice of hit man wasn’t Charles Drew, but Frank Stichler’s uncle Elijah, who refused for “moral reasons.” (On cross-examination those “moral reasons” turned out to be “the money wasn’t good enough.”)

The Blue-Eyed Six watched from the dock the as the Commonwealth led their parade of witnesses through the courtroom. They didn’t say much, but they chewed tobacco and spat a lot. Five of them looked nervous and fiddled with their hands. Charles Drews, on the other hand, stared down everyone who sat in the witness box, like he was looking into their soul and daring them to say anything against him. The papers suggested that Drews, a decorated Civil War veteran, was too stupid to know what was actually going on.

When the Commonwealth rested on April 22, the defense went about attacking their case. They claimed Joseph Raber was a feeble epileptic who fell and hit his head on a stone. They convinced Drs. Allwein and Shirk to defend their professional reputations by reiterating that there were no bruises on the body and claiming that you couldn’t drown someone in a mere 18″ of water. They produced numerous family members and friends of the accused, who tried to muddy the waters by disputing the Commonwealth’s timeline of events and the locations of key individuals. Unfortunately, those witnesses frequently contradicted themselves and each other, and in a few cases were caught openly perjuring themselves during cross-examination.

Much of their defense involved attacking the character of Joseph Peters. He wasn’t a brave soldier telling the truth in spite of great personal risk. He was a bitter drunk deserter, a liar dead set on revenge agains the father-in-law who had kicked his freeloading butt out of the house. There was no way he could have seen the event through the upper story windows of the Drews home, which were blackened with soot from a meat smoker directly on the ground below.

The prosecution had no real way to rebut the character issues. Joseph Peters was a drunk, he couldn’t produce his discharge papers, and revenge certainly seemed to be a part of his motivation for coming forward. For everything else they had a rebuttal. They had medical experts who said Allwein and Shirk were full of crap. They had other locals who could easily rebut the defense witnesses, prove that there were no stones in the creek bed for Joseph Raber to hit his head on, and show that while those windows were dingy they certainly weren’t opaque.

Both sides rested on April 24 after calling an astonishing 47 witnesses. The defendants did not testify on their own behalf — heck, they didn’t say a single word the entire time they were in court.

On April 25 the jury deliberated for only four hours before coming to a unanimous verdict: guilty.

We All Hang Together (Except for George)

The Blue-Eyed Six did not take it particularly well. They spat tobacco juice, scowled, cursed and shot threatening looks at everyone in the courtroom. Zechman got weak in the knees and almost fainted.

Their lawyers remained calm and cool, and  sprung into action.

Brandt, Hummel, and Wise’s lawyer made a motion to declare a mistrial, producing affidavits claiming that before the trial, a witness had heard one of the jurors proclaiming that the defendants should all hang. Judge Henderson dryly noted that the supposed witness was less than credible, since he was a close cousin of Israel Brandt, and that in any case the time to move for a mistrial was before the trial had concluded. Motion denied.

Zechman’s lawyer also asked for a new trial, on the grounds that the evidence connecting his client to the crime was purely circumstantial. Reviewing the trial record, Judge Henderson realized that he was 100% correct — with regard to the murder, the prosecution’s witnesses had only mentioned Brandt, Hummel, and Wise. Zechman was clearly involved with the graveyard insurance scheme, but when it came to the murder plot there was only guilt by association. Motion granted.

The Commonwealth had its work cut out for it. In the Zechman retrial they would not be able to use any of the witnesses who had testified about the activities of Brandt, Hummel, and Wise because that would be hearsay not directly related to the matter at hand. That made their case very, very weak.

Fortunately, this time they had Henry Wise on their side. Wise had found Jesus in prison, and in August decided to clear his conscience by making a full confession. (He may have also hoped that showing remorse would get his sentence commuted from death to life in prison. If so, it didn’t work out for him.) His confession more or less agreed with the prosecution’s theory of events, though it minimized his own role. (Surprise, surprise.) Notably, Wise claimed that he thought the murder plot had been abandoned after the failed attempt at Kitzmiller’s Dam and was shocked when Drews and Stichler actually finished the job.

In response, the rest of the Blue-Eyed Six offered their own confessions. Sort of. They were less confessions and more protestations of innocence, presenting alternative theories of events that shifted blame to the other conspirators. Drews blamed Stichler. Stichler blamed Zechman and Wise, and claimed Joseph Peters had been involved in the attempt to drown Raber at Kitzmiller’s Dam. Hummel also blamed Zechman and Wise. Brandt claimed Drews and Stichler were trying to frame him and Peters.

Clearly, their unified front had disintegrated.

George Zechman’s retrial began on November 10, 1879. The case presented by the prosecution was virtually identical to the case presented during the first trial, with the addition of Wise’s testimony to paper over the cracks left by witnesses they were not allowed to call.

The defense, of course, continued to tear down the credibility of Peters and Wise during cross-examination. In Wise’s case, they largely succeeded. His testimony was rambling and frequently incoherent, and he was easily confused and contradicted himself. They also engaged in some cheap theatrics, making sure the jury saw Zechman as a humble family man by flanking him with his wife and children during the trial. The defendant even bounced his youngest child on his knee during witness testimony.

It worked. On November 14 the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. There was a brief celebration in the courtroom, and then Zechman quietly packed up his things and went back home to Indiantown Gap.

Five Blue This Way, One Blue That Way

As he left Lebanon he almost certainly saw the crowd gathering for the execution of Charles Drews and Frank Stichler later that day.

Brandt and Hummel still had an appeal working its way through the courts, and Wise’s execution had been delayed until after the Zechman retrial. Drews and Sitchler, though, could not afford legal counsel and so their executions had been expedited.

Curiosity-seekers besieged the sheriff’s office, looking to purchase tickets to the execution for the exorbitant price of a 25¢. They were refused. Not because their interest was unseemly and morbid, mind you — executions were considered popular entertainments until well into the Twentieth Century. No, they were refused because the sheriff had already given away all 150 tickets to friends, relations, and cronies.

At 11:00 AM Drews and Stichler were led from their cells to the gallows. When asked if they had any final statements, Stichler’s resolve broke and he declared that George Zechman was innocent. Touching, but too little, too late. Drews prevaricated, saying, “Well, I hears Zechman say nothing, but then I sees him with them.”

Then they were hanged, and that was that.

At least until May 13, 1880 when Brandt, Hummel, and Wise were executed.

For the last five months of his life Wise had been a model prisoner, accepting his fate with dignity. Brandt and Hummel were anything but; in fact, two weeks earlier at the end of April the wardens of the county jail had discovered them trying to tunnel to freedom, and slapped a round-the-clock watch on them.

As they stood on the gallows, Wise made a brief and unelucidating final statement: “What I have to say is that all are guilty, as I testified and confessed. I said all about it; who the first man was that spoke to me about insurance and how Hummel got in. That is all I have to say.”

Then they were hanged, and that was that.

Except for one ugly incident. When the bodies were finally cut down, souvenir hunters surged forward looking to cut mementos from their clothes. In the rush Hummel’s body was trampled almost beyond recognition.


After the hangings Charles Drews’ wife Sallie went temporarily insane, as did Frank Stichler’s mother Elizabeth. Elizabeth, in particular, became convinced that souvenir hunters would desecrate her son’s grave, so she had him exhumed and reburied him in the flower bed outside her window.

Joseph Peters fell on hard times. His wife and in-laws blamed him for Charles Drews’ death, and he was kicked out of the family home. Other residents of the insular Indiantown Gap community shunned him for being a stool pigeon. He became an alcoholic drifter, supporting himself through begging and petty crime. In early 1881 he was arrested for setting a barn on fire. Later that year he was arrested for stealing a ham, and escaped from jail by cutting through the jail yard doors. In 1883 he was arrested again for stealing blankets. This time he was sent to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, and died in jail. His widow Lena eventually remarried… to John Stichler, Frank Stichler’s younger brother. (Ouch. Kick a man while he’s dead, why don’t you.)

George Zechman, the only surviving member of the Blue-Eyed Six, outlived his co-conspirators by less than a decade. He died of tuberculosis in Swatara Gap on March 21, 1887.

The Blue-Eyed Six were quickly forgotten as more spectacular crimes displaced them in the public’s memory. One person who may not have forgotten them was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Apocryphal stories suggest that the Blue-Eyed Six may have inspired the name of “The Red-Headed League,” from the second-ever Sherlock Holmes short story. (However, these stories are very apocryphal.)

There were other lasting repercussions. The public outcry over the murder allowed Pennsylvania’s insurance commissioner to introduce some sweeping reforms. Within a few years the practice of graveyard insurance was crippled by the requirement of an insurable interest, and the modern insurance industry started to take shape. The conviction also established an important precedent in Commonwealth law that those who conspire to procure a murder are every bit as guilty as those who actually do the deed.

Small comfort, I suppose, to Joseph Raber. 


Joseph Peters eventually wound up serving time in Pennsylvania’s notorious Eastern State Penitentiary. That puts him in the company of other criminal luminaries such as kidnapper William Westervelt (“Your Heart’s Sorrow”); the “York County hex murderer” John Blymire (“Bound in Mystery and Shadow”); and Paul Jawarski of the Flathead Gang (“Terror of Gillkin Country”).

Arthur Conan Doyle was also, improbably, suggested as one of the potential culprits behind the Piltdown Man hoax. We discussed the hoax and its rather obvious culprit in the episode “Dawson’s Creek.” (And also there’s just been a great two-part Constant episode about it that you should listen to.)


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  • “The Blue-Eyed Six: how they stand imprisonment.” Philadelphia Times, 15 Sep 1879.
  • “Lebanon’s murderers: another statement.” Harrisburg Daily Independent, 25 Sep 1879.
  • “The Zechman trial: jury being drawn.” Lebanon Daily News, 7 Nov 1879.
  • “The Zechman trial: wise on the stand.” Lebanon Daily News, 8 Nov 1879.
  • “Zechman’s last hope: his second trial for murder.” Harrisburg Daily Independent, 8 Nov 1879.
  • “The Zechman trial: Weiss’s testimony finished, Mrs Drews on the stand.” Lebanon Daily News, 10 Nov 1879.
  • “The Zechman trial: case closed.” Lebanon Daily News, 11 Nov 1879.
  • “The Zechman trial: speeches of counsel.” Lebanon Daily News, 12 Nov 1879.
  • “Not guilty! Zechman a free man.” Lebanon Daily News, 13 Nov 1879.
  • “The gallows! Dual execution! Drews and Sitchler hurled into eternity.” Lebanon Daily News, 14 Nov 1879.
  • “The Blue-Eyed Six: one acquitted, two to hang to-day.” Philadelphia Times, 14 Nov 1879.
  • “Weiss sentenced to death.” Philadelphia Times, 3 Dec 1879.
  • “The Blue-Eyed Six: argument of counsel for Brandt and Hummel resumed before the Supreme Court.” Philadelphia Times, 7 Jan 1880.
  • “A triple execution: Raber’s murderers to die to-day.” Philadelphia Times, 13 May 1880.
  • “Three dead men: Raber’s murderers hanged today.” Harrisburg Daily Independent, 13 May 1880.
  • “The Raber murder: confessions of Brandt and Hummel.” Harrisburg Daily Independent, 19 May 1891.
  • “Joe Peters, who say the drowning of Old Man Raber, a beggar.” Harrisburg Daily Independent, 2 Jun 1881.
  • “Joe Peters arrested.” Lebanon Daily News, 30 Jun 1881
  • “A haunted man.” Lebanon Daily News, 6 Jul 1881.
  • “Lebanon up.” Harrisburg Daily Independent, 3 Sep 1881.
  • “Peters in limbo.” Lebanon Daily News, 25 Oct 1881.
  • “Breaking from a Lebanon jail.” Carlisle Sentinel, 15 Feb 1882.
  • “Lebanon limnings.” Harrisburg Daily Independent, 11 Aug 1883.
  • “Last of the Blue-Eyed Six.” Harrisburg Daily Independent, 22 Mar 1887.




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Artist. Lover. Social Media Unfluencer. Acknowledged authority on lucrative bogs. Dave "The Knave" White is all this and more. But most days he's a web developer, graphic designer, and cartoonist. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, his two cats, and his crippling obsession with strange trivia.

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