On the afternoon of Saturday, March 17, 1934 he parked his car on a back road between Ringtown and Nuremberg.
He retrieved a double-barreled shotgun from the trunk and loaded it up with “pumpkin balls,” large caliber slugs used for hunting deer and bear.
Then he set off on foot. He hiked over hill and dale for more than a mile, and finally his destination loomed before him: a tiny farmhouse on the top of a hill, overlooking a creek and several neighboring farms.
He still wasn’t confident enough to do the deed in broad daylight, so he hid in the fields until well after dark. Long after the sun set he quietly crept up onto the porch, slowly knelt, and gingerly peered through a window.
There was someone sitting inside, but was it her? He had to be sure. He waited for half an hour until a man and a girl walked in, carrying an oil lamp which threw flickering right around the room. It was her, all right.
It was now or never.
He raised the shotgun in his trembling hands and fired one shot. The window shattered and she crumpled to the floor. He fired a second shot to warn the two witnesses not to follow, then turned and fled back through the fields.
Back at the car, he had a panic attack. He had struck his target — there was no possible way to miss at that range — but had he killed her? Suddenly an enormous shudder passed through him, starting at the base of his spine and moving up through his torso to his shoulders. When was over it was as if the weight of the world had been lifted from him.
He knew then that she was dead.
He began laughing like a maniac and danced a happy little jig. He broke down the shotgun, leapt into his car, and zoomed off down the road. It was the greatest moment of his young life.
For seven years he had lived in hell. Now he was free.
The Crime Scene
Inside the house, it was pure chaos.
At 9:00 PM elderly widow Susan Mummey and her niece Tovilla Boyle were tending to their lodger Jacob Rice, trying to cure his bunions with pow-wow, Pennsylvania Dutch folk magic. Jacob took off his shoes and laid down on the couch, Susan bent over him to inspect his feet, and Tovilla moved the oil lamp closer so her aunt could see clearly.
Two shots rang out. The first shattered the window and struck Susan Mummey in the right side, piercing her heart and lungs then lodging in her stomach. The second smashed the lamp Tovilla had just set down.
The room was plunged into darkness. As Susan bled to death on the floor Tovilla and Jacob cowered behind the furniture. Scared out of their minds and unable to think clearly, they stayed hidden for hours, speaking only in hushed whispers. Eventually they recovered their wits but by then it was the middle of the night and too dark for them to do anything.
When the sun’s first rays started to creep over the horizon Jacob left the house and hoofed it to their nearest neighbor, over a mile away. The neighbor drove into town to make phone two phone calls: one to Dr. Moser in Ringtown, and one to the state police in Pottsville.
It was too late for Dr. Moser to do anything other than fill out a death certificate. Detectives Brian Wentz and Louis Buano, though, had their work cut out for them. There was almost no useful physical evidence.
They recovered one pumpkin ball from Susan’s body and another from a window sash across the room. Tovilla and Jacob were baffled by the second bullet; they had been deafened by the first shot and hadn’t heard the second. Neighbors had heard the second shot, but because it came so quickly after the first they assumed it was a car backfiring on the nearby road.
Powder burns on the window sash indicated that the shooter had been standing on the porch right in front of the parlor window, only ten feet away from his victim. There were footprints leading up to the porch, pacing back and forth by the window, and then dashing off the porch into a nearby field where they became untraceable.
There were no smoking guns. If Wentz and Buano were going to solve this case they would have to figure out why anyone might want to off their victim.
Susan Fuhrman was born in 1870 and spent her entire life in and around Ringtown, a small farming community in eastern Pennsylvania about five miles northwest of Shenandoah. She had married twice; the first a common law marriage to farmer Isaac Brown and the second an actual church wedding to miner Henry Mummey. She had one biological child, Aimee, from her first marriage and had informally adopted her niece, Tovilla Boyle, after the death of her sister-in-law.
It was an open secret in Ringtown that Mummey was a witch who used pow-wow magic to heal her friends and hex her enemies. The famed “Witch of Ringtown Valley” attracted visitors from as far away as Pottsville. If anyone expressed doubts about Mummey’s powers, locals would tell them about July 5, 1910. That morning she warned her husband Henry not to go into work because he would “never come back alive.” Henry should have listened; a powder explosion claimed his life that day.
The locals may have respected Mummey, but they also feared her. She could be sour and vindictive, a relentless enemy.
Here’s a perfect example: in 1927 she sued her neighbor and cousin Paul Stauffer, contesting the ownership of a strip of land between their two properties. She lost, and in the court house she shrieked at Stauffer that he hadn’t seen the last of her. Stauffer spat back that if she tried anything he would kill her.
Since Mummey didn’t have much in the way of assets, sheriffs seized her property to satisfy the judgment. Mummey refused to acknowledge the eviction, peeled the boards off her front door and moved back in. So the sheriffs evicted her again, and she moved back in again. After a few more go-arounds of this the frustrated sheriffs just burned the housed down, but even that didn’t stop Mummey. She built a ramshackle hut on its ruins and lived there until the sheriffs burned that down too.
Eventually she gave up trying to fight the eviction and moved into another house on an isolated spot in Ferndale, off the road between Ringtown and Nuremberg. Her former property was finally sold off at a sheriff’s auction, though it should be noted that parties unknown dynamited the home of the winner.
Like I said, sour and vindictive.
Well, if you’re investigating a murder there’s no better place to start than motive. On Sunday evening Detectives Wentz and Buano picked up Paul Stauffer and two other locals who had been feuding with Mummey on-and-off for years.
Down at the Pottsville jail Stauffer freely admitted that he had threatened to kill Mummey and blow up her farmhouse, and that he owned a shotgun and pumpkin balls. He had an iron-clad alibi for Saturday night, though. Same for the other two. They were quickly released. (Well, Stauffer was held for a few days on some out-of-state warrants.)
That was it. It was Monday morning and the cops were fresh out of leads. Thankfully, the very next day they got the tip that blew the case wide open.
On Saturday evening four teens had been driving to Ringtown when they were blocked by a vehicle parked in the middle of the road. There was no sign of the driver, so they shifted the car into neutral and rolled it along until their own car could squeeze past. They hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but they had jotted down the plate number just in case there was an issue later on.
When the teens heard about the murder they realized that the car had been parked very close to Mummey’s house. They called the cops and gave them the license plate number: 820-G-7. The car in question was registered to one Albert Shinsky, a 24-year-old Lithuanian-American jitney driver who lived at 215 East Lloyd Street in Shenandoah.
The name Albert Shinsky rang a bell. They remembered that one of his friends had called to warn the cops that Shinsky was looking for a gun.
Well then. Mr. Shinsky was now a person of interest.
Detectives Wentz and Buano drove over to East Lloyd Street and knocked off the door. There was no answer, but they heard some footsteps on the porch roof and looked up to see Albert Shinsky sneaking out of a second story window. They asked him what hell he thought he was doing and he hurriedly explained that this was all perfectly normal, he just had to use the second story windows to get in and out because the all the doors and windows on the first floor were hexed.
Hexed, you say? That got the cops’ attention.
They escorted Shinsky down to Pottsville and started grilling him. He admitted to knowing Mummey; they had been neighbors about a decade earlier. He even admitted there was some bad blood between their families. He insisted that he couldn’t have committed the murder, though, because he had an alibi.
The problem was that alibi kept shifting. First, Albert claimed he had been up in Ferndale buying farm-fresh milk because a hex had rendered him unable to drink anything else. When someone wondered who was selling him milk in the middle of the night, he blurted out that a pow-wow doctor had told him to kill Mummey, but he couldn’t have done it because had been necking with his girlfriend Selina Bernstel up in Mahanoy City. When cops then started talking about bringing in Bernstel to confirm that alibi, Shinsky broke.
Yes, he had shot the old lady. He had to. She had him hexed.
The Shinksys used to live in the same neighborhood as the Mummeys. One day, when Albert was about fifteen, their cows strayed and broke down a fence on the Mummey farm. As Albert rounded up the cows, Susan came down to give him the evil eye and yell at him.
I’ll get you for this. You’d better watch out.
Albert thought nothing of it… until the visitations began.
Once a month, sometimes more, Albert would awaken in the middle of the night trembling in a cold sweat and turn to see a huge black cat pawing at his bedroom window. Well, I say a huge black cat, bust most cats don’t have a human face with bright green eyes the size of railroad crossing lights. The cat would somehow crawl through the closed window, creep across the floor, and dive beneath the covers of Albert’s bed. Then it would yowl and claw at his side all night long. Some nights the cat would be accompanied by a towering black figure. Though a bright halo of white light made it impossible to see its face, Albert knew it was Susan Mummey. As the cat did its grisly work Mummey would cackle, “I’ll get you, I’ll kill you.”
These visits left Albert dazed and confused, tired and weak, unable to keep down anything other than plain white bread and fresh whole milk. When he tried to tell his parents and siblings what was going on they just accused him of being too lazy to work.
After a few too many call outs to his job at the West Shenandoah Colliery, he was given the option of quitting or being fired. Thinking that putting some distance between himself and Mummey would break the hex, he took a job with the Western Electric Company in Newark, New Jersey. It didn’t work; the cat followed him and three weeks later he had to move back home.
Albert began looking for someone, anyone who could help him. Novenas and prayers did nothing. A Catholic priest told him he was suffering from anxiety and just needed bed rest, which was maybe not the most helpful advice to give someone with insomnia. He then turned to braughers, pow-wow doctors, who were at least willing to string him along for a while before giving up in frustration.
The seventh and last of the braughers, Beau Engle of Hazelton, gave Albert a mantra he could repeat to ward off the cat. That eventually stopped working, and Engle told him if he wanted to be free of the hex for good, he would have to kill the hexer. He refused to identify them, though, because he never liked to cause strife between neighbors.
He didn’t have to say who it was, though. Albert knew who was behind the hex. Killing the old woman was easier said than done, though. He just couldn’t bring himself to take another human life, even when his girlfriend Selina Bernstel begged him to do it.
She understood. She begged me again and again to marry her, so that she might comfort me when these horrible spirits were sent to me at night by that witch of Ringtown Valley. She implored me to let her help hold the gun when I should finally kill Mrs. Mummey, but I told her I had to murder the woman, that she mustn’t get mixed up in this.
That went on for months. Then while wandering in the fields behind his house, he was visited by an angel.
I felt a light touch on my shoulders, and there stood in front of me a woman in a shining white robe. “Kill her,” was all this bright angel said to me, and then was gone.
Albert had been given the go-ahead by the Lord Almighty himself, but the job would still not be easy. He had trouble getting his hands on a gun, because none of his friends would loan him one when they found out how he planned to use it. Gordon Knipe even told him to stop trying to murder a helpless old lady, and then called the cops to warn them about his friend.
Even after Albert got his hands on a shotgun, he had trouble building up the nerve to actually do the deed. On several occasions he drove up to the Mummey home with murderous intent, only to find himself driving right by — thwarted by the curse, or at least that’s what he told himself.
Then, on Saturday, March 17, 1934 he actually did it.
That night he had his best night of sleep in years. The next morning he dumped the shotgun out in the mountains near Weston Place and took his car into town to get washed.
He was like a different person now, happy and joyful. At work he was productive and efficient. At night He went out dancing with his friends, and for the first time in years he didn’t just mope in the corner. He “took the initiative in his love-making” with Selina Bernstel (sexy!), and was so successful they decided to get married two weeks later on Easter.
Then Detectives Wentz and Buano knocked on his front door and he came crashing back down to Earth. He dejectedly led the police to the spot where he’d ditched the shotgun, and meekly went off to his arraignment.
As the prosecution started preparing its case for trial, Mummey’s family published a statement in the newspaper denying that she was a witch. Shinsky read that and laughed.
That’s just more of her wickedness. Lots of people know she tried to witch them. They say that she killed lots of cows and chickens belonging to neighbors through her spells and that she even brought sickness to one in her own family that ended in the man’s death.
Then he doubled down, claiming a biblical justification for his actions since “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” (Exodus 22:18)
Other Ringtown residents started coming forward to support Shinsky. Former neighbor Paul Stauffer told the tale of his long-standing feud with Mummey.
I feel altogether different now that old woman died. Before, I was sleepy all the time and never felt like work because she had put a spell on me. But now I feel fine and full of pep and as though my brains are coming to me again… Every time she looked out of her window my mules would begin to buck and start and run off. But I noticed that when I would begin to curse her the mules would stay quiet and her spell wouldn’t seem to have any effect. Then one day she called me over to bail some water out of her cellar. While I was down there, over in one corner, sort of hidden away, was a quart jar with three live new-born pigs in it. I was terribly scared when I saw it, for I know then that was what she hexed with. When she heard me still down in the cellar she come running down and grabbed up the jar. She looked at me with a fiery stare and asked if I had seen what was in it. I told her I hadn’t seen the jar, for I was scared then, and I knew she might do something awful if I had seen it. But she done something to me just the same, because I used to feel prickly all over and just like I was in a trance, the way Albert says he felt. Then at nights she began coming to me — her spirit, I mean. I would wake up and there she would be, glaring at me with that mean look. It was terrible. I sure am glad she is gone, all right. I think everybody she ever hexed will feel better now.
Retired miner George Drumheller claimed that Mummey had put a hex on him after an argument, which had only been lifted after he sprinkled quicksilver on the thresholds of his doors and windows.
I was hexed for a whole summer and I never knew whether Mrs. Mummey put the spell on me or not. But anyway my head got all funny and I just couldn’t stay in the house here. I had to run out into the bushes all the time. I got so bad and my mind seemed to wander so that I tried to drown myself once and I couldn’t drown. Then I tried to hang myself, but that didn’t work, for my wife found me. Then I heard about that pow-wow man over in Hazleton, the same man that Albert went to.
From the Huntington Reformatory (that’s juvie), Drumheller’s stepson Bill Shoup chimed in saying that he had been a fine upstanding young citizen until the day Mummey threw rocks at him and threatened to kill him.
Shinsky’s Girlfriend Selina Bernstel was happy to tell everyone that it was a justifiable homicide. She seemed more interested in milking her fifteen minutes of fame for all it was worth, preening and posing for newspaper photographers who made her look like a pin-up girl.
Those were just the most outspoken citizens. Schuylkill County authorities began to worry that they were looking at a replay of the infamous York County hex murder trial of 1929. That had been a fiasco, and made York look more like a superstitious backwater the longer it went on. They needed to bring this to a conclusion, and quickly.
Thankfully, Schuylkill County was willing to do what York County hadn’t: declare that Albert Shinsky was insane.
After a brief interview Dr. Walter Bowers of the Schuylkill County Hospital for the Insane diagnosed Shinsky him with dementia praecox. It ran in the family; brother John Shinsky had been treated for it back in 1931, and would have relapses in the future. (In 1943 he would sue Franklin Delano Roosevelt, claiming the president had personally borrowed money from him.) Adding fuel to the fire, Dr. A.I. Baron also interviewed Shinsky on behalf of the Philadelphia Inquirer and claimed the killer had the mental and emotional development of a twelve-year-old child, an Oedipus complex, schizophrenia, and five competing split personalities.
Well. That did it. The Commonwealth declared it would not prosecute a crazy man. On April 12, Shinsky was involuntarily committed to the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Fairview.
Shinsky would remain in Fairview for the next forty years.
He applied for release in 1935 and 1947, but the doctors at Fairview testified that he was still unable to distinguish fantasy from reality and his petitions were denied.
In the mid-1960s local criminal justice advocates began petitioning the Commonwealth to release Shinsky. Shinsky himself was torn. He was ready to leave Fairview, but worried that he would be trading a padded room for a prison cell. Since there had never been a trial he had never been found not guilty by reason of insanity — and since there’s no statute of limitations on murder, the charges were still pending. It was all academic, though, because the doctors at Fairview still vehemently opposed his release.
In January 1976, the murder charges against Albert Shinsky were finally dropped. Frankly, it was long overdue. Shinsky’s right to a speedy trial had been violated, his confession was no longer admissible under the current rules of criminal procedure, and the Commonwealth’s other witnesses were long dead. He had already been incarcerated for over forty years for a crime he had committed while insane, what justice would be served by keeping him locked up for longer?
Shinsky passed a competency hearing in March with flying colors and was released. For seven years he enjoyed his freedom, and in February 1983 he died peacefully in a nursing home in Shenandoah.
No such luck for Susan Mummey. She was buried in St. John’s Lutheran Memorial Park on March 21, 1934 and remains there to this day.
This case is very similar to the infamous York County Hex Murder (“Bound in Mystery and Shadow”), which took place only six years earlier and sixty miles away.
- Lewis, Arthur. Hex. New York: Trident, 1969.
- “Hexed: The Witch and Wrath of Ringtown.” Hushed Up History. https://husheduphistory.com/post/188644190933/hexed-the-witch-and-wrath-of-ringtown Accessed 6/2/2023.
- “Susan Furhman Mummey.” Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/62218671/susan-mummey Accessed 6/2/2023.
- “Mystery shot kills woman in valley home.” Pottsville Evening Herald, 19 Mar 1934.
- “Woman is killed in her home.” Mount Carmel Item, 19 Mar 1934.
- “Woman’s killer is still unknown.” Pottsville Evening Herald, 20 Mar 1934.
- “Suspect firm in his denial.” Hazleton Plain Speaker, 20 Mar 1934.
- “Believe feud is cause of murder.” Hazleton Plain Speaker, 21 Mar 1934.
- “Murder weapon still missing.” Hazleton Plain Speaker, 21 Mar 1934.
- “Albert Yashinsky says he killed Mrs. Mummey to end ‘Hex’ she had cast over him.” Pottsville Evening Herald, 22 Mar 1934.
- “Witch lore emotive for Ringtown killing.” Pottsville Republican, 22 Mar 1934.
- “Shenandoah man confesses killing Ringtown woman for being ‘hexed’ 8 years ago.” Hazleton Plain Speaker, 22 Mar 1934.
- Bartlett, Dorothy D. “‘Hexed’ youth frees soul by slaying ‘witch.'” Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 Mar 1934.
- Hasenauer, Burt J. “Sheriff burned Mummey home as only way to evict her in 1927.” Pottsville Republican, 23 Mar 1934.
- Bartlett, Dorothy D. “‘Hex’ killer wins support in tale of ‘witchcraft.'” Philadelphia Inquirer, 25 Mar 1934.
- Baron, A.I. “Hex slayer has mind of savage, alienist finds.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 26 Mar 1934.
- “Hex slaying is off front page.” Hazleton Plain Speaker, 2 Apr 1934.
- “Thirty-one word verdict in Ringtown murder case.” Mount Carmel Item, 5 Apr 1934.
- “Hexarai slayer may learn fate.” Lancaster New Era 9 Apr 1934.
- “‘Hex’ killer sent to insane asylum, trial called off.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 13 Apr 1934.
- “Hex slayer is quiet at asylum.” Hazleton Plain Speaker, 1 May 1934.
- “Still believe in witches as in the dark ages.” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, 10 Jun 1934.
- “Albert Shinsky improves; may face murder trial.” Shenandoah Evening Herald, 15 Feb 1935.
- “Nuremberg man may go on trial.” Hazleton Plain Speaker, 22 Feb 1935.
- “Hold man in asylum for hex death trial.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 17 Feb 1937.
- Mars, Augustus St. “The famous witch of Ringtown Valley.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4 Feb 1943.
- “Court house news.” Pottsville Republican and Herald, 27 Nov 1943.
- “‘Hex-cat’ murderer seeks his freedom.” Pottsville Republican and Herald, 19 Jul 1947.
- “No action taken on sanity plea.” Pottsville Republican and Herald, 3 Oct 1947.
- “Alleged ‘hex’ killer says he’s now sane; court lists hearing.” Pottsville Republican, 5 Oct 1962.
- “Seek to free suspect in Valley hex murder.” Shenandoah Evening Herald, 21 Mar 1969.
- Tierny, Jim. “Shinsky wants trial… 41 years later.” Pottsville Republican, 15 Oct 1975.
- Tierny, Jim. “Shinsky to wait (again).” Pottsville Republican, 16 Oct 1975.
- “Ringtown ‘hex’ trial set for May.” Hazleton Standard-Speaker, 8 Jan 1976.
- “1934 valley hex murder charges dropped.” Pottsville Republican and Herald, 10 Mar 1976.