Saturday, June 22, 2019

Butler County Tragedy.

Christina Hassler, 50-years-old, grew quite wealthy from several oil wells operating on her farm in Butler County, Pennsylvania, but she was not so fortunate in her personal life. She married a man named Nordheim and had four children by him. They lived together until, for some unspecified reason, Nordheim made a murderous assault against her father. He was sent to the penitentiary and Christina secured a divorce and resumed her maiden name. 

In 1878, one of Christina's three daughters married a man named Harper Whitmire. They borrowed money from Christina, giving her a mortgage on the property. Whitmire later induced her to cancel the mortgage and put the farm in his wife’s name and consider it her full share in her mother's estate. But Whitmire had already borrowed money on the farm, representing himself as the owner. When the loan came due, he had to continue borrowing money to stay out of trouble. 

Mrs. Whitmire died under suspicious circumstances in 1891. Though he was never arrested, many believed that Harper Whitmire had beaten her to death. Whitmire put the children in the care of charitable school and left Butler County. 

Whitmire returned in early December 1893 and went to see Christina Hassler, presumably to ask for money. She let him stay in the farmhouse. Also staying at the house were Christina’s daughter Flora, who had recently married James Martin, and her son Louis Nordheim who worked on the oil wells. 

Louis had been working the night of December 4, and when he returned home at 9:00 the following morning, he found the house in disarray. Trunks had been opened; boxes and drawers had been ransacked. In an adjoining room, he found his mother lying in agony, barely breathing. She had been struck in the forehead by the broad blade of a hatchet. Nearby, Flora lay dead, her throat cut from ear to ear. Christina remained alive just long enough to tell her son that Harper Whitmire had committed the murders.

Sheriff Campbell began the search for the killer, and at the house of his brother Samuel Whitmire, he learned that Harper had been there and asked to borrow his revolver. When Samuel asked why he wanted it, Harper said, “I have killed two women, and I want to make an end of myself.” Samuel refused to give him the revolver, and Harper went away.

Samuel contacted his other brothers, Louis, Daniel and Peter. Peter went to town to get a warrant, and the other three went looking for Harper. They found him sitting by a fire outside the home of John Calvin. As the brothers tried to convince Harper to return to Samuel’s for dinner, they saw two rigs coming toward the house. Harper said he would not be taken alive. He ran to the barn, found his son Sid, and gave him some money.  Then he went out around a hill to a small grass plot, and before anyone reached him, he sat down and cut his throat, hacking it six times with the same razor he used on Flora Martin. He was dead by the time his brother got him back to Samuel’s house. 

Public sentiment against Harper Whitmire had been strong, but as reported in The History of Butler County Pennsylvania, Whitmire “relieved the county of the onus and cost of the prosecution.”

“Bloody Crime,” Columbus Daily Herald, December 6, 1893.
“A Frightful Double Tragedy,” National Police Gazette, December 23, 1893.
History of Butler County Pennsylvania (Chicago: R. C. Brown Co. Publishers, 1895.)
“Mother and Daughter Murdered,” Boston Daily Globe, December 5, 1893.
“Murder and Suicide,” Butler citizen, December 8, 1893.


Unknown says:
June 28, 2019 at 1:35 AM

A cowardly murderer... and then a pathetic suicide...

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