Saturday, December 17, 2022

The Snyder-Harman Murder.

Christiana Harmon (better known as Annie, and sometimes spelled "Herman"), aged 32, lived with her father in Heidelberg Township, York County, Pennsylvania. On Saturday, December 9, 1878, she left home around noon to go shopping in Hanover. She returned to Heidelberg around 2:00 and stopped at the home of Reuben Snyder, about three-quarters of a mile from her home, where several young people had gathered for a singing party.

Reuben Snyder’s 26-year-old brother Ephriam was also at the party. Annie and Ephriam had been going together, off and on, for several years but lately had been arguing. Annie left the party around 8:00 that night. Ephriam left a few minutes later.

The next morning, Annie Harmon’s body was found by the side of the road, about a quarter mile from her home. Her skull was crushed, her jaw broken, and her face badly cut and bruised. Next to the body lay a bloodstained chestnut club. A few feet away was another bloodstained piece of wood.

Ephriam Snyder became the prime suspect. Rebecca Snyder, Ephriam’s sister-in-law and Annie’s cousin, reported that Annie told her she thought she was pregnant and did not know what she would do if Ephriam did not marry her. Ephriam refused to marry her; he was engaged to someone else. Annie threatened to take him to court.

 

On Monday, Detective Rouse made a thorough examination of the crime scene. He found a bullet embedded in the ground where Annie’s head had been. Annie’s body was already buried, and the coroner had the body exhumed. Doctors performing a more thorough post-mortem examination found that she had been shot through the eye. They also determined that she was not pregnant.

Searching Snyder’s room, the police found a single-shot pistol and a box of cartridges. The bullet found at the scene fit the muzzle of the pistol. Detective Rouse arrested Ephriam Snyder for the murder of Christina Harman.

Snyder’s murder trial in York, Pennsylvania, began on April 26, 1879. Outside of the medical testimony, most of the witnesses were relatives of the defendant or the deceased and people who attended the party on December 9. The evidence against Snyder was mostly circumstantial, with only the pistol and cartridges exhibited in court, tying him directly to the murder.


The attorneys gave their closing arguments on May 2. W.H. Kain, for the defense, addressed the jury for an hour and twenty-five minutes. He was followed by E.D. Ziegler, for the defense, who spoke for an hour and fifteen minutes. After lunch H.L. Fischer, for the commonwealth, spoke for two hours. Before giving the case to the jury, the judge addressed them for an hour.

The jury deliberated from 4:30 to 6:00 before returning a verdict of not guilty. Ephriam Snyder heartily shook the hand of each juryman and each member of his defense team before leaving the courtroom.

It was not the legal oratory that swayed the jury, one of the jurymen noticed something that even the prosecution missed. The bullets in the cartridge box were a perfect plane, while the bullet found at the scene was concaved. This was enough to convince the jury that the cartridges were not the same as the bullet. Without that, there was not enough evidence to convict Ephriam Snyder of murder.

No one else was ever arrested for Annie Harman’s murder, but the scene of the crime became a center of local superstition. A large shirt was seen stretched at full length in the top limbs of a high hickory tree. The soiled garment was known throughout the region as the “Bloody Shirt.”


Sources:

“Ephraim Snyder's Trial for Murder,” The Philadelphia Times, April 28, 1879.
“The Herman Murder,” The York Dispatch, December 10, 1878.
“The Herman Murder,” York Democratic Press, January 3, 1879.
“Miss Annie Herman and Ephraim Snyder,” Illustrated Police News, January 11, 1879.
“News Article,” Juniata sentinel and Republican., December 18, 1878.
“Not Guilty,” The York Dispatch, May 2, 1879.
“A Queer Mark,” The York Dispatch, April 2, 1880.
“Snyder-Harman Murder,” The York Dispatch, April 29, 1879.
“Snyder-Harman Murder,” The York Dispatch, April 30, 1879.
“Snyder-Harman Murder Trial Ended,” The York Daily, May 3, 1879.
“The Snyder-Herman Murder,” The York Daily, December 13, 1878.
“The Snyder-Herman Murder,” The York Dispatch, December 17, 1878.
“Snyder-Herman Murder Trial,” The York Daily, April 28, 1879.
“York County Murder,” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 13, 1878.
“The York Tragedy,” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 17, 1878.

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