Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Squibb Family Murder.

Scene of the Squibb Family Murder.
George Snelbaker went to the farm of his grandfather, George Squibb, to borrow an auger, the morning of June 18,1866, and found the old man lying face down on the porch in a pool of coagulated blood. He was unconscious but still alive. Snelbaker immediately ran to alert the neighbors.

George Squibb, a respectable, 71-year-old farmer of Quaker descent, had a small farm near Warrington, in York County, Pennsylvania. He lived with his wife Mary and their 11-year-old granddaughter, Emma Jane Seifert. Inside the farmhouse the neighbors found Emma Jane lying dead with her skull crushed and Mary Squib lying unconscious with severe headwounds. George Squibb died around midnight that night, but Mary held on for several more days.

The motive for the attacks appeared to be theft. Squibb was known to have $800 in the house, but a search of the premises turned up only $350. The thief had probably found a purse containing $450 but left without finding the rest. It is unlikely that the house was chosen at random; it was an old dilapidated, one-story building, constructed of rough logs, situated about 150 yards from a public road. No one unfamiliar with the character and habits of George Squibb would be tempted to rob the place.

Neighbors reported two suspicious looking strangers in the neighborhood on the day of the murder, but the prime suspect was a man named William Donavan, known locally as “Irish Bill.” Donavan was arrested, and although the evidence against him was circumstantial, it was sufficient for the coroner’s jury to indict him for murder. Donavan was known to be an ill-tempered and desperate character who terrorized the neighborhood, particularly when under the influence of alcohol, which was often the case. About five years earlier, Donavan had beaten one of Squibb’s cows to death and Squibb filed suit to recover the price of the animal. The suit was decided in Squibb’s favor and when Donavan was forced to pay he swore he would have revenge on Squibb if it took twenty years.

Apparently, Donavan had lost several other suits and currently had liabilities he was unable to satisfy. By robbing Squibb he could get the money he needed and get his revenge as well. Donavan’s property was searched and articles of clothing with bloodstains were found, as well as a bloodstained hatchet that appeared to have been hidden. The wounds of the victims were all on the right side of the head, indicating that they were attacked by a left-handed person. Donavan was left-handed.

Mrs. Squibb had recovered from her injuries sufficiently to attend the inquest, however, she was unable to speak. For her questioning, a juryman held her hand and told her to squeeze his hand when he named her attacker. He proceeded to recite a list of names, when he said William Donavan, she squeezed his hand indicating that Donavan was the man. She was interrogated the same way to determine how many men had attacked her, and she indicated two attackers, but could not identify the second. Mary Squibb died the following Wednesday.

The second man was believed to be John Boyle, a neighbor of William Donavan. The sheriff arrested Boyle on June 25, along with Donavan’s wife, and a common vagrant found with $250 in greenbacks that he could not explain. The investigation continued, and a woman named Mary Ann Pontel accused Charles Wilkes of murdering the Squibb family as well as beating her. Both Wilkes and Pontel were arrested on suspicion. In July, three more people were arrested in Maryland on suspicion of the Squibb murders—Amos Malson, Elizabeth Yettatis and Mary S. Poalin.

By November, charged were dropped against everyone except William Donavan and John Boyle who would be tried separately. Donavan was tried, convicted and sentenced to hang. The following April, Boyle was tried and acquitted. Some new evidence developed in Boyle’s trial prompted Donavan’s attorney to move for a new trial. The motion was granted, Donavan was retried and was again found guilty.

Although Donavan had been found guilty by two juries, opinion in York County was divided on the question of whether there was enough evidence against him to warrant a hanging. As his execution day approached, Donavan was still trying to explain the bloody hatchet and to place suspicion on someone other than himself. William Donavan continued to vehemently profess innocence as he climbed the gallows on March 31, 1868. He faced the assembled crowd and said, “I here stand in the presence of the Savior of the world, and I am as innocent of the murder as the Savior of the world is. I don’t know who done it; I was in my bed on Sunday night, and don’t know anything about the murder.” His last words before the sheriff pulled the platform from under him were, “God bless you all; you are hanging an innocent man; God bless my wife and children; I will see them hereafter.”

“The Murder in York County-Another Arrest,” Evening Union, June 25, 1866.
“The Scaffold.,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 1, 1868.
“The Shocking Murders in York County, Pa.,” Evening Union, June 21, 1866.
“The Squibb Family,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, July 14, 1866.
“State News Items,” Patriot, July 26, 1866.


Unknown says:
January 9, 2018 at 9:59 PM

It is a particularly vile and evil person who would kill elderly persons and a child. God Almighty knows who did it...and even if man renders justice in this temporal domain, He who rules the Cosmos will have His at His Great White Throne Judgment. Revelations 20:11-15

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