Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Rockville Tragedy.

21-year-old Alfred Egbert, better known as Pete, lived with his parents, a brother and a sister in Rockville, Indiana. He was a quiet man who led an exemplary life; when not working as a carpenter he was a voracious reader, often reading well into the night. April 1896, his sister Florence was dying of typhoid and Pete was under considerable stress from worry and lack of sleep.

The morning of April 25, Pete Egbert was outside chopping wood when he saw the next door neighbor, Mrs. Haske walk through the alley to get her cow for milking. Something suddenly enraged him and he attacked Mrs. Haske with the axe. He knocked her to the ground then gave her another blow to the head, killing her. He walked back to the house got his shotgun and left the house again. 

Pete went next door and entered the Haske’s kitchen where two of the Haske children, Herman, aged 8, and Agnes aged 10, were there eating breakfast. The children ran from the room when Pete raised the shotgun to fire. Herman ran outside, Pete followed and when he caught up, he emptied one barrel into Herman’s chest. Pete went back into the house, found Agnes in the sitting room, fired the other barrel killing her instantly. 5-year-old Julia who had been in bed, came downstairs to ask Agnes to help her get dressed. Julia found her sister lying in a pool of blood and managed to escape death by running outside in her nightclothes, screaming.

After reloading the shotgun, Pete started walking uptown. People he passed on the street greeted him cordially, having no idea what had just occurred at the Haske’s. It was not unusual to see Pete Egbert carrying a shotgun on his way to do some hunting. Pete’s brother ran uptown and found Sheriff Mull and Deputy Sweem standing outside the jail. Out of breath from the run he told them that Pete was on his way armed with a shotgun and meant to do some damage. 

The sheriff and deputy saw Pete near the courthouse and walked toward him. As they approached Pete told them to stand back. Sheriff Mull asked him what the trouble was and Pete told him again to stand back. The officers went inside the Parke National Bank; it was believed that the sheriff wanted to get a rifle that he knew was in an office on the second floor. As they started up the stairs Pete entered the bank and fired twice, killing both men. Pete reloaded the shotgun and continued slowly down the street. 

Coroner Newlin who had witnessed the shooting quickly organized a posse and within fifteen minutes had assembled a large group of heavily armed men. They went after Pete who had gone to the fairgrounds outside of town. The men surrounded the fairgrounds so Pete could not escape and as he walked across the field one of the men fired a rifle, hitting Pete in the heel. Pete hobbled into a stable and sat down in one of the stalls. 

Fearing a prolonged standoff, the men sent someone to town for some dynamite to blow him out of the stable. But the explosive was not needed, Pete took off the shoe on his wounded foot and pulling the trigger with his toe he fired the shot gun, point blank, into his side.

That day was the worst tragedy that had ever hit Rockville and the people there struggled to find a motive. Pete was very fond of his sister Florence and had been at her bedside for hours the night before, knowing full well that she would soon die. His relatives believed that the strain had unbalanced his mind. He had been annoyed by noise the Hasche children made and thought it would affect his sister. Others thought Pete was mean and vengeful. He had sold pig to Mr. Hasche, for a price much lower than it was worth Hasche often teased Pete about the deal and it angered him. Maybe the killings were his revenge. But Pete had no grudge against the sheriff and the deputy, he had worked the previous day at Sheriff Mull’s house repairing a fence. Most could find no reason behind the murders, only that Pete Egbert had gone suddenly insane that terrible morning in April.

“Deed of a Dead Man,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 25, 1896.
“Egbert Killed Five Persons,” New York Herald, April 26, 1896.
“Fiend and a Shotgun,” The Indianapolis Journal, April 26, 1896.
“The Tragedy at Rockville,” Indianapolis News, April 27, 1896.
“Wholesale Murderer,” The Boston Globe, April 25, 1896.


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