Saturday, June 11, 2022

Murdered in Church.

Ferdinand Hoffman, a German immigrant, arrived in Canton, Ohio, in 1864. There he met Caroline Yost, and after a brief courtship, he proposed to her. Caroline’s parents opposed the marriage because they did not trust Hoffman and knew nothing of his background. Predictably, their opposition only drove Caroline closer to Ferdinand, and the couple eloped.

The Yosts' suspicions of Hoffman’s character proved justified. Before coming to Canton, Hoffman was an “unprincipled vagabond” who engaged in counterfeiting and horse stealing. Caroline learned firsthand of his bad character when he began to abuse her and engage in criminal activities. He was caught stealing from her father and sentenced to prison, but he was released early when he agreed to join an Ohio regiment fighting for the Union. He soon deserted and returned home with a head wound that he claimed resulted from a rebel guerilla gunshot. It was later revealed that he received the wound in a Cincinnati gambling hell.

Hoffman was arrested again in 1866 for counterfeiting and sentenced to a year in prison. Caroline had enough, and she did not wait for him. She obtained a divorce, and by court decree, she restored her maiden name.

On his release from prison in October 1867, Hoffman returned to Canton and looked for his wife. Caroline managed to avoid him until Sunday, October 13, when he followed her into the German Reformed Church. Caroline hurried to the choir gallery, then behind the belfry door. Hoffman broke in and demanded that she return to him. She refused. Then he asked for a kiss, and she agreed out of fear.

Hoffman put his arms around her, then pulled out a Bowie knife and stabbed her in the chest and abdomen. Caroline screamed and fell to the floor. Hoffman continued stabbing, inflicting eighteen wounds. Women screamed and men shouted as Hoffman fled the church, his hands still covered with the blood of his victim.

Outside the church, a crowd of men pursued Hoffman as he tried to reach the railroad. They caught him and were ready to lynch him when some prominent citizens intervened and took Hoffman to jail.

The tip of Hoffman’s knife had broken off when his first thrust struck bone, and the following stabs were not as damaging as they would have been if the blade were intact. Caroline was taken to her father’s house, where her wounds were dressed, but she remained in critical condition. The police waited to see if she would recover before charging Hoffman. In jail, he expressed no remorse, declaring his regrets that he did not kill his ex-wife on the spot. 

Caroline lingered for nearly a week, never losing consciousness, but she died the following Saturday. Hoffman was charged with murder. The next morning, the jailer found Hoffman dead in his cell. He had fashioned a noose from a bed sheet and hanged himself. They left him hanging and opened the jail doors to the public. A constant stream of people passed through that afternoon to see the dead killer.

“An Atrocious Murderous Assault,” National Police Gazette, November 9, 1867.
“A Bloody Tragedy,” Canton Repository, October 16, 1867.
“The Canton Horror,” Gold Hill daily news, November 11, 1867.
“Death of Caroline Yost,” Canton Repository, October 23, 1867.
“Dreadful Murder At Canton,” Plain Dealer, October 15, 1867.
“A Horrible Deed,” Chicago Tribune, October 15, 1867.
“News Summary,” Weekly Marysville Tribune, October 30, 1867.


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