• Kristin Wenger

A Murder and Suicide’s Youngest Victim (#52Ancestors week 32: Youngest)

Updated: Jan 7, 2019


The newspaper articles depict a harrowing scene: [1]

Newspaper clipping of the Lititz report

Newspaper clipping of the Ephrata report


I was horrified to imagine the traumatic experience of such a young child (contrary to the first newspaper report, he was actually only two years old.) [2] First, he witnessed the murder and suicide of his parents. Then, he was left all alone with their dead bodies for several hours. I tried to picture one of my children at that age and the image was almost too heart-wrenching to bear.


I felt compelled to find out what became of this youngest child of my great-great grandmother. Was he sent to a children’s home or orphanage? Was he adopted, and if so, by whom? Did he remember the violent tragedy he had witnessed, or was he young enough that it was blotted from his mind? Was he raised never knowing the story of his birth parents and his five older half siblings?


One of those older half siblings was my great grandpa Albert. This photo shows him sitting on his mother Katie’s lap about 1910. As the Ephrata Review article reported and my grandpa (his son) verified, Albert was the one who first discovered his mother's body and his traumatized younger half brother at the scene of the crime.

My great-great grandmother Katie with her fourth child, Albert Hornberger


This story is a follow-up to the story of Katie's murder. If you have not read it or need to refresh your memory before continuing on, please click here. I should add that I originally investigated this story in early 2014. There are now numerous sources available that would have made the research so much easier, but this is how the mystery unfolded for me.


The Search for Little Richard


With both of his parents deceased, who raised Richard Sammet, Jr.?

I began by looking in logical sources including county guardianship records and the next census in 1930, but they yielded no information on a child named Richard Sammet, born about 1921.[3] The nearby Brethren Children’s Home in Neffsville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania began housing orphans in 1914, but records are only known to exist beginning in the mid-1940s when Richard would have already reached adulthood.[4] Since there was no formal adoption paperwork, I concluded that the most probable explanation was that Richard was raised by extended family members. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, or older half-siblings were all possibilities. And that meant I had to find out who all of those extended family members were.


After doing lots of collateral research on both the Hornberger and Sammet families, I had multiple avenues to pursue. However, I reasoned that perhaps the most likely candidates to claim Richard were Katie’s relatives since she was the female victim in this case. There was just one problem. I didn’t know her maiden name.


Finding Katie’s Family of Origin


To pursue information on Katie’s parents and siblings, it was first necessary to discover her maiden name. Tracing women can often be difficult, but Katie’s case was complicated by her 1882 birth, the loss of the 1890 U.S. census, and her spring 1900 marriage, resulting in her never having been enumerated with her family of origin in a census.[5]


Thankfully, because Katie married just days after her eighteenth birthday, her father had to give permission for her to marry. The April 1900 marriage license for Martin C. Hornberger and Katie H. Nagle was signed by her father, David Nagle.[6]




Searching for Katie’s death certificate using the surname Nagle (rather than Hornberger) yielded success and identified Katie Nagle’s parents as David Nagle and Mary Habecker.[7]



That information enabled a search for Katie’s parents and any potential siblings in the relevant census years. In 1880, David and Mary E. Nagle, both twenty-six, were living in adjacent Clay Township, Lancaster County, with two young daughters, two-year-old Susan and Sarah, born in December 1879.[8] By the time of the next extant census in 1900, David G. and Lizzie K. (probably a nickname for Mary Elizabeth), both forty-six, lived in Warwick Township with Alvin H., sixteen; Ada H., eleven; Clara H., eight; and Eva H., eight months. Lizzie (Mary E.) stated that she had given birth to eleven children, seven of whom were living.[9]


Seven Siblings in a Cemetery


Katie’s death certificate contained an important item of primary information provided by the undertaker. Her burial location was named as United Zion Cemetery, Rothsville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.[10] Formerly known as the Grube family cemetery, it is located on the east side of current day Twin Brook Drive in Rothsville.[11] In a relatively small cemetery such as this one, it was not difficult to find the gravestone of Katharine Nagle (1882-1924).[12]



Located in the very next row were stones for her parents, David (1853-1931) and Mary Elizabeth Nagle (1853-1919).[13] A search of the area within close proximity identified several familiar names from the 1900 census with consistent years of birth: Susan H. Heck (1877), Alvin H. Nagle (1883), Ada H. Ruth (1888), Clara H. Ecenroad (1892), and Eva H. Loose (1899).[14] I could not find Sarah, but later learned that she had died at age two.[15]


An additional potential sibling, Bertha H. Pipgress (1885), was also discovered in the middle of this range of eight rows.[16] Her year of birth fit nicely into the sibling group and she also carried the same middle initial, probably for Mary Elizabeth’s maiden name of Habecker. In 1900, she would have been about fifteen, a common age for rural children to live outside the home as domestic servants or laborers on neighboring farms, providing a plausible explanation for her absence in the 1900 enumeration her parents’ household. If Bertha Pipgress was a Nagle, then all seven children of David and Mary Elizabeth Nagle who had lived to adulthood were buried in the same cemetery.


Because six of those seven Nagle siblings were female, the inscriptions on the gravestone provided critical new information: an apparent spouse and married surname for each sister. With those surnames in hand, research on each sibling’s family was now possible.


Katie’s siblings in 1930


If Richard found a home with one of Katie’s siblings, then the most likely record to lead to this information was the 1930 census, taken just six years after the murder/suicide when he would have been approximately nine years old. A search for each sibling’s household using the married surnames of her sisters yielded mostly negative evidence for a boy born about 1921.[17] There was only one household of particular interest revealed by the search. Kansas Ecenroad, forty-two; his wife Clara, thirty-eight; widowed father-in-law David Nagle, seventy-six; and son Richard Ecenroad, age eight, lived together in nearby West Cocalico Township, Lancaster County.[18]

This 1930 census image shows eight-year-old Richard Ecenroad as the son of Kansas and Clara Ecenroad and grandson of David Nagle.


The 1940 census for West Cocalico Township enumerated Kansas K. Ecenroade, fifty-two, Clara Ecenroade, forty-eight, and Richard Ecenroade, eighteen.[19]


The Case for Kansas and Clara


Clara (Nagle) and Kansas Ecenroad

Photo provided by Dan Gwinn to author, 2017

(Notice the resemblance between Clara and her older sister Katie)


At the time, I had no direct evidence stating that Kansas and Clara Ecenroad raised Richard Sammet, Jr.; however, the indirect evidence was convincing.

  • In April 1924, the newspaper referred to Richard as a three-year-old. Given the spelling errors and stylized writing found throughout the article, the author may have simply estimated the child’s age rather than obtained an exact birthdate. With an approximate birthdate of 1921, the Richard living with Kansas and Clara in 1930 and 1940 was within a year of the appropriate estimated age.

  • It is unlikely that two sisters (Katie and Clara) giving birth within a year and living in the same county would have given their sons the same first name.

  • Kansas and Clara had no other children by 1940 at the end of her childbearing years, implying that they probably were unable to conceive. When Richard was orphaned, Kansas and Clara, a childless couple, may have been the best choice within the extended family to be able to care for him.

  • David Nagle, named in independent sources as the father of both Katie and Clara, lived with Kansas, Clara, and Richard in 1930, the year prior to his death. This information suggests that Clara took on the role of caretaker within her sibling group. It also links three generations of the family (David, Clara, and Richard).

  • It is reasonable that Kansas and Clara would have changed Richard’s last name from Sammet to their own surname, Ecenroad (with its many spelling variations). At age two or three, he was quite young and would not have developed any identity based on his last name. Also, they quite possibly did not want him to be a direct namesake of the man who killed Clara’s sister.


Finding Richard in 2014


In June 2014, I was confident that Richard Ecenroad was, in fact, the little boy born Richard Sammet, Jr. and orphaned by his parents’ murder/suicide. That tragic event had occurred 90 years ago, but if Richard had only been two years old, it was possible that he was still alive. I was able to quickly locate him online. Yes, he was alive and lived less than half an hour away from me! I would have loved to meet my great grandpa’s youngest brother and talk to him about his life, but I faced a major ethical dilemma. Did he know his birth identity? Perhaps he had memories of the event or Clara and Kansas had told him about it. But it was also entirely possible, especially in that era of secrecy surrounding adoptions, that they shielded him from the terrible truth in order to give him a more stable childhood. I was stymied. I really wanted to reach out to Richard, but I certainly did not want to wreak havoc on the life an unsuspecting elderly man.


In short order, the decision was made for me. Three days after I discovered who Richard was and that he was still alive, I opened my daily newspaper and was stunned to find this:


Newspaper clipping of Richard's obituary [20]


He knew. And my great grandpa had known. It was no mystery to them, but the story had never made it to my generation. I had to remind myself that my great grandpa was a month past fifteen years old when this event ripped his life apart. Of course he didn't want to talk about such a devastating tragedy. And since he died when I was twelve years old, he certainly would not have been telling a little girl about it.

What I have discovered many times over in researching my family history is that where there seems to be silence, it is not because there is no story. There is silence because the story was too painful to tell.


Staring at his obituary, I couldn’t believe that Richard had died on the very day I found him. As I read about his life, I was filled with great hope. Coming from the darkest of family situations, he grew into a fine young man who served his country, worked faithfully, and contributed to his community. Thanks to the grace of God, something good came out of one of the worst situations imaginable. Thanks to an aunt and uncle who raised him as their own and told him the truth, that little boy became more than the youngest victim of an unspeakable loss. Richard was a survivor.


Richard's World War II service photo


UPDATE (January 2019):

Due to newly indexed records, I was able to find the original documents for Richard's adoption by Kansas and Clara. The images were below were taken at the Lancaster County Archives.










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Note: I have been taking a break from regular weekly #52Ancestors posts in July and August, but I will be making up the prompts I've missed. The topic for week 26 was "Black Sheep" and I chose to complete the three-part series of this story by sharing what I've learned about Richard Sammet and his family.


Sources:

[1] “Murder and Suicide Near Town: Richard Sammet Shot Mrs. Kate Hornberger Then Turns Gun on Himself,” The Lititz Express (Lititz, Pennsylvania), 11 April 1924, page 1, col. 4. Also, “Murder and Suicide Near Rothsville: Richard Sammet Kills Kate Nagle With Whom He Lived Near Rothsville,” The Ephrata Review (Ephrata, Pennsylvania), 18 April 1924; unpaginated copy of newspaper clipping.


[2] “Richard Eckenroad,” Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, PA), 25 June 2014, unpaginated newspaper clipping in possession of author; transcript, Lancaster Online (https://lancasteronline.com/obituaries/richard-eckenroad/article_0a12c417-1883-5f1e-bba9-14757e46da96.html : accessed 8 August 2018).


[3] For guardianship, see Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Orphans’ Court Dockets, 1801-1928, Book S2: 408-10, line by line search for Richard Sammet; Lancaster County Archives, Lancaster. For census, see “Refine Your Search to the 1930 United States Federal Census,” AncestryLibrary.com (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com/search/). Separate searches included variants of Richard Sammet’s given name, surname, and birth year +/- 2 years in Warwick Township, Lancaster County, and the state of Pennsylvania.


[4] William Kostlevy, Director, Brethren Historical Library and Archives, Elgin, Illinois (brethrenarchives@brethren.org), to Kristin R. Wenger, e-mail, 7 November 2017, “Neffsville, Pennsylvania Children’s Home Records”; Richard Sammet, Jr. File, Wenger Research Files; held by author. Also, Rachel Grove Rohrbaugh, Archivist, Church of the Brethren Special Collections and Archives, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania (grover@etown.edu), to Kristin R. Wenger, e-mail, 7 November 2017, “Neffsville, Pennsylvania Children’s Home Records”; Richard Sammet, Jr. File, Wenger Research Files; held by author.


[5] 1900 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Warwick Township, enumeration district (ED) 113, sheet 18-A, dwelling 334, family 378, Martin C. Hornberger household; digital image, AncestryLibrary.com (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com : accessed 8 November 2017); citing National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) microfilm publication T623, roll 1426.


[6] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Marriage License Dockets, v. E2-F2, Feb. 5-Nov. 28, 1900, no. 16679, Martin C. Hornberger-Katie H. Nagle, 6 April 1900; Orphan’s Court Office, Lancaster; digital image, "Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885-1950", database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VF9C-CJH : accessed 8 November 2017), image 108.


[7] Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 40116, Katie Nagle, 10 April 1924, Lancaster County; viewed at "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963," digital images, AncestryLibrary.com (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com : accessed 8 November 2017); citing Series 11.90: Death Certificates 1906 -1963, Record Group 11: Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.


[8] 1880 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Clay Township, ED 108, p. 29 (penned), p. 106-A (stamped), dwelling 215, family 243, David Nagle household; digital image, AncestryLibrary.com (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com : accessed 8 November 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1140.


[9] 1900 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Warwick Township, ED 113, sheet 3-A, dwelling 44, family 47, David G. Nagle household; digital image, AncestryLibrary.com (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com : accessed 8 November 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1426.


[10] Pennsylvania death certificate no. 40116 (1924), Katie Nagle.


[11] A. Hunter Rineer, Jr., “Warwick Township,” Churches and Cemeteries of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: A Complete Guide (Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Lancaster County Historical Society, 1993), 418.


[12] Rothsville United Zion Cemetery (Rothsville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; east side of Twin Brook Road), Katharine Nagle gravestone; personally read, 7 November 2017.


[13] Rothsville United Zion Cemetery (Rothsville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; east side of Twin Brook Road), David Nagle and Mary Elizabeth Nagle gravestones; personally read, 7 November 2017.


[14] Rothsville United Zion Cemetery (Rothsville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; east side of Twin Brook Road), Alvin H. Nagle, Ada H. Ruth, Clara H. Ecenroad, and Eva H. Loose gravestones; personally read, 7 November 2017.


[15] Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 08 August 2018), memorial page for Sallie Nagle (Jan 1880–6 Feb 1882), Find A Grave Memorial no. 27003892, citing Mellingers Cemetery, Schoeneck, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Lostnfog & family (contributor 46802932) .


[16] Rothsville United Zion Cemetery (Rothsville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; east side of Twin Brook Road), Bertha H. Pipgress gravestone; personally read, 7 November 2017.


[17] “Refine Your Search to the 1930 United States Federal Census,” AncestryLibrary.com (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com/search/). Separate searches for each sibling with birth year +/- 5 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: Susan Heck (1877), Alvin Nagle (1883), Bertha Pipgress (1885), Ada Ruth (1888), Clara Ecenroad (1892), and Eva Loose (1899).


[18] 1930 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, West Cocalico Township, ED 122, sheet 11-A, dwelling 223, family 245, Kansas Ecenroad household; digital image, AncestryLibrary.com (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com : accessed 8 November 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 2059.


[19] 1940 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, West Cocalico Township, ED 36-154, sheet 6-A, household 128, Kansas Ecenroad; digital image, AncestryLibrary.com (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com : accessed 8 November 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 3535.


[20] “Richard Eckenroad,” Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, PA), 25 June 2014, unpaginated newspaper clipping in possession of author; transcript, Lancaster Online (https://lancasteronline.com/obituaries/richard-eckenroad/article_0a12c417-1883-5f1e-bba9-14757e46da96.html : accessed 8 August 2018).

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