Favorite Photo (#52Ancestors week 2): a young family, a murder, a son redeemed
Updated: Jan 23
This week’s challenge posed a difficult decision. Being asked to choose a favorite photo feels a bit like being asked which of your children is your favorite. How could I choose one over the others?
Should I select the photograph that was taken the earliest?
The one with the most family members represented?
The most sentimental photo?
The one that is most full of life?
I'll preface this post by saying it's a long one. You have to make it to the end to see my favorite photo and to appreciate why it's so meaningful to me.
In looking through my collection of photos, I sadly realized that there are many ancestors for whom I do not have a single photo, except for perhaps a gravestone. I have no idea what these family members looked like, even though I have learned so much about their lives. It was then that I decided to write about the photograph that I had wished for the longest and just recently received. It captures a family before it was broken. It demonstrates the importance of digitizing and sharing photographs with others.
Of all of the ancestors I have researched, I have always felt a unique sense of interest in my paternal great-great grandmother, Katharine (Katie) H. Nagle. As a child, I was aware that her son, my great grandpa Albert, was a conservative Mennonite who had joined the church because he lived with another family as a teenager after his mother was killed; however, the details were vague and not something that was a topic of discussion.
Albert A. Hornberger with great-granddaughter Kristin, 1978
Great Grandpa Albert died when I was twelve years old, long before I thought to ask him any questions. When I began trying to piece together my family tree as an adult, I was determined to find out exactly what happened to his mother.
Born on 4 April 1882, Katie was the daughter of David Nagle and Mary Elizabeth (Habecker) Nagle. Just days after her eighteenth birthday, she married Martin Cooper Hornberger, a twenty-three year old cigar maker, on 7 April 1900.
Martin and Katie lived near Rothsville in Warwick Township, Lancaster County and their first child, Floyd, was born on 28 August 1900. By 1910, Martin was still employed as a cigar maker and they had three more children: Erla Mae (13 January 1904), Irvin Walter (1 June 1906), and Albert Allen (26 March 1909).
It should be noted that in the 1910 census, a Sammet family lived on the same road (identified as “Lititz-Millport Road”) as the Hornberger family. The neighboring Sammet family included a nineteen-year-old son named Richard.
It is unclear exactly when the family’s troubles began. In the 1914 Farmer’s Directory of Lancaster County, Martin, Katie, and their four children were still listed as a family unit. A fifth child, Robert Levern Hornberger, was born on 13 November 1915. By September of 1916, rumors of an affair between Katie Hornberger and Richard Sammet were published in the small-town newspaper of Lititz.
A divorce was filed in Lancaster, Pennsylvania as Civil Court case 16 in the September term of 1917. Much to my dismay, that record is missing from the Lancaster County Archives, so details of the divorce case are unavailable. [UPDATED October 2018: I found the records! Story here.]
Another brief item was printed in the Lititz newspaper on 26 April 1918: “Divorce Granted - In court at Lancaster last Saturday, Katie Hornberger, of Lititz, was granted a divorce from Martin Hornberger, for cruel treatment. Hornberger was given a hearing and ordered to pay $4.00 a week for the support of his children.”
By 1920, Katie was living with children Irvin, Albert, and Robert. Richard Sammet was listed as part of their household as a “boarder.” On 12 November 1921, Katie gave birth to Richard W. Sammet, Jr. According to newspaper articles, Richard and Katie had a tumultuous and violent relationship which ended in tragedy on 10 April 1924.
Portions of the newspaper reports are transcribed below the images:
Yesterday about 2 o’clock the neighborhood of the Millport dam road was thrown into a state of wild excitement when it became known that a murder and suicide had just occurred in their midst.
Richard Sammit [sic], supposedly in a jealous rage, shot and killed Mrs. Kate Hornberger, with whom he was living in his mother’s house, on the dam road, near Bushong’s mill. Then he turned the weapon upon himself and took his own life.
Mrs. Katherine Sammit [sic], the aged mother of the man, had been to Rothsville that noon. When she returned to her home at about two o’clock she went into her apartments and soon Richard, the 3 year old son of the dead couple came running to her and in his childish trebel [sic] said “Mama is dead.” Terrified, Mrs. Sammit followed the small boy and discovered the dead bodies of her son and Mrs. Hornberger in the front room on the first floor. Sammet had used a double-barreled shot gun and apparently but 2 shots finished the deed. It is supposed the tragedy took place at about 9 o’clock in the morning.
For some time neighbors and others had known that the man was exceedingly jealous of Mrs. Hornberger and that there were many bitter quarrels between the couple.
Eight years of constant quarreling between Richard Sammet and Mrs. Kate Nagle, with whom he lived about three miles west of Rothsville, on the Lititz Creek Road, ended when Sammet in a moment of jealous passion, used a double-barreled shotgun to kill the woman and then himself.
The tragedy occurred between 9 and 10 o’clock on Thursday morning of last week, April 10th, while the couple were alone in the isolated farmhouse except for their two and a half year old son, Richard. The child was alone with the dead until almost noon, when Albert Hornberger, a son of the slain woman, returning for his dinner, discovered the bodies lying in the parlor of the home. The child, covered with blood, was wandering from parlor to kitchen and back again, crying bitterly.
Unaware of Tragedy
His mother, Mrs. Catherine Sammet, lived alone on the second floor of the house, because she refused to live with the couple unless they would get married, had left at 8:20 that morning with her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Kulp, for Rothsville, where they were helping to set a tombstone on the grave of the dead man’s father. They returned about 11 o’clock. Because of the differences with Richard and Mrs Nagle, they never visited the latter. They entered by a rear stairway which leads directly to Mrs. Sammet’s rooms. They ate dinner and spent several minutes talking. Mr. and Mrs. Kulp had just left, ignorant of the tragedy below when the son of the slain woman found the bodies. They had heard the child crying, but paid no attention, never suspecting his reason.
Quarrel Leads to Tragedy
The tragedy had its actual beginning Wednesday night. Mrs. Nagle took the lad, Richard, to Rothsville early Wednesday evening, to see a doctor, she told Sammet. As the neighbors tell the story, Sammet was long suspicious of the woman, followed her and is said to have discovered her with another man. When she returned home there was a bitter fight, which ended by Sammet chasing the woman out. She went to the rear of the house, threw a stone through the kitchen window, and then went to a neighbor, Mrs. Kate Heck, where she spent the night.
She told Mrs. Heck that Sammet had told her he would kill her if she had returned. He had often threatened to do this before, neighbors say, “if Kate didn’t begin to behave herself,” without frightening her very much. But this time Mrs. Heck says that Mrs. Nagle was “terribly frightened.” She was so afraid that Mrs. Heck went with her when she started for home. Sammet ordered the neighbor woman to leave when they came near the house.
Evidence of Struggle
This was about 9 o’clock Thursday morning. The tragedy must have occurred shortly afterward, for Mrs. Nagle had not removed either her coat nor her scarf. At first it was thought that Sammet shot the woman after she ran into the parlor when he began to beat her, but from marks on her face, and evidences of a struggle in the kitchen, including a pool of blood on the floor, it is believed that he knocked her down, possibly seriously injuring her in the kitchen.
Fearing that she was going to die, he dragged her into the parlor, got the shotgun and blew off the top of her head, “to make sure that she wouldn’t live after he was dead,” as one of the neighbors put it. Then, taking the empty shell, he threw it into the coal bucket in the kitchen, reloaded the gun, went back into the parlor, supposedly sat on the couch, placed the gun either against the wall or on the floor, and blew out his own brains.
Although the newspaper reports were written in a sensationalized style and contained some contradictions, the basic facts can be confirmed by coroner’s inquest records and death certificates for both Katie and Richard.[1
The locations of Katie’s burial (listed on her death certificate) and the murder (on current day Warwick Road) are within a few miles of my house, so I have made visits to both. United Zion Cemetery can be found on the east side of Twin Brook Road in Rothsville, Lancaster County. I located the gravestone in the photo below and noted from the surrounding stones combined with census records that Katie is buried near her parents and six of her siblings.
I had learned so much about the life and death of my great-great grandmother, yet for many years, I only had this one photograph of her gravestone. I longed for more. I wanted to be able to see my great-great grandmother's face and look into her eyes. I wanted to let her know that her tragic story was not forgotten. Just a few months ago, I was given that gift. It was so meaningful to me that I chose to feature this picture as the lead photo on my Roots & Wings Research website.
Several years ago, I connected through Ancestry with a fourth cousin who lives in the same area and has done research on the Hornberger family. He is a teacher at the local middle school and when my daughter was in his social studies class last year, we connected again. This time he told me he had a photo I might want to see. He inherited his great-grandmother’s photo albums and included among the photos was the one that I can now claim as my “favorite.”
After learning so much about the tragedy and scandal that ripped this family apart, I finally got the chance to see them. In some small way, it feels like a family that was broken and nearly lost to time and secrecy has been restored to a moment when they were whole. I love that this photo captured my great-grandpa sitting on his mother’s lap. I always felt heartbroken for him and the emotional pain he must have endured because of the traumatic events of his childhood. And yet, his adult life as a man of strong faith was a remarkable testimony to the redemptive power of God’s work in our lives. It brings me great joy to know that his sorrow is now gone.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:4-5a)
P.S. This certainly is not the end of this family’s story. The stories of what happened to Katie’s children, including my great-grandpa Albert and his two-year-old half-brother Richard, will continue another week.
Take-aways for your family history:
1. If you have unanswered questions about your family history, let me offer this encouragement. It is possible to discover the truth through records and documents even if all witnesses to an event have passed away. Many records are not available online and require research in the court records, archives, or newspapers of the locality in which your ancestors lived.
2. If you are the one who was lucky enough to inherit all of grandma’s old family photos, please take the time to scan and share them. There might be another descendant of the people in those photographs who would be immensely blessed by being able to finally see their faces. An upcoming post will explain how technology makes digitizing and sharing photographs easier than ever.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 Jan 2018), Floyd Nagle Hornberger, serial no. 2248, order no. 1443, Draft Board No. 2, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; citing World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, NARA microfilm publication M1509; Family History Library Roll No. 1893479.
 1910 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Warwick Township, ED 147, sheet 7-A, dwelling 139, family 143, Martin C. Hornberger household; digital image, AncestryLibrary.com (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com : accessed 8 November 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1355. For Erla’s birthdate, see U.S. Social Security Administration, "Social Security Death Index," database, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.com : accessed 9 January 2018), entry for Erla Sheaffer, no. 167-14-7684. For Irvin’s birthdate, see Pennsylvania, "Birth Certificates, 1906-1910" database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : 10 January 2018), entry for Irvin Walter Hornberger, 1 June 1906; citing Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Birth no. 62792, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg. For Albert’s birthdate, see Pennsylvania, "Birth Certificates, 1906-1910" database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : 10 January 2018), entry for Albert A. Hornberger, 26 March 1909; citing Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Birth no. 42349, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.
 1910 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Warwick Township, ED 147, sheet 7-A, dwelling 145, family 149, Fredrick Sammet household; digital image, AncestryLibrary.com (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com : accessed 8 November 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1355.
 The Farmers’ Directory of Lancaster County (except Lancaster City) Pennsylvania: with a complete road map of the county (Philadelphia : Wilmer Atkinson Co, 1914), 154.
 “Out of the Past: 100 Years Ago: September 15, 1916: Tsk. Tsk,” The Lititz Record Express (Lititz, Pennsylvania), 14 September 2016.
 “Out of the Past: 90 Years Ago: April 26, 1918: Divorce Granted,” The Lititz Record Express (Lititz, Pennsylvania), 24 April 2008.
 1920 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Warwick Township, ED 135, sheet 2-A, dwelling 23, family 24, Katie Hornberger household; digital image, AncestryLibrary.com (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com : accessed 8 November 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1585.
 “U.S. World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 January, 2018), Richard Eckenroad, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1942; citing Selective Service Registration Cards, World War II: Fourth Registration, Record Group 147, National Archives and Records Administration, St Louis, Missouri.
 “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. Also, “Slays Woman After Quarrel, Then Kills Self,” The Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 11 April 1924, page 21, col. 3.
 Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Coroner’s Inquest Records, vol. 4 (1921-1927): 284, no. 572, for Kate Nagle, 10 April 1924; County Archives, Lancaster. Also, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Coroner’s Inquest Records, vol. 4 (1921-1927): 284, no. 573, for Richard Sammett [Sammet], 10 April 1924; County Archives, Lancaster. Also, Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 40117, Richard W. Sammet, 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. Also, Pennsylvania death certificate no. 40116 (1924), Katie Nagle.
 A. Hunter Rineer, Jr., “Warwick Township,” Churches and Cemeteries of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: A Complete Guide (Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Lancaster County Historical Society, 1993), 418.
 Rothsville United Zion Cemetery (Rothsville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; east side of Twin Brook Road), Katharine Nagle, David and Mary Elizabeth Nagle, Alvin H. Nagle, Ada H. Ruth, Clara H. Ecenroad, Eva H. Loose, and Bertha H. Pipgress gravestones; personally read, 7 November 2017. For many of the children living with their parents, see 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