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  • Kristin Wenger

The Murderer Had a Family, Too (#52Ancestors week 26: Black Sheep)


I've never seen his face, but I do have his signature.


Signature from World War 1 draft registration card [1]


He’s the man who killed my great-great grandma. He took a mother away from six children, including his own two-year-old son. And no one will ever fully understand what happened since he immediately took his own life.


When I first learned about my great-great grandma’s murder, I wanted nothing to do with Richard Sammet. I hated that he had caused such deep pain for my great-grandpa and all of the other family members involved. Even though his actions that day were reprehensible, I realized that there are multiple perspectives in every story and that he didn’t exist in isolation. What about his family? Who were the Sammets?


This is the third and final post about this tragic event.


Part 1: Katie’s murder


Part 2: Finding little Richard, Jr.



What Richard Left Behind

Initially, I did not set out to investigate Richard’s life. However, as I attempted to locate guardianship records for his son, Richard Sammet, Jr., I naturally found documents pertaining to Richard, Sr. These records provided fascinating insight into the details of his life, occupation, possessions, and associates.


Coroner’s inquest [2]

Notice the witnesses included a neighbor couple, his mother, his sister and her husband, and the undertaker.


Inventory[3]

An inventory of Richard's possessions was taken by Harvey Kulp and Wayne Keller, two of the same witnesses in the coroner's inquest. My grandpa had told me that his father, Albert, worked with Richard at the nearby saw mill and had found the bodies when he walked home at noon for his dinner. [4] The inventory includes a list of tools that verify Richard's occupation. It was also interesting to see the animals he kept, his vehicles, and that he had cash in the Farmer's National Bank, the building which still stands in the square of Lititz.


Catharine Sammet, Richard's mother, served as administrator of his account. [5]


I recognized many of the names of Richard's associates from Lititz history. It gives a great window into local businesses, some of which can be connected to current day. For example, The Lititz Record still exists and the Bushong mill bill points to this mill which anyone trying to drive from Rothsville to Lititz these days will recognize as the mill right beside the bridge closure on 772.


The Sammet Family

Richard was the youngest of five children of George Frederick and Catharine (Manner) Sammet.[6] The Sammets and the three oldest children were born in Germany. They immigrated in 1887 and the two youngest boys were born in Pennsylvania.[7]

Local newspapers have enabled me to paint a fuller picture of the family and their intersection with Katie (Nagle) Hornberger’s family.


August 1902 fire [8]

Aside from reporting a major disaster, this article provides a window into the Sammets’ livelihood, reputation in the community, and family structure. By giving their precise location, where they also resided near Martin and Katie in 1910, it establishes that the Sammets and Hornbergers were close neighbors by 1902. At the time of the fire, Richard was just a boy of 11 years, while Katie was a 20-year-old married wife with one child.


It is unknown precisely when Katie and Richard’s relationship began, but local gossip about an affair was reported in September 1916, prior to Martin and Katie’s 1918 divorce.[9] Richard and Katie lived together with her younger children and their son Richard, Jr. was born on 12 November 1921.[10]


In all of my research on the Sammet family, I ended up feeling a great deal of sympathy for Richard’s mother, Catharine. The following newspaper articles explain why.


In August 1923, her husband George Frederick Sammet died.[11]


Seven months later, her son Richard committed both murder and suicide. Unbelievably, the very reason that Catharine was not at home that morning was that she had gone to the cemetery for the setting of a headstone on her husband’s grave! [12]


As the court documents featured earlier revealed, Catharine was left with major responsibilities after Richard’s unexpected death to handle his estate over the next few months.


The next year, another of her sons met an untimely death.[13]


How much can one human bear? In the space of just two years, Catharine lost her husband and her two youngest children. Adding to her grief, both of her sons died violently and suddenly. One of them was branded a murderer and the other left a widow with seven young children.


Learning about the Sammets has been a journey and given me lots to ponder:

  • One individual’s split-second decision or action can deeply impact a multitude of lives for generations

  • Each person has a unique perspective and experience. He or she may be “fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”[14]

  • There is no sin too great to forgive. (Matthew 18:21-22, Colossians 3:13)


Richard is buried in Jerusalem Lutheran Cemetery, Rothsville, near his parents and siblings. [15]

Return to all blog posts


Take-aways for your family history: Local newspapers are an absolute treasure trove of information. They contain details and insight that you simply will not find anywhere else. If this story has not illustrated their value, I don't know what will!


Sources:

[1] “World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with digital images, Ancestry. (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 Aug 2018), Richard Walter Sammet; path > Pennsylvania > Berks County > 3 > Draft Card S > image 199 of 806; citing World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, NARA microfilm publication M1509; Family History Library Roll No. 1893479.


[2] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Coroner’s Inquest Records, vol. 4 (1921-1927): 284, no. 573, for Richard Sammett [Sammet], 10 April 1924; County Archives, Lancaster.


[3] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, estate file, Book 1924, no. 110, Richard W. Sammet, April Term, 1924; County Archives, Lancaster.


[4] Conversation with John D. Hornberger, son of Albert Hornberger and grandfather of author, 25 December 2013.


[5] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, estate file, Book 1924, no. 110, Richard W. Sammet, April Term, 1924; County Archives, Lancaster.


[6] “Mrs. Catherine Sammet,” The Lititz Record (Lititz, Pennsylvania), 23 May 1929, p. 1; transcripton at Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 12 August 2018), memorial page for Catharine Menner Sammet (18 May 1854–20 May 1929), Find A Grave Memorial no. 84837246, citing Rothsville Lutheran Cemetery, Rothsville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Denise Witwer Lahr (contributor 47356680) .

[7] 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.


[8] “Fred Sammet’s Ill Luck,” The Lititz Record (Lititz, Pennsylvania), 22 August 1902, p. 3, col 6; digital image, Power Library: Pennsylvania’s Electronic Library (http://digitalcollections.powerlibrary.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/slchs-lnp1/id/7366/rec/1 : accessed 2 August 2018).


[9] “Out of the Past: 100 Years Ago: September 15, 1916: Tsk. Tsk,” The Lititz Record Express (Lititz, Pennsylvania), 14 September 2016; unpaginated clipping in author’s possession. Also, “Out of the Past: 90 Years Ago: April 26, 1918: Divorce Granted,” The Lititz Record Express (Lititz, Pennsylvania), 24 April 2008; unpaginated clipping in author’s possession.


[10] 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. For Richard’s birthdate, see “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.


[11] “George Frederick Sammet,”The Lititz Record (Lititz, Pennsylvania), 23 August 1923, p. 5, col 2; digital image, Power Library: Pennsylvania’s Electronic Library (http://digitalcollections.powerlibrary.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/slchs-lnp1/id/14672/rec/1 : accessed 2 August 2018).


[12] “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.


[13] “Obituary: Fred Sammet Killed at Leola Crossing,” The Lititz Record (Lititz, Pennsylvania), 10 September 1925, p. 5, col 2; digital image, Power Library: Pennsylvania’s Electronic Library (http://digitalcollections.powerlibrary.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/slchs-lnp1/id/15596/rec/1 : accessed 2 August 2018).


[14] Wendy Mass, Google search for quote attribution.


[15] Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 12 August 2018), headstone photo for Richard W Sammet (27 Apr 1891–10 Apr 1924), Find A Grave Memorial no. 35075657, citing Rothsville Lutheran Cemetery, Rothsville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by E.Renkin (contributor 46537485) .