Posted By Norman Gasbarro on September 7, 2016
Today’s post begins the story of one of the most brutal and sensational murders ever committed in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania – that of Sarah Ann [Reed] Klinger, the widow of Civil War soldier Jacob Klinger.
It is believed by some that the Jacob Klinger who served in the 172nd Pennsylvania Infantry in the Civil War was born about 1843 in Schuylkill County to Johann Philip Klinger (1792-1857) and his second wife Catherine [Yeager] Klinger (1800-1865). Previously here on this blog, Jacob Klinger was profiled in Descendants of Johann Peter Klinger and Catharina Steinbruch. However, no actual evidence such as birth or baptismal records has been seen that confirms that this Jacob Klinger is the same person. There is only circumstantial evidence to support the assumption.
In 1860, a Jacob Klinger was living in the household of Hiram Straw in Hubley Township, Schuylkill County, apprenticed as a miller. It is believed that this was the same Jacob Klinger who married Sarah Ann Reed about 1862 and later was drafted into Civil War service.
On 27 October 1862, Jacob Klinger, at age 20, enrolled in the 172nd Pennsylvania Infantry, Company D, as a draftee at Harrisburg, and on the same day was mustered into service as a Private, His enrollment was credited to Northumberland County. He served his full term of nine months and was honorably discharged on 1 Aug 1863.
In 1870, “Jacob E. Clinger”, age 28, was living in Hubley Township, Schuylkill County, and working as a miller. In his household were his wife “Sarah A. Clinger” and children “Lavilla Clinger,” [supposed to be Savilla Klinger] age 5; Abraham Clinger, age 3; and Harry Clinger, age 9/12.
In 1880, Jacob Klinger, age 35, was living in Porter Township, Schuylkill County, and working as a laborer. In his household were his wife Sarah A. Klinger, and children Sevilla Klinger, age 16; Abraham Klinger, age 14; Harvey Klinger, age 10; Flora A. Klinger, age 6; Ervin Klinger, age 3; and “Hy F. Klinger,” age 8 months [this youngest son is possibly Harry or Henry].
In 1890, Jacob Klinger reported that he had served in the 172nd Pennsylvania Infantry, Company D, as a Private and was living in Hubley Township (probably Sacramento).
The Harrisburg Daily Independent, 11 May 1899, reported Jacob’s death:
Jacob Klinger, of Gratz, who was admitted to the county almshouse last August, died at that institution this morning. He was about 60 years old. The remains will be taken to his former home for interment.
The Harrisburg Telegraph, 18 May 1899, reported on Jacob’s funeral in its Gratz column:
The funeral of Jacob Klinger, who died at the asylum last week on Thursday, was held on Saturday from the home of his guardian, Mr. James Laudenslager. Rev. J. J. Stoufer officiated.
At this time is not known where Jacob Klinger is buried, but he is not found in any of the Gratz cemetery lists. Possibly, he is buried at the Artz Cemetery in Sacramento.
On 5 August 1899, Sarah A. Klinger served notice in the legal section of the Harrisburg Telegraph that she was granted the necessary “Letters of Administration” to serve as the Administratrix of the estate of her late husband Jacob Klinger. Her residence at the time was Lykens Township, and her attorneys were Wolf and Bailey of Harrisburg. No mention was made in the notice as to the legal position of James Laudenslager who reportedly was Jacob’s guardian at the time he was in the almshouse and appeared to be the person responsible for his funeral. Whether there was an estate of any value still must be determined.
Prior to posting the estate notice, Sarah A. Klinger had applied for a widow’s pension on 17 May 1899, just days after the death of Jacob, as shown on the Pension Index Card (above, from Ancestry.com).
In 1900, Sarah Klinger, aged 54, was enumerated in Wiconisco Township as a widow, which she was because her husband Jacob had died in the Dauphin County Almshouse on 11 May 1899. Sarah also indicated that during her lifetime, she had 10 children, 4 of whom were still alive. More on the children later in the post.
Turning to another source, the City Directories for Shamokin, Northumberland County:
- In 1889, Sarah Klinger, widow of Jacob, was found living 36 S. Market Street in that town. It is not known why she was named as a widow, unless she and Jacob had separated.
- In 1891, Sarah was living at 3 N. Market St., and also listed as a widow.
- In 1901, Sarah was at 218 W. Walnut Street. At this point, she was no longer listed as a widow. Frank Klinger, a laborer, was also living at the same address. This Frank Klinger is possibly the youngest son, “Hy F. Klinger” who is named in the 1880 Census (above).
- In 1903, Sarah was at 503 N. Coal Street. Frank Klinger, a laborer, was also living at the same address.
- In 1906, though not in the City Directory, Sarah Klinger was found on Water Street in Shamokin, where a coroner’s jury stated that she was murdered.
As can be seen by the death certificate of Sarah Klinger, her address was 826 W. Water St., Coal Township (west of Shamokin), and the informant’s name was Irwin Klinger, the same Irwin who appears as her son “Ervin” in the 1880 Census (above).
An additional document that ties all this information together is the Pension Index Card from Fold3, shown above. Although the Fold3 card does not have a death date or name of the widow, it clearly coordinates with the Ancestry.com version in that the date and other information on Jacob’s application are the same as well as the application number and certificate number for the widow’s pension.
What may have happened here is that Sarah and Jacob divorced or were separated before 1899, she going north to the Shamokin area and he remaining in Hubley Township. The situation may have been explained in the actual pension application which was made on 6 August 1890, but that application was unavailable for review in time for the writing of this blog post. If any reader has access to copies of that file, it would be greatly appreciated if that information could be shared here. Were the Klinger’s separated or divorced in or before 1889? Why was it that Jacob needed a guardian as reported in his funeral announcement? And, why was the widow the executrix of his estate if he had a guardian? A document that was not consulted was the final accounting of the estate, which should have been filed in Dauphin County.
Roger Cramer offered one possible explanation in that the separation could have occurred as early as 1879:
There was a Jacob Clinger admitted to the Hubley Township Almshouse in 1879 per this 1880 census record. I know Jacob Klinger appears in the 1880 Porter Township census record but if the same person it could indicate a separation from his wife since Jacob was in Hubley Township in 1870.
The census record referred to by Roger Cramer was the 1880 Schedule of Defective, Dependent and Delinquent Classes for Schuylkill County. The specific line is shown below:
Returning to Sarah Ann Reed, who was born about December 1846 in Schuylkill County: She was the daughter of Abraham Reed (1810-1885) and his wife, Sarah [Harner] Reed. The siblings of Sarah included the following:
- Israel H. Reed (1838-1895), a Civil War soldier who served in the 192nd Pennsylvania Infantry, Company H, as a Private, and who, after the Civil War moved to Nebraska where he died. He was married to Caroline Shoop of Dauphin County.
- Joseph H. Reed (1840-1921), also a Civil War soldier who served in the 177th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company I, as a Private. He married Anna Marie Heberling. For a time, he lived in Iowa, but returned to the Tower City area, where he spent the remainder of his life. He and his wife are buried at the Greenwood Cemetery in Tower City.
- Abraham H. “Abe” Reed (1843-1917), also a Civil War soldier who served in the 177th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company I, as a Private, and the 208th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company A, as a Sergeant. He and his wife Sue F. Reed are buried in the Greenwood Cemetery, Tower City.
- Sarah Ann Reed, who married Jacob Klinger, who are the subjects of this blog post
- George Reed was born about 1850, but not much more is known about him.
- Solomon Reed was born about 1852, but not much more is known about him.
- Fietta Reed (1856-1944) was born in Hegins, Schuylkill County. She married Dr. David S. Moyer, who was born about 1853. According to information on his death certificate, he is buried in Tremont.
- Henry Reed, was born about 1858, but not much more is known about him.
The known children of Jacob Klinger and Sarah Ann [Reed] Klinger are as follows:
- Sevilla Agnes Klinger, born 30 July 1865, in Pennsylvania, and died 14 March 1922 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On 27 May 1883 in Tower City, she married Dr. John Killian Clauser, who was born 23 Dec 1863 in Pennsylvania, and died 6 May 1927 in Philadelphia. Both are buried in the Mount Peace Cemetery in Philadelphia. This couple had children as follows:
- Charles Austin Clauser Sr. (1883-1955).
- Carrie Clauser (1887-1952)
- Sarah M. Clauser (1887-?)
- Abraham Klinger, born 4 Apr 1867, in Shamokin, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, and died 23 March 1950 in Bellefonte, Centre County, Pennsylvania.
- Harvey Edward Klinger, born 2 November 1870 in Pennsylvania, and died 20 May 1930, in Centre County, Pennsylvania. In 1891, in Pennsylvania, he married Mary Alice Carl, who was born 16 March 1875, and died 6 October 1919, in Shamokin, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. This couple had children at follows:
- Guerney Edward Klinger (1892-1957)
- Murrel Raymond Klinger (1895-1982)
- Flora A. Klinger, born about 1874, in Pennsylvania.
- Irvin “Erwin” Klinger, born 15 August 1876, in Schuylkill County, and died 27 August 1937, in Coal Township, Northumberland County. In about 1887, he married Minnie ?, who was born about 1882. Irwin signed his mother’s death certificate as the informant.
- Hy F. Klinger, born about 1878 or October 1879, first name probably Henry or Harry. He possibly married Anna ?, who was born about 1884.
- Guerney Klinger, possibly born in 1881.
As previously stated, in 1900, only four of Sarah’s children were still alive. This would include Sevilla Clauser, who died in 1922; Abraham Klinger, who died in 1950; Harvey Klinger, who died in 1930; and Irvin Klinger, who died in 1937. Thus, when Sarah A. [Reed] Klinger was murdered in 1906, those same four children would have survived her. Thus only seven of Sarah’s children have been accounted for, so three others, who may have died young, remain to be discovered.
The murder of Mrs. Sarah Klinger was one of the most sensational events in the history of Northumberland County. The accused, Henry Fisher, was tried three times and although the case appeared to be finally settled in 1910 with Fisher’s conviction on second degree murder, the interest continued for at least two decades afterward. Strangely, considering the extensive press coverage at the time, the story is generally not found in family histories.
On Wednesdays, for the next seven weeks, the story of the discovery of the crime, the arrest and incarceration of the accused and his examination for insanity, the three trials including appeals to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the three convictions, the confession or lack thereof, and some of the twists and turns, well afterward into the 1930s, will be revealed.
Special thanks to genealogists Roger Cramer, Bob Averell and Debby Kandybowski for help with the Klinger and other genealogies, including the ancestors and descendants of the convicted murderer, Henry Fisher and his wife Ellen [Mutchler] Fisher. More information is always sought – especially to fill in some of the gaps in the story, so readers are urged to contribute what they know.