Posted By Norman Gasbarro on October 19, 2016
Part 6 of this murder story will be told in today’s blog post. It begins with the incarceration of Henry Fisher in Eastern Penitentiary in Philadelphia following his sentencing and ends with the years after his release – with a few surprising twists in-between. The photo above of Eastern Penitentiary was taken in March 2009. It is currently a historical attraction.
Sarah Ann [Reed] Klinger, a widow of a Civil War veteran and a pensioner, was brutally murdered in her home near Shamokin, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, on 21 November 1906. Through the stories printed in newspapers of the time, this horrendous murder story will be told. In Part 1, the initial reports of the murder were presented as well as speculation on the motive and the arrest of Henry Fisher. In Part 2, the initial courtroom appearance in February 1907 was followed by Fisher’s incarceration at the Danville Asylum so he could be evaluated for insanity. In Part 3, the trial and conviction of Henry Fisher was told, with his sentencing to death by the Court. In Part 4, the second trial is discussed through the conviction of Henry Fisher for a second time for first degree murder. Part 5, deals with the appeals process that granted the third trial followed by the conviction of Henry Fisher for a third time, but this time for second degree murder.
Jacob Klinger was born on 3 April 1843 in Lower Mahantongo Township, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. During the Civil War, he served in the 172nd Pennsylvania Infantry, Company D, as a Private, from 27 October 1862 through 1 August 1863. Jacob Klinger died in early 1899. He had been collecting a pension, which, after his death, Sarah applied for and was receiving at the time of her murder.
From the Daily News (Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania), 7 April 1910:
FISHER BELIEVER IN BIBLE; WRITES DECLARING INNOCENCE
A registered number on the books of the Eastern Penitentiary at Philadelphia, represented in life Henry Fisher, who is serving twenty years as separate and solitary confinement at hard labor in that institution, he having been found guilty of second degree murder for the killing of Mrs. Sarah Klinger.
Warden Dietrich, of the Northumberland County Prison, has received a letter from Fisher telling of his life in the penitentiary and still protesting that he did not kill Mrs. Klinger.
In this letter Fisher states that he is enjoying good health and extends his thanks to the warden and the members of the family, for all the kindness shown to him during the time that h was in prison. Part of the letter reads as follows:
“I am having a good life here, trusting in God. I have my Bible with me and am going to live up to it by God’s help. I think I shall get baptized in the Episcopal Church and trust that the day will come when God will show the people that I am not guilty of this crime.”
Fisher also states that he is learning to make shoes. The only thing that worries him is concerning the welfare of his children and he is anxious to have them visit him, but he is unable to pay the expense of their trip to Philadelphia. He requests that his children be told that he wants them to write to him and would also like to hear from several parties residing in the county.
From the Harrisburg Daily Independent, 1 January 1913; also from the Evening News (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), 1 January 1913.
SERVING 20-YEAR TERM FOR MURDER
Statement of Dying Woman May Set Shamokin Man Free
Philadelphia, 1 January — Serving a twenty-year sentence in the Eastern Penitentiary for a murder he has steadfastly contended he did not commit, Henry Fisher, of Shamokin, Pennsylvania, broke down and wept yesterday when he was told that the statement of a dying woman may set him free.
“Didn’t I always tell you I was innocent, warden?” he cried, tears rolling down his cheeks. Then he was seized with a violent fit of coughing.
“Prison life doesn’t agree with me very well,” he explained, “and I hope to God I get out of here, for I swear that I am innocent.”
Fisher was convicted, on circumstantial evidence, of the murder of Mrs. Sarah Klinger, an old woman, who was fo9und dead in her home at Shamokin, her skull battered in, on the evening of 21 December 1906. His lawyers, Welsh and Welsh, of Shamokin, appealed to both the Superior and Supreme Courts, but the evidence was seemingly so overwhelming against Fisher that the verdict was upheld.
Several days ago Mrs. Margaret Miller was taken to the Shamokin State Hospital, suffering from injuries inflicted by her son. Mrs. Miller’s condition is such that doctors say she has slight chance for recovery. It was noticed that the woman was troubled in mind and doctors questioned her.
At first she was reluctant to unburden herself, but when her condition took a turn for the worse she told the doctors she did not wish to die with guilty knowledge on her soul. Then, it is said that her son, George Miller, 35 years old, who had beaten her in a drunken frenzy, had been present at the murder of Mrs. Klinger and that Fisher did not commit the crime.
Attorneys Welsh and Welsh were summoned and took the dying woman’s statement. According to them, she said that her son had told her that he was a witness of the murder and that Fisher, sent to prison for twenty years on circumstantial evidence, was innocent.
Miller is now in the Northumberland County Jail at Sunbury, awaiting trial on a charge of murderously assaulting his mother. He denies all knowledge of the killing of Mrs. Klinger, but the police and Fisher’s counsel are redoubling their efforts to get at the bottom of the case. They are convinced that Mrs. Miller told the truth, and, on the strength of her statement, an application will be made to the Board of Pardons for the release of Fisher.
Assistant Warden Walters accompanied a reporter when he went to see Fisher in the penitentiary yesterday. Later Warden McKenty was told of the turn the case has taken.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” said the warden. “Fisher’s the sort that wouldn’t kill a rat. He hasn’t been vicious since he’s been here.”
In telling of his conviction, Fisher said:
“I never killed Mrs. Klinger, though they forged around me a chain of circumstantial evidence. I loved that old woman as much as I did my wn mother. I had lived at her house, on the outskirts of Shamokin, for years. On the 21st of December 1906, I came home from work and found “Mam” dead. I always called the old lady “Mam,” as she was just like a mother to me. I notified the police, and they arrested me on suspicion. Circumstantial evidence put me here, but I swear by my Maker, that I am innocent.”
The murder of Mrs. Klinger and trial of Fisher attracted State-wide attention. Fisher was generally believed to be guilty, and the efforts of his lawyers to free him were regarded as mis-directed. Public opinion throughout Northumberland County was against the accused and the verdict of guilty met with popular approval.
Fisher himself, while protesting his innocence, was in dread of the gallows and at his trial went into hysterics.
From the Allentown Democrat (Pennsylvania), 2 January 1913:
DYING WOMAN’S STATEMENT MAY FREE ACCUSED MURDERER
Philadelphia, 1 January — Serving 20 years in the Eastern Penitentiary for murder which he steadfastily pleaded he was innocent of, Henry Fisher of Shamokin, broke down and cried when told that the dying woman’s statement may free him. Fisher was convicted on circumstantial evidence for the murder of Mrs. Sarah Klinger, an old woman whose scull was battered in at Shamokin on 21 December 1906. Mrs. Margaret Miller, recently taken to the Shamokin Insane Hospital, dying from injuries inflicted by her son, George Miller, upon learning that her condition was serious, it is said, told the doctors that her son, George, witnessed the Klinger murder and told her that Fisher was not there.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer, 2 January 1913:
MAN NOT MURDERER, ASSERTS ILL WOMAN
Says Her Son Told Her Henry Fisher, Serving Twenty Years, Was Innocent
Attorneys for Henry Fisher, of Shamokin, Pennsylvania, who has served five years of a twenty year sentence for murder, will try to effect his release from the Eastern Penitentiary as the result of a statement made by Mrs. Margaret Miller, who is critically ill at the Shamokin Hospital. Mrs. Miller has declared that her son George, who she says, was an eye-witness to the murder, told her that Fisher was innocent.
Several days ago Mrs. Miller was taken to the hospital suffering from injuries alleged to have been inflicted by the son. Miller is now in the Northumberland County Jail awaiting trial for the supposed assault. He denies all knowledge of the murder.
From the Pittston Gazette (Pennsylvania), 3 January 1913; also from The Citizen (Honesdale, Pennsylvania), 3 January 1913:
DYING, MAY SET MAN FREE
Convict Always Protested His Innocence of Murder
Philadelphia, 2 January — Serving a twenty-year sentence in the Eastern Penitentiary for a murder he has steadfastly insisted he did not commit, Henry Fisher of Shamokin, Pennsylvania, broke down and wept when he heard that the statement of a dying woman may set him free.
“Didn’t I always tell you I was innocent, warden?” he cried, tears coursing down his cheeks. Then he was seized with a violent fit of coughing.
Recently, Mrs. Margaret Miller was taken to the Shamokin State Hospital suffering from injuries inflicted by her son. Doctors say she has slight chance for recovery. It was noticed that the woman seemed troubled in mind, and doctors questioned her.
At first she was reluctant to unburden herself, but finally she told the doctors she did not wish to die with guilty knowledge on her soul and, it is said, declared that her son, George Miller, thirty-five years old, who had beaten her in a drunken frenzy, had been present at the murder of Mrs. Klinger and that Fisher did not commit the crime.
From the Mount Carmel Item (Pennsylvania), 12 February 1914:
Sheriff John H. Glass, who took four prisoners… to the Eastern Penitentiary, near Philadelphia, has returned and reports that he saw a number of the prisoners from this county including Henry Fisher, who brutally murdered Mrs. Sarah Klinger. Fisher, the sheriff says, is extremely anxious to get out. He steadfastly declares that he is sane and swears he never committed the crime….
From the Mount Carmel Item (Pennsylvania), 2 September 1919:
CAN’T LOCATE MAN ON PAROLE
Henry Fisher, convicted of murder in the second degree for the slaying of Sarah Klinger, and who was released on parole from the Eastern Penitentiary during 1916, after serving approximately half of a twenty-year term, is wanted by the penitentiary authorities for breaking his parole.
Fisher, who has been a model prisoner from the time he began serving his long sentence, was granted his parole on 16 October 1916. Having mastered a trade while in prison he quickly found employment in Philadelphia and reported at regular intervals to Warden McKenty at the penitentiary until 1 October of last year, when he suddenly quit his job and disappeared;
Since that time he has not been seen or heard of, although efforts have been made by the prison officials, through circulars and letters, to ascertain his whereabouts. The aid of the Shamokin officials was enlisted sometime ago in the belief that he may have returned to his former haunts.
Thus far, Shamokin officers have been unable to obtain any information regarding the parole jumper, however.
It will be remembered that Fisher was arrested for the murder of Mrs. Klinger, an aged woman, who was slain in a small house on Water Street, West of First Street, Shamokin. Fisher and his wife had been making their home with the woman and Fisher was alleged to have killed her for a small sum of money she kept in the house.
Fisher was convicted of murder in the first degree, but was granted a new trial because of an error that was made during the trial of the case. He was convicted a second time, but on this occasion there had been a separation of the jury, and the higher court, upon appeal of counsel, returned the case for another trial. At the third trial a verdict of murder in the second degree was rendered.
From the Shamokin News-Dispatch (Pennsylvania), 4 February 1926; also from the Daily News (Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania), 3 February 1926:
HENRY FISHER, THREE TIMES TRIED FOR MURDER, IS NOW A SHOEMAKER, IS NOW A SHOEMAKER AT BRYN MAWR
Local Man Who Was Twice Convicted of First Degree Murder and Finally Escaped With Second Degree is Successful in His Vocation
Henry Fisher, formerly of this city, who was tried three times for the murder of Mrs. Sarah Klinger, convicted twice of first degree murder and latterly for second degree murder, served a comparatively brief term in the Eastern Penitentiary, following which he was paroled, is at present engaged as a shoemaker at Bryn Mawr, near Philadelphia, and is said to be quite successful in his vocation, which, it is understood, he learned while in the penitentiary.
Fisher, it will be recalled, was placed in jail, charged with the murder of Mrs. Klinger, with whom he and his wife made their home. During his period of incarceration he shammed insanity so successfully that a lunacy commission recommended his removal to the Danville State Hospital. Following treatment there he was brought back to the county courts and tried for the crime. A first degree verdict resulted, but this verdict was reversed by the higher court because of Judge Savidge having admitted confidential letters written by Fisher to his wife and the wife to Fisher.
At the second trial he was again convicted of murder in the first degree and again the opinion of the jury was over-ruled by the higher court because the jury had been separated during the time it was deliberating upon the evidence.
The third trial brought about a second degree verdict and his imprisonment followed, with parole coming after comparatively brief incarceration.
The case was one of the most sensational and hard-fought in the history of the county, with Attorneys J. I. Welsh, deceased, and his brother J. A. Welsh, appearing for Fisher, while Attorneys Herbert W. Cummings and D. W. Shipman prosecuted the case for the commonwealth.
Note: Different headline on Daily News story – Henry Fisher, Murderer of Renown in this County, Shoemaker at Bryn Mawr, Man Who Was Tried Three Times and Escaped Gallows is Engaged as Cobbler.
From the Mount Carmel Item (Pennsylvania), 11 May 1928; also from Shamokin News-Dispatch (Pennsylvania), 11 May 1928.
SEEK RELEASE OF MAN FOR BRUTAL MURDER
Efforts Being Made to Secure Freedom for Man Serving Time for Killing
Henry Fisher, central figure in what has been declared Northumberland County’s most brutal murder, will be a free man after having served twenty-one years in the Eastern Penitentiary, if efforts now being made in his behalf succeed.
Fisher, who was sentenced in 1907 to a term of twenty years in the pen, for the murder of “Mom” Klinger, aged Shamokin woman, was once in the shadow of the gallows and had three or four trials before he was finally sentenced.
It was testified at the trial that Fisher, had entered a resort maintained by Mrs. Klinger and beaten her to death with a poker, for the purpose of stealing money she had received as a pension. He was later seen at the pump in the rear of the house, washing blood from his clothing.
The man feigned insanity and a commission named by the court found him of unsound mind, with the result that he was removed to the Danville State Hospital. It was found there, however, that he had been shamming and he was returning to jail in Sunbury to face trial.
In the subsequent trials, the slayer was once found guilty of murder in the first degree. Before he could be sentenced to the gallows by Judge C. R. Savidge, then on the bench, however, an appeal was taken to the Supreme Court by Attorneys J. A. Welsh and his brother, the late Jack Welsh, who represented the slayer, and a new trial was ordered on the ground that the jury which had returned the verdict had been separated while deliberating and that one of the jurors had communicated with his home by telephone during that period.
In a subsequent trial Fisher was found guilty of murder in the second degree and thus escaped the noose, He was out of the pen for a short time on probation during the past two years but was returned in April 1927.
Fisher, now a man about sixty years of age and without friends is directing his own effort to secure his freedom.
It was recalled today how Fisher at one stage of the trials, yelped like a dog and crawled on hands and knees toward the judge’s bench. He was restrained with difficulty and precautions were taken against him jumping from a courthouse window.
A certified record of Fisher’s case is now being made up in the office of the prothonotary and clerk of the courts at Sunbury for transmission to officials at the Eastern Penitentiary.
Note: Different headline on Shamokin News-Dispatch story – HENRY FISHER SEEKS RELEASE FROM THE ‘PEN’, Efforts Being Made to Secure Freedom For Shamokin Man Who Has Already Served 21 Years for County’s Most Henious [sic] Crime.
From the Shamokin News-Dispatch (Pennsylvania), 4 January 1930.
Henry Fisher, County Slayer Works on Farm Near Philadelphia
Trial of Shamokin Man Furnished Stirring Chapter in Legal History of County — Convicted, Sent to Asylum
Henry Fisher, whose trial for the murder of Mrs. Sarah Klinger a score of year ago furnished a stirring chapter to the legal history of Northumberland County, is now working on a farm outside of Philadelphia, according to information in official circles in the county.
The woman was beaten to death with a stove raker and her pension stolen. Fisher was arrested and taken to jail. When it came time for his trial before Judge C. R. Savidge, he refused to go. He was afflicted with a loathsome disease and threatened to bit [sic] anyone who touched him.
Finally Deputy Sheriff William H. Deppen, now Postmaster of Sunbury, John D. Bucher, then a news editor in the county seat and now deputy controller, and the keepers of the prison leaped on him, manacled him and dragged him to a McKinney hack whence he was transported to the court house. Passing Cameron Park he looked at the grass, fresh in the early spring, and said: “What a pretty cornfield.”
In the court room he crawled under tables, snarled like a wild cat, neighed like a horse and put on some other excellent imitations.
He was sent to the Danville Asylum until word came from that institution: “Come for your man, he’s feigning insanity.” They had put him alone in a room, observed him through peepholes and heard him say to himself, “I fooled them all right.”
He was convicted and then his counsel, J. A. Welsh, of Shamokin, learned some things of the jury that caused a state-wide sensation. During the trial one of them went to a telephone to ask his wife for fresh clothing; others went to a barber shop and still others had quite a party in the hotel where they were quartered.
Fisher got a new trial. He was again convicted and the Supreme Court again rejected the verdict because letters he sent his wife were used against him. The next time he was convicted in the second degree.
He was given the maximum sentence, but did not serve it out, as he was paroled. However, a subsequent report received at the controller’s office was that he had violated his parole and was sent back to the Eastern Pen at Philadelphia. He served a few months and was again released.
From the Shamokin News-Dispatch (Pennsylvania), 22 April 1937.
WELSH SOUGHT AS COUNSEL….
Attorneys J. A. Welsh, Shomokin, and Eugene Mirarchi, Kulpmont and Mount Carmel… have been requested… to serve as defense counsel [in the murder trial of Anthony Peronace]… at Sunbury the first week of May….
In the event Attorney Welsh finally decides to act as chief counsel for Peronace, it will be his first appearance in a murder case in some years.
Attorney Welsh, and his brother, the late Attorney John I. Welsh, came into prominence as leading criminal lawyers at the turn of the century. Their first major case was as defendants for Henry Fisher, Shamokin, charged with the murder of Mrs. Sarah Klinger, of West Water Street.
Fisher was twice convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced each time to be hanged. Attorneys Welsh appealed both cases to the Supreme Court and won new trials. Fisher was finally convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years in the Eastern Penitentiary. He was subsequently paroled after serving a minimum sentence, and is reported to be engaged as a shoemaker in a suburb of Philadelphia.
Following the Fisher trials, the Welsh brother successfully defended a number of other murder cases and came to be known as the leading criminal lawyers in the region.
News articles are from Newspapers.com.