Civil War Blog

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Summary of the Murder of Mrs. Sarah Klinger, Civil War Pensioner

Posted By on October 26, 2016

From the Mount Carmel Item (Pennsylvania), 17 February 1910:



Henry Fisher, the foulest degenerate that ever drew breath in this county, has escaped the gallows and being assured that he cannot hang for his terrible crime has confessed that he was guilty of the murder for which he was thrice tried.  This in brief is the story.

The jury in the case reached an agreement at 8:30 last night and twenty minutes later filed into Court Room No. One where the foreman announced that they found Henry Fisher guilty of murder in the second degree.  When this announcement percolated through the murderer’s head his face lit up with a great joy.  Attorneys for Fisher announced that they were satisfied with the verdict and would take no appeal.

Fisher Sentenced

Judge Savidge then called Fisher to the bar and said, “Fisher, you known that you killed the old woman.  Do you know of any reason why you should not be sentenced?”  Fisher replied, “I did not kill the old woman.”  The Judge replied, “You did kill her and I, therefore, sentence you to serve twenty years at hard labor in solitary confinement in the Eastern Penitentiary and to pay a fine of $5.”

Fisher seemed appalled for an instant and then asked, “When does the sentence begin, Judge?”  Judge Savidge said, “It begins tonight.  You will not escape serving the full time merely because you have already served three or four years in jail.”

Fisher Confesses

Sheriff Taby then escorted the murderer back to the county jail.  On the way Fisher confessed to the sheriff.  He declared that his wife had planned the murder in order to get the old woman’s money.  Fisher declared that Mrs. Fisher hit the old woman over the head with a poker and that in falling her head struck the door latch, the crime being committed in the kitchen of the home on Water Street.  Fisher then hit the woman with a stove raker, knocking her down again.  This time in falling Mrs. Klinger’s face struck the corner of the Fisher children’s play box, inflicting the injuries to the nose which puzzled the officials.

Fisher then went into details of the crime saying that he and his wife carried the body of the then dead woman into the parlor and placed it at the foot of the stairs leading from the second floor in order to create the impression that she had fallen down stairs.  He declared that the crime was committed earlier in the day than was shown in the evidence, the guilty man pointing out how the Commonwealth had erred in this testimony.  According to the testimony, Mrs. Fisher cleaned up the blood from the floor with the shirt which was later found in the outhouse.  They both worked to destroy all evidences of the crime and left the place together.  Fisher returning later in the morning when he was seen by several persons.

How Jury Stood

Briefly told the following covers the history of the time the jury was out:   The first ballot resulted. 6 first degree, 2 second, 3 voluntary manslaughter and one not voting.  One member of the jury, a farmer, cried continuously while the jury was out.  Ballot after ballot was taken and at no single time did any juror vote for acquittal. At one time the vote stood 8 for first degree and 4 for second degree.  The it stood 6 for first and 6 for second; then 5 first and 7 second; then for sixteen straight ballots the jury was equally divided between first and second degree; after which the jurors slowly commenced to change to second degree murder.  It was stated by several of the jurors that in not a single instance did any of the coal region members of the jury vote for first degree murder.

History of Case

With the sentencing of Fisher to twenty years at hard labor, in solitary confinement, in the Eastern Penitentiary, there comes to an end the most celebrated murder case in the history of this county.  Mrs. Sarah Klinger, one of Shamokin’s most notorious females, was found lying dead at the foot of the stairs in her home on Water Street, Shamokin, on the evening of 26 November 1906 [sic].  Her scull had been crushed and evidences of having been choked also appeared.  The dead woman was last seen alive on the morning of the day of the crime.  Fisher was seen with her.  Fisher was immediately suspected and was arrested the same evening.

County Detective William Geise started on the case the next day and a search of the premises revealed Fisher’s blood stained underwear and outer shirt concealed in an outhouse on the premises.  The clothing he wore when arrested were examined and found to be covered with blood.  He also had in his possession several articles, including a knife, which belonged to Mrs. Klinger.  Other evidence, including Fisher’s own statements and his strange actions, wove a chain of circumstantial evidence about him that made it certain he had committed the crime.  Following several hearings before Justice McCormick the murderer was remanded to jail to await trial.

The accused man, having no funds with which to procure legal talent to defend him, Judge Savidge appointed Messrs. C. K. Morganroth, J. I. Welsh and J. A. Welsh, of Shamokin, to defend him.  The trial was called for the May 1907 term of criminal court but Fisher’s condition was such at that time to make a trial impossible.  The man shammed insanity in a manner that would have done credit to a Booth or Mansfield.  He was brought into court and immediately fell on the floor, growling like a dog and emitting other strange sounds while at the same time his expression was that of a wild man.  A sanity board was appointed to examine into the man’s sanity and this board reported him to be insane.  Accordingly Fisher was removed to the Danville Insane Asylum.  Once inside the doors of the institution the murderer discarded his pretense or sham and proved to be a model inmate.  He discoursed all subjects with the keepers and becoming very intimate with an aged keeper confessed to him that e had killed Mrs. Klinger following a fight caused by the woman’s refusal to give him money.  Unfortunately for the Commonwealth, the keeper died before his evidence could be procured in the form of a deposition.

Fisher was tried in September 1907, the jury reaching a verdict of first degree murder within an hour after it had retired.  The case was appealed to the Supreme Court on the ground that the trial judge had admitted as testimony certain letters which Fisher had written to his wife, the letters being written by a fellow prisoner at the murderer’s dictation.  In these letters Fisher accused his wife of the crime, telling how she killed Mrs. Klinger.  The letters being privileged communications between husbant and wife, were ruled as inadmissible by the higher court and a new trial was granted.

The murderer was again tried and again convicted the jury being out only a few hours.  Attorneys Morganroth, Welsh and Welsh again appealed to the Supreme Court for a new trial on the ground that the jury had been allowed to communicate with outside parties in the course of the trial and had also been separated a number of times. Although the attorneys made a mistake in preparing their appeal book by failing to name the separation of the jury as a “assignment of error” the higher court took cognizance of the violation of the law and granted a new trial, the opinion of the higher court being couched in condemnatory terms in regard to the lax method pursued in the lower court in the case of the jurors.

For the third time Fisher was brought before the court on Monday February 7th to answer of a change of venue which was refused. Three days were consumed in procuring a jury, two special venires being necessary before the  twelfth juror was procured.  Three Mount Carmel residents were members of the jury, Messrs. Allen, Robson and Frank Stine.  After several days of taking evidence the case went to the jury on Tuesday morning at 11:30 and a verdict was reached last evening as above stated.

The case will go down as one of the most determined legal battles in the history of the state, the attorneys for the defendant having put up a legal battle that attracted statewide attention.  Every possible legal attention was taken in an effort to secure a lower verdict for the murderer.  The counsel practically acknowledged the guilt of the prisoner but maintained that Fisher was not morally responsible owing to a loathsome disease with which they claimed had affected his mind, and that therefore he ought not to be hung for the crime.  With the sentiment of the entire population of the county against them they continued their fight showing a determination that awoke the admiration, if not the approval of everybody.  Never before has a penniless, friendless degenerate, such as Henry Fisher is, received such remarkable legal protection.  Nothing was left undone to benefit his cause.  The attorneys for the defense worked night and day to secure evidence in securing a lesser verdict than first degree murder.

While Messrs. J. I.Welsh and J. A. Welsh were previously known throughout the county as able criminal lawyers the name of Attorney Charles K. Morganroth was not so well known.  But with the first Fisher case he displayed a legal knowledge and thoroughness of preparation that placed him in the front rank of the county’s barristers.  To Attorney Morganroth fell the duty of preparing the cases, arranging the evidence as well as preparing the book for appealing the case to the higher court.  The tasks were hard ones but were faithfully carried out and established the young attorney’s ability.

It is estimated that it has cost Northumberland County almost ten thousand dollars to try Fisher.  The first trial cost in the neighborhood of $1000, including the fees of the attorneys for the defense, which the county paid.  The second trial cost the same amount probably a trifle more.  As the county also paid the entire expenses of appealing the cases to the Supreme Court, the printing of the paper books which for the defense alone cost more than $1500, this item ran more than $2500.  It cost more than $1000 to secure a jury for the trial which closed yesterday, as much more for the presentation of the case by the Commonwealth and about the same amount for the defense as each of the defendant’s lawyers will receive $200 for their work in the third trial.

Henry Fisher is a type of degenerate seldom seen.  He is afflicted with a disease as loathsome as leprosy and for more than fifteen years has been known as a robber, chicken thief and barn burner.  His present condition is such that he will never live to serve out his term in the penitentiary.  As evidence of his physical condition it need but be stated that his attorneys absolutely refused to touch his person or to even approach nearer to him than was absolutely necessary.  The case will end with the placing of the murderer in a cell in the state prison near [sic] Philadelphia.

News article from Newspapers.com.






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