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The body was found– either charred, or still ablaze, depending on the imagination of the local beat writer– just off the road near Cranford, New Jersey. Discovered in a snow bank, the corpse had a hole blown in its skull. The woman’s clothes had been soaked in gasoline.

No one, however, knew who she was. The morgue stored an unidentified body for six weeks.

Big Guns from Pinkerton

Pinkerton's National Detective Agency

Baffled NJ detectives needed help. They enlisted the aid of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, whose founder had foiled The Baltimore Plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, and whose agents had previously been hired to hunt down Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid. Agent Wagner joined the investigation.

The remains were discovered on February 23, 1929, but even with Pinkerton’s on the case, they remained unidentified. On April 9th, that changed.

Police from Greenville, Pennsylvania telegrammed to Wagner that the victim might be Mildred Mowry. Wagner met with her associates. They provided him with a bundle of letters from a doctor, Richard M. Campbell whom, they said, Mowry had married. Two days later, NJ police arrested not “Richard M. Campbell,” not “Henry Colin Campbell,” but “Richard Henry Campbell,” all of which were aliases for the man born as Henry Campbell Close.

Close confessed to murder after an hour of questioning by Wagner, who then spent two months developing a case for the prosecution and uncovering the story of a truly bizarre little man responsible for one of the “most revolting murders in New Jersey annals,” one which inspired a rash of gruesome copy-cat “torch murderer” kills.

The Victim

Mildred Mowry was no “little old lady from Peoria”– she lived in PA. Other than that, Mowry, a middle-aged nurse, fit the cliché. Today, she might answer emails from would-be Nigerian Kings or continuously update her profile at eHarmony but, in those days, childless, widowed, she read “Miss Lonelyhearts” and chose a matchmaking agency.

Campbell used the same agency for years, although he still lived with his wife of over a decade, who would testify that they and their three children lived in “perfect harmony.” Henry Colin Campbell scoured bars and agency listings, hunting for his perfect prey: a widow, childless, with money. Such was Mowry, he thought.

A Killer Marriage

Debt led Close to the notion of bilking a bigamous wife for her savings. He ad been trying to lure another wife for years. After he married Mowry, the bride returned to her PA home, but first deposited money in a savings account jointly owned with the man she thought she married: Doctor Richard M. Campbell, of Baltimore.

Mowry returned to PA, presumably expecting to move to Baltimore soon thereafter. Police did, in fact, match records between a real estate transaction in Baltimore and Close’s purchase of a house in NJ.

Tit for tat: Close selected Mowry for her “small fortune” but soon found that her nest egg was but $1000.

Henry Colin Campbell, Torch Murderer, Possible Serial KillerHe picked her up in PA for a drive to Philadelphia. Their car had engine trouble. They had to drive until very late in the evening. His wife grew tired. She “kept pestering me,” he said in his confession, to “turn the car around and stop somewhere for the night. I suddenly decided to get rid of her because I could not support two homes. She was dozing in the back seat and I shot her in the head, took the body out of the car, and set fire to it.”

Character Revelations

At trial, the Court learned more about Henry Collin Campbell.

He wasn’t a doctor, although he played one in Montclair, NJ. Criminal records revealed that “Doctor” Close had operated a “private insane asylum.” A Columbia graduate, he’d been a civil engineer, a writer, an educator, and a well-paid advertising man. He adored his children, and “never used a cross word,” according to his wife Rosalee, who had no idea that police believed he had as many as three other wives, at least one of whom died under mysterious circumstances.

He loved grotesque dolls; they were strewn all around his room. For grand larceny, he served six years in Sing Sing prison. Testifying, he claimed that his “mind was wracked” from morphine abuse. He was suicidal.

Francis A. Gordon, Campbell’s attorney, mounted a defense based on his client’s drug addiction, insanity, and amnesia. Defense retained Dr. Ambrose Dowd, a psychologist from the NJ State Board of Institutions, with support from a skilled roentgenologist. Prosecution argued that Campbell was sane, sober, and his memory was fine. He had, after all, lucidly confessed.

The jury spent just four hours in deliberation. Henry Colin Campbell, the Torch Murderer, was sentenced to death.

Rosalee was the last wife to see him. She spent a tender half hour with Close on the day of his electrocution.


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Selected Sources

“Campbell Sentenced to Die on July 15.” Lewiston Daily Sun 14 June 1929: 19. Google News. Web. 6 Apr. 2010.

“Defense Prepared- Alienist Retained by Attorney for Campbell.” Pittsburgh Press 18 Apr. 1929: 2. Google News. Web.

“Henry Colin Campbell Trial: 1929- Fit to Plead.” Law Library – American Law and Legal Information. Jrank.org. Web. 8 Apr. 2010.

“Henry Colin Campbell Trial: 1929- Scathing Prosecution Attack.” Law Library – American Law and Legal Information. Jrank.org. Web. 8 Apr. 2010.

James, Christian, Daniel Lewis, and Ariel W. Simmons. Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency. Bethesda, MD: UPA Collection from LexisNexis, 2007. Print.

Sanders, Bruce. Murder in Lonely Places. London: Jenkins, 1960. Print.

“Torch Slayer Is Guilty; to Die in Chair.” Daily Times [Beaver, PA] 14 June 1929: 1. Google News. Web. 5 Apr. 2010.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010 – 4:00 to 8:30 pm

The Bergen County Historical Society will celebrate the ancient Algonquin festival of Winu Gischuch, marking the Corn Moon, from 4 to 8:30 PM on Sunday, August 15th. Come tour the Campbell-Christie House, Demarest House, Steuben House and Jersey Dutch Out-Kitchen!

The Dark Moon of August, Winu Gischuch, was associated with ripened corn- ready to roast. At the Dark Moon, native farmers pulled cornstalks that produced no ears and sucked out the sweet sap or syrup. Fresh ears of corn “in the milk” were roasted.

SEE YE! @ 4 pm: In partnership with the American Revolutionary War Roundtable, there will be a special

Baron von Steuben

Baron von Steuben

advance showing of “Lafayette: The Lost Hero,” at 4 PM in the Steuben House. “Lafayette: The Lost Hero,” is a new one-hour PBS biography of the great French officer who served the Revolutionary cause.

HEAR YE! @ 6 pm: Historian and author Kevin Wright will speak on “The Circuit of Seasons” from his book 1609: A Country That Was Never Lost, describing the cyclical movements of Native communities from one food source to the next.

At the tavern in the Campbell-Christie House they’ll serve pie and lemonade, and folks just as nice will demonstrate open hearth cooking in the Jersey Dutch Out-Kitchen.

The giftshop will be open.

Don’t miss this opportunity; it’s not often you can go inside these historic buildings, and see some of the outstanding artifact collections. Some of this weekend’s special displays have not been seen for decades.

Cost? Nominal: by donation: $7 adult, $5 children. BCHS members: free.

For more info about the event, visit Historic New Bridge Landing.

Click here for some excellent background on General von Steuben

About the Steuben House

The Steuben House, courtesy Bergen County Historical Society

The Steuben House, courtesy Bergen County Historical Society

Built in 1752 by merchant Jan Zabriskie, the Steuben House witnessed the crossing of General George Washington and the American garrison of Fort Lee across the Hackensack River during their infamous November 20, 1776 retreat. Because of this strategic position on the banks of the river at the New Bridge, the Steuben House survived throughout the American Revolution and was used by both Colonial and British soldiers.

The confiscated mansion once served as a military headquarters for General Washington and was later presented to Major General Baron von Steuben as thanks for his efforts during the War for Independence.


This Weekend’s Special Exhibits at the Steuben House
:

  • For the first time in 15 years, the New Bridge Charleville Musket will be on view. The musket was pulled out of the Hackensack River in 1903 by a nine year old boy while fishing from the bridge.
  • The Burdette Frying Pan said to be used by Rachael Burdette to serve George Washington Indian cakes in Nov 1776. General Greene used the Burdette’s home as his headquarters. It is on exhibit for the first time in a quarter of a century. The bottom of the pan was painted with a portrait of Washington.
  • Stone tools, projectile points and pottery made by the Original Inhabitants of Bergen County.
  • 18th century artifacts associated with the Revolutionary War in Bergen County and early artifacts associated with the Steuben House, including the original front door box lock.
  • Photographs taken at New Bridge in the 1950s, including the opening of the 1956 new New Bridge Road Bridge. Say that 5 times fast!
  • See the Elsie Heiss Button Exhibit and the 15 ft Hackensack Dugout Canoe (hint: it’s really old!)
  • A Hackensack pie plate, imprinted with a likeness of Lafayette, made at Henry Van Saun’s River Edge pottery in 1825 to celebrate the French hero’s return visit to Bergen County as part of his national tour.

See you there?


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Reverend Peter Miller of the Ephrata Cloister taught George Washington a lesson in charity and the humane treatment of prisoners and criminals.

  

Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands.
— George Washington, 1776

 

The Patriot cause and the Continental Army received incalculable wartime aid from a commune of pacifist Rosicrucian scholars, the German Pietists of the Ephrata Cloister, beginning with the publication of the Declaration of Independence and lasting through the aftermath of the battles at Brandywine, Paoli, and Germantown. The men of Ephrata’s Brotherhood of Zion and the women of the Roses of Sharon furthered the Revolutionary efforts in various meaningful ways. Footnotes Since the Wilderness will look at several, but begin with an encounter between George Washington and Prior Jaebez, the Reverend Peter Miller.

Although a minor character in the Commander’s career, Peter Miller had- just perhaps- a profound impact on Washington.

George Washington

George Washington

A relatively arcane event may help explain one or more pardons Washington granted during the Revolution and, perhaps, his Presidency. Washington, by 1775, had documented his predisposition to treat enemies per the parameters of the humanitarian ideals evolving in the minds of the leaders of the young nation. That doesn’t mean that, a few years of disillusions, frustration, bloodshed and scattered betrayals down the road, the man didn’t require a little reminder of his own principles.

Peter Miller taught George Washington a lesson in forgiveness and charity when Miller petitioned the Commander in Chief to pardon the Cocalico tavern owner and convicted traitor, Michael Widman. Widman had been a vocal Patriot. After the colonies declared independence, Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County had formed a Committee of Safety, and Michael Widman spearheaded that Committee from inception.

Following the nearby Battle of Brandywine and the British occupation of Philadelphia, General Howe dispatched two men, traveling in cognito, to gather intelligence near the Ephrata Cloister because, by that time, the cloister had become the principal hospital for Continental soldiers wounded near Brandywine. The men stopped for supper and lodging at Michael Widman’s tavern, a short ride from Ephrata. Widman spoke of General Howe in an uncomplimentary manner. His guests were murderously perturbed. Enemy pistol to his chest, Widman managed to break through the window to his rear, and escape into the black night. Fearing that his life depended upon finding refuge from his pursuers, he hid in the attic of the brother’s house at Ephrata. All Germantown knew that Widman, a prominent, combative member of the Reformed church, had serious issues with the heretics at Ephrata. The cloister was the last place the townspeople would expect to find Michael Widman.

Widman crouched behind the chimney in the attic of the Brotherhood of

Ephrata Brother's house

Ephrata Brother's house

Zion for three days. Hungry, sleepless, at wit’s end, he grew convinced he would be executed if discovered by the British. He resolved to leave Ephrata and head for Philadelphia, request an audience with General Howe, apologize for his loose tongue and beg for clemency. Widman stopped home to tell his wife of his plight. When he reached Philadelphia, Widman saw Howe. Widman offered General Howe the locations of the Rebel munitions stores.

The men of the scouting party at the tavern recognized Widman, and reminded Howe about the event. Widman was petrified. To save his neck, he offered every conceivable service to the British. General Howe, disgusted by the whimpering Widman, summarily dismissed him, unharmed. “Such a cowardly and contemptible man,” said Howe “could never be trusted in the Royal cause.”

Widman couldn’t even claim the honors due a rat. Meanwhile, his wife had told the authorities of his plan to betray the Continental Army. As soon as he emerged from behind British lines, militia seized and hauled him to the Block House in West Chester. At court-martial, he was convicted for treason.

Peter Miller was the only person who spoke on Widman’s behalf, not at his trial but, after walking overnight from Ephrata to Valley Forge—quite a hike- he spoke directly to George Washington. Washington received Miller with respect and grace. They knew one another. Washington was fully cognizant and heartily appreciative of the service that Ephrata, and Peter Miller, provided the Patriot cause.

Miller interceded between the Commander and his prisoner not, as Washington first assumed, because Widman and Miller were friends. To the contrary: Widman was Miller’s admitted “worst enemy,” and had treated the gentle, if intellectually aggressive mystic quite roughly over the years, as they frequently crossed one another’s path.

Years before, Peter Miller had been the minister at the German Reformed church at Goshenhoppen, in Germantown. Under the influence of Conrad Beisell and the Dunkers, Rosicrucians, Pietists and Seventh Day Adventists at Ephrata, Miller rejected the more conventional principles of the Reformed Church. Michael Widman became the new minister. He took Miller’s defection personally. Widman spat in Miller’s face whenever they met, tripped him on the local footpaths, and at least once punched the saintly Peter Miller, who was wont to thank Widman for any abuse.

Washington, like numerous other leaders and scholars in the colonies, revered Peter Miller. Moved by the teacher’s argument, that Jesus had done as much for him, Washington granted Widman pardon and, with tears in his eyes, in front of his men, the Commander thanked Peter Miller for the lesson in charity. So did Widman. He and Miller walked home together.

Here embellished, there diluted, the story has been distorted  so many times over the years it feels a little like the cherry tree fable, but has more factual basis. Colonial records do not indicate that Widman was hanged; they do, however, show that he was punished. His property was seized and sold. Michael Diffenderfer bought four tracts of Widman’s land during March 1780.

Peter Miller taught George Washington a lesson in forgiveness, charity, and non-attachment to the desire to punish and avenge, even during wartime. Ephratan scholars preserved the story for a reason or, maybe more accurately, two reasons. One was to illustrate the extent to which Peter Miller would sacrifice personal safety and welfare to perform an unselfish act of human kindness towards even his most bitter enemy. The second reason was to memorialize the kind of contribution that the men and women drawn to Ephrata could make to a Revolutionary cause that required bloodshed to complete.

Above all a teacher, Peter Miller left home that night to forgive his enemies in a Christ-like manner; he also left home to teach another extraordinary man, one perhaps ‘chosen’ in a secular sense, the wisdom to do the same. Miller went out to sear a message into the spirit of George Washington and, by extension, into the Patriot cause and everything into which America had the power to evolve.

 

The lesson in forgiveness and charity taught by Peter Miller may have influenced Washington’s decision to honor the requests made by friends and Mary Ball Washington’s extended family to pardon a far more notorious and bloodthirsty traitor, Joseph Bettys, just a few years later. Washington took the noose from Joe Bettys’ neck following “pleas from the family and others,” “solicitations of influential and respectable Whigs,” and the “humble petition of his aged father.”

Bettys promised to reform. He didn’t, and was eventually executed, but that’s not relevant. At the moment when Washington pardoned Bettys, he pardoned a man who, multiple times, had proven flagrantly unregenerate, notoriously disloyal to the Patriot cause, embarrassing to the Ball family, and who was making a living robbing, raiding, and killing colonists. Betty’s was clearly an enemy of the state, but was pardoned.

Perhaps Washington had the example set by saintly, humble Peter Miller in mind.

Not only your Officers, and Soldiers have been treated with a Tenderness due to Fellow Citizens, & Brethren; but even those execrable Parricides whose Counsels & Aid have deluged their Country with Blood, have been protected from the Fury of a justly enraged People.- George Washington to Lt. General Gage, 1775


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Caspar Wistar M.D. is the grandson of the Caspar who built the glass business. His medical training was first rate: University of Edinburgh. The family could clearly afford the best. Following graduation, he returned to Philadelphia where, in 1789, he succeeded the esteemed Benjamin Rush as the chemistry professor at the College of Pennsylvania, known today as the University of Pennsylvania. Caspar Wistar also taught midwifery and, most importantly, anatomy. In fact, Doctor Caspar Wistar wrote the seminal American anatomical textbook, the two-volume A System of Anatomy, published in 1811 and 1814.

Caspar the M.D. was a highly respected member of numerous of the most learned societies in the humanities and sciences, and sat on the boards of numerous schools and hospitals. His expertise earned him worldwide renown, which helped him to recruit medical students from Europe to study in Pennsylvania. Doctor Wistar was among the earliest advocates of the benefits of vaccination against disease.

Thomas Nutall, the botanist, named the familiar vine Wistaria for Caspar. Watchful eyes studying the Lewis and Clark Expedition may recall the name Wistar, too. As Stephen Ambrose reminds us, “Dr. Caspar Wistar was the last of the Philadelphia savants” Meriwether Lewis consulted while preparing for his journey through the Louisiana Purchase territory. Thomas Jefferson, Doctor Wistar’s close friend, as revealed through Jefferson’s correspondence, recommended the doctor to Lewis. Ambrose cites Wistar as the “foremost authority on fossils in America.” Wistar and Meriwether Doctor Wistar, America's Premier Anatomist, and the First American DinosaurLewis discussed Megalonyx and the mastodons Jefferson and Lewis thought might still be stomping Midwestern prairie. Lewis sent Wistar specimens for identification.

Bill Bryson unearths a chance for Doctor Caspar to have had another claim to fame, however. In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bryson relates the 1787 disinterment of a huge leg bone, likely a femur, from the banks of Woodbury Creek, in Gloucester County, New Jersey. American Scientist points out that the “distinguished physician and anatomist Caspar Wistar” presented a paper to the American Philosophical Society in which he described a very large thighbone, too large to belong to any of the animals indigenous to the region at that time. American Scientist further notes that Woodbury Creek is quite close to the marl pits at Haddonfield, New Jersey, where, “70 years later, the first associated remains of any dinosaur were excavated and described by Joseph Leidy as Hadrosaurus…we can be reasonably sure that the femur [described by Wistar] was the first discovery of an American dinosaur.”


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Isaac Jones Wistar is the great nephew of Dr. Caspar Wistar the anatomist. Despite establishing an endowment to fund what became America’s first independent medical research facility, Isaac was not a man of medicine. He was almost everything but.

Isaac Jones Wistar

Isaac Jones Wistar

Seduced by the gold rush in 1849, Isaac made money mining after moving to San Francisco, where he studied law in addition to veins of ore. Between 1857 and 1861, Isaac returned to Pennsylvania, where he practiced law before the Supreme Court of Philadelphia. During this period, Isaac lead quite a varied life, working not only as an attorney, but also as a farmer, a trapper for Hudson’s Bay Company, and mountaineer. Later Isaac, like several of his ancestral Wistars, would become a noted advocate for prison reform.

As the Civil War flared in 1861, Isaac Wistar raised roughly 1000 volunteers for a unit to go to battle under his command. Wounded several times, he served with distinction in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, at Gettysburg, and at Antietam. By 1864, he made Brigadier General, but soon retired from the military and returned to his home in Philadelphia, where he assumed the roll of vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and managed its coal shipping and canal divisions. Isaac prospered.

Isaac’s great uncle Caspar, the anatomist and teacher, developed an

Anatomical Model by William Rush for Caspar Wistar and the Wistar Horner Museum

Anatomical Model by William Rush

extensive collection of fossils, anatomical models and teaching aids, representing both human and animal forms. A core holding within the collection were the models made to spec for Caspar by William Rush, the founder of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and widely considered America’s first important native sculptor. William Rush became famous for his grand-scale public sculptures, and is remembered by military historians for the figurehead carvings featured on four of the US Navy’s first six frigates, but Rush also finished 21 large anatomical models for Caspar Winstar, using carved wood and papier-mache. Rush’s large anatomical structures, combined with an array of lesser models of varied provenance, formed the cornerstone of the first anatomical museum in the United States: the Wistar and Horner Museum.

William Horner, the physician appointed by Doctor Wistar to curate the early phase of the collection, added considerably to its holdings. When Joseph Leidy, the respected parasitologist and paleontologist, took over for Horner, he further developed the anatomical museum to include groundbreaking dinosaur specimens. The holdings grew so large, and were so well used, the University of Pennsylvania had trouble budgeting for its maintenance.

The Wistar Institute

Drawing for the Wistar Institute in 1894

Isaac Jones Wistar saved the collection. His endowment created the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology. The University of Pennsylvania transferred the holdings of the Wistar and Horner collection to the Institute in 1894.

Within a decade, the Wistar Institute became an important center for medical research. Its contributions to science include the eponymous Wistar Rat, the world’s first standardized lab animal, from which the Institute estimates that half of all today’s lab rats descend. The Wistar Institute developed vaccines against rubella and rabies (a good idea, with all those rats around) and is now considered among the world’s premier cancer research facilities.


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Accomplished as the family members have been, a discussion of the Wistars is incomplete unless one can appreciate the tangle of relationships the family has forged since coming to America.

Sarah Franklin Bache

Catherine Wistar Bache, for example, represents multiple points of social and genealogical convergence. Take a few steps back from Catherine- we start at Benjamin Franklin. Ben had a daughter, Sarah. Sarah married Richard Bache who, upon Franklin’s removal, became the nation’s second Postmaster General. Sarah Franklin and Richard Bache had a son, Dr. William Bache. He was Ben Franklin’s grandson.

Franklin’s grandson married Catherine Wistar, whose brother was Dr. Caspar Wistar, the anatomist, and whose grandfather was the Caspar Wistar who built the Wistarburgh Glass business. Put another way, Ben and Caspar “Glass” Wistar, friends and neighbors, had grandchildren who married one another.

The year after they were married, yellow fever ravaged Philadelphia. William Bache’s brother, Benjamin, died. The Baches, Wistars and Franklins were all friends with Thomas Jefferson and, at his urging, Dr. William Bache and Catherine Wistar Bache moved to Monticello, where they lived for several months, before moving into a new house in Franklin, Virginia.

Their farm did not produce well enough to support the family. They had financial difficulties. William Bache asked President Jefferson for a government appointment, which he received in 1802. He cared for sick American seamen in New Orleans. Catherine Wistar Bache and their children – among them Benjamin Franklin Bache- returned to Philadelphia. The following year, William Bache became Surveyor of the Port of Philadelphia, where the family reunited.

As Milton Rubicam observes, the “career of the Wistars and Wisters has been a continuous adventure, a story of heroic men and gracious ladies, of philanthropists and scholars, of soldiers and authors, and of men and women with strong convictions of duty to their country and their community.” We have only rolled some highlight reels here.

owen wister the virginian

Map for The Virginian, by Owen Wister

We could just as easily have looked at Owen Wister, the author of The Virginian and who, some have argued, is the father of the American Western and who, said a NY Times critic, may have written “the American novel.” Owen Wister’s mother was Sarah Kemble, the daughter of the celebrated actress Fanny Kemble. At Harvard, Owen secured an interesting class reunion by becoming friends with Theodore Roosevelt, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Henry Cabot Lodge.


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Howgate planned to colonize above the Arctic Circle and reach farthest north, but he also embezzled, forged, and evaded Pinkertons.

Captain Henry W. Howgate, an officer of the US Army Signal Corps, the man officially entrusted to plan US polar expeditions in the 1870’s, may be the most colorful character in the race to the pole.

Captain Henry Howgate- Embezzler, Forger, US Army Signal Corps.

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