THE TRIAL CONTINUES
LOBO COMMENT: As I explained in Chapter 5, the Charles Drews story, his daughter Lena Drews is my connection to the Blue Eyed Six and she is my Great, Great Grandmother. Lena was one of 11 children and back then it was normal in large poor families to “farm out” one or more of the kids to other homes where they would be nannys or just helpers on the farm. This was done with Lena when she was 8 years old and she lived for many years with a family to the west of St. Joseph Springs in the Fishing Creek Valley. It was there that she met and later moved in with Joseph Peters, and eventually they were considered married by “common law”. When Peters joined the army Lena moved back with her parents and became re-aquainted with Franklin Stichler who was the same age as Lena. The two were more than just friends, until one day her husband Joseph Peters surprised everyone by arriving in St. Joseph Springs on an unexpected furlough from the army. He had heard that his wife was being unfaithful and came home to investigate. You might recall (from Chp 5), the same thing happened with his father-in-law Charles Drews when years earlier he received a similar message while serving in the army. He came home to find that his wife Sabina had plunged their farm into so much debt that he had to sell it to survive.
Back to Lena. After the trial and the executions there were still threats on Lena’s husband Joe Peter’s life, and one day he just up and disappeared never to return. Rumor had it that he walked to Hummelstown and lived there for a time but there was no more contact from him. So after a number of years Lena then married John Stichler, the little brother of Franklin Stichler. Lena would have been around 25 years of age and John would have been nineteen or so. Now to the trial!
Catherine Mary MagdaLENA (Drews/Peters) Stichler
The trial opened at 9 am and Lena (Drews) Peters was called to the stand. She would end up testifying for the entire day! No other witness was called. She was only 20 years old and was quite the perky, smartly dressed young lady. She was very sure of herself and her answers were confident and precise. The Commonwealth lawyer was first up and his plan was to use her to build the case about the four-man conspiracy. The Defense team objected frequently but was overruled, and so Lena went on to explain that Henry Wise had come to the house a week before the drowning and told her father to hurry up with doing away with Raber because Zechman could not keep up his insurance payments. She also explained that Brandt had told her it was her fault that Stichler and Drews hadn’t drowned Raber sooner. Finally, she said after Raber’s death Josiah Hummel visited them and told her father that as soon as he got his share of the money he should move out of the area so people in the neighborhood would not find out. When asked about the drowning she corroborated her husband’s account of the incident in every detail. This was particularly powerful since she was not in the courtroom when he had testified.
The Defense team, using their usual tactic, tried to confuse Lena with a myriad of questions about why she and her husband moved to Hummelstown 2 months after the drowning, about what she recalled happened in the bedroom when her husband witnessed the drowning, how long her husband was at the window, what articles of clothing did Stichler have on when she and her husband saw him changing, etc. etc. These types of back and forth exchanges continued until noon and then resumed at two o’clock. The defense continued to pepper her with seemingly unimportant questions having nothing to do with the crime but she held fast. “Was the Raber drowning a matter of family talk before and after his death?” She answered “Yes, even in front of the children.” When asked why she didn’t say anything to anyone her answer was because of the fear of being shot. After an exasperating exchange where she couldn’t answer a question she looked up at the judge and then at the jury rolling her eyes and said, “What I don’t know, I won’t say!”
Now the questioning took an embarrassing turn as the attorney asked about her relationship with the accused Franklin Stichler. She revealed that not more than two weeks before the drowning of Raber, she was at a gathering over the mountain in an old school-house. Afterwards, a number of those who attended went to the house of a David Kreiser where they stayed for the night. He then asked, “Wasn’t Frank Stichler sleeping with you that night at Kreisers?” She took a quick glance at Stichler in the row of prisoners. He gave a big smile. “No,” she said, “he was not!” “But wasn’t he in the house?” “He was in the house but not with me.” At that point Lena broke into tears.
The Commonwealth prosecutor took over questioning once Lena had re-gained her composure. She was asked to identify from whom her father said he was to receive money for drowning Raber. The Defense’s objection was over-ruled and then Lena explained, he was to get a total of $1,800 from Wise, Hummel, Zechman and Brandt.
The Defense’s final barrage of questions had to do with the unexpected arrival of her husband Joseph Peters, when it was, did she know he was coming, did they write letters while he was gone, when did her father offer Peters money to help kill Raber, etc. His final question before adjournment was when did she first actually see George Zechman? She answered that it was only two times, when Raber drowned and at his funeral. This later became an important piece of evidence in the second trial of Zechman, who was the only one of the six acquitted of the crime.
The long stressful day ended and Joe and Lena Peters were the center of attention as they moved out of the court-house together. They seemed curiously small and vulnerable as they passed along the street, she in her bright calico dress, he in his dark suit. People nudged each other and stared, and some said, “There they go, the only two persons living who are capable of sending six men to the gallows.” They brushed questions aside, walked swiftly to Speck’s tavern, and were seen no more that night.
(Portions of this blog are excerpted from the book “The Blue Eyed Six” by Edna Carmean)
THE BIBLE: When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. The Lord is known by his acts of justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands. (Proverbs 21:15; Leviticus 19:15; Psalm 9:16)
Now to: Trial Day 3