Murder, Mystery and Mayhem in Muncy
An interesting program was presented by Linda Poulton at the Thomas Taber Museum in Williamsport on October 13 about some 18th and 19th century murder cases that happened in Muncy, most notably known in the Port Penn area of town.
This was during the time of building the canal system when Muncy was a freight depot. Passengers would board packet boats and carry freight back and forth. “The other side of the tracks” as it was known, was not always the favorable side for a life of substantial means in those days. Intriguing and interesting stories have weaved families together and intoxication played a major role according to Poulton who declared the stories of the day were intriguing and interesting.
The dark side of Port Penn revealed murders, stabbings, poisonings, and drownings. Two men purchased a 50 acre plot and divided it into 100 lots in the early 1800’s that was known as Port Penn and became a major player in the canal industry.
At the time there were 13 distilleries in Muncy. To set the scene, boats would load 12 to 1500 gallons of whiskey a day and transport it through the canal system.
Enter a man by the name of John Earls, a boatman discharged from the Civil War. John Earls was executed for killing his wife, and he was the first man to be hung in Lycoming County. He lived along Muncy dam and was a successful eel fisherman who made a reasonable living. However, he had an affair with a Maria Moritz while he was married. He bought some arsenic and laced an apple to poison his wife but failed. A second attempt was made and this time he succeeded by putting arsenic in her hot chocolate. The death was suspicious because a woman who was in perfect health suddenly dies within a matter of hours. In 1835 an autopsy was done on Catharine Thomas Earles at the Clinton Baptist Church in Montgomery. Her organs were sent to Philadelphia where it was determined she died from arsenic poisoning. A trial was held in Williamsport. Many testified against Earls, including his friends and family, among them Charles McCarty of Muncy. Deliberations began January 15, 1836 and John Earls was convicted in less than one hour. He was hung May 24, 1836.
“This was one of the first domestic abuse cases tried in the nation,” said Poulton.
The Muncy area was an area full of taverns and with them came the ladies of the night. Biddy O’Neal was a canal lady from Port Penn dam area and was first married to Irishman Miller, as he was called. John Price was arrested for his murder, but never convicted and was later acquitted. Biddy Miller marries again to Thomas McCabe and a third time to a Graham. She would provide lodging and liquor to the boatsmen.
Catherine Neal, also a friend, lived with her Aunt Biddy, but because “she wasn’t fit to be a parent”, her children became wards to other families. Amelia Wertman, another lady of the night, was engaged to a Barney McCue, but then became engaged to his best friend, John Deeter. In a bar fight over Amelia, Barney McCue shoots Deeter. He was arrested in May 1869. He was known to possess a record of criminal activity that included selling liquor to minors, stealing timber, selling liquor without a license, kidnapping one of his kids from a legal guardian and beating him up. His former ex-wife testified against him. “Her new husband, nephew and Biddy Graham plus his brother, Amelia Wertman and Charles McCarty all testified against him,” Poulton explained. “He didn’t stand a chance.” He was sentenced to die March 17.
Another interesting family murder that took place was the Ramkin Edwards murder. He was a guardian to one of Barney McCue’s children. The Edwards were a well-to-do family of long time merchants in the Port Penn area. They owned many quarries and lots of farmland. Ramkin Edwards took under his wing the Deeter family where they resided in the Muncy Hills.
The Deeter household was a family of drunkards who carried loaded weapons. A drunk Ellis Deeter shot Ramkin Edwards in his home, November 1909. His fate was summed up as being drunk at the time of the shooting, he abused his wife and kids, and he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. However, he was only fined $100 for one year for shooting an outstanding community citizen. “Now this is pretty incredible,” said Poulton.
“The canals did make many wealthy and when the industry died, the families were left listless,” Poulton added. Family members used the money mostly for play and drink, and children didn’t know what to do with themselves. Often these families stole from each other. It was reported in the Muncy Luminary January 1875 that “Port Penn celebrated with a vengeance. All done just for the fun of the whiskey.”