homepage logo

Couple documents the first hanging in Lycoming County with a spinning tale of intrigue and murder

By Staff | Dec 14, 2010

MUNCY – This is the perfect time of year to curl up in a warm corner and savor a compelling murder mystery tale. Without giving away too much of the story, “Murder In Muncy Creek” depicts a high profile capital murder case that has all of the ingredients for an intriguing television criminal drama. Authors William Bailey and Peggy Bailey captured many of the lurid details – adultery, domestic violence, the suspicious death of a brutally battered and spurned wife, a newborn child and a firestorm of public opiniion.

Recently honored at a book signing at the Muncy Historical Society, William Bailey from Bloomsburg explained that he is a sixth generation descendant of John and Catharine (Thomas Earls. Bailey brought this self-telling crime story to life after he discovered “the clue to a dark and hidden ancestral secret in a box of neglected photographs and documents that were part of his estate. They lay hidden for 175 years by a Union soldier and the son of John Earls Sr. who had been executed by hanging in 1836 for poisoning his wife, Catharine Earls.

Written in the 19th century the documents revealed the trial and conviction of John Earls and also how the medical and judicial system in Pennsylvania was processed during this time in history.

“Our investigation led us to a remarkably set of written records that would include the ‘Report of the Trial and Conviction of John Earls’, published by William F.Packer and Alexander Cummings, Jr. in 1836 for the benefit of the orphaned children of John and Catharine (Thomas)

Earls,” Bailey acknowledged. (William Packer was governor of Pennsylvania from 1858 to 1861.)

For there were seven children left behind including a 3 day infant. According to scientific evidence, Catharine Earls was being administered arsenic by her husband, shortly after she had given birth to their seventh child. He reportedly gave her “white arsenic” several times during her post-partum bed rest. He would mix it with chocolate drinks and mint teas stated Cyril H. Wecht, M.D. in his commentary at the beginning of the book. “But you need to read the book to discover how the arsenic was found,” said Peggy Bailey.

The book progresses to tell the testimony of 57 witnesses, legal arguments, medical examinations, chemical tests, death warrants, an 11th hour confession, eye witness accounts of the hanging and much more.

By all means, it gives us a glimpse into the history and working class life in rural America, when hardships of frontier living were gradually diminishing and better times were emerging according to the Baileys.

“We are still looking for more descendants of the 7 children,” commented Peggy Bailey, “and we are hoping the publication of this book will inspire any descendants of John and Catharine (Thomas) Earls to come forth.”

The book is available for sale at the Muncy Historical Museum, 40 N. Main St., Muncy, PA. All proceeds will go to the Muncy Historical Society.