“MURDER IN READING Annie ETTER, a fifteen-year-old girl of Reading was found on Sunday morning bruised and bleeding in a wood shed. She was found in an unconscious condition and was removed to a hospital where she died on Sunday. George Gantz, a 21 year old man of Reading, was arrested on Saturday evening for disorderly conduct. It was ascertained that he had blood stains on his hands and chin and after being closely questioned he made a partial confession to the crime. He admitted that he met the girl on Saturday evening and said they took a trolley ride. He then pretended to see her safely home but in stead took her into an alley, through an open lot into a shedding where the deed was committed. The young girl resisted his advancements and it appears a violent struggle was the result in which the young man struck the girl upon the head with either a board or bottle as numerous broken bottles lay close by. The girls skull was fractured which caused her death. The young man has a reputation for being of intemperate habits and he must have been under the influence of liquor when the deed was committed.”1
Annie L. ETTER (born September 6, 1888 Pennsylvania, United States of America, died October 26, 1901 Reading, Berks, Pennsylvania; buried Charles Evans Cemetery, Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania)2, was the daughter of David ETTER (1866–1940) & Kate A. FISHER (1866–1954). Annie is a 3rd cousin twice removed from me via her great-grandmother Susanna (Anna) (FESSIG/FASIG) ETTER (1803-After Sept. 3, 1850), who is a 3rd great-grandaunt (some say, “4th great-aunt”) of mine.
At the time of her death Annie was the oldest of her parents’ five living children; an older sibling, born sometime after David & Kate’s 1885 marriage, had died before the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. Remaining were Annie, Paul D., age 10; Ruth, age eight; Esther E., age five; &, toddler Mary ETTER.3 Annie’s dad David was employed as a hatter pouncer for the John Hendel Hat Company.4
“GEORGE GANTZ PAYS THE FULL PENALTY
“Hanged for the Murder of Annie Etter
“He Makes a Statement in Which He Declares He Was Not in a Responsible Condition When He Committed the Crime.5
“George Gantz, the slayer of Annie Etter, was hanged in the Berks county prison yard yesterday morning.
“He was deeply penitent, but went to his death calmly, walking to the gallows apparently unmoved. The drop fell at 10.15. The execution differed from all others so far as the attendance was concerned. There was [can’t read] solemnity inside the prison walls but without there were eager crowds, scurrying here and there to different spots of vantage; some as close to the prison yard gate as the police would allow; others along the driveways and seated as close to the jail as possible. Men, women and children to the number of at least 500, congregated outside. Some were discussing the murder, various opinions being given. There was general expectancy. among the crowd that something might happen inside the prison yard that might be heard on the outside. Some thought that Gantz might break into a fury on the scaffold.
“But nothing of the kind occurred and the crowd saw or heard nothing until seven minutes after eleven when the prison doors were opened and the dead body of Gantz resting in a closed coffin was carried out and placed in the undertakers wagon.
“ARRIVAL OF THE SHERIFF.
“Sheriff Mogel, accompanied by Coroner Moyer and the jury arrived at the prison at 9.45 o’clock. A short time before that hour Sergeant Edwards and Officers Auchter, Rothermel, Kirschman, Miller, Ludwig, Hintz, Grimmer, Lewis and Bowman marched up in a body and were stationed at different points outside of the prison to keep the crowd in order. Sheriff Mogel ushered the jurymen into the Inspectors room where they remained until a short time before the execution. The jurors were as follows: Frank B. Brown of Leesport; James M. Yeager, Sixth ward; Calvin A. Miller, Fleetwood; C. R. Grim, Maxatawny; Edward Elbert, Third ward; Charles J. Lesher, Twelfth ward; George G. Baker Cumru; David H. Baird, Hamburg; Dr. C. M. Bachman, Eighth ward; Aug. Bartels, Ninth ward; Irwin F. Maurer, Sixth ward; Jonathan Lutz, Twelfth ward.
“County Commissioner Gunkel was accompanied1 by Sheriff Milnor, of Lycoming county, from whom the gallows was secured for the execution. Sheriff Thomas L. McMichael of Lancaster county, and Sheriff Weiderlick, of Lehigh county, also were present.
“Some of the prison inspectors, a number of the county authorities, Rev. Dr. Brownmiller, Garrett Stevens, Jr., and four reporters constituted the balance of the spectators.
“Monday night the condemned man was in a disturbed frame of mind. He did not retire to his cot until 1.30 Tuesday morning. By his request, Rev. Dr. Brownmiller remained with him all evening, leaving at twelve o’clock. The fact is that Gantz almost broke down yesterday afternoon, but mastered himself and regained the courage which stood him in good stead until the last breath of life was taken. He was considerably more cheerful after his spiritual adviser’s visit, and chatted a little with his death watch, Moses Hoffert, who had been on guard in front of the cell door for 26 days. Watchman Jacob Becker also spoke to him for a little while. Then, as at many other times, Gantz expressed his sorrow that his young life should be cut short in so ignominous a manner.
“PITY FOR THE GIRL.
“Whenever any reference was made by Gantz to the deed charged against him, he expressed great pity for the girl, saying that had he been in his right mind he would not have touched a hair of her head to injure her. He greatly deplored that he had allowed drink to overpower his better judgment.
“RECONCILED TO FATE.
“He heard with interest of the efforts his counsel, Garrett Stevens, Jr., had made to secure a reprieve from Governor Stone. He was very grateful to his attorney for the trip taken to Harrisburg yesterday, and the parting between Mr. Stevens and the condemned man was quite affecting. Gantz expressed sincere gratitude for all that his attorney had done for him. Early Tuesday morning, at about 5 o’clock, the condemned man awoke and dressed. He noticed later in the morning that the sun was shining brightly without and commented: ‘Well, I see my last day on earth is a fine one.’ A cool statement, but nothing toward the cool and unfaltering manner in which the young man passed through the ordeal yet to come. At eight o’clock a fine breakfast was brought to Gantz, consisting of oatmeal, squab, cake and bread.
“He looked at it disinterestedly. Not a bite would he take, simply drank a little coffee and resumed that contemplative demeanor which has caused him to become known among the prison officials as a model prisoner. After breakfast he was shaved by one of the prisoners, Elwood Schlaub.
“Rev. Dr. Brownmiller arrived early and by Gantz’s request took a statement for publication. It is as follows, as dictated by the condemed man: ‘Tell them that my last words were that I positively know nothing how it happened (the crime), and knew not that it happened until they (the officers) told me. It wouldn’t have happened if I wouldn’t have been drunk. I am very sorry for the deed and heartily repent, and face death with bright hopes of a better life.’ Some other private statements were made and it is said that Gantz believed that some other verdict should have been made, claiming that he did not commit the deed from malice or that it was premeditated. Furthermore, he did not believe that he had outraged [raped] the girl. For this reason his one wish was that the girl might have regained consciousness and told the real story of the occurrence. After Gantz had attired himself in his best suit, with laydown collar, link cuffs and a generally spruce appearance, he awaited’ the coming of the sheriff.
“MARCH TO GALLOWS.
“At ten minutes past ten the cell door was opened and he stepped out, with Sheriff Mogel on one side of him and Rev. Dr. Brownmiller on the other. The jurymen brought up the rear. Gantz marched forward with a steady step, Rev. Brownmiller by his side reading aloud a prayer. He briskly ascended the steps to the gallows and found the proper place to stand over the trap door without hesitation. Dr. Brownmiller followed, robed in the vestments of the Lutheran clergy. On the steps Gantz had smiled a little to himself. Sheriff Mogel’s deputies, John C. Bradley and Jacob H. Sassaman then adjusted the handcuffs, Gantz’s arms being pinioned behind him. They were carefully strapped, as were his lower limbs. Then before the black cap was placed over his head, Dr. Brownmiller read a prayer for the dead, which the condemned man repeated after him. A benediction was then pronounced, God’s mercy being pleaded for in behalf ot the unfortunate young man.
“HIS LAST GOOD–BYE.
“Dr. Brownmiller then in a tremulous voice said ‘Well, good-bye, George,’ and kissed him upon the cheek. There was gratefulness in the young man’s voice and face as he answered in a whisper ‘Good-bye.’ He had winced a little when the rope was tightened, but said not a word. He did not even tremble at the last moment, but stood erect and in this position continued with wonderful grit until the sheriff at 10.15 o’clock pressed the lever. It was noticed at once when the body dropped that the rope had slipped and that instead of its lodging under the left ear, It had caught him at the base of the skull. There was therefore some apprehension lest the execution would not be a success. The body gave several convulsive twitches and then was quiet. But the heart beat on. The physicians set the spectators at their ease by reporting at 10.26 that the pulse had ceased to beat. At 10.34 they announced that life was extinct. Deputy Sassaman then remounted the gallow steps and with a sharp knife cut the rope, attendants having hold of the body. Then it was placed upon a stretcher and carried into the rear prison corridor, where the handcuffs and straps were removed and lastly the black cap. The appearance of the dead man was not much changed. There was no expression of pain and it is believed that he suffered little. Drs. Schmehl and Wagner made an examination and Dr. Bachman, one of the Jury, joined them at their invitation.
“NECK NOT BROKEN.
“It was then discovered, as It had been feared, that the murderer was strangled to death. If the rope had not slipped, the doctors said, the neck would have been broken and death would have resulted quicker. There were no abrasions upon the neck, the skin being only slightly discolored. Sheriff Milnor, who has operated the gallows himself in Lycoming county, said that the execution was very creditably done and that the slipping of a rope was an unavoidable occurrence. The authorities from other counties also assured the Berks officials that the hanging was in every way well conducted. The jurymen then signed the papers of the coroner and he then left with his report which is to be presented to court. In the meantime Undertaker Seidel brought a coffin and the body was delivered to him. It was carried out to the wagon in waiting in front of the prison. Dr. Brownmiller was not for a moment absent, having promised the young man that be would stay by his side until deposited in the undertaker’s wagon. The body was removed at 7 minutes after 11 to the home of his.brother-in-law, Harry D. Miller, [number jumbled] Mulberry street, from which place the funeral will take place in several days. The exact time will not be made public, so as to avoid a crowd. While in prison Gantz became friendly with the watchman and attendants. Those whom he caught sight of while going from his cell to. the gallows were greeted with ’good-byes.’ Warden Newcomet received a farewell in which Gantz expressed his appreciation of the kind treatment accorded him. …
“GANTZ’S SIGNED STATEMENT.
“Last Sunday, Garrett Stevens his counsel, spent some time in the [can’t read]. For two years he was struck[?], Gantz is said to have told condemned man’s cell. This statement was then dictated and signed by him: ‘At the trial I heard for the first time a full account of what I had done on the night of Saturday, the 26th of October last. I have always said, and still say, that I did not kill Annie Etter purposely, and until I was told by the chief of police, I did not even know that she had been hurt by me. Everybody was down on me at the time of my trial, and nobody would believe me when I said that I did not remember anything that took place on that night after we got on the car to come in from Stony Creek. I have tried to think what took place that night, but I can’t do it. Since I have been here I have realized what an awful thing it must have been, and I have been very, very sorry that things went the way they did, for I never thought even for an instant of doing anything to injure the poor girl. That was the first time we had ever been out together. I forgive everyone for the parts they have had to take in this case, and hope that I may be forgiven. The only place where I think a mistake was made was in the chief of police’s testimony. I never knew what took place and I can’t believe that I told him what he said I did. I have been kindly treated while here in prison and have nothing to complain of. Of course, no one wants to die in this manner, yet it is the punishment which the law makes for a thing of this kind.’
“The murderous assault for which George Gantz paid the death penalty, occurred on Saturday night, October 26, 1901. The unfortunate young girl whom he fatally wounded while in a drunken rage, was Annie Etter, 15-year-old daughter of David Etter, at 428 Pearl street. She had left home that afternoon at 6.30 o’clock to visit relatives at 135 Poplar street. Shortly before 8 o’clock she left the latter place and was thought to have returned home, but she subsequently met Gantz by appointment and they went together to Stony Creek. About 11 p. m. the couple returned to town, walked down Sixth street and then down Franklin to Pearl. Their actions were noticed by a number of people who testified at the trial that the girl seemed to want to escape from Gantz, but that by pulling her by the arm and coaxing her, she finally accompanied him. She wanted to walk down Sixth street to Bingaman, but Gantz finally got her started down Franklin street, then compelled her to turn into Pearl street with him. He had been drinking heavily and several times had almost fallen while walking by the girl’s side.
“About 100 feet from Franklin street, on Pearl, they arrived at a stable and there Gantz is said to have made a proposal to the girl which she opposed. He then forced her into the shed, beat her on the head with a board until she became unconscious and then outraged her, after which he took flight. People living in that vicinity heard the girl’s moans and notified the police department. Officer Benjamin Rhoda was sent to the scene, and was accompanied by Mahlon Bortz, an electric light in spector. In the shed they found the girl lying senseless, her head lying in a pool of blood. Her clothing were disarranged. Bortz then hurried away for a stretcher and the girl was carried to police station. Here it was seen that her condition was very serious and she was quickly removed to the Reading hospital. It was 12.45 o’clock when the patient was admitted. She was bleeding from her right nostril and right ear. An examination revealed that she had fracture In the vault of her skull, a transverse fracture over the head, lead-ins from temple to temple. The front of the skull was depressed. At 8 a. m. an operation was performed, piece of bone was removed from the temple, clots from the brain and the depressed portion of the skull raised. She did not regain consciousness, but died at 12.35 Sunday noon. The fatal injuries bore signs that they were inflicted with a board and the bruises on the face are supposed to have been caused by Gantz’s fist.5
“In the meantime Gantz was arrested and locked up at police station. Chief Miller, questioned him regarding the affair and Gantz is said to have made a confession to the effect that the girl had resisted him, but that he managed to get her into the stable, then picked up a board, felled [her?]. Chief District Attorney Rothermel was present when the statement was made to Chief Miller by Gantz. The trial came up in court at the December sessions. On Saturday, Dec. 14, the Jury was selected. It required a full day to do it. Sixty-seven names were considered, these being chosen: George T. Hawkins, colored, Ninth ward; Fred. Shilling, molder, Cumru; Solomon Stafford, farmer. Cumru: J. V. Shankweiler, storekeeper, Hereford; John A. Hiester, boat builder, First ward; John M. Rhoads, pipe cutter, Eighth ward; John Trexler, cabinetmaker, Longswamp; Adam S. Fisher, carpenter, Sinking Spring; J. K. Groman, 134 Schuylkill avene; Thomas C. Darrah, tax collector, Eleventh ward; George Melnholtz, contractor, Tenth ward; Howard C. Strauss, justice of the peace, Maidencreek. The case was opened for the prosecution by Harry P. Keiser, who related the, story of the crime, which was substantiated by witnesses. Garrett Stevens, Jr., opened for the defense the following’ morning (Tuesday). There were witnesses to testify that Gantz was an epileptic and that whenever he received any drink he was not his same self. When the testimony was all In, the prosecution had nothing to offer In rebuttal. Mr. Stevens addressed the jury with a tremor in his voice. ‘I come before you today almost brokenhearted,’ said he. ‘We have worked day and night to gather our testimony and had it all arranged. But now, as though we were some plague-stricken body, they have fallen away from us. Even the father of the boy has remained away. He on whom the son should rely has rendered himself a fit subject for pity. The father who has no greater love for his son than to leave him face the greatest of perils alone, is not a fit lather.’ On December 17 the jury brought in a verdict finding Gantz guilty of murder in the first degree. He was sentenced on April 26, 1902, to be hanged. The death warrant was signed by Governor Stone on July 11, and received by sheriff Mogel on the 18th inst. The whole proceedings dazed the youthful murderer. He resented the statements made by Chief Miller, claiming that he was not fairly dealt with and that he knew of no admissions. In fact, Gantz to his very best friends since then has said that the whole affair at the shed and afterward was a blank to him and that he did not realize the awful nature of the crime charged against him until he was in the court room and heard the stories of the witnesses.”5
Re the booklet shown below: Why is it the Gantz tragedy? Isn’t it more like, the Annie Etter tragedy? Right: let’s make the murderers famous, slide their victims into obscurity. (How much would the board Gantz beat Annie to death with fetch on a collectibles site?? Or, one of those broken bottles? [How about a fragment of Annie’s actual skull??])
As a society? We haven’t come too far on this one…
1 USGenWeb Project, Pennsylvania, Montgomery County, at http://www.montgomery.pa-roots.com/Newspapers/TownAndCountry/1901/nov021901.html , accessed Apr., 2018.
2 FindAGrave.com, “Annie Etter,” memorial no. 90082887 at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/90082887 , photo contributed by N.D. Scheidt.
3 U.S. Federal Census data: 1900 and, 1910 Censuses, “David ETTER” household.
4 What is a hatter pouncer? 😀 If you’re wondering, well, so did I, so I Googled and found a great explanation at, “The Custom Hatter,” http://custom-hatter.com/process.html ; browser address good as of Apr. 4, 2018.
5 The Reading Times newspaper, Reading, Pennsylvania; issue date Wednesday, September 24, 1902; page, 2, at https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/46508555/ , accessed Apr., 2018.
6 FindAGrave.com, “Annie Etter,” memorial no. 90082887 at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/90082887 , photo contributed by “Carol & Pete.”
7 Booklet image and, text in quotes beneath (i.e. caption), from WorthPoint.com, at https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/early-1901-gantz-tragedy-annie-etter-508815212 , accessed Apr., 2018.