Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tracking Old Stories

Here's an interesting old story from the 30's:

From The Democratic Advocate (Westminster), Nov. 23, 1934.

George Miller Held For Arson

Fires Barn of Norman Miller, Near Union Mills---Feared Half-Sister Would "Bewitch" Him--Denies He Confessed To Starting Blaze--Sentence Not Passed.

George Miller, 18 year old farm youth who signed a statement that he was driven to burning his cousin's barn by fear of his half-sister's threats to "bewitch" him, Tuesday was convicted of arson in the Carroll County Circuit Court. The jury found Miller guilty despite his repudiation of the confession, which he admitted signing. "I was scared," was his explanation of the confession when he took the stand.

The court deferred sentence of the youth and sent him back to jail.

Miller was arrested October 4 on a charge of burning the barn of Norman Miller, his cousin, near Union Mills. At that time, in the presence of State's Attorney Theodore F. Brown and Sheriff Ray Yohn, he admitted the crime, saying he set the barn afire because his half-sister, Mrs. Edgar Cronister, had ordered him to and said she would bewitch him if he did not obey. She already had bewitched some horses in the neighborhood, he said.

"Do you believe in witchcraft?" he was asked.

"When you have been taught that ever since you were a baby you can't help but believe it," was the answer in the signed confession.

The youth explained in the statement that Mrs. Cronister was angry with Norman Miller because her husband had been calling on their daughter. She predicted that either their home or their barn would burn as result of these visits, said Miller. Then she sent him to start the fire.

Mrs. Cronister, a short dark woman with piercing eyes, also was arrested and charged with "counseling arson." She took the stand in the trial of Miller and flatly denied any threats.

The confession was introduced as evidence by Sheriff Yohn. The boy not only told the prosecutor about his fear of his sister's supernatural power but also, when taken back to jail, he repeated it before a stenographer and signed the statement, the Sheriff said. The officer thought there was little doubt that Miller was "scared," as he had said, but witches, not officers, seemed to be the subject of his fear.

Miller being the State's chief witness against his half-sister, and having denied the truth of his statement about her threats, Brown moved the case against her to the "stet" docket and she was allowed to return home to her husband and four children.

What makes a story like this so interesting is the awareness that there is usually more to the story than meets the eye. In this case, though Miller later denied his original confession, a little background research does turn up some rather interesting additional items that flesh out more about the people involved.

Another article about this fire gave Mrs. Cronister's first name as Rosie, a bit of info that made tying in more of the family information much easier. As it turns out, Edgar Chronister (note the spelling) had a bit of trouble with the law from time to time. For example, in the fall of 1929, Edgar was arrested for "illegal possession of intoxicating liquor", after a local raid turned up several moonshiners int he area, including Edgar's father , John. Problems with moonshine may have led to other problems as well as the following story shows Edgar in trouble again:

New Oxford Item, 1/15/1931


Edgar Chronister, Mt. Pleasant township, was arrested Friday morning by Deputy Sheriff Lewis W. Wagaman on charges of assault and battery and on-support. Information was made by his wife, Rosie Chronister, Mt. Pleasant township.

Chronister was taken before Justice of the Peace S. J. Staub, Bonneauville, where he waived a hearing and was committed

to the Adams county jail in default of $700 bail.

No comments: