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  1. #1
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    OK - Pauline Amsel, 14, Durant, 11 Nov 1914

    I 1st learned of this cold case from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter.

    The full article is here.

    A long ago unsolved murder of a young Jewish girl in Durant, Oklahoma has haunted a distant relative.

    Pauline Amsel, 14, daughter of Jake and Celia Amsel, was brutally murdered Nov. 11, 1914, in the family's home at 501 N. Seventh Ave. The Amsels were described as some of Durant's prominent citizens who owned the Amsel Store in downtown Durant. Pauline was a student at Oklahoma Presbyterian College for Girls.


    Melody Amsel-Arieli, a distant relative who is also a genealogist, is now seeking more information about the Amsels and old photographs. She has not been able to locate a photograph of Pauline. Melody is appealing to genealogists and others, anyone at all, who can help her solve this 92-year-old mystery.

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    Marie is offline Daughter, if you don't remember us...who will?
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    Another snippet from the article:

    Family seeks information

    Melody Amsel-Arieli is seeking more information about the Amsels and old photographs. She has not been able to locate a photograph of Pauline. Anyone with information should contact Matt Swearengin at (580) 924-4388 or mswearengin@durantdemocrat.com.

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    Pauline

    We've been working on this for some time. I grew up two blocks from where Pauline was murdered and have never had a clue as to who may be involved. If there's anyone out there that may know anything or anyone that may be able to tell us what Pauline looked like, we would greatly appreciate it.

    Liz

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    Durant Democrat article on Pauline

    More than 90 years later, the question remains ... Who killed Pauline?

    By Matt Swearengin Senior Staff Writer for The Durant Democrat

    A long ago unsolved murder of a young Jewish girl in Durant has haunted a distant relative. Pauline Amsel, 14, daughter of Jake and Celia Amsel, was brutally murdered Nov. 11, 1914, in the family's home at 501 N. Seventh Ave. The Amsels were described as some of Durant's prominent citizens who owned the Amsel Store in downtown Durant. Pauline was a student at Oklahoma Presbyterian College for Girls.

    “A deep pall of gloom and sadness was cast over Durant this morning when the news spread over the city of the cruel and brutal murder at 1:30 o'clock this morning of Miss Pauline Amsel, while she lay asleep in her home, by some unknown person,” wrote the Durant Daily Democrat in that afternoon's paper.
    According to the article, the Amsels were awakened by the screams of their daughter who was on the sleeping porch. Mr. Amsel got up to see what was the matter and a scuffle began with the intruder who pulled an automatic pistol and fired it into the floor, telling Mr. Amsel to let him go.

    The pistol jammed and the intruder then began to stab Mr. Amsel with a small knife. The scuffle continued for several minutes before the intruder broke free, ran out of the house and down an alley.

    While her father was fighting with the intruder, Pauline walked to her parents' bedroom and said she was sick. Her mother was busy calling for help and Pauline walked to her own bedroom, fell across the bed and rolled onto the floor, according to information obtained at the time by the Democrat. Mr. Amsel, whose injuries were not reported to be serious, apparently did not realize their daughter had been attacked.Her horrified parents saw that the entire right side of her neck was cut from the throat to the back of the neck. She died about 30 minutes later.

    A posse was organized and several suspects were questioned, some arrested, but the murder was never solved.The article in that day's paper states, “This is one of the saddest and most heart rending crimes that has ever been committed in the annals of Bryan County, and the citizens are worked up to a tremendous pitch over the sad occurrence ...

    ”More than 90 years later, the murder is still a sad chapter in Bryan County history. And one not forgotten.---Pauline was buried in Corsicana, Texas, and the family left Durant sometime after that, selling their dry goods store at 137 W. Main St. to a McAlester company. It was later acquired by Caddo businessman Ben Siegel who relocated to Durant.

    Mr. Amsel offered a $1,000 reward and wrote a letter to the Oklahoma governor in May 1915 asking for assistance. He also hired a detective agency, but to no avail.---In 1985, the case caught the attention of Melody Amsel-Arieli, of Maaleh Adumim, Israel. She is an American who grew up in New Jersey and immigrated to Israel in 1971. Pauline is her second cousin, once removed. Amsel-Arieli, who has corresponded with the Democrat by e-mail, is a genealogist and freelance writer.

    She received a photo of an unknown couple when an elderly cousin died. On the back of the photo were the words Durant, Oklahoma. Amsel-Arieli also received a handsketched family tree showing the Amsels and that their daughter died in Durant in 1914.

    “Since I had long ago heard of an Amsel family in Texas, this piqued my curiosity enough to start badgering other cousins with questions,” Amsel-Arieli said. “Jake's branch of the family lives all over the U.S. today - yet none could tell me anything about Jake except that his daughter was murdered.”

    During the next 10 years, Amsel-Arieli researched her immediate family in Slovakia. She tried to put the research of the Amsel murder on hold but was not able to do so.“It haunted me,” Amsel-Arieli said.She then began researching it and made contact with many people in the Durant area, including Leslie Webster, Dixie Prater, Marion Downs, Wayne Wylie, Liz Horton and Don Maupin.Webster and her husband Tim live in the home where bloody clothing was found.“

    After the murder, the person got rid of the clothes,” Mrs. Webster said. “He threw them in the basement of our house. Our house was still being constructed at that time.”Mrs. Webster learned something happened there long ago after purchasing the home in 1989.“Dixie Prater said something was haunted - well, not really haunted, but something bad happened there,” Mrs. Webster said. “Six or seven years later, she told me.”Amsel-Arieli has written an article from her research and plans to submit it to several publications, including The Chronicles of Oklahoma. She hopes to learn more about the Amsel family and locate a photograph of Pauline.

    Many of the local people she has corresponded with remember hearing stories about the murder. Some heard the Amsel home, which is no longer standing, was haunted. Many rumors have circulated throughout the years, according to Amsel-Arieli's research. One theory is that an employee of the Amsels had a romantic interest in Pauline and he was subsequently fired.“Pauline's murder haunted Durant for decades,” Amsel-Arieli wrote. “Some parents, rather than frightening their children with a vicious nighttime murder of a child, preferred to say that she had committed suicide. Others, most born decades after the tragedy, remember overhearing snatches of hushed conversations, and themselves avoiding the ‘haunted' house.

    Rumors, fueled by nearly a hundred years of suspicion and speculation, range from a crime of passion to suicide to tales of a forbidden liaison with a Gentile ...”After the murder, the Caddo Herald reported, “Miss Pauline was the (The Amsels') only daughter, just blooming into lovely womanhood, a pleasant and charming young woman who was loved by all who knew her ... frightened citizens took the law into their own hands, forming a search posse ... townspeople all across eastern Oklahoma, nervously eyeing one another, secured their homes and purchased revolvers.”---

    One person who grew up hearing stories about the crime is Liz Horton, one of the people Amsel-Arieli has corresponded with.“I'm told that Pauline and a young man from Durant fell in love and this deeply disturbed her father, the boy was not Jewish and the father was devout,” Horton wrote to Amsel-Arieli. “This much of the story I know is true but what happened after has been passed on until you have to speculate. Pauline was forbidden to see the young man again but she refused and not too long after she died.”

    Another longtime Durant resident who had heard stories about the Amsels was the late Marvin McDaniel, who wrote a page about the murder in his memoirs.“Many people that knew the Amsels believed that Mrs. Amsel killed Pauline,” McDaniel wrote. The Amsels were Jewish and Mrs. Amsel warned Pauline about dating Gentile boys, this was common knowledge close to the people that knew the Amsel family.”

    Amsel-Arieli does not think Mrs. Amsel had anything to do with the murder.“I believe that we are hearing hearsay - a town's search to understand what happened - since no killer was found,” Amsel-Arieli wrote. “

    And two witnesses saw a man running from the Amsel's back alleyway shortly after 1 a.m. Perhaps Celia was highstrung or depressed. I have heard that she was ‘not okay.' High strung, (if it was so, we'll never know), is a far cry from a murderer.”

    The Democrat reported after the murder that the killer put on a coat belonging to Mrs. Amsel before he went upstairs. This coat was the one later found in the basement of the home now owned by the Websters. Amsel-Arieli believes that could have led to the misunderstanding.

    Robbery was considered a possibility at the time. The Nov. 12, 1914, Democrat reported, “The most plausible theory is that whoever it was went to the house for robbery, as the family was known to possess quite a number of valuable rings, and that it was while he was at the bed of the girl she awoke and the murder resulted.”

    But it was also reported that burglary could not have been the motive because no valuables were taken and all valuables were downstairs, not upstairs where the murder happened.“I have spent many a night imagining the murder myself,” Amsel-Arieli said. “All of Durant was in an uproar then since the killer was still at large. In 1914 and 1915 everyone was afraid.”---

    The Amsel family left Durant between 1915 and 1920. Amsel-Arieli has obtained U.S. Census records from 1920 that show the Amsels lived in San Antonio, Texas, at that time. They later lived in Colorado Springs, Colo., but did not find peace, according to Amsel-Arieli.

    Years later, Mr. Amsel thought the killer could have been someone who worked for him. About 40 years after the murder, the Amsels moved to Corsicana, near Pauline's burial site in Temple Beth El Hebrew Cemetery, according to Amsel-Arieli's research. “Today, Jake, Celia and Pauline are together again,” Amsel-Arieli wrote. “For eternity.”

    Family seeks information: Melody Amsel-Arieli is seeking more information about the Amsels and old photographs. She has not been able to locate a photograph of Pauline.

    Anyone with information should contact Matt Swearengin at (580) 924-4388 or mswearengin@durantdemocrat.com.

    Link to article:
    http://www.durantdemocrat.com/articl...news/news8.txt

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    Pauline Amsel Murder Case

    Researching a 90 year old murder would seem a very difficult task at first look. As the article indicates, knowledge of the crime today is a hazy memory kept alive through telling and retelling of the story which has picked up incorrect information, opinions, and speculation along the way.

    The best way to approach this subject would be to seek the facts through origional and contemporary accounts from a variety of sources. First would be a check of newspaper archives to see what what written about it at the time, and to obtain the names of anyone connected with the investigation in any way.

    Knowing who the law enforcement officers were who headed the investigation and searching archives for their notes or accounts would be another important step. Durant probably had its own police force, but Bryan County may have had a Sheriff Department as well. Who had jurisdiction, and who was involved? It is mentioned that in 1914, a possee was formed and some suspects were arrested or questioned. This was most likely a posse formed and paid on the County Level or possibly even at the State level. Knowing who those people were might lead to further accounts or information.

    It is very likely that a Coroner's inquest was held in this matter, and that a Coroner Autopsy report exists. Places to look for this would be in the State or County archives, at the funeral home (if still in existence) and at the cemetery. Not all of these places would have an autopsy report, but all are possibilities.

    Photos of the house might exist in other archives. Were crime scene photos taken? Was Pauline's photo taken at school, if not an individual photo, perhaps as part of a group picture. Sometimes County Historical Societies or Museums have such photos. Was there a likeness of her in the newspaper(s) of the time?
    Knowing when Pauline's parents died might lead to identifying other relatives who might have inherited their property and possessions - possibly including photos and family records. Funeral notices or obituaries might include such information.

    Durant, Oklahoma, located in the southernmost part of the state, not far from the Texas state line, was the county seat for Bryan County. In 1916 (two years after Pauline's murder) the published population of Durant was 5,330. This was a good sized city for the time. Town directories may exist for it. If photographer's studios are listed for around 1914, perhaps their photo negative files still exist somewhere.

    As to who may have murdered Pauline, one might have to locate old prison records or newspaper accounts of arrests, trials, and convictions for similar crimes. It was mentioned that Mr. Amsel came up with a possibility some 40 years afer the murder that it might have been someone who worked for him. Who was that person? Was a list of such persons made during the initial investigation? Mr. Amsel fought with the intruder. How did he describe the man at the time? Was there a composite sketch or description published in 1914?

  6. #6
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    poco is offline A cat will blink when struck with a hammer.
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    Not to be a smart aleck or a stick in the mud - but, assuming one does find out who murdered her - what will be done with this information?

    So often times it happens that we live our life in chains, and we never even know we have the key. ...Eagles, "Already Gone"

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    Pauline's murder

    There are no police records since there was no official police department and the county didn't mention any officers. There was no autopsy because Pauline was Jewish and had to be buried before the sun went down that same day. She was taken by train to Corsicana, 200 miles south of Durant to a Hebrew cemetary. There was no other family to inherit their money and property and they were very wealthy. Jake had immigrated from Hungery and Celia's parents were already deceased. They sold the store and all the land they had bought and moved away. They had no other children. They were already 40 and 50 at the time of the death but they lived long lives and never had to work again.

    Even though the county had a fair sized population, it was scattered all over the farming areas and town was still small. I've been to the DA's office, court house and the police dept and none has a thing on this case. The newspaper story may or may not be correct since it was all hearsay. The only thing we have proof of is the casket receipt I looked at in the funeral home. People used to not talk about the dead, it was considered 'a bad thing'. This is what my Choctaw grandmother told me.

    What I find so interesting is that so few people even know about this murder, since we have had so few in the life of this county. I grew up two blocks from where Pauline was killed and across the street from where the bloody coat was found. We were never scared but the generation before me thought the house was haunted. Two 80 something yr old men said they used to see strange things moving in the house and blood dripping, they were children at the time. The house remained there until 1960 with several families living there but none for very long.

    This is about the coldest case I have heard, esp since it happened to a wealthy family in a very small town.

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    Law Enforcement Jurisdiction

    Quote Originally Posted by okiloki
    There are no police records since there was no official police department and the county didn't mention any officers. ...

    People used to not talk about the dead, it was considered 'a bad thing'. This is what my Choctaw grandmother told me.

    What I find so interesting is that so few people even know about this murder, since we have had so few in the life of this county. ....
    I know exactly what your Grandmother meant. Whenever I used to talk to my Grandfather and ask him about old photos that he had, I would ask, "Who is this?" and he would tell me the person's name. If I asked anything further, he would say, "Oh, he's dead." End of story.

    Although Durant might not have had a town police force, there had to be some law enforcement agency which had jurisdiction. Although I am an Oklahoman by birth, I moved away from there as a small child, and I am not familiar with the history of Law Enforcement Agencies throughout the state. I know that in early years there were Territorial Marshalls who had the responsibility of rounding up law breakers, but I do not know what the situation was in 1914. There are folks who are very knowledgible about Law Enforcement History of the West, and Oklahoma in particular. Somewhere there is, or was, a file on this murder. And there must have been a wanted flyer for the unknown suspect. Because Durant is so close to the Texas Border, it is possible that the suspect also lived or operated in Northern Texas. Perhaps there might be something in the files of the Texas Rangers.

    Do you know how long the Amsel family lived in Durant prior to Pauline's 1914 murder? I have a feeling that your best chance of finding a photo of her will be to find a group school photo with her in it. It was very common back then for a photographer to come to the school and take such group photos. Check with older established photography studios, the library, local historical society, antique stores, etc. Also, you might simply put an ad in the paper asking county residents if they have any old school group photos. It is possible, also that someone or a group may have put together a book for the bicentennial or the town centennial or some such which will have published the photo you are seeking.

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    Link to Oklahombres...

    The link below is to a website called Oklahombres : The Association for Lawman and Outlaw History of Oklahoma.

    Many of their forum posts tend to concern murders of Lawmen, shootouts, and stories about bankrobbers, rather than cold/unsolved cases. I could not find any references on their discussion boards to Pauline's murder, but I am sure that they would be interested in hearing about the Pauline Amsel case. Perhaps they might even publish a story about her in their journal/magazine.

    From reading posts in their forum, it is evident that some of their members know a great deal about the history of Oklahoma Law Enforcement agencies. Perhaps someone there will know what agency had jurisdiction for the area around Durant, Oklahoma in 1914.

    Link:
    http://www.oklahombres.org/

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    Bumping case up...

    It has been a year since anyone has posted on this thread. Has anyone heard anything more or seen any other articles on this very old case?


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    I have just read about this case, and checked here to see what had been posted about it.

    I have a lot of family in Oklahoma, including an aunt who went to school in Durant. Unfortunately, my 102 year old grandmother died a couple of years ago - I have a feeling she might have had some info to tell about this.

    Does the fact that she was Jewish play that big a factor in her disappearance?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marilynilpa View Post
    Does the fact that she was Jewish play that big a factor in her disappearance?
    I was wondering about that myself but after reading about Durant's history I don't think Pauline's religious/ethnic background was a factor because of the area's history of uncharacteristic racial harmony. In fact the town's history probably also explains its unusually low crime rate, and why the Amsel murder is still remembered locally.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durant,_Oklahoma

    Personally my opinion is that this murder remained unsolved mainly because local/regional (SO?) law enforcement had no experience investigating such a major crime since none ever occurred locally. Nowadays state police or even the FBI would be called in to assist but in 1914 neither of these resources were available in OK.

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    I lived in the Amsel house for 11 years.

    While surfing for old Durant postcards, I found the pic with Matt's article. What a shock! I had been trying to paint the house from memory with no picture.

    The story then was Pauline was killed in her bedroom...my room. There was a bullet hole in the wall above my bed..supposedly fired by the father to either cover up a crime or shoot at the intruder
    It alway seemed to me that the shot should have been fired away from Pauline's room, not toward it.....IF that is where the crime occured.

    We never saw a bullet hole in any floor.

    One big question I have is...Who sleeps on a screened porch in November in Durant, Oklahoma?
    We only slept there on the hottest of summer nights. I can't believe she was on the sleeping porch to sleep if she were there at all.

    However, if that were so, the porch was right next to the back stairway....the best escape...so why a bullet hole at the opposite end of the house where her bedroom was supposed located?

    I never felt the house was haunted as people said....no noises, no blood, no screams. It was kinda fun to show the bullet hole...there was always a spot there on both sides of the wall that had survived papering and painting over the years after people poking it with their fingers.

    I cannot imagine an intruder looking around for a coat in that house, then maneuvering ) up those stair, around the half moon landing, up more stairs....etc.

    The back stairs were easier...the ones close to the upstairs sleeping porch. And, you could get to them from the downstairs back porch, or a door from the basement that also led outside. BUT, I still cannot believe Pauline on that porch on a cold Nov. morning.

    I have more thoughts, but this is enough for now.

    I have walked through that house in my mind and sketched the house plan from my 50 yr old memory of it. So, if anyone thinks that will help understand the different scenarios of the crime, please ask questions or email me.

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    My House and Pauline's House

    I fail to add to my previous post. I grew up in the Amsel house from 8 to 19 years old. That was from 1948 to 1958, maybe a little longer...will have to check. I would love to hear from any of you...questions or what I might need to clarify my own views.

    It was 702 West Elm at that time...strange, because the main entrance was on 7th. However, there was a smaller entrance on Elm Street. I had never hear of the 501 7th Ave. until I read Matt's article.
    Last edited by Syl; 07-28-2007 at 09:17 AM. Reason: more information about the Amsel house.

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    The article says that Pauline was on the sleeping porch when she screamed but it's unclear if that meant she had been sleeping there?

    The bullet hole in the wall is interesting. I suppose putting a date on it could be difficult and maybe that particular hole had nothing to do with the murder, but it could also be of great significance. Absence of a bullet hole in the floor may simply mean it was repaired or covered up but it could also mean that there was never one because the gun had been fired in the wall and not in the floor as reported.

    From the article it appears the only indication that a shot was fired into the floor was either the original witness report or the article in the local paper. It was dark, the witness could have been wrong, or maybe the reporter who wrote the article did not really know where the short was fired and based his story on hearsay. There were no CSI's back then and in this particular case there doesn't seem to be a police report available. In any case Durant was a small town in 1915 and its police force (or the Sheriff's) may have consisted of part-time deputies with little resources and no experience in murder investigations. The murder solving rate in the early 20th century was low even in large cities so imagine a small rural town where the victim had no known enemies.

    Syl are you aware if the house had undergone alterations between the time of the murder and 1948? It's possible that the change of address was due to the main entrance being displaced from one side of the house to another. Another frequent explanation is mail delivery route. In some instances it was more practical for mailmen to deliver mail on a side entrance rather than the main entrance and if the house sits on a corner the side entrance usually opens on a different street. In these cases USPS would usually require that a house be assigned a new civic number on the side street.

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