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Thread: IN - Unsolved murder of Sarah Schafer, Bedford, January 1904

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    IN - Unsolved murder of Sarah Schafer, Bedford, January 1904

    This is a case I stumbled across a while ago. There is a lot of information about it but unfortunately it's all in NewspaperArchives.com and I can't post links. So I'll try to sum up what happened and also briefly detail the arrest of several suspects in the case.

    Information was taken from several Fort Wayne, Indiana newspapers on NewspaperArchives.com from 1904 to 1906. I have condensed the articles and changed the wording so as not to copy it verbatim.

    From Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette January 23, 1904

    At about 7 o'clock this morning the dead body of a young woman was found in a shed. The discovery was made by the owner of the shed and his son-in-law. The clothing was torn and covered with blood and the person was unrecognizable. It was not until the body had been taken to the morgue and thoroughly cleansed that she was recognized as 23-year-old Miss Sarah Schafer, of Elkhart, a Latin teacher at Bedford High School. Miss Schafer had probably been uptown, and was going to her rooms, a short way from the place where her body was found. It is supposed that the young woman was stopped by someone familiar with her way to and from the school building, and that she was assaulted. There is evidence that she made a lerrible struggle, but that she was evidently beaten down as she passed a private alley opening into one of the streets, and that she was then dragged about fifty feet to the shed where she was killed. Hairpins were found at the mouth of the alley. It was thought she tried to use them as weapons against her assailant. The entire community is incensed over the murder, and the police and mayor are using every opportunity to obtain a clue to the identity of her assailant. Bloodhounds will be used in the search. The city council has offered a reward of $500 for the arrest and conviction of the principal (s) guilty of the assault and murder of Ms. Schafer. A postmortem shows that she must have been attacked shortly after supper as her food had not yet had time to digest. She left the boarding house where she took her meals and had started to her rooms to meet a class of pupils in a course of Latin. This was the last ever seen of her alive, as she never reached her rooms.
    __________________________________________________ _____________________________________

    NEWS OF CRIME A GREAT SHOCK TO ELKHART

    The people of Elkhart are greatly upset and in shock over the murder of Sarah Schaefer. Her family is very well known here. She was born in Decatur, Indiana, in July 1880, and was brought lo Elkhart when she was seven. She was said to be popular and no one here has a clue as to who committed the crime. It is said the relatives here reported that she recently wrote to her mother that a young man from Bedford had called on her and had made inappropriate advances towards her.
    __________________________________________________ ______________________________________
    From the Ft. Wayne News January 23, 1904

    Sarah Schaeffer was found murdered Friday. Clutched in her right hand was the hair evidently caught in her death struggle. The startling discovery was made at the morgue.

    This is from the first paragraph of an article that I couldn't open..it kept saying it wasn't available. It said in another article the hair was red. Reference is made below in an article about one of the suspects being arrested, Harry Behr, to a red-haired stranger seen leaving Bedford by train the night of the murder. Actually in researching this, I couldn't open up any of the articles from the Fort Wayne News.

    See next page for info on suspects.
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    SUSPECTS - The First Arrest
    From the Ft. Wayne Sentinel January 25, 1904

    Joseph Heitger, a prominent young man from Bedford was arrested in connection with the Sarah Schafer murder, and brought to Jeffersonville penitentiary to avoid the possibility of mob violence. Heitger is the young man whose attention Miss Schafer recently refused because Heitger had misbehaved while calling on her not long ago. Detectives believe that they have established a motive for the crime; they are satisfied that the tall man in the long overcoat that was seen lurking in the vicinity of the Johnson House (where Ms. Schafer took her meals) is the murderer and that he was the one who was annoying the victim. The police believe that this man was enamored of Miss Schafer and that she had refused his advances. The police think the man had made up his mind to kill her if she again resisted his advances and watched for her as she left the Johnson House. He kept on the the opposite side of the street until she was alone and then overtook her at Fourteenth and L streets.

    According to the Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette of January 28, 1904, Joseph Heitger was released January 27 and left Bedford as several people gave an alibi for him.
    __________________________________________________ ___________________________________
    A Second Suspect Arrested

    From the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette January 28, 1904

    Harry Behr was arrested in connection with the murder of Sarah Schaefer after being found with blood-stained clothing and scratches on his face. The family of Sarah Schaefer said that she could have hardly scratched the face of her assailant because she continuously bit her nails down to the quick. Bedford police officers point to Behr's actions as the motive for his arrest. The cuts on his face were accounted for as being received during a fight a a polling place during an election on January 19. After that Behr apparently smoked some opium and awoke screaming for someone that he had a woman's blood on his clothing and that he had killed a woman. Behr was six feet two inches, clean-shaven with dark hair and dark eyes. On the evening of the murder three men said they saw a strange red-haired man with a sandy complexion leave Bedford on the southern railroad train.

    Mr. Behr was eventually released for lack of evidence.
    __________________________________________________ _______________________________________
    A Third Arrest

    From the Fort Wayne Sentinel February 10, 1904

    A man by the name of James McDonald was arrested in February 1904. He said he saw Sarah Schaefer at 6:30, just before she was killed. He saw a man and woman talking in the alley where the crime occurred though he heard no loud words. Asked why he kept quiet about what he knew for over a week, he said he wanted to be sure his memory wasn't playing tricks on him. McDonald lived in Bedford for seven years and had been in jail several times in that city and admitted to being arrested in different cities for vagrancy.

    He was acquitted by a jury on May 27, 1904.
    __________________________________________________ ______________________________________
    Another suspect in August 1906 - Ernest Tanksley

    From the Fort Wayne Sentinel August 29,1906

    Ernest Tanksley is expected to arrive late today with Nellie Rainey, the Heltonville girl whom Tanksley is charged with having kidnapped. Though the present charge against Tanksley is the abduction of Miss Rainey, the police will try to find out if he has any knowledge as to who murdered Sarah Schafer. When charged by the police with guilty knowledge of Miss Schafer's murder, Tanksley proclaimed his innocence. Miss Rainey says she will commit suicide before she will testify against Tanksley. Three years ago his relations with the Rainey girl became known and he left home and went to Bedford and worked there in hopes of hushing the disgrace. It is believed he decided the best way to clear his family of disgrace was to kill the Rainey girl.

    He wrote her a letter asking her to meet him in Bedford on a certain alley corner on the night of January 21. 1904. It was at this very spot and time that Sarah Schafer was killed. The Rainey girl supposedly looks a lot like Sarah Schafer in appearance and the police believe that Tanksley simply made a mistake and killed Miss Scharer thinking he was getting Nellie Rainey out of the way. The night was dark and such a mistake could easily have been made. Tanksley returned to his room that night with fresh, bloody scratches on his face. His roommate, Earl Hunter, asked him how his face became bruised. He did not reply. Late that night he awoke his roommate by poking a bundle of clothes into a stove. Hunter asked him what he was doing and an evasive reply was given.

    I can't find a follow up on this story so I'm not sure what happened to Tanksley.
    __________________________________________________ _______________________________
    From the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette January 19, 1905

    On January 15, 1905 Frank Evans and William Elmer Browning were arrested on warrants sworn out by a city attorney, charging them with the murder of Miss Sarah Schaefer on the night of January 21 last. Evans was arrested at a stone mill where he was at work, while Browning was arrested at home. They were taken in and questioned for an hour without result. Browning's ex-wife said he made a confession to her that he and Evans committed the murder. After they were questioned thoroughly they were released as police came to the conclusion the story told by Browning's ex-wife was a fake.
    __________________________________________________ _______________________________
    From the Fort Wayne Sentinel December 28, 1906

    In December 1906 someone named George Berger, alias Frank Harris, claims he killed Sarah Schaefer and he was examined and questioned by officials. Sarah Schaefer's brother was present for the interrogation and stated he was inclined to believe Berger's story.
    __________________________________________________ ______________________________________
    From the Fort Wayne Evening Sentinel January 11, 1907

    In January 1907 George Berger, alias Frank Harris, pleaded guilty of attempting to kill an Elkhart, Indiana police sergeant after he had been arrested for forgery. He still asserted that he killed Sarah Schaefer. He was sent to prison for two to fourteen years for the attempted murder of the policeman.

    I could find no further mention of what happened to him with regards to the murder of Sarah Schaefer.

    __________________________________________________ ___________
    Thus far, that's the last I could find about any other suspects. To this day, the murder remains unsolved.

    Sorry about the length but I tried to condense it as much as possible to include arrests that were made in the case. Also, in looking up articles about this case, Ms. Schafer's last name was also spelled as Schaefer and Schaeffer.
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    Hmmm - I think ol' Ernest sounds like the best suspect.

    Harry Behr is the other one I that sound plausible. He did have red hair....
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    I thought Ernest seemed a good suspect. But I don't think it was Harry Behr. It said he had dark hair and dark eyes and was Jewish. It only said in the article about him that a red-haired stranger was seen leaving town the night of the murder. I know, it was confusing that they kind of threw that in at the end of the article about Harry as it made it seem like he had the red hair, but he didn't.

    I first read about this case when a mystery writer from South Bend, Indiana used the case as a basis for her book. In her story, she solved the crime by saying a woman did it, the lady who ran the boarding house where the victim lived. But her book was purely fiction.

    I just thought it was an interesting case.
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    As interesting as the facts of the case in these really old cases is the manner in which they were covered. Papers competed to see who could come up with the next suspect. The Mary Rogers case was noted for this, but I think it occurred in every town with more than one paper. Any time the police questioned someone (and they tended to question anyone in town they could find a reason to) the papers would trumpet "New Suspect In Custody". By the time the type was set for that story, someone else was typing "New Suspect Released".

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    This is an interesting case. I grew up around Bedford. The middle school auditorium is named after her. It is odd to think about walking around the same places this woman walked around and was murdered.

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    Quote Originally Posted by spector View Post
    This is an interesting case. I grew up around Bedford. The middle school auditorium is named after her. It is odd to think about walking around the same places this woman walked around and was murdered.
    I thought it was interesting, too. As I said, a mystery writer from South Bend used it as a basis for one of her books as fiction, and that's where I first heard of it. That's nice to know the middle school auditorium is named for Sarah. I still think it's unbelievable it never got solved.
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    If I remember correctly, this time of year their is a sort or haunted hayride/murder mystery tour through town. Found this, from the NYT 1904. The historical society has tried to keep it alive. As you might guess, after 100 years the case is simply part of Bedford's folk lore. I wouldn't call Sarah a local urban legend, but close.

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