Parkersburg, W.Va., Murderer Joseph Eisele, aka John Schafer

The Execution

from West Virginia Weekly Times, March 12, 1868

The public exhibition drew together an immense crowd of people of both sexes and all ages and colors. By some the number was estimated at 7000 present at the sad spectacle—more than a thousand of whom were mounted and a great many in buggies and "bolster wagons." The gallows was erected near the Northwestern Turnpike road a half mile beyond the Race Grounds, on lands adjoining the Catholic Cemetery. Very early in the day people from the country came pouring into the city, filling our streets and stores to the no small benefit of merchants, auctioneers and other business men—especially saloon keepers.

The procession was a very imposing one, as to numbers, and the general management of the guard, cavalcade, &c. Arriving at the place of doom a hollow square was formed by the soldiers composed of two parts of companies who volunteered from Parkersburg and Lubeck respectively. The spiritual advisers of the condemned, a physician, the officers of the Guard and the Press Gang were alone admitted to the spot within the line of steel with the sheriff and his deputies.

Father Parke and his reverend assistant ascended the scaffold with Eisele, and remained with him in prayer to the last. The appearance and conduct of the wretched man during his last moments manifested, like his entire life, a singular admixture of hardened and solid indifference, with constrained looks of pious penitence, and a willingness to atone as far as possible for his many crimes. He seemed perfectly self possessed, and told Mr. De Bar that he had an address prepared in German, but, as he could not be heard by his countryman who were scattered through the crowd, he desired him to translate it for publication.

The Sheriff took the condemned man upon the scaffold at 12:45 P.M. and at precisely 1 o'clock the drop fell which cut his thread of earthly existence. He fell about four feet, and never struggled. An upward movement of his hands were observed immediately after the fall, and also a slight muscular contraction of the body at intervals of about every minute in the first seven. At the end of 12 minutes Dr. Davis pronounced him dead, and he was taken down and placed in his coffin after hanging 15 minutes, and the immense throng began to move and flood the road from the place of execution into Parkersburg, about 2 1/2 miles.

A number of drunken men were upon the ground, but good order prevailed, and no accident occurred worthy of note. The exposure to a drizzling rain of so many persons for several hours will doubtless bring a harvest to the Doctors, if not to the Undertakers; as the mud was very deep along the road, and the ground occupied was of a wet and spongy character.

Hanging of Hatchet Slayer In Parkersburg Is Recalled

from an undated (but circa 1950s) article of the discontinued weekly Parkersburg, W.Va., newspaper, Ohio Valley Journal

by Eveline Dantz, Feature Writer

At about the turn of the 19th century [1860s] a series of incidents happened which frightened the people of Parkersburg and made even the most stout-hearted man afraid to go on the streets of Parkersburg alone after dark.

One evening just after the fall of darkness a lone figure was walking down Sixth street. Suddenly, from behind, a man leaped upon him, raised the hatchet high in the air, and let it come down viciously upon the victim's head. The stricken man collapsed and the assailant darted back up the street to Market.

The dead man was found and the town was shocked.

At that time, a bakery was located in the spot where the National Bank stands today. Over this shop were dwelling units. A Mr. Shaffer [Joseph Eisele, aka John Schafer] was the occupant of one of the units. He was a carpenter by trade, and well thought of by the people who knew him. He had come here from Germany, and by conducting himself properly he persuaded the people of our city to respect him as a respectable person.

Some time after the Sixth street affair, Mr. Shaffer was awakened one morning to be told of a horrible murder of one of his dear friends, which had occurred on Harris street. It seems that the evening before, his friend, like the victim of the Sixth street murder, had been walking along the dark street. He was killed by a blow on the head, believed to have been made by a hatchet.

There was talk that the two men had been killed by the same person.

Mr. Shaffer attended the funeral of his friend, and while standing in deep respect before the open coffin his nose began to bleed. A very superstitious woman standing close whispered to a lady beside her, "When blood runs it's a sure sign that the murderer is near."

In those days, a small building housing a coal company stood where the Elks club building now stands. A Mr. White was very busy at his desk in the building. He heard something that made his immediate departure necessary. He left in such haste that he forgot his hat. He hadn't gone far, however, when he realized his loss and returned to the office.

Upon his return to the office he stood horrified at the door, for there behind Mr. White, with a hatchet raised over the head of his third intended victim, stood the respected Mr. Shaffer. At the same time, for some unexplained reason, White looked up from his work.

Within the pool of light thrown from the lamp in the room, White saw looming the shadow of the figure of a man with a hatchet coming closer and closer to him. After the first horrified moment, both men moved simultaneously, and Shaffer was caught to kill no more.

A trial was held, at which the true history of the prisoner was brought to light. He had changed his name after coming to this country to Shaffer—a name of great respectability. During his youth while in the old country, driven by some crazy impulse, he had killed a man with a hatchet. He had not had the crazy impulse to kill again until a few weeks before.

"The impulse came and I just had to kill," Shaffer told questioners.

His sentence was to hang and it was decided to take him to the old Dils and Stephenson cemetery, which lay alongside the old Snakeville road.

A crude coffin was constructed and placed upon a wagon. The whole town knew what was going to happen. It vibrated with the knowledge of it. A professor of the boy's school sternly told his pupils, "Don't let me hear of my boys attending the hanging. Every boy who is absent this afternoon gets a hickory stick wore out on him where it will do the most good."

He was taken to the hanging place. Granville Montgomery, who was a small boy at the time, and whose father owned a farm in the near vicinity, was in the crowd. In later years, Mr. Montgomery related this story to W. C. Vaughan, who handed it on to the writer.

Shaffer, the condemned man, was taken to the hanging place in an old, rickety wagon, pulled by an old skinny horse which was driven by a man named Le[illegible] according to the details given by Mr. Montgomery. The prisoner sat upon his coffin during the ride out the Snakeville road to the cemetery, and kept the crowd in uproarious merriment with his telling of tales and joking with the boys who were running alongside the wagon on which he sat.

At last the hanging place was reached. A large oak tree stood majestically in one corner of the cemetery (it is said to still be standing), and it was decided to hang Shaffer from that tree.

Shaffer slowly stood up from his place in the wagon and moved to meet his destiny. He said his goodbyes, and without further ado he was hanged from a stout limb of the oak tree. [Note: The reference to Mr. Schafer being hanged from a tree limb is possibly erroneous, as the law required that a scaffold be used.]

Mr. Montgomery described his reaction to the hanging by stating, “When he dropped, I dropped."