Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Killing in Karthaus: The Murder of Clara Price

The Clara Price Memorial
Route 879, east of Karthaus
On the hill overlooking the West Branch of the Susquehanna, roughly a mile east of Karthaus, on the north side of Route 879, rests a small granite marker that travelers can pass by without realizing its existence. Those who do stop to visit the marker are greeted with a very simple statement of remembrance:

Clara Price
Murdered 1889 By
Alfred Andrews

Unfortunately many visitors leave thinking that this is the gravestone of the unfortunate girl – growing up even I was guilty of this believing she had been buried at this lonely spot, but Clara Price does not rest here. She rests with her parents in the nearby Keewaydin Cemetery on the opposite side of the West Branch.

Clara was the daughter of David and Margaret Price; in 1889 she was sixteen years old. Clara had sought employment doing chores at the home of Eugene Meeker, which was located roughly two miles east of Karthaus. On the morning of November 27, Clara set out to walk home, visit her parents and do some shopping in town. Sadly she never arrived home.

A strange note about Clara’s age: using her tombstone as a source, I come up with her being sixteen years old. However, many of the newspaper sources state her age as being eighteen. I’m not sure why this is the case.

A number of people saw Clara walking towards Karthaus that morning. Some of these witnesses reported seeing a man wearing a brown derby hat walking quickly in the same direction. The man they saw would be identified as Alfred Andrews. Andrews was a native of England who moved to America when he was eighteen years old. He was described as a short, stocky man with a distinct walk. Note: A number of newspaper articles refer to his unique walk, but I’ve never been able to determine what was unique about it. I’m guessing he might have had some sort of limp to make his walk distinctive, but again that is just a guess.

Alfred was married and had two children at the time of the crime. After arriving in America, Andrews found work doing odd jobs around the region spending time in Altoona, Lock Haven and roaming as far west as Pittsburgh. Andrews was familiar with Karthaus having spent some time there too. At the time of Clara’s murder he was living in Brisbin, just north of Houtzdale.

A couple days before the murder Alfred Andrews set out to rob the general store in Karthaus. That morning Andrews hid in the woods east of town, on the opposite side of the West Branch of the Susquehanna. While hiding out and planning his robbery, he followed a number of peddlers, hoping to rob them of their goods, but the opportunity to go through with his plans never occurred.

Along the way Alfred came across Clara as she headed towards Karthaus on the narrow dirt road. The next people to see Clara were a trio of hunters heading towards Karthaus. They would be James Marsteller, William Oswalt, and James Bechdel who came across the body of a young lady lying in the middle of the road. Immediately after discovering the lifeless body of Clara Price, the trio ran to Karthaus to contact authorities about the crime.

Clara Price 's Tombstone
Keewaydin Cemetery, Keewaydin
There were no witnesses to the brutal crime, but it was determined there were signs of a struggle. The coroner discovered she was shot three times: one bullet hit her in the back and pierced her heart, one near the left ear and entering her brain and one entered her chest. Ripped clothing suggested that somebody had attempted to sexually assault Clara before killing her. Tracks showed that her killer had chased her for roughly fifty yards before ending her life, but however the numerous tracks around her body only added confusion to the scene.

One of the last people to see Clara alive was Mrs. Watson. She saw Clara pass by, followed immediately by a person she would later identify as Alfred Andrews.

Alfred would next be spotted at Moyer’s lumberyard, about a mile away from the murder scene. He had arrived there to seek a job, but never saw the foreman, so he returned to his home in Brisbin. A couple days later he was arrested for the brutal murder and sent to Bellefonte to await trial. Alfred was not the first person who was questioned by authorities. He, however, was the only one to admit that he was in the area at the time of the murder.

The evidence presented at his trial in January 1890 was circumstantial. Authorities presented their case with sixty-some witnesses but they could only state that they saw Andrews that morning. Alfred stated that he had been on the road that day, had thought about robbing a peddler, followed him for a short distance, but giving up when the chance failed to present itself. Instead he followed the road to Moyer’s lumberyard where he attempted to find work. Failing to find the foreman, he returned to his home.

After two and a half hours of deliberation, the jury returned with its verdict of guilty. The testimony and circumstantial evidence was enough to convict Alfred of the murder.

Alfred was sentenced to be hanged for the crime and on April 9, 1890, the sentence was carried out. In the time after his sentencing Alfred became remorseful for the murder. He even had a booklet printed about the crime in hopes of it selling to provide some income for his family. After his death, Andrews was buried on the ridges overlooking Milesburg, but rumors at the time believed his body was given to a medical school for dissection.

Clara Price's Tombstone
Keewaydin Cemetery
Growing up I heard the story of the murder of Clara Price a number of times. However, since I started taking a closer look at the case I found some things that have caused me to ask questions about what I thought I knew. Before I go into these issues, I want to state I do personally believe that Alfred Andrews did murder young Clara Price. However there is some things about this case that I have a hard time with.

First, Andrews was convicted completely upon circumstantial evidence. There were no witnesses and the evidence at the scene was nil. The muddy shoe prints could have been made by almost any man. Around her lifeless body there was a mess of tracks – by the time authorities arrived there was no possible way to determine who made which tracks. How they could distinguish anything and make one set of tracks out of the mess is a mystery to me.

A second issue I question deals with the blood evidence presented. Alfred had blood on his shoes that he claimed was chicken blood. Authorities stated that the blood was human. It had been five days after Clara’s murder and I have no clue how they could tell that the blood had been human.

The third issue I have is the shooting itself. Alfred would state later he fired five times at the fleeing Clara. Three of the bullets hit her. One in the back. One on the left side. One into her chest. If Clara is fleeing from her attacker how did two of the bullets enter her body from seemingly impossible angles? There is one possible explanation, but it goes against the confession Alfred would present after being found guilty. If Alfred shot Clara in the chest first, she tried to run away, glanced back to see if he was following her. In the process of looking back, a bullet hit her in the head, which caused her to fall to the ground. Alfred then stood above her and finished her off with a shot in the back. But this theory contradicts the version Alfred presents in the confession he wrote and also the version presented by the prosecution. 

A fourth issue deals with the question: was Clara sexually assaulted? Andrews admitted he assaulted her, but never admitted he sexually assaulted Clara (he states he tried to force himself upon her)  until after he was found guilty of her murder. I find it odd that he would have attempted to sexually assault her in the middle of the day on a path that was being well traveled at that time. In his confession, he admits to a number of crimes growing up including arson and theft, but there were no other assaults or murders that he admitted There is something that would explain the condition of the clothing. Alfred admitted he knew Clara, so she more than likely could identify him. If he grabbed her to threaten her. her clothing may have become disheveled during a struggle to get away from Andrews.

With the issues of Andrews’ confession (which came out only after he was found guilty) I have to ask why did he admit to killing Clara Price? I have a theory that may explain the confession. I believe that Andrews made the confession as a means of avoiding being hanged. Only months before Seely Hopkins was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged for the murder of his wife and mother-in-law. I believe Alfred thought if he confessed to the deals of the crime he would be spared the hangman’s noose.

He failed and on April 9, 1890 Andrews became the sixth man hanged in Centre County for murder on the same scaffold Seeley Hopkins was executed on less than a month before.

2 comments:

  1. Passed by this marker many, many times as a little girl. Always imagined him lurking there and waiting for her. My father told me the story of Clara Price many times.

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  2. The township has what we believe to be the original site or maybe grave marker. Contact chairman Jayson Harter jlh@uni-tec.com for information

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