The Great American Witch Hunt (Part Two)

Continued from Part One

As more more information about Nelson Rehmeyer's murder emerged during the trial, newspapers reported every lurid details as sensationally as they could.   Along with story titles such as "Witches Ride Broomsticks in Hex Trial", the way they described the three defendants and their families was nothing short of libelous.  Wilbert Hess was described as a "tall gangling youth that was raised in an atmosphere of witchcraft and medieval traditions"  that made him a  "willing fool in the murder of Rehmeyer."  As for John Blymer, he was generally seen as the "ferretty" ringleader in the murder plot.

It likely didn't help Blymer's case that his own parents agreed in court that his bad luck had been due to a hex though his mother stopped short of accusing the dead man.  "There's so many witches around," she said.   As for his father, he had difficulty recalling how many children he had despite insisting that he had taken care of his son, including having him "pow-wowed"  on numerous occasions to eliminate the evil influences that surrounded him.  Ironically,the parents had even called in the late Nelson Rehmeyer on one of these occasions while John was still an infant and credited him with saving their son's life.

So, why was Nelson Rehmeyer targeted in the first place?   Based on Blymer's testimony, Rehmeyer was well-known to everyone as a prosperous farmer and powwow doctor.  In fact, Blymer and the defendants had often worked on his farm in the past, digging potatoes.    It likely would never have occurred to Blymer or the others that Rehmeyer was hexing them had it not been for the River Witch, a.k.a. Nellie Noll.

A well-known local powwow doctor in her own right, it was to Nellie that Blymer and the others turned when their own powwow magic failed to identify who was causing their bad luck.   Whether it was due to malice or ignorance, Nellie quickly named Rehmeyer as the witch was was responsible for what was happening.  And she provided them with what was supposedly a sure-fire cure for his mischief:  cut off a lock of his hair and bury it six feet under ground.   According to some stories, Nellie also told her clients to bury a certain magic book that Witch Rehmeyer possessed.   The book in question was Rehmeyer's copy of The Long Lost Friend, a rambling collection of powwow remedies that had been written in the 19th century and which was part of every powwow doctors's private collection,.

If Blymer, Hess, and Curry had any misgivings about accusing a prominent farmer like Nelson Rehmeyer of witchcraft, they kept them hidden.  But not so hidden that the police would have any trouble tracking them down afterward.   When Blymer and Curry went to Nelson Rehmeyer's farm ;on November 28, they found no trace of their intended target.  This is why they went to his wife's house and  and asked her where to find her husband.   She certainly saw no harm in letting them known that Nelson was out with a "lady friend"  (they had that kind of marriage) and probably thought no more about it. 

With no real alternative, they hid outside Rehemyer's farmhouse and waited until he returned home.  After knocking on his door and pretending to drop by on a social call, both men were promptly invited in and invited to dinner.   Following a pleasant evening of socializing, their host even invited them to spend the night and gave them a large breakfast the following morning.   Aside from his confirming that Rehmeyer did indeed own a copy of The Long Lost Friend, Blymer and Curry found no evidence of their host's malevolent spell casting. 51iPLEEef8L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Despite all this marvelous hospitality, however John Blymer remained convinced that Nelson Rehmeyer was the source of his troubles.  He also realized that he would need additional help to subdue the burly farmer and force him to remove the spell.   Which was why he recruited Wilbert Hess.   Though the entire Hess family took some convincing before allowing Wilbert to go back with him to the Rehmeyer farm,  When Wilbert appeared reluctant, his mother convinced him that it was the right thing to do (if not very neighbourly).   As for John Curry, he would later testify that he only went along with the others because he "wanted to see some of the witchcraft performed."  

 Poor Nelson Rehmeyer must have been mystified to see his former guests, plus Wilbert Hess, all return that same night accusing him of witchcraft.   Even when Blymer demanded a lock of his hair and his book, he certainly didn't hesitate in ordering them to leave.  Which was when things turned violent.  As Blymer would later testify, he and his friends began by tying Nelson up to a kitchen chair and didn't start beating him until after he refused to cooperate  (an argument that didn't go over too well in court).   In any event, what began as an attempt to reverse a man's supposed witchcraft ended with his assailants basically beating him to death with a block of wood that was repeatedly smashed over their victim's head.   They gave conflicting stories regarding which of them actually gave the fatal blow;  each of them blamed one of the others.   It was John Curry who admitted pouring lamp oil over the body however.   As it happened, nobody bothered to snip off a lock of Rehmeyer's hair before they left (though they did steal some money).   As Blymer would testify later, killing the supposed witch would have ended the hex anyway and besides, his hair would be buried with the rest of him soon enough.    

During the trial, John Blymer seemed strangely calm as the jury heard details of what had basically been a home invasion that culminated in murder.  In talking with reporters, he said that "ever since we killed Rehmeyer I have felt fine - better in fact than at any time in my life."   This was a remarkable change for someone who had supposedly been so affected by his hex that he hadn't been able to eat or sleep.   As for the other two defendants, they were terrified of the prospect of standing trial for murder, and they showed it.   John Curry broke down on the witness stand as he described what happened that night.    The newspapers were more sympathetic in describing him than they were Blymer, referring to the fourteen-year-old as a "rosy-cheeked slick-haired lad" who had been roped into murder by the older Blymer.

Not surprisingly, all three defendants were found guilty.   John Blymer and John Curry both received a life sentence while Wilbert Hess was sentenced to ten to twenty years in prison.   That Curry received the same sentence as Blymer was greeted with astonishment given his age and the general feeling that it was Blymer who was primarily responsible.   As for Blymer, he took his sentence in stride as he told reporters that "I never was happier. I can eat and sleep now and I feel fine. There’s no spell over me anymore.”   

Though the trial was over and the three defendants began their prison sentences, their lives, and York County, would never be the same again.

To be continued




Related Stories

  • The Great American Witchhunt (Part One)
  • Elderly Couple Burned to Death For Witchcraft
  • Jekyll, Hyde and Brodie


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