Karen Samuels and I have something in common: we know how tricky it is to write about murder in the place where we live – especially if people are still around who remember it.
For the past decade, Karen has been writing about the local history around Bethlehem, PA. Among her five books are Images of America, Bethlehem and Images of America, Lower Saucon Township, and she writes a column for a local newspaper.
Karen hopes to branch out, but before she moves on, I asked her to talk about some stories she’s covered.
“Have you ever experienced a tricky situation,” I asked, “gathering information on a local murder where friends or relatives are still alive?
She had. “I once encountered a situation I hadn't considered. It’s horrific enough to lose a member of your family to murder. However, I’d never considered the plight of the innocent bystander. One woman told me about her family discovering a body left on their property. In 1985, Carol Ann Bonney, 29, was killed in a gruesome way by her boyfriend, Paul Schlueter. He’d battered and strangled her, leaving her almost naked for all the neighbors to see. Since this discovery, the woman, who’d had a happy childhood, now cannot bear to think of the house where she grew up.
“Regarding this same murder, Carol Bonney’s cousin responded to the online conversation pleading for people to remember that the Bonney family still lived in Easton and would be very upset to come upon this discussion. The possibility of causing this family further grief is the last thing anyone would want to do, however we’re drawn to these murders to try to make sense of them.”
Curious about the town where we both live, I asked, “Have you researched a murder case that captures the flavor of this community?”
“You can’t find anyone more in touch with your community than the mail carrier,” Karen said. “And when my mailman dropped off old news clippings of a 1899 murder, I knew this was a murder the community never forgot.
“Harvey H. Wurster was a likable 25-year-old night telegraph operator at the local railroad station. He was married with a two-year-old son. Wurster always welcomed the local men to stop by for a chat and a game of cards.
“One night in 1899, railroad dispatchers up the line could not reach Wurster. A conductor on a freight train stopped at the station to check on him. He found Wurster seated in his chair with his feet on the table and his head crushed. His clothing and the wall were splattered with blood. There was no evidence of a struggle and the money drawer nearby was broken open and empty.
“Detective J.B. Doran noted tracks in the snow between the station and the home of 17-year-old Llewellyn Stout. The youth admitted to striking Wurster with a coupling pin and stealing money, which he hid in the outhouse.
“Stout showed no remorse which may have been why this murder was so harrowing to this peaceful community. Eight months later Stout was found guilty. He was hanged at the courthouse. A ghost story soon arose of a man walking the tracks with a lantern (Wurster), which has been told in the area for 114 years!”
“What about a murder story that you'd like to research in our local area?” I asked. Karen chose a strange one that I myself have sought to learn more about.
“I’d like to research the murder of Charlotte Fimiano,” she told me, “a realtor who was found strangled and shot to death in a vacant home, in 1997. The newspapers reported that she went to an appointment to show the home, without noting whom she was meeting. I think I care about this murder because I identify with the victim, as I also often travel alone.”
Noting that writers would be reading this blog, I asked Karen to say something about how she undertakes her research. Does she find specific sources helpful?
“The first sources I look at,” Karen responded, “are local newspapers from the time of the murder, which I find on microfilm at the local libraries or online. I use federal census reports and obituaries to determine occupations, family members and places of residences. If appropriate I’ll check magazine articles, wills or biographies.”
Karen writes a blog about her experiences as a historical narrator and the stories she’s researched, which can be found at http://lehighvalleyhistory.blogspot.com/.