The Christmas Murder, Part Three: The Capture

Map of Guernsey County

Henry Wehrli headed off into the woods on Christmas morning 1890 after fatally shooting James Booth. He took with him the murder weapon, some cash and a bottle of his beloved whiskey. He would not make it far before word got out about the murder and his effort to flee would be short-lived.

“Good bye Billy!” Henry Wehrli shouted to Booth farm-hand, and fellow Christmas Eve reveler William Gribble, as he headed off to the tree line to the south of the Booth property. Just minutes earlier he, apparently still drunk from the evening’s festivities, fired his shotgun into the skull of an equally drunk James Booth as Booth ate his breakfast. The two, friends when sober, argued and threatened one another regularly when under the influence of alcohol as they were Christmas Eve and Day.

Henry made his way south to Cambridge, Ohio, possibly following the tracks of the Cleveland & Marietta Railroad that ran directly from Post Boy Station to Cambridge. Unfortunately for Henry, the news of what had occurred on the Booth farm, and of a $500 reward for his capture, had also reached Cambridge. While in route to Cambridge, Henry made an attempt to alter his appearance by shaving off his mustache and purchasing a new overcoat and hat.

Cambridge’s Depot Hotel as seen in an early 20th century postcard.

Henry had apparently purchased a ticket for a westbound train, where to is unknown. While Henry waited for his train on Tuesday, December 30, 1890 in the station in the Depot Hotel in Cambridge he was recognized in spite of his effort at disguise. The man who recognized him was a fellow miner named, oddly enough, John Minor of Newcomerstown. Minor solicited the help of a Cleveland & Marietta Railroad employee named Robert Gitkill to detain Wehrli.

Henry was taken to Mayor James Barr of Cambridge where he was recorded as appearing “very cool” and would only say that he was not guilty. Cambridge’s Marshal, William Wilkin, was tasked along with Henry’s original captors, with transporting Henry to the jail in New Philadelphia. According to one press account of the journey, the party were greeted by a mob of citizens who were said to have briefly considered lynching Henry right on the spot.

Report of Wehrli’s capture from the New Philadelphia newspaper, 1 January 1891.

After arriving in New Philadelphia, Henry was brought before Mayor MacGregor and after entering a initial plea of not guilty, Henry was placed in the county jail until a preliminary hearing could be held the following week.

Henry was brought to the courthouse at 1:00 pm on Tuesday, January 6, 1891 for a preliminary hearing in front of Mayor MacGregor. Not surprisingly, a large crowd had gathered at the courthouse that day to witness an event not commonly seen in New Philadelphia. Henry, handcuffed to city policeman Dan Sweaney and flanked by his attorneys James O’Donnell and P.H. Olmstead was presented to Mayor MacGregor on the bench. The mayor then read to the court the names of twenty-six witnesses whose preliminary testimony would be heard that day under questioning by the County Prosecutor.

The next part of this story will present some of the witness testimony as reported at the time.

© Noel B. Poirier, 2020.


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