“Sure I Shot Him”: Murder on Panhandle #34

The Ohio electric chair.

The State of Ohio was, and still is, crisscrossed with railroad tracks and routes. While the heyday of railroad passenger travel has long since left Ohio, in the early 20th century it was abundant. Those passengers often found themselves travelling through Tuscarawas County on their way to destinations east and west. Sometimes those trains were the scenes of crimes; crimes that would be tried in Tuscarawas County. This is one of those cases.

Nicholas Chambers (1843-1919) was born on the 4th of July 1843, likely in Hancock County, Ohio where his parents owned a large farm. He was one of at least ten children of William (1811-1889) and Keziah (1821-1903) Chambers, who both reported their birth as having been in Ohio as well. The family had relocated to Wyandot County, Ohio just as the Civil War was beginning and it was here where Nicholas enlisted in the Company F, 123rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Nicholas would serve throughout the war in the Virginia theater and survived to return home to his family.

Nicholas married Werlinda Ollam (1843-1915) in Delaware County, Ohio in 1867 and began to raise his own family there. The couple welcomed their first and only child, a son, James in 1872. The family lived, by all appearances, a quiet farm life and operated a hardware store in Concord, Delaware County. James eventually moved to Maryland where he opened and ran a successful store, and Werlinda passed away in 1915 leaving Nicholas a widower. Nicholas was on his way to visit his son in Maryland in May 1919 when he encountered fellow rail passenger Frank Seinich.

Very little is known about the early years of Frank Seinich (1889-1919) other than he was born in Austria-Hungary. His sister and her husband immigrated to the United States in 1903 and settled in Chicago, Illinois. Six years later Frank followed his sister to America and, in 1910, was living with her and her husband in Chicago where he worked as a trimmer in a tailor shop. According to later newspaper accounts, Frank was a “confessed Bolshevik” with communist sympathies though that is difficult to confirm. Seinich decided that he was done with Chicago and was on his way to find new work in Philadelphia in May 1919.

Headline in the New Philadelphia Daily Times, 7 May 1919.

Frank Seinich was already on board the eastbound Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad #34 passenger train when 72-year old Nicholas Chambers boarded at Plain City. Unbeknownst at the time, Chambers made the mistake of sitting with the towering, 200-pound Austrian. At some point on the route, the train passed another loaded with American troops returning from Europe. Chambers, being the patriotic veteran that he was, loudly cheered the men as the train passed. Seinich took offense and began a heated argument with Chambers about the war, and America’s role in it. This loud argument continued as their train passed Newcomerstown.

Nicholas Chambers, the Civil War veteran born on the 4th of July, finally tired of what he perceived to be Seinich’s unpatriotic argument and dismissively waved his hand at Seinich. According to some witnesses Chambers told Seinich “Let’s quit arguing. Go away. I don’t want to talk with you.” Another witness reported that Chambers told Seinich to “shut up.” Regardless of what was said, Seinich was enraged. He left his seat, walked a short distance down the aisle, drew a revolver, turned and fired three shots into the head and neck Nicholas Chambers at point blank range.

Passengers in the car scrambled to get out and away from the gunman. Once the car was empty of everyone but Seinich and his victim, it was locked, trapping Seinich in the car. After the train pulled into Dennison, a railroad detective boarded and took Seinich into custody without incident. Seinich, during his arraignment, claimed that he feared that the elderly Chambers might have shot or stabbed him so “sure I shot him” he told the court. Seinich was taken to the jail in New Philadelphia to await his next court appearance.

Frank Seinich’s photo from the Ohio Penitentiary Records. (Source: https://www.ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p267401coll32/id/14994/rec/3)

Frank Seinich had admitted to the murder of Nicholas Chambers and all that was left to do was gather witness testimony and pronounce sentencing. Witnesses were interviewed during the month of May and June, some now claiming that they had subdued Seinich on the train. Seinich’s associations with communists and labor unions (synonymous at the time) were highlighted in the press, as was his mental state. The newspapers reported that Seinich prayed a great deal and regularly requested the presence in his cell of a local priest. The evidence and testimony concluded, Seinich was sentenced in early July 1919 to death by electrocution. Ohio, in 1897, was the second state to adopt the use of the electric chair for performing executions and it was only the second time since 1825 that a death sentence was handed down in a Tuscarawas County courtroom.

The judge set Seinich’s date of execution for Friday, October 17, 1919, and ordered Seinich sent to the state penitentiary to await his fate. According to newspaper accounts in the days leading up to his execution, Seinich would feign insanity and had to be force-fed his meals. The day of his execution, Frank Seinich calmly entered the “death chamber” attended by a number of priests. The chiefs of police of Uhrichsville and New Philadelphia attended the execution. Seinich was not permitted any proverbial last words. Frank Seinich took his seat in the chair and, within a few seconds, was electrocuted to death.

Two strangers boarded the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad #34 passenger train on May 7, 1919. A train ride that ended for both of them in Tuscarawas County and cost both men their lives. Nicholas Chambers is buried in Plain City, Ohio and his murderer, Frank Seinich is buried twenty miles away in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio.

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.


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