Goodling's Head Sawed Off

Barners and Goodlings were buried side by side at Barner's Cemetery, near Liverpool


One night in the October of 1900, a 65-year-old farmer named Adam Goodling from Juniata County was allegedly shot in the head by Absalom Barner, with whom he had been feuding.  The prosecution declared that no expense would be spared in bringing Barner to justice, and they were correct- the day after Goodling was laid to rest, the prosecution paid two doctors to dig up the victim and saw off his head, which was used as evidence at Barner's murder trial.


From the Middleburgh Post, January 17,1901:


Goodling's Head Sawed Off- Grave reported to have been opened and the victim's head secured as evidence.

Barner, the man accused of the murder of Adam Goodling, near Liverpool, on the night of October 2, will have a ghastly piece of evidence to confront when he is called before the court for trial.  Some time ago it was announced that the grave of Goodling had been opened and shot extracted from the dead man's head to be used in the trial.  The prosecution has gone a step farther than this and has secured the entire head of dead man.

One dark night not long ago two well known physicians of Mifflin, political enemies, went to the lower end of the county and met a well known character of Middleburg.  They hired a carriage on the pretext that they wanted to hold a consultation over a typhoid fever patient in the country and then drove over the hills and back to the old grave yard where the remains of Adam Goodling were laid to rest a day after he was foully murdered, supposedly by the man who stands charged with the crime.

There was no moon and the sky was overcast, an ideal night for secret operations.  The party arrived at the cemetery shortly after midnight and at once set about locating the grave of the murdered man.  This found, the Middleburg resident produced pick and shovel and went to work, his only light being the few rays shed from the muffled dark lantern in the hands of one of the physicians.  While the work went on the other doctor sat on the edge of a tombstone and tried to whistle a cheerful tune.

The grave was not opened save at the head.  When the coffin lid was struck the upper part was removed with a short axe and the Middleburg man was handed a short saw.  With this he cut completely off the head of the dead man and when the gruesome operation was complete handed it up to the waiting doctor, who placed it in a sack which had been brought along for the purpose.  Then the grave was refilled and the physicians drove back to town, while the Middleburg man went home.

They took the morning train back to Mifflin and now Adam Goodling's head is jarred and stowed away in the stable of one of the physicians to be produced at the trial.

The prosecution has been trying to keep the fact that they will produce the shattered skull quiet by circulating the report that only shot was taken from the body and that no part was removed from the grave.  The story leaked out through a stranger finding the head and demanding an explanation for its presence.

The prosecution claims to have a strong case against Barner and no expense is being saved to convict him.

(view original article here)

The ensuing trial became a sensational affair throughout Juniata County.  The prosecution claimed that Barner shot Goodling because the victim had been carrying on an affair with Barner's wife.  However, the defense established an alibi and Absalom Barner was found not guilty.  By the time the trial ended, more than one hundred witnesses had been called to the stand, and the affair cost the county $2,450 (roughly 70,000.00 in today's currency).

But the strange story does not end there.  In the fall of 1903, Mrs. John Barner- a relative of Absalom- was shot dead while she was clearing brush with her husband outside of their home in Greenwood Township.  Revenge?  The world will never know. 


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