Who Beheaded D.W. Stoddard?

Rockville Bridge, with Robert's Mountain in the background


On the afternoon of August 13, 1916, the headless body of a man from the town of Dauphin was found just north of the city of Harrisburg, in the mountains between Robert's Valley near the Rockville Bridge. The man was identified as D.W. Stoddard, originally of Ilion, NY. After a short investigation, Stoddard's death was ruled a suicide. But how did he manage to lose his head? Some claimed that his body was chewed apart by wild animals, while others suspected foul play.

On August 14, the Harrisburg Telegraph printed the following story about the discovery of the body:


Try to Unravel Mystery of Man Found Beheaded

Coroner Suspects Foul Play, but Thinks Wild Animal May Have Torn Victim


Hidden in a valley between two mountains, and more than a mile from the nearest house, Aaron S. Payne, of 1709 Market street, yesterday found the decomposed body of an unidentified man, with the head and right arm cut off, and lying about three feet away.


County authorities are at a loss to determine just how the man met his death, owing to the condition of the body, but every effort is being made to learn the cause. That the man was murdered, or met with an accident and some animal found the body and attempted to drag it away, is the belief of the investigators.


Nothing was found to identify the man, who was well dressed. Mystery surrounds the case, as the spot where he was found is about the loneliest known in the valley.


Near the body was a new Panama hat. The man wore low tan shoes, with rubber heels, and a brown suit. Authorities are not positive of the age, but will endeavor to get a better description after a thorough examination. It is believed that the body has been lying in the mountains for weeks. It was brought to the morgue of Charles H. Mauk, undertaker, Sixth and Kelker streets, this morning and is being held pending the investigation.


The climb to the spot took more than an hour, as it is more than a mile from the nearest house, which is occupied by J.C. Farble and family. Mrs. Farble said yesterday that strangers were seen in the neighborhood some time ago.



From the Harrisburg Telegraph, September 4, 1916:


Man Found Beheaded on Mountain is Identified

The identity of the beheaded man found in Robert's mountain on August 13, was established on Saturday through the efforts of County Detective James T. Walters and Detective Harry White of the White Detective Agency, assisted by Coroner Eckinger.


The man was D.W. Stoddard, of Ilion, N.Y., who had been employed by the Elliot-Fisher company and roomed here for some time with Mrs. Anna Metzger, 618 Delaware street. Detective White, who had been working on the case of the disappearance of Stoddard, asked to have the body of the man found in the mountains exhumed and re-examined.


Between the lining and the outside of the coat an identification was found, issued by Mayor Meals, and bearing Stoddard's name. A bottle containing a liquid was found, and it is believed that Stoddard went into the mountains and committed suicide, as he had threatened to do, according to friends. City police are endeavoring to locate a son who resides in Ilion.




While it appeared that the case was closed, one can't help but wonder whether or not Stoddard's death was really a suicide. If Stoddard was buried with a bottle of poison, how could this critical detail escape the eyes of the police? Or the identification found inside his jacket? Furthermore, why would a man from New York, who had minimal knowledge of the area, make the difficult two-mile hike up into the mountains to kill himself (after putting on an expensive suit, no less) when he just as easily could've done so inside his room on Delaware Street in Dauphin? And what of Mrs. Farble's claim that strangers were seen in the vicinity of this secluded place around the time of Stoddard's disappearance? This would indicate that Stoddard did not go up into the mountains alone. Unfortunately, the truth about D.W. Stoddard's last days on earth may never be known.

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