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Unsolved Murders: Dismembered Child Found in Colebrook Woods

A church in Colebrook, PA

Murder, in any form, is always a revolting matter, but few things are as revolting as the murder of an innocent child. In the summer of 1896, a chilling murder took place in Lebanon County. The crime was discovered when children came across a sack in the woods. Intrigued by the stench of decomposition, the bag was opened and inside was found the torso of a young child, with its arms, legs and head chopped off.

If you think such a horrendous and brutal crime warranted the attention of local officials, think again. For one reason or another, the Lebanon County coroner refused to investigate the incident.

From the Reading Times, June 2, 1896:

Lancaster, Pa., June 1.-- The body of a child seven years old, chopped and mutilated in a most horrible manner, was discovered at Colebrook. There is not the least doubt that the child was murdered and then fiendishly dismembered in order to prevent identification. Colebrook is very near the boundary between Lancaster and Lebanon counties.

Sunday school children yesterday strayed away from their direct road, and taking a path in the mountains, made the shocking discovery. They summoned the nearest neighbors, who, after removing the body to a safe place, notified the Lebanon county authorities. They have made diligent search for the relatives of the child, but thus far they have not found the slightest clue.

The arms and legs of the little one were chopped off. The remainder of the body was wrapped in material such as is used by furniture dealers in packing goods. The body was badly decomposed, and the supposition is that it was secreted at least two months ago.

Another account of the murder appeared in the June 5, 1896 edition of the New Oxford Item:

From the Allentown Leader, June 6, 1898:


There is a great deal of excitement in the northern part of Lebanon County and adjacent portions of Lebanon and Dauphin Counties over a ghastlye find made by a party of children in the Colebrook Hills, on Sunday. While roaming they found the trunk, arms and legs of a child, the child's head, hands and feet having been cut off. From appearances the child was seven or eight years of age, and where it came from is a mystery.
The children were on their way to Sunday School, when they were attracted by a very offensive stench and searching between the rocks nearby they fist found a leather satchel, which was empty. In a short time they came across a sack, which was lying between a lot of rocks. Around it was a lot of the kind of shavings that is known as "Excelsior", and is used by furniture men and others in packing or shipping goods. They found at once that the smell came from the bag, which was tied securely. The children opened itm when a horrible sight met their gaze. In the bag was the trunk of the child.

When the children discovered this they were terribly frightened, and most of them ran in terror from the place. They notified several men living in the neighborhood and they hastened to the spot. The body was removed from the bag and a close inspection of it was made. It was found that the head had been chopped off close to the body, as though it had been cut with a sharp axe or a chopper. The hands had been chopped off at the wrists, and the feet at the ankles. A search was made with hopes of finding the head, feet and hands, but it was all to no purpose as no traces of them could be found. From the condition of the body it is almost certain that the child had been dead for a month or more. Decomposition had set in and the body was in a frightful condition, and it could only be handled with the greatest difficulty.

There seems to be no doubt that it is a case of murder, and the general supposition is that the bofy was brought from a distance and secreted in the woods to conceal the crime. The authorities are making and investigation.

The people living along the line between Lebanon and Berks Counties are incensed at the negligence of Lebanon's coroner, in not investigating the circumstances connected with the findings of the mutilated remains. The coroner did not go near the place and made no attempt to find an owner for the mysterious satchel and the coat found near the body.

There is not a person living in the neighborhood that does not believe it to be a murder case. They are sure that the child was either killed in the hills or in some distant place, and then taken there for secretion. They say it is an affair that demands the fullest investigation, and the coat and valise might yet lead to something, if detectives of experience were put on it.

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