|Clara Price's grave. Not to be confused with her cenotaph (more on that later).|
I was a teenager when I first came across the unusual granite marker erected in the memory Clara Price, and it was this very strange roadside monument, which helped fueled my interest in murders and the darker side of Pennsylvania history. Since it's a rather famous monument in central Pennsylvania I never took the time to write about it on Pennsylvania Oddities, but in case you've never heard about it, today I'll take the time to tell you the story about Clara Ida Price and her horrible murder.
Clara Price was, by all accounts, the prettiest girl in the county. The 16-year-old daughter of a well-to-do family, Clara was every bit talented as she was beautiful. She had a remarkable talent for woodcarving and making flies for trout fishermen, and she sold these and other souvenirs from a gift shop in front of the family home along the Karthaus Pike. She was also said to be a skilled singer and musician. By all appearances, Clara Price had a bright future ahead of her-- which is one reason why her murder in November of 1889 created such a sensation throughout Pennsylvania.
On November 27, 1889, Clara was staying at the home of Mrs. Mattie Meeker, who lived about a mile from the Karthaus Pike. Mr. Meeker had gone off to work at a lumber camp and Clara came over to keep Mrs. Meeker and her two children company. On that fateful day, she left the Meeker house to return home at about 8:30 in the morning, wearing a black cloak and a felt hat and carrying a basket of butter.
It was three hunters who found the girl's body along the highway-- James Marstellar, William Oswalt and Jacob Bechdel. After stopping at George Roak's store in Pine Glen for supplies, the two hunters, in Oswalt's wagon, proceeded toward Karthaus. Halfway between Karthaus and Pine Glen they saw the body, on the Centre County side of the river. At first Marstellar thought it was a woman who had passed out from drinking, but as the wagon drew closer he saw, to his horror, blood oozing out of her back. The men examined the girl and realized that she was dead. The basket of butter was laying at her side. The two hunters told the story of their gruesome disovery to George Hoedollar, who operated the ferry crossing the river a short distance away. Hoedollar, in turn, notified a local resident that "there was a girl lying up there in the road in a bad condition" and that the man had better go take a look.
That man was David Price. The girl lying facedown in the mud, just off the side of the road, was his daughter, Clara.
The Mysterious Alfred Andrews
Bootprints in the mud, the only evidence found at the crime scene, led to the arrest of Alfred Andrews. A pair of shoes he wore that day corresponded with the tracks made by the murderer. His conviction of murder in the first degree in February of 1890 was based entirely on circumstantial evidence, leading many to believe that Andrews might have been hanged for a crime he did not commit.
Squire Rankin held an inquest after the body was found. The coroner found three bullet holes in Clara; one had entered the back and pierced the heart, one entered the left ear and pierced the brain, and the third entered her chest.
Although nobody witnessed the murder, several residents heard shots fired between 8 and 9 o'clock on the morning of the murder. Authorities concluded that the girl had been raped along the highway before she had been killed.
Locals told authorities that they had spotted a man along the road. The Watson family described him as being medium height, slightly overweight and wearing light grey clothes and a black derby hat. A man fitting the same description had be seen eating dinner at Arthur Graham's tavern around noon. Constable Haynes arrested a man fitting this description in Clarence, a station along the Beech Creek Railroad about a mile from Snow Shoe, but was later released. On November 29, detectives arrested a tramp in Lock Haven named George Johnson who matched the description. He, too, turned out to be the wrong man and was released.
On December 2, another man matching the description was arrested in Brisbin by Captain Harry Simler of Phillipsburg. It was an English miner named Alfred Andrews, who admitted to being in the vicinity on the morning of the murder, although he protested that he did not commit the foul deed. He made no resistance and was taken to the Bellefonte jail.
But Did Andrews Do It?
Unfortunately, the truth may never be known about what really happened to Clara Price. On December 8, 1889, Judge Furst of Centre County issued a ruling prohibiting newspapers from printing anything related to Andrews' hearing. All evidence against Andrews was suppressed.
One can't help but wonder what really happened that fateful Wednesday in November of 1889. For instance, how could Clara have been shot from the back as well as from the front and the side? Unless she remained on her feet the entire time, the killer would have to have fired a shot, flipped her over, and then fired another shot. Were all three bullets from the same revolver? How could a jury convict a man whom nobody saw based solely on footprints in the mud? Why would Alfred Andrews rape his victim in broad daylight along the only major highway in the area?
My own impression is that law enforcement had no clue what they were doing and the Price family wanted somebody to pay for the murder of their daughter. Who that person was did not matter. Newspapers as far away as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia reported on the mob mentality of the locals, claiming that, sooner or later, somebody was going to get lynched.
Andrews has hanged in Bellefonte, Centre County, for the murder of Clara Price on April 9, 1890.
At 10:45, Andrews began the death march to the gallows. He was calm and composed throughout the ordeal. As the rope was placed around his neck he read a passage from the Bible and asked everyone present to forgive him. He then bid the 500 onlookers farewell. The execution was botched and Andrews' neck was not broken in the fall; he died as a result of strangulation. It took several minutes for him to expire, and he was pronounced dead at 11:03.
Many people believed, and still believe to this day, that Alfred Andrews did not commit the murder. I am one of them.
Although Andrews later confessed, while in jail at Bellefonte awaiting his execution he admitted that the only reason he did so was to raise money for his impoverished family. He had planned to sell tracts of his "confession" in order to prevent his wife and child from starving to death. Even his so-called confession did not mesh with the evidence; for instance, Andrews confessed that he shot Clara once, through the ribs-- this, of course, goes against the findings of the coroner's inquest.
Also, during the murder trial, Andrews claimed that blood on his shoes came from a chicken. Experts for the prosecution testified that the blood was human. But how could they be sure? The road was muddy on the day Clara Price was murdered and Andrews wasn't apprehended until five days later. It would have been impossible to tell anything by examining Andrews' shoes.
For the record, Andrews wore a size ten and a half-- probably the most common of men's shoe sizes. The bootprints found at the crime scene would've matched the shoes of about half of the American population. In Andrews' "confession" he said he shot the girl after she attempted to fight off his advances. How, then, did her blood even get on his shoes in the first place? Wouldn't it have made more sense if he shot her first and then ravished her?
The Clara Price Gravesite
Along Rt. 879 between Snow Shoe and Karthaus, about a half mile over the bridge crossing the West Branch of the Susquehanna, there is a granite marker erected in Clara Price's memory, with an inscription reading: Murdered 1889 by Alfred Andrews.
|The Clara Price cenotaph|
This is not Clara's tombstone (she is, in fact, buried at Keewaydin Cemetery in Clearfield County), but a cenotaph-- a monument erected in honor of a person whose remains are buried somewhere else. It was erected by a man named Hutchinson around 1920, after the original monument was stolen. This original, which turned up years later in Chester County, was originally erected in 1890 on the spot where her body was found. Nobody knows how it ended up in Chester County. According to Henry W. Shoemaker, the famous Pennsylvania author and historian, tourists and souvenir-seekers chipped away at the original until there was nothing left.
|The original cenotaph, discovered in a backyard in Chester County. Note the chips carved out by souvenir collectors.|
|Clara's grave at Keewaydin Cemetery|
However, her actual gravemarker is similar to the cenotaph, bearing the same inscription declaring for all eternity that she was murdered by Alfred Andrews-- even though the truth about her death may never be known.