The Murder of Daisy Smith
|Mountain Presbyterian Church Cemetery is Daisy Smith's final resting place (photo by Jerry Hendricks)|
On a Monday morning in early October of 1898, about two miles below the iron railroad bridge that crosses the river to Selinsgrove, a farmer's horse had fallen ill. Henry Smith sent out his teenage daughter, Daisy, to gather some sweet fern. Hours passed and the Daisy had not returned with the medicinal herb so Mr. Smith decided to look for her after dinner. He discovered the body of his beloved daughter next to the highway not far from the barn, face down beneath a large chestnut tree; her throat cut ear from to ear.
Of all the murders that have taken place in Northumberland County, it is the murder of pretty Daisy Smith that has become the most famous, largely due to the brutality of the crime. Daisy, who was just sixteen at the time, was found with a gash across her neck so deep that her backbone was visible, and her body had been riddled with several loads of buckshot. It was the type of death befitting the most heinous of villains, and the fact that this fate had befallen such a well-loved and beautiful young girl had created a sensation the likes of which had never been experienced in the Coal Region. One newspaper, the Middleburgh Post, wrote that the killer was an "an inhuman wretch" who should be "tortured to death in the most cruel way conceived by the most active brain of the most cruel wretch living."
The alarm spread throughout Selinsgrove Junction and every neighbor ran to the Smith farm- except for one. Two men, hurrying to the scene of the horrendous crime, passed by the house of William Cressinger, and as the men passed they saw one of Cressinger boys outside standing over a water trough, casually washing his bloody hands. His clothing was practically drenched in blood. When Cressinger was asked why he wasn't going to join the others who were flocking to the Smith farm, the young man replied that he had no business there.
"You killed Daisy Smith!" one of the men shouted, and Edward was dragged to the scene of the gruesome murder, and forced to stare at Daisy's lifeless body, still lying in a pool of blood. Edward snarled and insisted that he had nothing to do with the murder. When asked about the blood on his clothes, Edward replied that he had fallen out of a chestnut tree.
When Coroner Shindle arrived at Selinsgrove Junction, he was confronted by a mob scene. A large crowd had gathered, intent on lynching the killer. Upon searching the boy's home, the police could not find a razor. When they demanded to know the whereabouts of the murder weapon, Edward flashed them a coy smile and said that he was too young to shave. The eighteen year old boy was promptly arrested and held at the Northumberland County jail while an inquest was held.
The Smiths and the Cressinger families were as diametrically opposed as any two families could be. Henry Smith was a prosperous farmer, and a hard-working father to seven daughters. Eddie Cressinger, on the other hand, was from a poor family with a spotty reputation. His father had married a widow named Keiser, and they both had children from previous marriages. Mrs. Keiser's son was a promising young lad who was attending Susquehanna University. Mr. Cressinger's son, however, had a history of bad behavior. Not long before, William had been sentenced to ninety days in jail for physically assaulting a young girl near Sunbury. Although the evidence indicated that a rape had taken place, William was only charged with assault and battery. He had been out of jail for only a few days when Daisy Smith was murdered.
Rumors circulated, stating that Edward was out hunting when he spied the beautiful young girl in her sweetness and innocence gathering sweet fern. Uncontrollable lust overwhelmed Cressinger and he propositioned pretty Daisy Smith. When she rejected his advances, he shot her, had his way with her, and then finished off the dastardly deed by slashing her porcelain neck.
Henry Smith had heard the three gunshots which had killed his daughter, but said at the time that he assumed one of his farmhands had been shooting at crows. Although he knew of the Cressingers, Mr. Smith said that Daisy and William had never met each other before that fateful day.
The ensuing murder trial was an enormous spectacle; crowds swarmed the courthouse and reporters from all over the country descended upon Northumberland County. Judge Savidge presided over the trial, with District Attorney Shipman leading the prosecution. As the District Attorney recited the fate of young Daisy Smith, Edward Cressinger yawned, uninterested in the proceedings.
Numerous witnessed testified, including Coroner W.L. Shindle, who stated that the girl had died from having her throat slashed; it was speculated that she had still been alive after being shot three times. The most important evidence was offered by Dr. D.D. Davis, who had been summoned to William's jail cell shortly after his arrest. Davis claimed that Cressinger had admitted to killing the sixteen year old girl.
According to Davis, the accused had been hunting rabbits in the woods near Boyle's Run when he ran into Daisy Smith. The girl informed him that rabbits weren't in season, and the two teenagers began to argue. At some point, Daisy had slapped William across the cheek and, as she turned and walked away, Edward shot her in the back. This allegation was bolstered by the forensic evidence. Number four shot had been retrieved from Daisy's body, and it was established that Cressinger had purchased number four shot from a local shop earlier that morning. The blood-stained shell found next to the barn was a perfect fit for Edward's rifle. It appeared to be an open and shut case, and Cressinger was found guilty of murder in the first degree- the first such verdict since the trial of Mollie Maguire member Peter McManus.
On September 21 of the following year, Governor William A. Stone signed a death warrant, and Cressinger was set to be hanged that November. It would be the first hanging in the county in over twenty years. The young man's attorneys argued that Edward, who was described by neighbors as a "grinning idiot", was insane and therefore should be spared the gallows. Furthermore, the defense claimed that Cressinger should be granted a new trial because of an "illegally drawn jury".
This appeal caused a fervor throughout the county, and by this time the citizens had become fed up with the Northumberland County judicial system. On February 23, 1899, the editor of the Milton Standard wrote:
The jury commissioners cost the county four or fives times as much as they honestly earned last year and the juries were drawn right under the nose of the court. The people are getting sick and tired of this kind of rot. Crissinger [sic] is a brute who had a fair impartial trial, and if he don't stretch hemp, it will be because there is no justice in the Northumberland County court. There have been within fifteen years seventy-two killings in this county and not a single hanging.
The Board of Pardons postponed the execution, but Cressinger's attorneys could do no more to help their client. Judge Savidge refused to grant a new trial. On the third of January, 1900, Edward Cressinger was escorted to the gallows by Sheriff Serfing and Rev. Brosius and at 10:30 am the trap was sprung. Six minutes later Cressinger was pronounced dead. Although the harsh weather kept the crowd size to a minimum, Henry Smith was in attendance.
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