A sensational suicide in Lavelle

With a population of approximately 750, the tiny village of Lavelle in Schuylkill County is easy to miss. There are no traffic lights or Walmart Supercenters, just a few scattered houses and a couple of gas stations, giving travelers on Route 901 one last chance to fuel up before getting on the Interstate. Not much goes goes on in a place like Lavelle, so when a man ends his life as spectacularly as Ray Feltzer did in 1924, it tends to be the sort of thing folks talk about years after the deed was done.

Ray was a young man, just 28 years old, a husband and father, living in a modest home at the west end of the village. Around 2 o'clock on the afternoon of November 2, his mangled body was found in a shanty behind his home by Miss Clara Hubler and two of her friends, who had dropped by to visit Clara's sister, who happened to be Ray's wife. Much to Clara's dismay, her sister and the two young Feltzer children were not home. Clara and her two friends went behind the house to look for them.
Outside, they were shocked to see that the windows and door of the shed behind the house had been blown away. But the sight that confronted the women inside the shed was even more frightening-- blood and bits of flesh adorned the walls and ceiling of the shanty, while on the floor lay a body destroyed beyond recognition, with a cavernous hole where the torso used to be.

The hysterical women fled in horror, attracting the attention of the neighbors. Several men hightailed it over to the Feltzer home to offer assistance, but when they saw the mangled corpse in the blood-splattered shanty and the scraps of skin dripping from the ceiling, their bravery crumbled. Eventually someone decided that it would be a good idea to call the coroner.

A thorough search of the home revealed that Ray had left a suicide note, in the kitchen, in which the despondent father wished his two young boys farewell. He had also made arrangements for his funeral, requesting that Undertaker Mills of nearby Ashland take charge of the remains, which were to be buried at the Lavelle cemetery, and that Rev. Sittler of Shenandoah officiate the service.

What drove the young father to take his life in such a gruesome fashion? And how did he do it?

The ensuing investigation revealed that Ray's wife had taken their two children around noon the previous day to visit relatives. Ray must've carried out his actions right after they left, and the coroner surmised that Ray had taken a half stick of dynamite, attached a cap and fuse, and tied the explosive around his waist. He would have had to apply a match to the fuse, but it was anyone's guess what thoughts must have been going through the man's head as he sat there in his shanty, the fuse sizzling and sputtering, as he waited to be blasted into eternity.

Word of Ray's suicide spread quickly and before long a curious throng of villagers descended upon the shed to gawk at the sight. Meanwhile, Mrs. Feltzer was located and notified of her husband's suicide. According to Mrs. Feltzer, she and Ray had gotten into several arguments in the months leading up to the act, resulting in a severance of marital ties. She had moved out, but later returned and attempted to patch things up. But peace was never quite restored.

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