When Justice Was Swift – The Peightel Murders of 1869

One of the surnames that I research is Bechtel and one of the more creative variants of the Bechtel surname is Peightel/Peightal/Peightle/etc. Recently I was running searches using this variant, trying to see if any of my disappearing many-times-great-uncles was hiding somewhere using it as a pseudo-name.

One of the first things I happened to come across is a John Peightel in the 1870 census mortality schedule for Huntingdon County, PA. I took a look at the image and found both a John Peightel (aged 65) and Sarah Peightel (aged 60) who died in November of 1869. In both cases the cause of death was —— murder! Okay, now I’ve got to see what this was all about!

Step one was to check find-a-grave. Sure enough, someone had created memorials for them including a tombstone photo. But there was no bio or explanation of their deaths. Next step was a site search of rootsweb (using their strangely named Rootsweb Search Thingy). Again, no luck. Well, there were newspapers in 1869. Certainly a double murder of husband and wife would likely be newsworthy. Perhaps a newspaper search at GenealogyBank would provide some clues. And sure enough several of the major newspapers of the day had picked up not only on the murder but also the investigation and the punishment of the perpetrators.

John Peightel and his wife Sarah were a well-respected elderly couple whose children were grown. They lived near Pleasant Grove, Huntingdon County, PA. They had taken into their home as an adopted son an orphan boy named Scott Garner. Scott was about ten or twelve years old. According to newspaper reports, Peightel was a farmer known for selling his produce in the nearby town of Huntingdon. Further, it was also common knowledge that he shunned banks. It was rumored that he had a large stash of money hidden away at his house.

There were two German immigrants, Gottlieb Bohner and Albert (aka Oliver) Von Bordenberg, who had come separately to the area to find work and had become acquainted with each other. It’s unclear which one first came to know of the Peightels and concocted the plan to steal their money. (In statements to the authorities, they each blamed the other.)

The original plan was apparently just to rob the couple, not murder them. But after spending a couple of days in the area they were unsuccessful in finding the opportunity to commit the robbery. The plan then shifted to murder. On the evening of Wednesday, November17, 1869 Bohner and Von Bordenberg waited outside the Peightel home until after dark. One or both of them entered the home while the couple and their adopted son were eating their dinner. The authorities believed that first Mr. Peightel was shot and then Scott Garner. Mrs. Peightel must have tried to escape and was cut down with a hatchet. She was then also shot in the throat.

After killing the family, Bohner and Von Bordenberg began searching the house for the money. They found about $2000 of which about $1600 was in gold and silver coin. They then proceeded to cover their tracks by covering the bodies with straw and bedding and burning them.

Part of their undoing was that they pulled down the window blinds to block the light of the fire from being seen from outside until it was too late. But that had the side effect of preventing the draft from fanning the flames, slowing down the fire. As fate would have it, shortly after Bohner and Von Bordenberg set the fire and left, a group of men passed the house on their way from the Pleasant Grove Station to their homes. These men noticed the smoke and flames and broke down the locked door. Finding the family lying on the floor and covered with burning straw, they raised the alarm and extinguished the fire.

Mr. Peightel and Scott Garner were badly burned from the waist down. Mrs. Peightel had bled profusely, but was not badly burned. It was said that all three bodies were considerably disfigured. The names and descriptions of Bohner and Von Bordenberg, who were known to have been hanging around the Peightel home the past couple of days, were given to the local authorities and telegraphed to Altoona. Their footprints had been tracked to the train station, and it was believed, quite correctly, that Bohner and Von Bordenberg were attempting to escape on the west-bound Cincinnati Express which was scheduled to stop next in Altoona. The train had departed only about 10 minutes before the arrival of the Huntingdon authorities.

Upon disembarking the train at Altoona at about 5:20 Thursday morning, Bohner and Von Bordenberg were arrested and detained by the authorities there. They were soon returned to Huntingdon where they were met not only by the authorities, but also by a very angry crowd of townspeople. That included a large group of ethnic Germans, who were extremely indignant at “the taint which the murder would put upon their nationality.” Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, a lynching was averted and the suspects were quickly skirted off to the Huntingdon jail.

Justice was apparently quite swift in the 1860s and 1870s. Both Bohner and Von Bordenberg were hanged for their crimes in early March of 1870 – less than 4 months from the time of the murder. Von Bordenberg continued to declare his innocence until the end. In his final words he claimed he was an unwilling participant who was forced by Bohner to accompany him to the site of the crime. He claimed not to have entered the Peightel home, but to have waited outside while Bohner committed the crimes. He killed no one and his only crime was sharing in the stolen money. Bohner, on the other hand, stated “we are both guilty and we both deserve to die.” Shortly after those words were spoken, the nooses were tightened around their necks and the floor was dropped. The bodies were left hanging 27 minutes, then cut down and placed in coffins.

Justice was served.

5 responses to “When Justice Was Swift – The Peightel Murders of 1869

  1. My Great Grandfather was born Samuel Peightel around 1885. He had several brothers – I knew his brother “Billy” (William.) Billy Peightel’s nephew, also Billy Peighhtel lived on the family farm on Dutch Rd in McConmnelsburg PA – I spoke to him on the phone in 2007 when he was 92.

    Samuel’s father dissappeared in the 1890s (I think his name might have been Louis) abandoning his wife, Mary who later remarried the Reverand Thomas Wold who had a farm across the street.
    Samuel lied about his age and joined the army with a farm pal. The hated the army and went AWOL around 1902. Samuel ran to Bedford, PA and lived with a family named Dively and took that name. He married Edna Garrett and had Henry (Hank – my grandfather) and four daughters.
    Samuel told my grandfather that his father ran away and went west taking the youngest brother, named Louis (also). Samuel’s brother Billy, mentioned above also confirmed this to mygranfather. (I metthe elder Billy as i first mentioned at the family farm when I was 15.)

    When I spoke to nephew, Billy he denied this story and told me that Saluel and Billy’s father had died in a house fire. He could not tell me where3 this occured and the original house still stands today – barely.
    When I came upon the Peightel Murder story, I wondered, is this the story of Samuel’s Grandparents and perhaps heartbreak was the motivation for Samuel’s father to head west? An that perhaps the nephew Billy has the storyies confused or is covering up a perceived disgrace of the Murders – since the German townfolk saw that as a reflection on their natuionality?

    My name is Robert Garrett Dively age 55. My dad is Robert Clark Dively age 79 and my sone ias Samuel Garrett Dively age 9. We are originally from Warren Ohio wher Samuel (great grandfather ) settled his family and died of Asthma at age 60 as Sam Dively.

    What do you think? I know that one of Samuel and Billy’s brithers was named John and another named Alva. I have 4-5 constable badges from McConnelsburg that I beleive belong to Samuel and Billy’s father. Alva had a son – Billy – the nephew mentiond above and another son named John who lives in Baltyimore and is about 76 – John and Billy are half brothers. I talked to John also in 2007 and both brothers knew my great grandfather, Samuel and about his name change to Dively.

    • Well I did a little checking and while I can’t link your Peightels to John and Sarah, I did find a fair bit of information. It looks like the parents of Samuel were Frank and Rebecca (nee Gress) Peightel. Frank was listed as a constable in McConnelsburg, Pa in the 1880 census. In that census the family used the spelling Paightel and in addition to Frank and Rebecca there were 3 children: Charles, Lewis and Samuel. Samuel was born Feb of 1880 and I am pretty sure he was your great-grandfather. By 1900 Rebecca has married Henry Wolf and is living in Todd, Fulton County, PA with him and children Lucy and William R.. The children were apparently from her first marriage even though they are erroneously listed with the last name Wolf. In 1910, Henry and Rebecca are still in Todd, Fulton County with her children Lucy, Amos, and William. This time the children are correctly listed as Peightels. (Amos Peightel is apparently the father of the Billy Peightel you mentioned in your posting.)
      In the meantime, I found Frank Peightel in the 1900 census living in Canaan, Grafton County, New Hampshire with a new wife named Elizabeth. Also in the household that year are children Lewis (from the first marriage) and Walter, Selena and Ruth from the second marriage. Frank can also be found in Canaan, New Hampshire in 1910 and 1920. (In 1920 he is listed as widowed.)
      I realize this only partly matches up with the information that you have, but I think it’s the right family. Also going back from Frank, it looks like his parents were Samuel and Elizabeth. They used the spelling Paightel or Paightal and were in McConnelsburg from 1850 on forward to 1880.
      Feel free to contact me for more details.

  2. im new to this but i dont know anything about my last name Peightal. I dont know where any of my ancestors are or how far back i should go to find the meaning of my last name, PLEASE HELP!!!!! Thank you in advance and waiting very patient with all this info.

    • It’s always best to start with yourself and go back one generation at a time. If you have living parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins, etc. try to get as much information as you can from them. For more recently deceased ancestors and relatives you can often get an exact or approximate date of death from the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). It’s available online for free at http://www.rootsweb.com. You will also want to try to get obituaries as they often have information like parents names and places of birth.

      Once you reach the point of finding an ancestor who was born before 1930, try to locate him or her in the census. Census images are available online at ancestry.com for a fee, but certain years are free on familysearch.org. You may also be able to access them free through either ancestry.com or heritagequest at your local library.

      I know that some Peightals/Peightels were originally Bechtels, but I can’t say that all were. They were, however, most likely German or at least German-speaking.

      Hope this helps you get started.

  3. Mary Clark Briggs

    I grew up on that farm. My grandfather won it in a poker game

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