November 28, 1901: Identity of Poison Fiend Being Investigated


By Margaret Leidy Harner from her book One Day at a Time: A Social History of Boyertown, PA.

November 28, 1901: Called a heinous crime in the newspapers, a poisoning attempt is being investigated in Bechtelsville. Daniel Herbst, age 16, became seriously ill after eating some of his dinner from a pail which he had carried it to work.

After feeling sick, he stopped work, went home and told his mother that the meal had tasted bitter. They found white powder dusted over what was left in the pail. Their dog ate the remaining food and he died two days later. In an autopsy, arsenic was found in their pet’s stomach. It was only the bitter taste that prevented Daniel from eating enough of the poison to kill him.

Earlier, the water in the Herbst well had developed an unpleasant taste and odor and a dead chicken was found in the well. Since the animal could not have gotten into the well on its own, it was supposed that it had been placed there by the same party who poisoned the food.

Last May, Herbst’s sister Rosy had died of “peculiar circumstances” and in August, his uncle Reuben Reitnauer had died in the same way.

County Detective McDermott, while investigating the attempt to poison Daniel, has uncovered a consider able amount of evidence pointing to the guilty party and a deeply-laid plot is being uncovered. It is rumored that the bodies of the dead sister and uncle will be exhumed to determine the cause of their deaths. Everywhere the question is asked, “Who is the poison fiend?”

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