It was a murder made for headlines. Faith healing, witchcraft, and curses were all thought to have been a thing of the past, even by 1928 standards, but in the rural farmlands of Pennsylvania, the Dutch and German settlers there had brought with them the practices and beliefs of their homelands. One of these practices, known as Pow-Wow, is a type of folk magic that has been passed down through generations and is still practiced today. At the time, even medical doctors relied heavily on holistic healing methods, and many chose to seek the counsel of Pow-Wow doctors instead to heal them of various ailments.
Nelson Rehmeyer was a well-respected Pow-Wower within the town of Stewartstown. Many had sought out the healing powers of Rehmeyer, and Rehmeyer was welcoming to anyone who would come to him for help day or night. While this hospitality quickly made him a popular healer within the community, his wife and children thought differently about strangers knocking at the door at all hours of the night and decided it would be best if she and the children moved to their own farm a mile down the road.
Another man living in town named John Blymire had been aware of Rehmeyer’s practices and beliefs and slowly came to fear him after running into a string of bad luck on his farm. His family’s crops had failed that year and slowly their cattle began to die off, ushering in various illnesses. Rehmeyer, a farmer himself, seemed to have faced very little trouble by comparison and Blymire’s suspicions began to grow.
Blymire had believed that he was being stalked by witches and that a hex had been cast upon him. Hoping to find a solution, he turned to an alleged witch by the name of Nellie Noll, the River Witch of Marietta. Noll instructed Blymire to place a dollar bill into the palm of his hand. When the dollar was removed, an image of the alleged witch who had cursed him appeared in his palm. Nelson Rehmeyer.
Blymire was told that if he could get a lock of Rehmeyer’s hair and his book of spells he could break the hex. Blymire knew that Rehmeyer was a large man and that he wouldn’t be able to overpower him on his own. He told two local boys – 14-year-old John Curry and 18-year-old Wilbert Hess – that they had to help him with his plans to get Rehmeyer’s spell book, convincing them that Rehmeyer may have hexed them as well.
Several days later the trio knocked on the door of Mrs. Rehmeyer and asked if she had seen her husband. She told them that he was probably at home. The men then went further down the road to the home of Rehmeyer. Hoping that Rehmeyer had been sleeping, the men broke into his home and began looking for the spell book. Hearing the noise, Rehmeyer called out and Blymire demanded that he handed them over his spells. Rehmeyer had been confused about what Blymire had been asking him for, but before he had a chance to respond he was beaten and bound by the men.
Realizing that Rehmeyer was dead, the men rejoiced, believing that they had broken the spell. They then tied Rehmeyer to a chair, doused him in kerosene, and lit him on fire.
Upon hearing the news of her husband’s murder, Mrs. Rehmeyer instantly referred police to the three men who had come to her door. All of the men admitted that they had killed Rehmeyer, telling police that Rehmeyer had been a witch who had been using black magic against them. The story instantly took local papers by storm.
Blymire would be sentenced to life in prison, while his cohorts, given their age, would serve considerably less time. The story continues to intrigue people, even today, and many go to tour the house that once belonged to Nelson Rehmeyer and wonder how witch hysteria could have possibly still existed nearly 200 years after the Salem Witch Trials.