Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Haunted Crime Scenes

Ghost Hunting

Canal towpaths are invariably haunted, though few people can believe that a canal holds a sufficient level of water to drown a person. Charles Adams, author of numerous books about ghostly tales, describes a mass murder that occurred in one such place, in Ghost Stories of Berks County.

Book cover: Ghost Stories of Berks County
Book cover: Ghost Stories of
Berks County

Mrs. Phillip Bissinger had her three children with her on August 17, 1875, not far from Reading, Pennsylvania. Mollie, Lillie and Phillip walked alongside her on the mule-trodden path next to lock #49 of the Union Canal, collecting stones to put in the basket that she'd lashed around her waist. Adams offers a summary of the newspaper accounts from those days, which indicated that at a certain spot, Mrs. Bissinger suddenly scooped up all three children, held them tight, and took them with her into the deep water, killing them and herself. She also killed the unborn child inside her. No one knew why, but speculations about her motives ranged from psychosis to depression over difficult circumstances.

A coroner's jury found that the woman had been so weighted down with the stones in her basket that there had been no way to escape the seven-foot depth of water. A man saw them go down, and he could not assist, so he went for help. The bodies were taken from the water one by one and laid out in Reading, as someone broke the news to Mr. Bissinger, who was overcome with horror and grief. The incident proved to be sensational enough for a book to be devoted to it, and tour guides at the canal park still mention it today.

Adams decided to see for himself if the spirit of Mrs. Bissinger still wandered the canal, as legend had it. He went out one dank night with several reporters. As he tells it, after having no success, they were walking back, disappointed, when one reporter clutched his chest and seemed unable to talk or breath. He eventually regained his demeanor, but could not explain what had just happened to him. Adams wondered if it had been an attempt by a wandering spirit to enter his body.

And speaking of innocent victims, they may just as easily be adults. A typical example of a haunting is someone punished for a crime he did not do, who wants to leave something behind to remind people of the injustice.

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