Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Haunted Places

Rehmeyer's Hollow, York County, Pa.: Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Murder

When the Pennsylvania Dutch began immigrating from Germany in the 18th century, they brought with them a tradition of folk magic and healing called pow-wowing; on November 27, 1928, that ritual would lead to murder.

Hex House
Hex House

John Blymire, born in York, Pa., in 1895, was by all accounts an unremarkable boy in all but one respect. He wasn't bright, popular or good looking, but he shared his father and grandfather's legacy: the supernatural. Like his forebears, Blymire was said to have healing powers. When he was just five years old, he seemed to be wasting away. We might attribute that to malnutrition; his kin blamed it on a hex and took him to the area's most renowned "hexenmeister," Nelson Rehmeyer. Rehmeyer cured the boy. Blymire worked in Rehmeyer's garden for some time, and developed his own reputation as a healer.

Yet he was periodically convinced that he was under a hex again himself, and he met others who thought they suffered the same problem. One such hexing victim was Milton J. Hess, a prosperous farmer who'd encountered recent bad luck; another was John Curry, an abused 14-year old who worked at a cigar factory with Blymire. Blymire consulted with Nellie Noll, known as the River Witch of Marietta. She told him that Rehmeyer was behind all three hexes, and that they could break them by burning Rehmeyer's copy of pow-wow's foundational book, Long Lost Friend.

Blymire and Curry visited Rehmeyer's small farmhouse. The three chatted for some time, while Blymire tried to compel Rehmeyer mentally to give him the book. Unsurprisingly, this tactic failed. The night before Thanksgiving, Blymire and Curry returned, this time with Hess's brother Clayton—and some rope. Blymire strangled Rehmeyer, Curry hit him over the head with a block of wood, and he died. They set the house on fire to get rid of the evidence, but failed to burn it down. After a neighbor discovered Rehmeyer's body, the police soon found the three perpetrators, and they each confessed, were tried and were found guilty.

Rehmeyer's great-grandson has restored the Rehmeyer house and hopes to use it to highlight Pennsylvania Dutch history. The story of the hex murder and the idea of the haunting presence of the wronged witch are the main draw.

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