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Chestnuthill Historical Society hears about October 1880 cold case

Published October 25. 2012 05:02PM

Eric Kerchner, chief Monroe County detective, attended the Oct. 17 meeting of the Chestnuthill Township Historical Society to make a presentation and possibly get some help solving a rape-murder case from October 1880.

He and those who are working on it, are doing so on their own time. The 17-year-old girl, Etna Bittenbender, left home to go to a neighbor where she helped with chores. Her path took her across Pensyl Creek.

She did not get there and was found by her siblings the following morning as they walked to school. Her gravestone is in Mount Zion Cemetery on Easton-Belmont Road. There were four suspects, none of whom were tried because of lack of evidence.

Kerchner would like to find the newspaper report in the Monroe Democrat. He has copies of the other papers that ran the story.

There was also a picture in a cousin's house in the 1960s, but it is missing and the house is empty. William Lesh tried to get the picture when he published a book on the homicide.

One newspaper said a private detective was hired there were no formal police forces. The county paid $98.35 in 1880 for a detective marked for the Bittenbender case.

The Pinkerton Detective Agency is the only one known at that time. Kerchner contacted the Pinkertons but found their records had been donated to the Library of Congress. A researcher will be hired to see if anything can be learned there.

"Somebody, somewhere may have a notebook on this case in their attic. We're looking for reference material," said Kerchner. "At some point someone will give us the information we need."

He would like to sit down and talk to anyone with any familiarity or relationship to the case.

Christ Hamilton Church was the repository for many public records, but at the time of the death the church had a pastor who did not believe in keeping records. There is still a picture out there somewhere. The Bittenbender genealogy has been traced as far as possible looking for later relatives.

Kerchner can be reached at (570) 517-3052.

On Nov. 4, 1880, Samuel Bittenbender purchased a casket from Kresge Funeral Home.

In other matters: Up to $400 was donated to the West End Fire Company to get an estimate on repairs for the company's oldest truck known as the Buffalo.

A visit to the small McIlhenny Cemetery is planned for Nov. 17 at 11 a.m. Parking will be at the Pleasant Valley Ecumenical Network if permission is given.

It was also suggested a tour should be arranged to the camp museum at Boy Scout Camp Trexler.

The November meeting will be held on the 28th because of Thanksgiving.

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