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Fire destroys site of infamous 1809 killing

Published April 07. 2014 02:33PM

OLEY, Pa. (AP) — Fire has destroyed an old eastern Pennsylvania farmhouse that officials say was the site of a murder that resulted in the last public execution of a woman in Pennsylvania history.

The cause of the Oley Township fire on Saturday night, which killed three dogs, remains unknown. State police in Reading estimated damage at $250,000 or more and said the home appears to be a total loss, The Reading Eagle ( ) reported.

Berks County historian George Meiser said the structure was historically significant, but had never been open to the public. But he said an unwed domestic servant was convicted of having killed her newborn on the property in February 1809.

Meiser said Susanna Cox, 24, hid her pregnancy from the family she was serving. A few days after she gave birth, a farmer found the infant's body in a small stone cabin on the property. Cox acknowledged that the child was hers but said he had been stillborn.

But a 1900 account of the case posted on the Historical Society of Berks County website said a physician's examination of the body revealed "that the lower jaw had been broken, the tongue torn loose and thrust back, and strangulation evidently produced by a wad of (cloth) or flax which had been forced into the throat."

Convicted by a Berks County Court jury and sentenced to death, Cox "bowed her head and wept convulsively, still, however, maintaining her innocence," the account states. Denied clemency by the governor, the account says, she later signed a confession prepared for her that was read to the crowd before her execution.

She was executed on June 10, 1809, on Gallows Hill, where the Berks County Vietnam Memorial now stands in City Park. By some estimates, as many as 20,000 people witnessed the hanging. Her story has been re-enacted at the Kutztown Folk Festival for years.


Information from: Reading Eagle,

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