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April 7, 1866

                                                                                                          Image Courtesy of Earnest Archives and Library

FOAM Murderer concealing his work for PT

April 7, 1866, was a cold and dreary spring day in a part of Philadelphia known as the “Neck.” Nevertheless, members of the Christopher Dearing family were excited for they were to be visited by cousin Elizabeth Dolan. In the morning, Christopher Dearing readied the family rig to go retrieve Dolan. Before he left, Dearing sent Cornelius Carey, his seventeen-year-old indentured servant, and hired-hand Anton Probst into the fields with their work assignments. Confident that his orders would be met, Dearing bade his family farewell. When he said goodbye to his wife Julia and their children, he could not have known it was the last time he would see his family alive.

                                                                                                                   Image Courtesy of Earnest Archives and Library

FOAM Dearing funeral 3 for PT

            The mud had yet to fall from the wagon’s wheels when a day of horror began. As Cornelius Carey innocently sat and talked about inconsequential matters, Probst rose behind him, hefting an ax. Before the poor boy ever became aware of any danger, Probst swung at Carey’s head. To make sure of his work, Probst then cut the boy’s throat. So as not to alert Julia or the Dearing children, Probst hid Carey’s body in a haystack and headed for the family home.

            With the removal of Carey, only Julia Dearing might have been able to launch any kind of a defense to save her children. Upon some pretext, Probst lured Julia Dearing into the barn. Once the victim was in place, Probst brutally dispatched her in the same manner as he had Carey. Once Julia Dearing’s body was hidden, the children were no match for the brute’s strength. Probst easily overcame eight-year-old John Dearing, six-year-old Thomas, four-year-old Anna, and two-year-old Emma Dearing. Once home to the happy laughter of children, silence claimed the farm. Unperturbed, Probst calmly sat and waited for his last two victims to arrive.

            When he returned with Elizabeth Dolan, Christopher Dearing did not realize anything was amiss. He and Dolan began to settle into the house. In separate instances, Probst lured each into the barn and murdered them. Silence descended again as Probst thought over his next move. He soon left for the city, but not before he fed and watered the livestock. Later, when questioned over this act, Probst stated he did not want the animals to suffer before they were discovered.9780692965191 p0 v1 s600x595

            Once neighbors began to become suspicious at the lack of activity at the Dearings, they investigated and found Christopher Dearing’s body. Quickly the police were alerted. Chief of the Detective Police, Benjamin Franklin led the investigation. In addition to investigating the horrific murders, law enforcement was tasked with keeping calm throughout the city. But citizens were aware a monster was on the loose. Luckily, Probst was soon captured and arrested. At the end of April, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.

            Death was not the end for Probst. Once his body was cut down after his execution, his corpse was delivered to a group of doctors to be used for scientific purposes. One of the experiments was an attempt to galvanize Probst. Unlike the Frankenstein monster, both the literary and Hollywood versions, Probst did not stir to life. The monster was dead. But his story lives on. Philadelphia’s first mass-murderer will be forever known as the “monster in shape of man.” As a New York Times correspondent declared, “He was not a man, he was sui generis a-PROBST.”

152-years-ago today, April 7, 1866.  Patricia Earnest Suter, author of The Face of A Monster: America's Frankenstein and The Hanging of Susanna Cox: Pennsylvania's Most Notorious Infanticide and the Legend That's Kept It Alive


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