F ort Indiantown Gap straddles the Central Pennsylvania counties of Lebanon and Dauphin. An active training base, area residents have become accustomed to the whirring of helicopter blades overhead, and the occasional booms of live artillery. “The Gap,” as locals call it, is just an ordinary military installation. But for television producers, paranormal investigators, and curious researchers, it is one of the best-known haunted sites in the nation. These visitors are drawn by one of the saddest events in the area's history: the murder of a pauper by a group of men who will forever be known as “The Blue-Eyed Six.”
By the 1870s, the threat of Indian attack upon Gap settlers had long since passed. Many families, no longer needing the protection offered by forts, made their homes among the thick trees at the foot of the Blue Mountains. None of these families had a lot of money but one man, widower Joseph Raber, was particularly destitute. When odd jobs, hunting and fishing weren't enough to ward off starvation, neighbors often came to Raber's aid. These same neighbors were surprised to learn, after the poor man slipped and drowned in the creek near his home, that his life had been insured for $8,000. This highly suspect circumstance also caught the attention of local authorities who uncovered a most shocking and grisly conspiracy.
At the time of Raber's death, it was a common (although despicable) practice for one person to take out a life insurance policy on another - even if there was absolutely no familial, personal or business relationship between the two individuals. The need to prove a valid “insurable interest” came too late for Raber whose six neighbors set about benefiting from policies on his life.
In July 1878, four of the six conspirators (Israel Brandt, Josiah Hummel, Henry Wise and George Zechman) met at Brandt's hotel. They agreed that each man would purchase a life insurance policy on Raber. Such policies were necessary, they told insurance agent George W. Schweinhard, because they planned to care for Raber throughout his remaining years and would eventually need the payout to cover his burial expenses. If the insurance agent harbored any questions, he apparently kept them to himself - as did Raber who seemingly never doubted that the mens' intentions were sincere.
Yet, for all of their cold calculations, none of these four conspirators was interested in the actual task of dispatching the old man. For this they enlisted two more men: Charles Drews and Frank Stichler. Though they did not take out their own policies on Raber's life, Drews was promised $300. He, in turn, promised Stichler $100.
On December 7, 1878, Drews visited Raber. He invited the old man to come to his shack for tobacco. Drews lead the way, while Raber followed. At some point, Stichler joined them.
To get to Drews' shack, the men had to cross the 12-foot-wide Indiantown Creek via a plank stretching between its shores. When Raber reached the mid-way point, Stichler threw him into the water. The creek being only 17 inches deep, both he and Drews struggled to hold the old man down long enough to successfully drown him - a task they finally accomplished. Like killing Raber, though, things became much more difficult than the murderers ever imagined.
Unfortunately for all six men, Brandt was a talkative drunk. He bragged to the coroner about the life insurance policies, and even offered the medical examiner $20 to quickly rule the death accidental.
Within four months, all six men were indicted for the murder of Joseph Raber. At the end of their eight-day trial, all were convicted. A newspaper reporter covering the case noticed the similarity of eye color and dubbed the killers “The Blue-Eyed Six.”
On August 18, 1879, Drews, Stichler, Brandt and Hummel were sentenced to death. Zechman, the only defendant to hire an attorney, was granted a new trial. Wise, who had confessed two days earlier, enjoyed a very brief reprieve.
Charles Drews and Frank Stichler, the hired “hit men,” met the noose first. They were hanged on November 14, 1879.
On May 13, 1880, Brandt, Hummel, and Wise were hanged in the prison yard on Eighth Street in Lebanon.
George Zechman was eventually acquitted and died in 1906. He was buried at Sattazahn's Church and Cemetery, less than 20 feet from Josiah Hummel. Frank Stichler was buried on his family's land. Henry Wise was laid to rest in Green Point Cemetery. Charles Drews and Israel Brandt are buried side-by-side in Mt. Lebanon Cemetery.
Contrary to popular belief, only Joseph Raber is buried in Moonshine Church cemetery - a house of worship named not for distilled alcohol, but rather the unusual surname of the family that financed its construction. Today the church sits on Fort Indiantown Gap land, and is the site most frequently visited by ghost hunters from cable TV networks such as SyFy.
Stories of spectral activity at Moonshine Church are as varied as they are numerous. Some say cars, if turned off, won't re-start. Others swear to seeing ghosts peering in through the church windows. Claims of multiple murders on the site are unfounded, yet persistent. A headless horseman reportedly rides past the church - although the reason for such peculiar activity could not be guessed. There are even claims that an evil Indian spirit named Red Devil haunts the church, a visage as confusing and baseless as a horseman with no head.
By far, however, the most oft-repeated claim is the sighting of six sets of glowing, blue eyes floating through the Moonshine Church cemetery. Is it “The Blue-Eyed Six” coming to beg for Joseph Raber's forgiveness? Or, is it just the kind of folklore that so often serves as mankind's coping mechanism when faced with such a brutal act as murder?
Hauntingly PENNSYLVANIA™ can't say. Perhaps one of the many paranormal investigators who receive the Fort's permission to research there will someday provide irrefutable proof, one way or the other. 💀