Thriller Thursday – Attempted Murder and Suicide

Everyone’s family history can be thrilling. There are skeletons in most family closets. Roscoe and Gladys, like most people, had theirs as well. Several babies were born out of wedlock, an uncle became a counterfeiter, another aunt was locked away in the state mental hospital, several people divorced, and various scandals abounded. As the family researcher, I have found many of them, but I am sure I have not found all of them yet. One very interesting story makes a good post for Thrilling Thursday.

Nancy with her first husband, Theodore Walker, circa 1888 (Image courtesy of Jane Riley)

Nancy with her first husband, Theodore Walker, circa 1888 (Image courtesy of Jane Riley)

Nancy Mae McCoy Schiele was the oldest daughter of Elizabeth (Krieble) Schiele. Nancy later adopted the surname of her stepfather Michael Schiele. Rumor has it that she was Elizabeth’s illegitimate daughter, born eleven months prior to Elizabeth’s marriage to Michael, although Michael was not likely the father. Michael’s first wife gave birth to twins girls two months after Nancy was born. Mary Schiele died in childbirth along with one of the babies. According to legend, the father is believed to be James McCoy. No record of this man has been found thus far. Neither has a marriage record been found in either Clay or Owen counties. Now, it may be possible that Elizabeth and James were married, but the record has been lost. Nancy was conceived in the summer of 1865 after the Civil War had officially ended. Much like the years preceding her birth, Nancy’s life was filled with turmoil. One of my father’s cousins, a son of Clarence Yegerlehner,  wrote to me in 1995, “My Dad says that Nancy must have been quite a person – especially for those days – she was married 2 or 3 times (for that time, I’m sure considered rather immoral.) One of the men she went with wanted to marry her – she refused – and he took a gun and shot her – I don’t think he killed her – merely wounded her.”[1] This was the first reference to the shooting that I had come across.

Later I found a write-up in the History of Clay County by William Travis.[2]

Attempted Murder and Suicide - 1884, p. 1

Attempted Murder and Suicide - 1884, p. 2

I hadn’t thought about this story much until recently when I became connected with some of Nancy’s descendants. I started to do a little more digging. This month I found a couple contemporary newspaper clippings about the incident.

Brazil Register

Brazil Register, 28 February 1884


A Young German Near Clay City, Shoots His Sweet-Heart and Himself

CLAY CITY, Ind., February 25. – Yesterday about 11 o’clock a terrible tragedy was enacted one mile of north of town. Louis Oberndorfer, a young German, shot Nancy Schiele twice, the balls going through her arms and lodging under her shoulder blades. He then fired two balls into his own breast, then followed the girl down stairs and tried to shoot her as she ran toward the stable. Failing in this he went up stairs and shot himself again in the bowels, the ball lodging in the back near the spine. It seems that Oberdorfer had wanted to marry the girl, and had been refused yesterday; in the absence of the girl’s parents he procured a revolver with the intention of ending her life if she refused him again, and the above was the result. It is thought the girl is not dangerously hurt, but the young man is thought to be fatally wounded. At last accounts they were both resting tolerably easy. (Brazil Register, 28 February 1884, p. 1, col. 5.)

Because the event was so tragic and amazing, multiple papers in the region wrote about it.

Schiele, Nancy - Attempted Murder and Suicide, 1884-02-25

Attempted Murder and Suicide

CLAY CITY, Feb. 25th, 1884

In a fit of madness yesterday, about 10 o’clock, Louis Oberdorfer attempted to murder Miss Nancy Schiele for refusing to marry him, by shooting her twice, one shot each entering under each arm and lodging under the shoulder blades. She, with the assistance of young sister, eight years old, succeeded in escaping from him, when he shot himself three times, one shot entering his right breast, another the left breast, and another passed through the stomach. His wounds are considered mortal, while Miss Shiele is seriously wounded, but not considered  fatally by her physicians, although she will probably be a cripple for life.

Oberdorfer is a young German, 23 years old, has been in this country 18 months, and for the past six months has made his home at Mr. Michael Schiele’s house, who is one of our most prosperous German farmers, living one mile north of town.

The sad affair created great excitement as all parties were highly respected and such results were never thought of. The young lady is unable to lie down, but is resting easy as possible in a sitting position. Mr. Oberdorfer is provided with a comfortable room and bed in the house of Mr. Schiele, and at the last reports this morning was still alive, receiving good attention from the family and his friends. At the time of the shooting Mr. Schiele and the rest of the family were away from home with the exception of Miss Nancy and two younger sisters and Mr. Oberdorfer. (Clay County Enterprise (Brazil, Indiana), 27 February, 1884)

Two details from this article jumped out at me. The first is that after Oberdorfer shot his daughter, Mr. Schiele allowed Louis Oberdorfer to remain in the household. The second is that this article mentions that two younger daughters were also home at the time. The eight year old was Lovina, my great grandmother and Roscoe’s mother.

And just in case, you thought the story was over….it does have a tragic ending, at least for Louis.

Oberdolfer, Louis - Died, 1884

Louis Oberdorffer, the attempted murderer and suicide, was removed from the residence of Mr. Schiele, last Thursday afternoon, to town. It was hard to convince him that the number of men who went to assist in his removal was not a mob wanting his life. He seemed to continually grow better until Sunday forenoon, when he suddenly began sinking and died about 12:30 o’clock, having lived probably two hours over a week from the time of the shooting. He was buried on Monday.

©2013 copyright owned and written by Deborah Sweeney

[1] Duane Yegerlehner (Indianapolis, Indiana) to Deborah Sweeney, letter, 30 October 1995; privately held by Deborah Sweeney, Elk Grove, California, 2013.

[2] Travis, William,  A history of Clay County, Indiana : closing of the first century’s history of the county, and showing the growth of its people, institutions, industries and wealth (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1909), 484-485.

6 thoughts on “Thriller Thursday – Attempted Murder and Suicide

  1. davidmadison1942

    And I always thought I was the first divorce in the family: “several people divorced…” 🙂

    “but the young man is thought to be fatally wounded. At last accounts they were both resting tolerably easy.” Strange thing to write!

    Such a different era: no mention whatever of hospitals. No wonder he died a week later.

  2. Su Leslie

    What a ghastly story. I’m so glad Nancy survived. I found a very similar story here in Auckland – quite by accident. It doesn’t involve any of my ancestors, but I blogged about it nontheless. It involved a 17 year old girl who was fatally shot by a would-be suitor who then killed himself. I literally stumbled upon it by finding the girl’s headstone in a old cemetery. The inscription said she had been shot and as that is quite unusual in New Zealand – especially in the 1880’s – I did some research and found out what had happened. It really struck a chord with me as I am involved in a fund-raising trust for Women’s Refuge, so domestic violence is very much in my mind.

    1. Genealogy Lady Post author

      How tragic! I am glad Nancy did survive as I currently know several of her descendants via the internet. I don’t know how common that sort of thing was in the United States. It does appear to be the first incident of its kind in Clay County, at least from the write-up in the country history.

      1. Su Leslie

        I’m glad it was relatively rare in the US too; I found a few incidents of domestic violence in the NZ newspapers of the time, but I guess it has/had to be almost fatal to be reported. Domestic violence is so often swept under the rug.

      2. Genealogy Lady Post author

        I definitely can believe that domestic violence was ignored, unless it escalated to severe injury or death. I think it might also depend on the location, urban vs. rural.

      3. Su Leslie

        Yes, I think that smaller communities could sometimes provide some sort of safety net, even though domestic violence wasn’t actually talked about. It’s surprised me how many instances of violence were in my family that my mother knew about and speaks of quite casually. I wonder if that is because the men in these cases are her relatives, rather than the women.

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