From the Family archives of the late Charles Weirick, secretary of the Lebanon County Historical Society, comes this gruesome tale.
On, the morning of January 4, 1822, the children of the schools of Jackson Township, Lebanon County, met with a terrible sight as they peered into their classroom window. There was their teacher, Herr Joseph Miller, dangling from the end of a rope. After the door of the school house was battered down the full extent of the tragedy came into view. In a huddled heap on the floor of the school room lay the mangled bodies of a woman and two children, horribly mutilated. The schoolmaster had murdered his entire family with an ax and then took his own life by hanging.
Joseph Miller, a native of Poland was forced to flee from his homeland when the avenging armies of Europe overthrew Napoleon Bonaparte. Miller had been a “Quisling” in Poland and when Napoleon’s star was setting he fled from his native country to escape the wrath of patriots who had suffered at the conqueror’s hands.
The exile found his way to Philadelphia where he established a family and eked out a meager existence as a laborer. When the German-speaking parents of Lebanon County wished to engage a schoolmaster who could speak and teach the German language Miller presented himself and was accepted as the teacher. The only reason that has been known for this triple murder and suicide was that Miller was despondent and that he was suspicious of the fidelity of his wife.
Funeral ceremonies were held for the entire family as their bodies were lowered into graves in the Union Tulpehocken Church of Myerstown. The mother and the two children were buried in the consecrated earth, but the murderer-suicide was interred in a fence corner beyond the limits of the churchyard.
In Rehresburg, Berks County there was a young physician named Levi Tryon. Doctor Tryon was deeply interested in anatomy. He needed a human body to dissect in order to advance his studies.
During the night which followed the burial of the Polish Schoolmaster Dr. Tryon rode to the cemetery in Myerstown on horseback. Quietly he dug up the body of the murderer and tossed the corpse across his saddle. Soon after he began his homeward journey he was seen by some of the residents of Myerstown. These people raised an alarm which brought out a number of pursuers who tried to overtake the ghoulish Tryon. A spirited race took place along the road which leads from Myerstown to Stouchsburg but the Rehresburg physician succeeded in taking his prize across the Berks county line near Leinbach’s or Trinity Tulpehocken Church. For many years the skeleton of Herr Miller was used by medical students in Berks. Perhaps Miller was a better teacher as a cadaver than he was as a schoolmaster.
These details were related by Mr. Weirick’s grandmother who was one of the students in the school which Miller taught. She was present at the time of the discovery of the tragedy.
Human Skeleton: Image Source