Joan Bittner Fry
The following rendition of the story of the Newey murders that occurred in Sabillasville on New Year’s Eve in 1830 is one that I don’t recall seeing before. This account is detailed and sometimes gruesome. The location of the action is about a half mile from where I was born. The internet states a Newey cemetery is located in the Harbaugh Valley, just south of the Washington County line on Fort Ritchie Road in Frederick County.
In the late Virginia Kuhn Draper’s book, Dandelions, Mushrooms and Moss-Covered Stones, she tells of being fortunate enough to be taken to the Newey graves in the woods up on the mountain. Paul Wade and Thad Calimer raked the leaves off the fieldstones that marked the graves. They found more stones than the three or four that her mother-in-law, Ona Draper, had seen in 1959.
Later, she and her sister, Jeannette, with Thad Calimer as a guide, found the moss-covered stones marking the foundations of the Newey cabin and barn.
The Newey Family
John Newey, his wife Lydia Tressler Newey, their children, Ruth and Ann Newey, and an unborn child were murdered around midnight, between New Year’s Eve in the year 1830, and January 1st, 1831 in Frederick County, Maryland. Also present were Lydia’s father, Jacob Tressler, who was visiting in the log home, and John Coombs, an indentured servant. Lydia’s husband, John Newey, was having problems with a nephew, John Markley, who had been accused of taking property from his home in December 1825. John Markley was arrested and sent to prison for five years. John Markley threatened his uncle, saying that when he got out he would burn their home to the ground. John Markley broke down their door with an axe around midnight the last day of 1830. He killed everyone in the home then burned it to the ground. John Markley was the first person in Frederick County, Maryland to be tried, convicted, and sentenced to death based on circumstantial evidence. He was sentenced to be hanged.
The story as written: In our frantic age, one can scarcely imagine a more sequestered spot than the site of the George Flautt home on the top of South Mountain. Except for the arrivals of the wagons and their boisterous drivers seeking food and rest or an organized hunt for the predatory fox or wildcat, the spot, practically surrounded by forests must then have been as quiet as the grave; however, on Wednesday night, December 31, 1830 a tragic event broke the silence, stirred the mountain community to its very foundations, and is, even now, 137 years later, heatedly discussed when mountain folk get together.
On land adjoining Buck Range, at a point about one quarter of a mile from the Flautt home in the depression between the top of the mountain and the entrance to Harbaugh Valley, John Newey had built a cabin for his family which consisted of himself, his pregnant wife, Lydia, two small children, his father-in-law, and an apprentice boy. On the night of December 31, 1830 all were murdered and the cabin set on fire.
For very valid reasons, the finger of suspicion was immediately pointed to one John Markley as the perpetrator of this dastardly crime. Five years before, at the time of the marriage of John Newey and Lydia Tressler, Markley and a cousin were accused of stealing a wedding suit, a watch, and $250 from the bridegroom, their uncle. On testimony of the bride, both were found guilty and sentenced to terms in the penitentiary, Markley receiving the longer sentence. Markley never forgave Mrs. Newey’s damaging testimony and vowed that when free, he intended to kill the whole family. When the cousin was released from custody he warned the Neweys that Markley intended to carry out his numerous threats.
Markley was released from the penitentiary on November 25, 1830 and soon appeared in the vicinity of the Newey home. After the murder, Markley was apprehended in Baltimore and during his examination there, these facts of the case emerged (as reported in the Frederick Herald January 22, 1831, as copied from the Baltimore Patriot).
“That Markley was thought to have an accomplice described as a stout, good looking fellow, fair complexion, sandy hair and whiskers, and about 5 feet, 10 or 11 inches high, and is supposed to have accompanied Markley to Baltimore after the murder. This man was later identified as Christian Frydinger and was tried and found innocent of any part in the Newey murder. That when arrested, Markley had in his possession a pair of velvet pantaloons, identified by their singular appearance as having belonged to John Newey.
That Markley was seen the day before the murder and arson was committed within two miles of Newey’s dwelling, and made inquiry whether Newey still resided in the same place, threatening that he would destroy the whole family and then give himself up to be hung. On the night after Markley and his companion stayed in Smithstown (Smithsburg), distant by six miles from Newey’s house. They sat up all night and departed by daybreak the next morning.
After this testimony, Markley was remanded to jail to await a later trial in Frederick, Maryland. Newspapers of that time from the Gettysburg Star to the Washington, DC Spectator gave wide coverage to the story of the murder on South Mountain, some claiming that Markley had made a full confession but which was completely untrue. Reporters, then as now, tried to color the news, condemn the prisoner before the trial began, and sway public opinion to their own wills. One reporter described Markley as a man of the most athletic and vigorous frame, and, quoting Shakespeare, painted him as “a fellow by the hand of nature marked, to do a deed of shame.” Another reporter described Markley’s features as indicating mildness and ignorance, rather than the diabolical passions.
The trial began in Frederick, Maryland on May 18, 1831 before Chief Justice Buchanan. Markley was arraigned on two indictments, one for the murder of John Newey and the other for the murder of Lydia Newey. James Dixon was the State’s Attorney and William Ross and Joseph Palmer were appointed to represent the defense which could not produce a single witness for Markey’s behalf.
George Flautt, Newey’s nearest neighbor, was the first witness for the state. His testimony follows in part as reported in the Fredericktowne Herald May 21, 1831.
Witness: In the morning I called up my boys early, a few hours before day – when my wife arose from bed she looked out the window and remarked that there was a great smoke over toward Newey’s – one of my boys ran down and returned with one of Mr. Newey’s horses and told us the house was all on fire and he saw no one about. I went down – the house was on fire. We had a good view of all the inside of the house and saw Newey lying on the floor with his feet towards the bed and his head towards the door – the hair was burned off his head and the skull and skin appeared quite white. And on the right side of his head there was a hole – it appeared to have been done with an axe. The skull was broken in – there were small cracks from the main wound like the cracks of an egg shell. I examined it particularly, as I expected I would have to testify on the subject.
Question: Did you examine the skull clearly?
Witness: I did not as the house was burning. I sent my son to collect the neighbors. I also blew a horn but it did not bring them together directly. By the time the neighbors came up, the head of Newey was entirely burnt to ashes.
Question: Did you see Mrs. Newey while the house was burning?
Answer: I did see her after the neighbors came up – she lay in the bed downstairs – her head was burned off – she was otherwise much burned – old Mr. Tressler was burnt up entirely – the infants were less burnt – the bound boy was nearly consumed. I saw the linens of Mrs. Newey’s which had three holes in it as if made by a knife. (The counsel for the prisoner objected to the validity of this testimony.) After some discussion among counsel the witness was permitted to proceed.
Witness: I did examine the linen, the linen was bloody – I examined the stab wounds on the body, particularly one about the abdomen – the rent (hole) in the linen was crosswise and seemed to have been cut – we applied the linen to the body and the holes in the lines corresponded with the wound in the body. Later, Mrs. Newey’s body was exhumed and this testimony was proved to be correct.
Question: Was there any report in the neighborhood about Markley when you went to the Newey house?
Witness: There was. I heard that Mr. Newey was warned to be on his guard for his house to be burnt down. When the witness testified that though the floor of the cabin was burning he could clearly see the bodies, this question was put to him:
Question: Could it be possible if the floor was burning all around him that there was no smoke near the body to obscure it?
Witness: The smoke was in the heavens – there was none about the body – when we burn trash, there is smoke enough in the clouds, but none about the flame.
George Flautt further testified that when he saw Newey’s body, the clothing had been removed.
The second witness was John Flautt, George’s son, who corroborated his father’s testimony. Having reached the fire first, he said that it appeared to him that the house had been set on fire at both the top and the ground floors. Jonas and John Manahan and Daniel Benchoff all gave similar testimony concerning the wounds on Mrs. Newey’s body.
The third witness, John King, a son of Mr. Newey’s sister, Sarah King, testified that at Markley’s first conviction he said he would have revenge. John Williams was at the jail on the day of Markley’s former sentence and testified that the prisoner had said “The states attorney and the judges were no better than Newey and the witnesses or they would not have believed them” and swearing very hard to it: “If ever I get out I will have the satisfaction if I have to kill and burn up the whole of them.”
Another witness, John Black, who lived on the road leading from Emmitsburg to Waynesboro, stated that Markley had come to his place on the evening of December 21 seeking supper and lodging for the night. He gave his name as John Markley and said he lived in the Middletown Valley and had taken sheep and hogs to Baltimore. He wore a yellow ‘warmuss’ and left the next morning without paying his bill. Black identified both Markley and his warmuss at the trial.
Barnard W. Wright of Smithstown (Smithsburg), Washington County, testified as follows: The first Friday after Newey’s murder about sunset Markley came to my house, 7 miles from Newey’s. Another man was with him. Markley had a knapsack, roughly sewed and well filled with clothing. He gave it to me to keep. They took supper and both seemed very hungry – told me they came from Huntington County, Pennsylvania. Newey’s murder was known. After these men went to bed and myself also, I reflected that they might be the murderers. I became alarmed, got up, and set up all night – they arose before day. Markley pulled out his purse containing perhaps seven or eight dollars in silver. I noticed Markley’s purse particularly and thought it the very purse that I saw Mr. Newey have at my house about two weeks before. When they left my house, they said they were going down the New Cut Road towards Frederick – spoke of stopping at Jacob’s Tavern on that road – has no doubt that this is the man at his (Wright’s) house. Testimony proved that Markley proceeded to Baltimore and stopped at the tavern of one Joshua Kelly, paying in advance for a week’s board and lodging which amounted to $2.50 – gave his name as John Markley and opened in the bar a bundle of clothes from which he selected a blue coat which he took out with him to be scoured. While at the tavern he read and discussed with other patrons the story of the Newey murder.
The next day, Sunday, January 10, Markley was arrested and given a hearing before James Blair, magistrate, who held him for a jury trial. Before this magistrate, he said that he had been born near Hagerstown, Maryland – that he had never been arrested before nor had he been in the penitentiary and that he had been in Chambersburg on the night of the murder. However, he testified before Judge Shriver that he was in the neighborhood of Chambersburg on Monday previous to the murder, and at Westminster on Friday after the event. When pressed as to his whereabouts on the night of the murder, he answered – If I must tell the truth, I was on a spree from the Tuesday previous to the murder until the Friday after and can’t tell where I was.
When he was then asked why many articles of clothing in his pack were too small for him, Markley could give no satisfactory answer. The bundle of clothes which Markley carried with him to Smithsburg and to Baltimore proved to be his undoing. Mr. King, son of Newey’s sister, Sarah, identified the pantaloons found in Markley’s pack as belonging to his uncle, John Newey, and said that on the day of his uncle’s wedding he had borrowed them to wear to the ceremony and that his mother, finding a tear in the side, had mended it with white thread, The stitches of which King identified. Mr. Manahan also identified the pantaloons as having been the property of Newey. Sally Manahan stated that the handkerchief found in the bundle and bearing a yellow patch had belonged in the Newey home where she had washed it during her service there.
A Mr. Nichols testified that two vests taken from the bundle had belonged to Newey and Mrs. Newey’s brother stated that another vest had belonged to the apprentice who was killed with the family.
From a mark on the handle, Mr. Oyster identified a razor in Markley’s possession, also a shaving box and razor strop. He testified that while Newey was a stout man, he was not as large as Markley.
Other witnesses gave testimony similar to that given above, all detrimental to the prisoner after which the jury retired to return after a deliberation of half an hour with a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree.
After an impassioned castigation of Markley for his heinous act, Chief Justice Buchanan sentenced him to pay with his life for the murder of the Newey family – to be hanged by the neck until you are dead.
While waiting at the barracks in Frederick for execution, Markley admitted to his court-appointed confessor, the Rev. Mr. Shaeffer, the commission of every conceivable sin except that of murder. On the scaffold on June 24, 1831 he was twice given the opportunity to admit his guilt but each time he protested that he did not know who killed the Newey family. And so John Markley went to his death never admitting the murder.
Several members of the Flautt family have had the entire account of this murder and trial sent to them by Dr. Bowman. A copy will also be filed with the Flautt papers in the Maryland Historical Society.
Out of compassion for the Newey Family and an intent to preserve local history, Dorothy Buhrman, owner of the old Newey property, designed and funded the marker shown above that marks the Newey burial site that is several miles away from the home site.