How The Crime Was Revealed – A Missouri Legend

By Charles M. Skinner in 1896

Missouri Fall Foliage

Missouri Fall Foliage

In 1853 a Hebrew peddler, whose pack was light and his purse was full, asked leave to pass the night at the house of Daniel Baker, near Lebanon, Missouri. The favor was granted, and that was the last seen of Samuel Moritz. However, when some neighbors shook their heads and wondered how it was that Baker was so well in funds, others replied that it was impossible to keep track of peddlers and that if Moritz wanted to start on his travels early in the morning or to return to St. Louis for goods, it mattered to nobody.

On an evening in 1860, when there was a mist in the gullies, and a new moon hung in the west, Reverend Cummings, a clergyman of that region, was driving home, and as he came to a bridge near “old man” Baker’s farm he saw a man standing on it, with a pack on his back and a stick in his hand, who was staring intently at something beneath the bridge.

The clergyman greeted him cheerily and asked him if he would like to ride, at which the man looked him in the face and pointed to the edge of the bridge. Mr. Cummings glanced down and saw nothing, and when he looked up again, the man with the pack had disappeared. His horse, at the same moment, snorted and plunged forward at a run so that the clergyman’s attention was fully occupied until he had brought the animal under control again; when he glanced back and saw that the man was still standing on the bridge and looking over the edge of it.

HangedThe minister told his neighbors of this adventure, and on returning with two of them to the spot the following day, they found the body of older man Baker swinging by the neck from a beam of the bridge exactly beneath where the apparition had stood — for it must have been an apparition, since the dust and damp. However, the dew showed no trace of footprints.

In taking down the body, the men loosened the earth on a shelving bank, and the gravel rolling away disclosed a skeleton with some bits of clothing on it that were identified as belongings of Samuel Moritz. Was it conscience, craziness, or fate that led old man Baker to hang himself above the grave of his victim?


Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated January 2024.

About the Author: Charles M. Skinner (1852-1907) authored the complete nine-volume set of Myths and Legends of Our Own Land in 1896. This tale is excerpted from these excellent works.

Also See:

Folklore & Superstition in America