A Dose of Prolonged Eye Contact, the Case of the Blue-Eyed Six

1878 was a fun, great year for Pennsylvania’s Lebanon County. Life insurance policies, a creek, and — wait a minute — a dead body?


Austyn Mizgorski, Author

I: Introduction


Happy spooky season, Hampton, and welcome back to another episode of Tea Time with a Side of Crime! This episode’s a bit shorter than last time, but it’s got ghosts, so perfect for this time of year! Prepare those peepers and your beverage of choice, because today, we’re looking at the case of the Blue-Eyed Six.


A lesser known story for sure, the origins of the Blue-Eyed Six case stems from the tombstone of one Joseph Raber. It displays the information that any normal tombstone should: it showcases his name, birth date, death date, and “Victim of the Blue Eyed Six?” Wait, what? It’s a peculiar thing to have on a gravestone for sure, but the origins behind his death at the hands of six people is certainly one to investigate.


Located in the Moonshine Church’s cemetery in Lebanon County lies the mysterious tombstone of Joseph Raber, “Victim of the Blue-Eyed Six.” Image from findagrave.com


II: The Victim


Let’s start off with Raber. Just who was the man who lays beneath that mysterious tombstone in Lebanon County? Joseph Raber, who was around fifty-nine years old at his time of death, was a widower. Financially, he wasn’t too well off, having to rely on hunting and fishing to try and keep himself fed. His neighbors took pity on him and tried to offer as much as they could to help the gentleman. What was most shocking, however, was the fact that this financially struggling man had a life insurance policy placed on him for $8,000. While life insurance policies were common for the time period, even for people with no familial or business associations, it’s interesting to note four of Raber’s neighbors had life insurance policies placed on him. These four men would later make up ⅔ of the Blue-Eyed Six.


II: The Killers


Moving onto the Blue-Eyed Six themselves, who were they? What were their motivations? Let’s crack into it. The four neighbors who I mentioned previously all met up in the July of 1878 to hatch their ploy to get the life insurance money from Raber: they were Israel Brandt, Josiah Hummel, Henry Wise and George Zechman.


“But how would they get the money?” I hear you asking. It’s simple enough — kill Raber.


However, none of the men wanted Raber’s blood on their hands, which is where Charles Drews and Frank Stichler come into play. At last, the Blue-Eyed Six had their titular six members. These two were hitmen hired by the other four members to kill Raber, which is exactly what happened.


III: The Plan


It was December 7th, 1878. One of the hitmen, Drews, visited Raber and extended an invitation to come to his cabin for tobacco. It’s unclear when, but at some point during the journey to Drews’ cabin, Stichler joined the party. On the way to the cabin, the trio had to cross the Indiantown Creek, a twelve foot wide and seventeen inch deep mass of water. This would be the final point in Raber’s journey, as this body of water was where Drews and Stichler drowned him.


IV: The Sentencing


It wasn’t all success for the other four members of the Blue-Eyed Six, as one of their members, Israel Brandt, fessed up drunkenly to the life insurance policies. All members were indicted within four months. The two hitmen were executed first in 1879. Following them was Brandt, Hummel, and Wise, who were executed in 1880. The final member, Zechman, was acquitted, and passed away in prison in 1906.


V: The “Hauntings”


If you, loyal reader, remember correctly, I mentioned this story had ghosts involved. While ghosts may be fictional, experiences have been reported that appear to be paranormal in nature. Joseph Raber, the victim of the case, was buried in Moonshine Church, and people have pointed to apparitions that speculators believe to be the Blue-Eyed Six. It’s about time that I explain why this name was given to them, actually, as it’s relevant for these “paranormal” encounters. As all of the six members had notable blue eyes, newspapers at the time called the sextet the “Blue-Eyed Six.” Creative, I know. The blue eyes of these dead men have been claimed to be spotted around Raber’s grave, for reasons that are still up to speculation. It’s also up to debate if these “ghost sightings” are even real; however, it’s a fun idea to entertain.


VI: Conclusion


Four men with a desire for money, a body in a creek, and colorful irises galore, the tale of Joseph Raber and the Blue-Eyed Six is one that opens your eyes to new possibilities. Despite it being an older case in comparison to the last one we covered, it’s still interesting to see just what happens when the prospect of financial gain gets to one’s head and how much of a legend this ghastly tale has become here in PA.


This has been Tea Time with a Side of Crime, where Pennsylvania’s most gruesome tales are served with a complementary cup of tea. Thanks for reading.