140 years later, Saxtown ax murders still a whodunit

News-DemocratMarch 20, 2014 

It was 140 years ago when five members of the Stelzriede family were murdered in their home near Saxtown, about four miles south of Millstadt.

Investigators at the time weren't sure whether it was late night March 19, 1874, or early morning March 20, 1874 when the killings occurred. So no one really knows for sure; the bodies were discovered late in the afternoon of the 20th.

Randy Eckert, who today owns the property at 5007 Bohleysville Road, and whose ancestors lived in the area at the time, let the public tour the old barn that still stands on the property on Wednesday as part of an anniversary commemoration.

He said he didn't want anyone calling it a celebration because what it was recalling was so awful. The barn was where the bodies were stored and the coffins were made for the burials days after the gruesome discovery.

Authorities investigated but all they had to go on were some bloody bodies and a few clues, like some bloody tobacco leaves found along a nearby road, and the behavior of some of the people who viewed the bodies after they were found.

The dead were bludgeoned with an ax and also sliced with knives. There were signs of a struggle, including stray ax blows in doorjambs.

Authorities never discovered who was responsible, or even how many people were involved in the murders. Although many were implicated and some arrested, the crime was never solved.

But much legend has been built around the story of Carl Stelzriede, 65, and his supposed recent acquisition of gold and other money that should have been in the house but was never found after the killings.

The story blazed from coast to coast as newspapers speculated in sensational stories and headlines, often incorrectly, on what happened.

Carl's son, Fritz, apparently was the first to die in a struggle after he opened the door. Carl's wife, Anna, and their two children, Carl Jr., 3, and the baby, also called Anna, 8 months, also were brutally killed, along with Carl Sr.

The murders chilled an entire region and generations later stories are still passed down that frighten children.

Nicholas J.C. Pistor, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter who wrote a recently published book about the massacre, "The Ax Murders of Saxtown," felt like he needed to be at the site on the anniversary.

He talked about the crime and his book. He brought along a short section of wood from a wall of the original house which was torn down in 1954. A new house was built on the site.

People who have rented it have reported unworldly events or ghosts especially around the anniversary.

People still speculate about who committed the murders -- the hired hand, the brother-in-law, or even some neighbors.

Everyone agrees that with the terrible conditions of the roads at the time, which were dirt paths muddy with rain, and the fact that no one saw any strangers in the area, the killer, or killers, must have been local.

To this day, no one alive knows who did it. And probably never will.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 618-239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service