Local history: Old photos found in box are relics of shocking tragedy

In January 1906, Minnie Berndt went missing. She thought she was walking down the aisle.

A murder victim was the last thing that Janette Stender expected to find while rummaging through a closet in her Tallmadge home.

She noticed something on the backs of two pictures when she was sorting through a large box of old photographs.

The first photo shows a studio portrait of six young women. There is a note on the back.

What happened to the beloved mural?

The second portrait features a teen girl wearing a striped, high-buttoned dress with her long hair pulled back. She is seated in the bottom right of the photo.

There is a note on the back.

Stender couldn't identify the faces in the photos and wrote "me" on the back. The names are not in the family genealogy. She doesn't know why the pictures were kept.

Stender stumbled across a story from more than 100 years ago.

The match factory workers took a portrait. There is a girl at the bottom right.

The girl who vanished in January 1906 was named Minnie Berndt and she was with her boyfriend. She thought she was going to marry someone.

One of the eight children born to the Berndts was 17-year-old Minnie. The German American family lived near the hamlet of Hametown. Her father worked in the coal industry.

The Deibel family lived on a farm in Franklin Township, which is now New Franklin, about 2 miles south of Johnson's Corners. In 1904, his father killed himself after a fight with his wife.

The teens met while working at the pottery company. At the match factory, Minnie took a job.

The mother of the sweethearts refused to let her son marry the sweetheart. Time was running out. The newspapers reported that the girl was in a delicate condition.

It was taken in the night.

On the night of January 28, 1906, Minnie was picked up in a buggy. She left home in a white shirtwaist, blue skirt, lace shoes, raincoat and turban. He took her to his home.

When we got there, I unhitched my horse, put the buggy in the shed, and took Minnie to the haymow. I put a bed on the hay in one corner of the mow after taking several horse blankets and my dead father's ulster, which was hanging in the barn. I sewed a red handkerchief into a pillow.

He did not tell his mother that the girl was in the barn. His plan was to get her to allow him to marry.

He brought breakfast the next morning.

He said that he kept her there and visited with her every chance he got.

Three days passed. Barbara Deibel had a firm position. She wouldn't allow her son to marry that girl.

Forced to choose between marrying his girlfriend or disobeying his mother, he chose the unthinkable.

He went to the barn late in the evening. He picked up the rifle that he used to shoot sparrows.

"I went to the haymow, and Minnie was sound asleep in the bed that I had arranged for her," he said. Her face was turned toward the roof of the barn as the moon shone through the cracks in the roof.

I climbed up into the rafters about 10 feet away from her. I aimed at her head and fired.

The family was worried about her location. After she left, her brother went to ask if he had seen her.

Not recently, he said. He said he dropped her off in Barberton at Second Street and Tuscarawas Avenue and that she took a streetcar to work.

According to Louis, the last time he saw her was when she got on the car without bidding him goodbye.

A gruesome discovery.

The months passed. The seasons changed.

Henry McMahon was looking for eggs in the Deibel barn when he smelled an overpowering odor. He was horrified when he found a girl's body in the hay.

McMahon went to the neighboring farmer to report the gruesome discovery, and they drove to Barberton to inform the marshal.

The officers arrived at the Deibel farm.

He said he had to die. The corpse was found in the barn.

The remains were identified through her clothing.

The mother said it was our girl. Our poor girl.

In 1906, Deibel confessed to murder.

The boy sobbed as he said he wanted to marry her and she wanted to marry him.

Deibel was taken to the Summit County Jail in Akron, where he confessed.

I wanted to bury the girl some night, but I couldn't because I loved her and I couldn't touch her dead body.

The youth cried when his mother visited him in jail.

Barbara Deibel toldLeo to be brave. If you must die for this crime, die like a man.

She began to cry when she left the cell.

She said she would have allowed him to marry the girl. It is too late.

The Summit County Jail was torn down in 1965, it was built in the 19th century.

The Summit County Coroner ruled that Minnie died from a bullet to the right temple. The girl was six months pregnant. The remains were buried in a cemetery.

The man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

A person in a courtroom.

The judge said that the salacious proceedings could not have worked for the community and the morality of the public.

Wanamaker scolded the murderer at the sentencing. The judge sounded upset.

Wanamaker said that your relations began with the highest motives and purposes. She gave to you her honor and innocence.

The judge said that he should have made Minnie his wife when he realized her condition.

Wanamaker said, "whether through overwhelming love for your mother or in your own weakness, you did, however, refuse to do the least that you could have done by marrying her." She lost her life in the barn you took her to.

He sentenced him to life in prison.

After the event, he cried, "I'm glad it's over." I would have married her if I had my way.

He was supposed to spend the rest of his life behind bars, but it didn't work out that way.

Paroled for good behavior.

The Ohio board of pardons commuted the sentence of Leo in 1915. The state paroled him for good behavior.

The murderer was free after 10 years.

After getting married, he had children. He worked in Alliance.

The man killed himself after 40 years.

He got into a fight with his wife. He shot himself in the head after threatening to hurt her. The man was buried at Alliance City Cemetery.

Janette Stender doesn't know why her husband's family gave her photos. Walter Stender and Arthur Fitts worked in the match industry. Did Fitts take portraits?

The victim's relatives lived in Hametown. There is a possibility that the family was connected to the church in Barberton.

Stender might never know.

It is a terrible story. She can't comprehend what happened when he killed his sweetheart.

She knows the story behind the photos.

Stender said it wasFascinating. Not cheerful, but fascinating. Minnie will be remembered.

Mark J. Price can be reached.

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Local history: old photos found in box are relics of shocking tragedy.