The following is an extract from an article by Jan K. MacIlwraith. It was published in the 1987 issue of the Hearthstone. In discussing permission to extract with a staff member of the publication (Mr. John Kirschman, Consultant), it was decided that, as this is a compilation of information from other works, permission was not needed. Grateful acknowledgement, however, is made.
Who Was The First Person Hung
In Lehigh County
By Jan K. MacIlwraith
"A man murdered in Emmaus" is the heading of a news article written in the Allentown Friedens Bote, a German newspaper, concerning a murder that took place in the quiet borough of Emmaus many years ago.
It was a Saturday morning at approximately 11:00 A.M. on April 2, 1864. David Seem of Emmaus was sitting in the store of Henry Tool and Son reading a newspaper when William Keck of Allentown entered and delivered a court summons to Mr. Tool. As Keck was talking with Mr. Tool, David Seem left the store utering the remark that, "he was not yet finished with him"," referring to Keck. Keck left Tool's store through another door almost immediately after Seem. Soon loud talking was heard and approximately two minutes later there was the sound of a pistol.
Stumbling back into the store , David Seem collapsed and died while attempting to say something. A bullet had penetrated his left breast near the heart.
David Seem was the son of Conrad Seem and Catharina Seem, nee Schwartz. He had recently married Mary Ann Schumaker, nee Giering, on march 6, 1864. He was previously married to Sarah Sieger who died June 27, 1857. They had four children together.
On April 5, David Seem was laid to rest in Grave 311 located in the Old Moravian Cemetery, at Third and Adrian Streets in Emmaus. Dr. Preston A. Barba in his book They Came to Emmaus wrote: "In the adjecent grave , 311A, is buried David Seem's murderer, William Keck, the first person to be hanged in the Lehigh County.(p.169). Also, in the Old Moravian Cemetery at Emmaus, Pennsylvania is written: 311A, William Kisk(?) murderer of David Seem, the first person hanged in Lehigh County." Usually it is premediated murder that warrants such a punishment.
Immediately followng the shooting, Keck went to a nearby barroom. When a boy came in and announced that Seem was shot, Keck replied: "they say I shot him ..."
Keck was taken to Allentown Prison to await his trial. The jury was selected and sworn in in Septembe of 1864 to try to get an indictment for murder. Evidence of the Commonwealth and part of the evidence of the defendant was submitted and heard by the jury. But on September 17 the jury was discharged. It wasn't until November 9 that the trial of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. William Keck was conducted in the newly constructed but unfinished courtroom. The following day, William Keck made his plea: "Not Guilty"."
Unfortunately the trial records give only the names of witnesses who testified, not their testimony. But the details and abrupt and untimely death was released during the coroner's inquest, as reported in The Friedens Bote.
Accordingly, Henry Tool swore: "I saw William Keck reach into his pocket, raise his arm and fire at Seem. Seem said several words; but I cannot remember what they were. Keck went backwards down the steps. I don't know whether he was pushed or not. I saw Keck draw his pistol and fire." Henry Tool was called to testify several times for the Commonwealth and recalled for the defendant.
James Tool, another witness for the Commonwealth swore: "I saw Keck come out of the western door and Seem out of the northern (and) around the corner and raised his hands toward Keck and grabbed for Keck's unbrella with his left hand. I don't know whether he had hold of Keck's unbrella as he fired."
Supposedly, David Seem felt offended by certain remarks that Keck had made concerning him and his marriage to Mary Ann who was the widow of Captain Schumaker. Seem had mentioned to Keck his dislike of these remarks and possibly asked for an apology, but Keck refused to take back what he said. Seem then threatened Keck with violence, this appears to be the reason for Seems remark, prior to his death, that he was not yet finished with hime.
By November 18, the jury readched a verdict: Keck was found guilty of murder in the second degree. His punishment: imprisonmentin the Eastern Penitentary for the Eastern Division of Pennsylvania by separate and solitary confinement for the period of six years and six months. Please note: He was not hung as later reported.
If William Keck wasn't the first person to be hanged in Lehigh County
As for the person that lies buried in grave 311A, who is this person who over the years has been looked uponas being the murderer of a fellow citizen, who has been branded as the first person to be hanged in Lehigh County, and who has no inscribed gravestone--only an uncut field stone--to mark his grave. May God rest this poor soul ... society surely hasn't.
DG: Find the Friedens Bote for April 6, 1874
Information from other sources