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The Farmhouse

. . . at 115 Middle Holland Rd.  Holland, Pennsylvania was built c. 1740 and added onto in 1806. It was temporarily used early on as a Lutheran mission but the planned larger mission building was never constructed.

Next to the house is the Feaster-Van Horn Cemetery, the burial grounds of the founders of Feasterville and 6 soldiers of the Revolution. Many of the graves are family members of former homeowners.

 

History

The Farmhouse was the scene of the 1893 double murder of an elderly couple, Samuel and Leanah (Buskirk) Rightly. Samuel was a farmer and boot and shoemaker, as his father had been also.

Wallace Burt was a part-Black and part-Cherokee man of about 30 years who had been raised on the Cherokee Strip in Oklahoma and had been intentionally stranded in New York after having been cheated out of a payment he had made toward a promised trip to Liberia. In 1893 he ended up doing odd jobs in Newtown, where he was known as "The Indian." He applied for work at the Rightly farm in August and was asked to cut the grass of their one acre cemetery lot, which he did, using a scythe belonging to the owners. When his job was done, he was then told that he would be charged 25 cents for time spent sharpening the scythe and therefore would not be paid $1.00, as promised, but instead only 75 cents.   

The Rightlys, both in their eighties and unable to climb the stairs, used the downstairs parlor of the house as their bedroom. Early in the morning, probably before dawn, on September 17, 1893, someone came to the house from Newtown, entered the house and the room where the Rightlys lay, and, after having awakened them, beat the old man and woman to death with a hatchet. Samuel died with one arm across his face, in a defensive posture, and Leanah from blows on her face and throat from both the blunt and sharp sides of the weapon. The killer then took money from a box from which he'd apparently seen Mr. Rightly take from a location in his bedroom, and which at that time he may have thought contained $100.00 of rent money, set the Rightlys' bed on fire using kerosene and an oil lamp, and fled.

The discovery of the murder scene was made at 7:30 am by Mrs. Anna Stattler, the next-door neighbor, who had gone to the Rightly residence to take the old folks milk and eggs. She discovered the house partially on fire, with smoke pouring out the opened door, tried to put out the fire with buckets of water from a nearby spring, then neighbors saw her and joined in, and the fire, which had burned slowly and affected only the lower portions of the victims' bodies, was extinguished.

The hatchet used to commit the murder, which had belonged to Mr. Rightly, was found in a nearby field, covered in bloodstains.

After an extensive investigation from local and Philadelphia authorities, and the discovery that a corner of a cutting of tobacco found on the farm matched one sold in Newtown to Burt, the suspect was apprehended, kneeling in a swamp near Morrisville, exhausted from hunger and exposure. Later, after confessing to the crime, apparently to break the jury's deadlock, on March 22, 1894, he sentenced to be hanged in the Doylestown prison.

He exhibited extreme remorse for his crime, eventually volunteering a confession out of guilt, the desire for a degree of forgiveness, and the ability to die with a degree of dignity, and told the District Attorney, "The Devil made me do it. He gave me the hatchet, and I had nothing against the old man. I did not want his money."

On July 27, 1894, Burt was led to the scaffold erected for the purpose of his execution, wearing a new suit, shook the hand of the Sheriff who had arrested him, said he was glad to see him and gave him his photograph, then became the next-to-last prisoner hanged in Bucks County.

Did Wallace Burt act alone?
That's not at all certain. The new book about the case described below details its history and proposes an answer to that question.

The Rightlys are buried in Union Cemetery, Richboro, Pa.

The information is well documented and available on site for visitors to review. 

Click here to read the
original newspaper story of Wallace Burt's capture!

Click here to read Tom Baust's article from the book The Scythe and the Hatchet about his experiences becoming caretaker and then owner of the farmhouse at 115 Middle Holland Road!

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New Book About the Case

THE SCYTHE AND THE HATCHET is a new book by Eric Stedman telling the story of the 1892 incident at 115 Middle Holland Road and subsequent trial. It includes a history of the farmhouse, background information on the Rightlys and Wallace Burt, and covers the crime, its discovery, the pursuit and capture of the killer, his imprisonment and trial, the execution held in Doylestown, and also includes the story of how the house, after it was abandoned for many years, became known as "the Murder House" and its subsequent restoration by Tom Baust. The book includes rare photographs, summaries and transcripts of witness statements, a transcription of the charge to the jury, and basically everything there is to know about the case.

Tom Baust has also written an Afterword for the book which gives a little personal history of his involvement with the property and how he came to own and maintain it.

The book has been updated with new recently-discovered historical information and revisions necessary due to Tom's passing.
Online orders for the book can be made by clicking This link