Was He Bewitched?
Our old newspapers are often a source for some truly odd stories as shown by this one from the 1930's:
From The Democratic Advocate (Westminster), Nov. 23, 1934.
George Miller Held For Arson
Fires Barn of Norman Miller, Near Union Mills---Feared Half-Sister Would "Bewitch" Him--Denies He Confessed To Starting Blaze--Sentence Not Passed.
George Miller, 18 year old farm youth who signed a statement that he was driven to burning his cousin's barn by fear of his half-sister's threats to "bewitch" him, Tuesday was convicted of arson in the Carroll County Circuit Court. The jury found Miller guilty despite his repudiation of the confession, which he admitted signing. "I was scared," was his explanation of the confession when he took the stand.
The court deferred sentence of the youth and sent him back to jail.
Miller was arrested October 4 on a charge of burning the barn of Norman Miller, his cousin, near Union Mills. At that time, in the presence of State's Attorney Theodore F. Brown and Sheriff Ray Yohn, he admitted the crime, saying he set the barn afire because his half-sister, Mrs. Edgar Cronister, had ordered him to and said she would bewitch him if he did not obey. She already had bewitched some horses in the neighborhood, he said.
"Do you believe in witchcraft?" he was asked.
"When you have been taught that ever since you were a baby you can't help but believe it," was the answer in the signed confession.
The youth explained in the statement that Mrs. Cronister was angry with Norman Miller because her husband had been calling on their daughter. She predicted that either their home or their barn would burn as result of these visits, said Miller. Then she sent him to start the fire.
Mrs. Cronister, a short dark woman with piercing eyes, also was arrested and charged with "counseling arson." She took the stand in the trial of Miller and flatly denied any threats.
The confession was introduced as evidence by Sheriff Yohn. The boy not only told the prosecutor about his fear of his sister's supernatural power but also, when taken back to jail, he repeated it before a stenographer and signed the statement, the Sheriff said. The officer thought there was little doubt that Miller was "scared," as he had said, but witches, not officers, seemed to be the subject of his fear.
Miller being the State's chief witness against his half-sister, and having denied the truth of his statement about her threats, Brown moved the case against her to the "stet" docket and she was allowed to return home to her husband and four children.
A bit of research of the people involved turns up some background on what appears to have been a troubled home. Edgar was arrested in 1929 for moon-shining and again in 1931 for assault and battery on his wife Rosie and non-support of their children. They lived in Mt. Pleasant, PA during this period, though in later years, Rosie was living in Westminster.