It had been eight years since Susan Mummey, “the witch of Ringtown Valley,” had put a spell on Albert Shinsky, or so he’d come to believe. The “hex,” to use the vernacular of their Pennsylvania Dutch community, made him haunted and depressed, and eventually drove him to murder.
It was a brutally precise single shot that did the deed, as described in the March 19, 1934 Pottsville Republican:
The shooting occurred at 8 o’clock Saturday evening the bullet a pumpkin ball fired from a 12 gauge shotgun entered the front window of the living room. Shattering the window glass in its course. It struck the victim in the right side passing through the lung and heart and finally lodging in the stomach ... Chief Detective Buono said this morning that there was no question the women had been the victim of an assassin’s bullet and the police hoped to get the killer.
Once Shinsky was identified as the killer, he claimed to have been “prescribed” the bullet he used to kill his elderly neighbor by a “hex doctor” who suggested it was the only way to break Mummey’s hold over him. And he was desperate enough to try it, as the March 29, 1934 Reading Eagle reported in an article discussing whether or not Shinsky would be found sane enough to stand trial:
Shinsky was quoted as saying Mrs. Mummey “called a spirit from the sky” and that it tormented him and prompted to him to slay the woman. He was also said to have subscribed a “huge black cat with green eyes” which came to his room, “grew so big at times it filled the room” and “almost suffocated” him.
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Unsurprisingly, the article noted, the prison doctor who examined him pronounced him “unbalanced” and “suffering from hallucinations.” But to hear Shinsky tell it, as he did to reporters, Mummey’s death was a huge relief: “I was hexed. There was nothing else for me to do. I had to kill her ... the electric chair will be better than the suffering.”
Though the prosecutor dearly wished to send Shinsky to that electric chair, his insanity diagnosis (presided over by what one old newspaper report called “a lunacy commission”) sent him to a state hospital rather than death row. In 1975, he was finally judged sane enough to stand trial; at issue was whether or not he still believed in witchcraft; he claimed he did not, and recalled his “ignorant youth.” He died in 1983.
Top image: Albert Shinsky in a cell at the county jail in Pottsville, Penn., March 23, 1934. (AP Photo)