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Murder of Andrew J Kepler by husband of his daughter

One of Joseph Tritt’s daughters was Elizabeth Tritt, born on February 17, 1811. Born in Pennsylvania, she journeyed with her family to their new life in Ohio. In 1871 her family made national news, and was a part of local history books for years to come.

On April 5, 1830, in Portage County, Ohio, Elizabeth married Andrew J Kepler, who was a son of the first legal settler in Green Township. Their fourth child was a daughter, Sarah Jane, who was born on August 10, 1842. On May 1, 1862, Sarah married Godfrey Semler.

Sarah and Godfrey engaged in hotel keeping, in the East Liberty community in Green Township. During this period, Godfrey turned to excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages. Godfrey was not a happy drunk. Rather, he became mean and abusive, often causing Sarah and their children to seek protection with friends and family.

The following is an account of what happened in August 1871 by Samuel Lane, former Summit County Sherriff and noted historian. This version was published on August 10, 1887 in the Summit County Beacon Newspaper (Akron Ohio) (this written account in now in the public domain):

“On Thursday, August 10, 1871, Semler visited Akron, accompanied by one of his little girls, whose picture he had taken during the day, as usual returning home considerably intoxicated. Showing the picture to his wife, and asking how she liked it, she replied that it was a very good picture, only the hands looked rather too large for such a child. At this Semler became very greatly exasperated, accused his wife of making fun of, and ridiculing her own child, hurling at her the grossest abuse and threats until finally overcome by drunken slumber.

“On finding, towards morning, that he was at length sound asleep, Mrs. Semler quietly awoke her three children – two girls and one little boy – and dressed herself and them, left the house, but instead of this time going to the home of her own parents, as she had so often done before, walked nearly four miles to the home of Semler’s parents, near Greensburg, to solicit their intercession in securing better treatment from her husband.

“Failing to secure the sympathy and co-operation of father and mother Semler in behalf of herself and children, that she had anticipated, towards evening, Friday, August 11th, they started back again on foot towards East Liberty, but getting a timely ride a part of the distance in a farmer’s wagon. While thus riding they were met by Semler, carrying a gun, who, threatening to shoot her, twice snapped the gun at her, but which by reason of not being loaded, or owing to a defect in the lock, failed to go off.

“Arriving at her father’s house, but hesitating about obtruding her domestic troubles further upon her parents, who as she supposed had retired for the night, she seated herself with her children upon the porch. The little ones, being weary and restless, soon attracted the attention of the old people by their cries and moans, and were at once taken into the house and provided with lodgings for the night. About 10 o’clock, while Mrs. Semler and her parents were talking the matter over, Semler, who had not been inside of the house for three or four years, knocked at the door, and was invited in by his father-in-law. Semler demanded that his wife should go home with him, which she declined to do, as the children had gone to bed, but promised to do so early in the morning.

“Seemingly satisfied with this promise, Semler left the house, and the two women went to bed, the old gentleman remaining up, or reclining upon the settee in the kitchen. After a time Semler returned, and being again admitted to the house by Kepler, again demanded that his wife should at once go home with him. Kepler replying that she was probably asleep, urged him to go away, promising that she should go early in the morning. Instead of complying with Mr. Kepler’s request, Semler forced himself into the bed room in search of his wife. In the meantime, being alarmed at his return, Mrs. Semler had taken refuge under the bed. Not finding her in the bed, by the aid of the lantern he had with him, he soon discovered her hiding place, and pulling her out, raised her to her feet, and began choking her with such severity that she soon sank to the floor. At his point the old gentleman, seizing a cane-gun which was standing behind the door, ordered Semler to leave the room, which he did.

“The party then sat down in the kitchen to talk the matter over, the old gentleman in the meantime standing the cane-gun in one corner of the kitchen. Semler again demanded of this wife that she should at once go home with him, but she declined to do so, saying that he had snapped his gun twice at her that evening, to which he replied, ‘O, that was all in fun!’

“Seeming, at length, to acquiesce in the promise of Mrs. Semler and her parents that she would return to him in the morning, Semler invited his father-in-law to go up town with him and get a drink of beer. The old gentleman declined on account of being too tired, whereupon Semler proposed to bring some beer to the house, if he would drink with him, to which Kepler assented. On Semler’s return, while the two men were drinking the beer, the entire party were discussing the family troubles. At length, under the inspiration of his fresh potations, Semler renewed his demand that his wife should immediately go home with him, which she refused to do, again reminding him of his attempt to shoot her earlier in the evening.

“Finding himself again repulsed, Semler, setting his lantern down near the door, started toward his wife, as if to forcibly drag her home with him. Divining his intention, she took refuge behind the settee upon which her father was sitting. As Semler seized hold of his wife the old gentleman interposed, and being rather the stronger of the two, a terrible hand-to-hand struggle ensued, both falling to the floor. In the struggle, Semler, as was alleged, managed to get hold of the cane-gun in question, which he discharged at the old gentleman while in a recumbent position, in such a manner that the slug shaped bullet plowed through the fleshy portion of the left leg, and entered the abdomen about two inches below the lower point of the breast bone, lacerating the liver and other internal organs, from the effects of which the old gentleman died on the night of August 16th, 1871. Semler also received a wound in his arm, in the melee, and his version of the affair was that while he and Kepler were struggling upon the floor, the old lady discharged the cane-gun at him, the ball of which, after passing through his arm, also wounded the old gentleman.”

I am a little disappointed by how Lane refers to Andrew Kepler. I am now older than “the old gentleman” at the time of his death.

Both Semler and Joseph Tritt’s daughter, Elizabeth Kepler, were originally arrested. It was thought that Elizabeth had, in fact, fired the cane-gun and that Semler had stabbed Andrew. It was later determined that the marks and wounds on Andrew were caused by a bullet, not by a sharp instrument, so Elizabeth was exonerated.

Godfrey Semler was ultimately found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to the State Penitentiary for a period of five years. He was conveyed to the penitentiary on December 19, 1872, at the age of 32. Because of the confusion of the evening during which Kepler was killed, along with the gun going off, perhaps accidentally, during the struggle, Semler was pardoned by Governor William Allen on March 27, 1874.

Joseph Tritt’s granddaughter, Sarah, was granted a divorce, with the restoration of her maiden name, custody of children, and control of property. On December 31, 1874, she married Frederick Gintling. They moved to Michigan and had three children of their own. She passed away on May 26 1915.

Linked toFamily: KEPLER/TRITT (F502411)

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