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Hex Murder: Pow-Wow Witchcraft in York County, Pennsylvania

Witchcraft, hexes and murder in 20th century Pennsylvania? The strange case of folk ritual magic gone wrong in York County’s not-too-distant past.
The Nelson Rehmeyer hex murder house in York County, Pennsylvania
The Nelson Rehmeyer hex murder house in York County, Pennsylvania

It is difficult to imagine witchcraft trials in the 20th century. In the 1920s, however, York County, Pennsylvania was still steeped in old Dutch mysticism, a superstition that lead to a brutal murder which still haunts the area. The house pictured above, located in what is known locally as Hex Hollow, is now considered one of the most haunted houses in Pennsylvania.

In 1928 it was the home of Nelson Rehmeyer, the place where he would be killed.

Recent: Family finds remains of Pow-wow ritual in walls

Pow-wowing was a form of ritual folk magic practiced by the Pennsylvania Dutch. It was rooted in a book published in 1820 by German author John George Hohman. The Long Lost Friend was a “collection of mysterious arts and remedies for man as well as animals.” It contained spells, remedies, recipes and talismans to cure ailments and domestic troubles. It became entwined with folk traditions in Pennsylvania when it was translated to English and renamed Pow-Wows.

When Rehmeyer’s neighbor John Blymire began to suspect he was cursed after years of illness and bad luck, he followed the advice of local witch Nellie Noll, known as the River Witch of Marietta. She instructed him to find and burn Rehmeyer’s copy of Pow-Wows, the source of his spells, and bury a lock of the man’s hair.

Powwowing: The Long Lost Friend by John George Hohman

Long Lost Friend or Pow-Wows by John George Hohman
J. Ross McGinnis, author of Trials of Hex, reportedly owns Rehmeyer’s copy of Pow-Wows, as well as the lock of hair Blymire took to bury. via York Town Square

When Blymire, along with young accomplices John Curry (14) and Wilbert Hess (18), broke into Rehmeyer’s home, they were unable to find the book. Rather, they bludgeoned Rehmeyer, bound him to a chair and set him on fire in a desperate attempt to lift the curse. Interestingly, Rehmeyer’s body did not completely burn despite being doused in kerosene. According to McGinnis, a pervading theory at the time was that the hounds of Hell returned to claim one of their own.

Today the house is owned and maintained by Rehmeyer’s great grandson. You can tour the house and see artifacts that belonged to Rehmeyer, including his clock which apparently stopped at 12:01am, the time of death determined by the coroner.

The place where Nelson Rehmeyer was killed in the Pennsylvania hex murder house
A window in the floor of the hex murder house reveals burn marks remaining from Nelson Rehmeyer’s death.

Further Reading

Necropants

Necropants: Macabre Icelandic Witchcraft Tradition

The macabre Iceland witchcraft tradition of necropants involves wearing someone’s skin to collect coins in the scrotum.

The Strandagaldur Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft in Holmavik tells the story of seventeen people burned at the stake in the 17th century for occult practices. The museum’s claim to fame is an exhibit showcasing the macabre legend of Necropants, or nábrók.

According to legend, necropants could produce an endless flow of coins if done correctly.

To begin with, one would need to get permission from a living man to use his skin upon his death. After burial, the sorcerer would then have to dig up the body and skin it in one piece from the waist down. A coin stolen from a poor widow must then be placed in the scrotum, along with a magic sign called nábrókarstafur scrawled on paper.

Once worn, the scrotum of the necropants would never empty of coins so long as the original coin remained.

Necropants at the Sorcery & Witchcraft Museum

Necropants Iceland witchcraft

For more on necropants and other bizarre occult traditions of Iceland, check out the museum’s website right here.