The Bentz Tragedy in York
Last week’s “Story in Stone” centered on a unique patch of green grass in the cemetery in the heart of winter. I took readers to Area M/Lot 27, within a section at one time known as “Stranger’s Row.”
This week’s story will be a brief continuation of an episode relayed last week involving one of the decedents buried here in this plot. I realized that I needed to complete a bit more “detective work” to tell that story a little more fully.
Specifically, it is the tragic tale of Florence (Winchell) King, whose life abruptly ended at age 35 in York, Pennsylvania on March 14th, 1908. She had married Rufus King around 1894/95, and the couple had one daughter named Carrie, born in 1895. They resided on Bentz Street, between 4th and 5th streets.
Mrs. King would abandon Rufus and Carrie in 1907, running off with a married man named George William Wallace Bentz. Mr. Bentz had lived on the southeast part of town on B & O Avenue with his wife, Sarah J. A. “Sallie” (Lowe) originally from Buckeystown, and the couple’s seven children.
Florence and George were said to have first gone to Hagerstown, and then Pittsburgh before ultimately heading to their last destination of York. A primary issue that had the fugitive couple “on the run” was George’s desperate attempt to secure employment. With funds running low and jealousy (on behalf of Mr. Bentz) running high, George could best be described as very tense, if not a ticking time-bomb.
Unfortunately, Florence did not fully comprehend the state George was in, and what he was capable of doing. Apparently these factors were perceived by Florence and she communicated to George her intent to return to Frederick to reunite with her husband and daughter. As you can imagine, this “change of heart” by Mrs. King did not go over very well. Instead, it cost the former Florence Winchell, her life. She was only 35.
In last week's story, I shared the dramatic newspaper story which appeared in the Frederick Post's March 16th edition. Here is another Frederick newspaper account and a few from Pennsylvania:
I found the death certificates for both individuals in Pennsylvania records. Their bodies were brought back to Frederick and subsequently buried. Apparently, Mrs. King had expressed (during life) that she desired to be buried in Mount Olivet. Sadly, she received her wish too early and is buried in a currently unmarked grave in Area M/Lot 27. Through our Friends of Mount Olivet membership group, we hope to start a program in the near future to mark all decedents in the cemetery through fundraising efforts.
As for George W. W. Bentz, his grave is roughy 40 yards away from his lover/victim Florence as he is buried in Area M/Lot 5, directly across Carrollton Street from Lincoln Elementary School along our cemetery fence.
A fine monument sits here atop this burial plot that includes Bentz former spouse “Sallie,” a grandson named James M. Bentz, and two (grown) sons— Clarence and Roy. Interestingly, I learned that both Clarence and Roy died in 1918—victims of the Great Spanish Flu Pandemic.
Sallie Bentz moved with her children to Baltimore after her husband’s death, and would remain in "Charm City" until her own passing on November 18th, 1926.
On the flipside, I found it interesting that Mrs. King’s widower, Rufus King (1876-1936), is buried in a plot in Mount Olivet’s Area U/Lot 22, owned by Florence’s brother, William Winchell, and sister-in-law, Ida May Winchell. He was living with them at the time of Florence’s murder, and seemingly continued a close relationship up through his death in late March, 1936.
Here, is also located the King’s daughter, Carrie Mae, who was 12 at the time of her mother’s murder. She would go on to marry Edward T. Gooding, and spent much of her adult life in Montgomery County. In the 1950 US Census, she can be found working for the telephone company as “chief operator." She passed away in 1959, and is buried just a few grave spaces away from her father and next to her husband.
George W. W. Bentz
Something in the newspaper clipping about the murder-suicide made me want to look into the life of George Bentz a little closer. George W. W. Bentz was the son of George W. Bentz. The father was born in Frederick in 1828 and was a carpenter by occupation. He was married to Sarah Catherine Beall.
Our subject’s father was a Civil War veteran. On August 30th, 1863, George’s father enrolled in the Independent Loudoun Virginia Rangers of the Union Army, at Harpers Ferry. He was mustered in on January 26th, 1864 at Point of Rocks. With other Loudoun Rangers opposed to their proposed transfer to West Virginia, Mr. Bentz enlisted in Co. L of Cole's Cavalry on April 6th, 1864, but then he rejoined the Loudoun Rangers in September. He was mustered out with the rest of his unit on May 31st, 1865, at Bolivar, WV.
George W. Bentz died in 1903, but is not buried in Mount Olivet. Instead, he is with his parents (William (1792-1868) and Elizabeth (1793-1868)) among the remains that are in Frederick’s Memorial Park on the corner of West 2nd Street, and fittingly, North Bentz. As regular readers of this blog know, the former Evangelical Reformed Church Cemetery was abandoned in 1924. No tombstones exist because they were re-interred with their respective decedents in 1923 as part of the new park project. Above the surface of this hallowed ground are a number of war monuments today. A bronze plaque fronting on Bentz Street has a list of those buried here. It is said in an old News article that the Bentz family referred to here were along a southern wall of the burying ground across from the old armory (today’s Talley Recreation Center).
Bentz Street takes its name from the family which at one time owned several parcels near the intersection of West Patrick Street and today’s namesake thoroughfare. This can be credited to our subject’s relative Jacob Bentz (1760-1815), and the plethora of such-named people (including grandfather William)in this vicinity giving rise to the area being called Bentztown for many years. Of course, many are familiar with Jacob’s stone mill (Bentz Mill) built along Carroll Creek by 1778 on his tract named Long Acre. It would later be known as the Brunner Mill and would survive into the early 20th century and is documented in several photographs and postcards.
The Frederick Post article about the deaths of Florence and George appeared in the March 16th, 1908 edition. Therein was a richer biography on George W. W. Bentz. But there was also something mentioned about money coming George’s way due to inheritance gifts. I perked up when I read that an aunt and uncle had given him money. However, both had been mysteriously found dead in their home in February of 1907.
I wondered to myself, was George’s “flight” with Florence King bankrolled by this inheritance from his Aunt Alice V. Bentz and Uncle Charles Bentz? And if it was, did George perhaps have a hand in the deaths occurring in the same house, and seemingly the same day as both were found at the same time by authorities called to the scene after neighbors became curious in not seeing Alice or Charles for a number of days.
These two were not a couple, but rather siblings, who were living together on West Patrick Street in a dwelling that had served as their family home. The following article from the local paper gave me the information I needed to know.
I felt better about George, but still think he blew that inheritance on Florence. As the money ran out, one can sense his desperation as the earlier article noted that he had made a special trip to Frederick to secure $10 from his mother, just days before his own death.
Alice and Charles E. Bentz are buried under a monument similar to their nephews. It stands in a Bentz family plot in Area Q/Lot 183. Neither had children, and their sudden deaths without wills would be fodder for family squabbling and court cases over inheritances for years to come. I would find a news article about a case in Frederick court as late as 1915, in which a key witness was called in the form of George and Sallies’ son James G. Bentz, a World War 1 veteran. James had to testify to the mental condition of his Great Aunt Catherine Dertzbaugh, named administrator of the Bentz estate.
So that concludes my investigation. The murder of Florence King and suicide of George W. Bentz is a very sad story on so many levels. Of course, two lives were cut far too short. The greater tragedy was the hurt done to the former spouses and several children left behind by the senseless, impulsive act that occurred at the O’Brien’s boarding house in York 113 years ago in March, 1908. I’m sure it was difficult, but kudos to Sallie Bentz and Rufus King for raising their respective kids into adulthood.
And let’s not forget the O’Brien family who had a front row seat to an event that surely stayed with each family member until their own dying day.
2/19/2023 08:41:56 pm
Interesting and informative story
2/22/2023 12:18:36 pm
Lovely article and well researched! Thank you for helping us remember them.
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