By Myra Lee Adams Goff
“Have you heard? Old Squire Moeschen is dead!” So begins Hermann Seele’s narrative of a murder here in New Braunfels in 1855. Seele spun this true, gruesome tale in his book, “Die Cypress” available at Sophie’s Shop.
Here’s the background: Christof Moeschen, born in 1806 in Thuringia, came to Texas along with his wife Johanna, and a nine-year-old daughter, Friederike. The year was 1844. Seele says their small log cabin built in 1845 was on the Comal Creek and consisted of one room and a porch surrounded by a fence of cedar posts.
For all one knew, the family of three lived a quiet life, but all that changed in 1854 when the Moeschen’s only child, Friederike, married the shoemaker Carl Riebeling. The mother approved of the son-in-law, but the father did not. Hermann Seele had actually performed the wedding and the young couple lived with her parents. Unaccustomed to outdoor work, Riebeling became sick. Moeschen believed the son-in-law was just lazy.
When a baby was born to the young couple and died, Moeschen was so distraught about the death that any harmony that had come about because of the baby disappeared. Moeschen became abusive towards his family. The daughter no longer loved her father. She resented his abusiveness towards her mother and husband. As a result, Mrs. Moeschen and the Riebeling couple contrived a plot to get rid of the old man.
On the day of the murder in early September, 1855, the father returned home exhausted, called his son-in-law a loafer and then fell asleep in a drunken stupor. In the dark of evening, the daughter provided a light, and her husband and mother killed the old man with an ax. All that could be heard was the autumn wind wafting the withered leaves from the trees and a few raindrops.
The mother laid the father whom she said was “kaput” on a mattress and sewed him into a bedspread so that no one could see him. The ax was dropped to the bottom of a pond formed by the creek.
Day dawns. Outside, Mrs. Moeschen called to her neighbor G. Holzmann a laborer going to work. She tells him her husband has died and gives him a string to give to Gerhard who is to make the funeral arrangements. The string is the length of the body.
Gerhard went to the Moeschen home to make some arrangements and asked to look at the body. The family refused because they said he had already been sewed into a shroud. Upon returning to town, Gerhard said to Justice of the Peace Hermann Seele that he was suspicious and Seele called for a coroner’s inquest because of the sudden death.
Funeral arrangements continued and friends began to arrive at the house for the funeral. Present were Pastor Eisenlohr of the German Protestant Church where the family were members, the choral society, many townspeople and the carriage with the empty coffin. .
Inside the inquest was performed.. The corpse was unwrapped from a dark brown checkered bedspread (shroud) and then carried outside and put on a large table. Drs. Remer and Koester prepared for an autopsy. (Yes, right there) Since it was getting dark, lanterns had to be brought from town. After the autopsy, it was determined “The old man has been murdered. Arrest the people.” The three family members were put under arrest.
Through the dark woods, a ghastly procession carrying the casket, proceeded to the sheriff’s home in town. In the Spring of 1856, the trial found all three guilty punishable by imprisonment with hard labor for nine years each.
Additional information to Seele’s narrative was written by Everett Fey in his research about the First Founders of New Braunfels. Volunteer Tom Call researched the trial and found that Johanne Moeschen died in prison and that Friedrike was paroled in 1860 and Carl Riebeling paroled in 1862.
Picture this: The funeral is at the home, the body is brought outside under a tree, an autopsy is performed right there and all the while, family, friends, jury, doctors, singing society are all witness to the whole macabre scene. Forensic science has come a long way.