There is a box of documents pertaining to the 1908 September term of court hidden away in the Court of Oyer & Terminer archives at the Hagen History Center in Erie.
Case No. 76: The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Ferdinand Fischer is down to its final few pages.
The case, which was sensational for its day, involving the shooting death of 69-year-old George Cook, a farmer from Moorheadville, by his eccentric local Teamster brother-in-law Ferdinand Fischer in his vineyard.
After a brief manhunt, Fischer was eventually apprehended and charged with Cook’s murder. In November 1908, he would go on trial for the murder of Cook, but in one of the first such cases in Erie County, he was judged not guilty by reason of insanity.
After being transferred to Warren State Hospital, Fischer broke out on June 20, 1909, but he was later caught and brought back in 1910.
On August 12, 1911, Fischer made his second escape and vanished from the face of the planet.
Fischer’s court file contains a letter from Dr. Robert H. Israel, then-superintendent of Warren State Hospital, asking to have Fischer’s name removed from their records. The letter is dated May 24, 1948.
“He would be 86 years old if he were still living. The likelihood is that he is either deceased or a prisoner at another facility, according to Israel.
Fischer was discharged from the records on October 26, 1948, 37 years after his disappearance, at the request of Erie County Judge Elmer L. Evans.
When I completed the majority of the research for my first book, “Murder & Mayhem,” a few years ago, I came across the case. In Erie, Pennsylvania,” and made the decision to make an effort to discover Fischer’s whereabouts.
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Technology and genealogical discoveries may have finally provided the answers to Ferdinand Fischer’s true fate.
I labored through hundreds of newspaper stories, documents, and records throughout the course of the following year, but without success, and eventually shelved the case due to a dearth of fresh material.
After the publication of my second book, “Erie’s Backyard Strangler: Terror in the 1960s,” I made the decision to look back at the incident once more.
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