By Orrin Grey.
In York County, Pennsylvania there is a place called Spring Valley County Park. Before it was given that benign designation, however, it was known by the ominous name of Hex Hollow.
In 1928, a local man and suspected witch named Nelson Rehmeyer was murdered in his home in an effort by another local man to remove a curse. Though the so-called “hex house” was set on fire in the aftermath of the murder, it survived the blaze, and still stands today. In 2007, Rehmeyer’s descendants opened it to the public as a museum, featuring displays about his life and death.
The killer, a man named John Blymire, believed that Nelson Rehmeyer was a witch who had placed a curse on him. This wasn’t unusual at the time: many people in Central Pennsylvania in the 1920s practiced a kind of folk magic called “Powwow,” which mixed elements of Christianity and European folk remedies. In fact, Blymire himself was a Powwow doctor.
After a string of illnesses and bad luck, Blymire became convinced that he was laboring under a curse. Unable to figure out the source of the curse, he turned to another local witch, Nellie Noll, known as the “Marieta River Witch.” She confirmed his fears, and told him that the author of his misfortune was none other than Nelson Rehmeyer, who had once cured Blymire of a childhood illness using his Powwow magic.
According to some accounts, it was Nellie Noll who told Blymire that in order to break the curse, he needed a lock of Rehmeyer’s hair, which he had to bury six feet into the ground. Then he had to burn Rehmeyer’s copy of The Long Lost Friend, an 1820 book of folk magic written by John George Hohman, and commonly employed by Powwow practitioners.
On November 26, 1928, Blymire and a friend visited Rehmeyer’s house in search of his copy of The Long Lost Friend. The story goes that they spent a peaceful night there, with Blymire holding back on his attack after realizing that it would take more than two men to subdue the witch. The next night, Blymire and his friend returned with another accomplice, and the three of them assaulted Rehmeyer. The struggle is said to have lasted only about a minute, and at the end of it, Rehmeyer was dead.
Perhaps because they were unable to find Rehmeyer’s copy of The Long Lost Friend, the three men attempted to burn down the witch’s house. The fact that the “hex house” survived the blaze was cited as further evidence of Rehmeyer’s supernatural powers. Blymire would later attest that the hex placed upon him was broken the moment that Rehmeyer died.
All three men were captured, and the murder cast national attention upon the area, as papers all over the country ran stories about the “York Hex Slayers.” Blymire and his first accomplice, John Curry, both received life sentences for their roles in the murder, while the other accomplice, Wilbert Hess, was given a sentence of 10-20 years. All three were eventually released without having served out their full sentences.
The region’s strange magical tradition—which some still practice today—as well as the murder partly inspired a series of books by horror author Brian Keene, himself a native of Central Pennsylvania. In 2015, a filmmaker named Shane Free released a feature-length documentary about the murder called Hex Hollow: Witchcraft and Murder in Pennsylvania, which features interviews with surviving relatives of those involved, as well as with folklorists and experts in the Powwow Tradition.
This article was first published on The Line Up.
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