It Was That of Joseph Lovbeck, a German Hermit and Hunter
An Account of It Was Published At The Time In a Kingston Newspaper
The Story Of The Crime
Remembered by Old Veterans
Special to the WHIG from Thomas W. Casey, Napanee
Probably the first murder that occurred in this county, or at least of which there is now any remembrance or record, was of Joseph Lovbeck, a German hermit and hunter, who squatted on the rear of lot thirty-eight in the second concession of Camden township, a mile or two north-west from where the village of Yarker now stands. It must have been some time late in the summer of 1812 or 1814 or thereabouts, the exact date being now difficult to locate. There does not appear to exist now any printed or other definite record of the crime, though an account of it was said to have been published in a Kingston newspaper. All that can be learned now is from the remembrances of the descendants of the locality of what their fathers may have told them of those bygone days.
Lovbeck appears to have been a German soldier in Napoleon’s army and was said to have been in that army during its terrible campaign to Moscow and elsewhere in northern Europe. He was probably a member of the German regiment who was sent to Canada with the British army and took an active part here in the war of 1812. After being mustered out he put his few belongings on a hand sleigh in the winter and tramped his way out into Camden, where he squatted on the rear end of the lot owned by Peter Salsbury. There he built a shanty of cedar logs, the remains of which stood until a few years ago, and cleared away a small parcel of land on which he was cultivating potatoes and a few other vegetables. It became reported that he had in his possession a large sum of money, in silver coin, which he kept secreted somewhere about the premises, and this fact appears to have been the cause of his untimely end.
The alarm was given out among the few scattered settlers one summer afternoon that Lovbeck had been found lying dead at the door of his shanty with a ghastly gunshot wound in his forehead or breast and that John Curl, a man living on the front of an adjoining lot, was found lying dead nearby, with a gunshot wound in his side or back. It was known that Henry Curl, a brother of John, was in company at the time. He was arrested and taken prisoner to Kingston, the nearest place of lock-up at the time and a coroner’s inquest was held. Henry Curl then stated that he and his brother were out hunting at the time, that the “hermit” became suspicious they had criminal intentions on him and came to the door, ordering them off, and almost immediately after, levelled his musket and fired at John with deadly results. John, in self-defence, fired at the same time and singular to say, both were killed. Some doubted the story at the time, but there was no other evidence and a verdict was found according to the that testimony and Henry Curl was at once liberated.
The “hermit” as he was popularly called at that time, was deemed the murderer and the neighbours threw the body in one corner of his shanty, covering it with the ashes that had accumulated on the premises. Curl’s body was buried in a burial ground nearby. For years, the place of the tragedy was shunned. The hills of potatoes then growing were left untouched and for many years after the grass growing there showed the surface indications of where those potatoes had been planted. The inside of the shanty was left undisturbed, never being used again for any purpose, and it was forty years or more before the remains of it crumbled away.
The story goes that Harry Curl left there soon after and lived a rough and dissipated life. Later on he was accused of being implicated in the drowning of a man from a boat somewhere in the St. Lawrence river, but was not convicted. At last he was convicted and hanged for the murder of a pedlar and previous to his execution he is said to have made a confession of several crimes, and among the rest in regard to that of Lovbeck, the “hermit.” In that confession he stated that he and his brother went to the place with the intention of robbing the man of his money. Finding him in, one concealed himself in some brush nearby, while the other went to the door and asked Lovbeck to show him the way to Varty Lake, a mile or two off. The answer was to the effect that, “You know the way there as well as I do. There must be something wrong or you would not come here for that purpose. I won’t go with you.” He was then shot down in his own door and the place was ransacked for his concealed money. About sixty dollars in silver was found buried in a tin can. The brothers began quarreling over the division of their spoils when the one shot the other dead and then concocted the story of the shooting in self-defence. Another statement is that John Curl appeared to be so horrified and excited about the murder that Henry feared he would go and make a confession of what had been done, so he was shot on the spot, as “dead men tell no tales.” Both these statements are now credited by those to whom they have been handed down.
Whether is was after that confession had been circulated in the locality or before does not now appear, but the neighbours became convinced that Lovbeck was not the murderer, and they went and buried his body decently in the shanty, which was also his monument, while John Curls was dug up again and taken care of by his friends. It is said that an apple tree on the farm still indicates the spot of his last resting place.
Among the descendants of nearly every old family in that locality there are traditions in regard to “the German hermit” and the murder, but of course they differ considerably as they have been passed down through two or three generations. The now enclosed account has been compiled from these different reports and may be, in several particulars somewhat incorrect. The various traditions agree, however, in regard to the main facts of the murder and the names of those implicated.
The late L.D. Williams, who died recently at Camden East, remembers hearing his father say he was working on his farm a couple of miles or so west and distinctly heard both shots fired that day, but thought little of it at the time, as hunting in the woods was very common at that time. He also heard him remark that the wounds the two men carried to their graves – the one in front and the other in his side or back – were such that it was not possible the one could have shot the other, as was asserted at the time. The venerable John Gibbard, now an octogenarian, remembers his father had a grist mill on the Napanee river, where Thompsonville now stands, and “the hermit” used to come there for flour. There was much hospitality those days and all customers would be invited in to the table at meal times, but the hermit could never be prevailed upon to go inside. Food would be carried out to him and he would eat it outside, but he seemed unwilling to enter any man’s house or have any one enter his. John Kingsbury, Napanee, well remembers hearing his father often tell of the murder, as he was one of the jurymen at the inquest. He lived on the adjoining lot and it was the most tragical incident in the history of that locality in his lifetime. The jurymen were credulous about the statement of how the deaths occurred at that time, but there was no other evidence and so all agreed on the verdict. The Vanluvens, Shibleys and many others about Yarker all have their traditions, for all had heard of it. The lonely spot is still often visited by the curious in such matters, and will, perhaps, be always memorable as the scene of the first murder in the township, or in a number of the surrounding townships, of which there is any knowledge.