Up until recent times the Sourland Mountains were a place to avoid – unless of course you lived there. From colonial times until well after the Lindbergh Kidnapping in 1932, people stayed out of the Sourlands because of its reputation as an area where people disappeared, were murdered, or bodies from the Mafia got dumped. A Trenton newspaperman declared in 1917 that “in the voluminous annals of crime, no mountain in the United States bore so evil a reputation.” As late as the 1940’s a plane that was carrying a large amount of money supposedly crashed in the Sourlands and the mountain folk buried it and the pilot and then split the money.
Murders were viewed as commonplace. Silvia Dubois (mentioned in an earlier article) declared to Dr. Larison in the 1880’s that “there are more folks killed up there than anyone knows of”. During Prohibition, two government agents looking for “Jersey Lighting” disappeared in the Sourlands. In 1932 the Hunterdon County Democrat labeled it the “Hills of Missing Men after a local black man, Charlie Sutphin declared he knew of at least 9 people on the mountain that were murdered – this all before the Lindbergh murder.
The most interesting murder for me however was the double homicide on Feb. 11, 1916 of Richard Wyckoff, 75, and his housekeeper, Catherine Ann Fisher. They were found bludgeoned to death at the Wyckoff farm on Lindbergh Road by a nephew William Wyckoff. The motive was apparently robbery since the house where the man’s body was found was ransacked. Catherine Fisher was found later buried under straw in the barn, a bloody ax found nearby. The authorities found small footprints (size 7) in the snow so they were convinced they were looking for a small man. Surprisingly, two weeks after the murder William Wyckoff, the nephew and a large man, was arrested and charged with the murders on the assumption that he was the heir to his uncle’s sizable inheritance. He was put on trial in Flemington but was acquitted. Now, in an unusual move, the police hired the Burns Detective Agency. They placed several undercover agents on the mountain for months. The Burns agents not only found the killer, a small man, Mulford Udell, aka Charlie Hawkins, but in the process of their investigation discovered that there had been nine murders within a mile of the Wyckoff farm in the previous seven years. Udell went to trial and after only 90 minutes of deliberation the jury found him guilty of both murders and gave him life in prison.
My interest in the murders? I live in one of several Wyckoff farm houses that are on the mountain. I only hope it’s not where Richard Wyckoff died a bloody death!