A couple of days ago, I mentioned a newspaper obituary that turned out to provide a key bit of information. Unfortunately, newspaper articles are as likely to be misleading as any other source. Consider this example, which turned up while my favorite researcher was looking for information about the 100th Pennsylvania (Roundheads) Regiment:
Altoona Times (Altoona, PA) March 4, 1864
"In the early part of the present month, a soldier belonging to the 100th regiment, having re-enlisted for the war, obtained a thirty days' furlough and returned to his home in Lawrence county, about four miles from Darlington, and almost adjoining the Beaver county line. The man was married, and during his absence his wife contracted an acquaintance with a scamp in the neighborhood, which culminated in a criminal intimacy between the parties. Of all this, however, the husband was in complete ignorance, and upon his return home he took up his abode with his wife, unconscious of her infidelity or of the plot which was even then maturing against his life.
It appears that soon after his arrival it was agreed between the woman and her paramour that he should be put out of the way, and one night, while the unsuspecting man lay asleep in his bed, the guilty pair approached him, and slipping a noose, which they had previously prepared, over his head, they threw the other end over a beam which extended across the dwelling, and pulling on it with all their might, they swung the wretched man off the bed, and in a moment almost had him in such a position that resistance on his part became impossible. They had their victim now completely in their power; and the deliberation which marked their after movements shows a degree of cold-bloodedness unequalled almost in the annals of crime.
"Finding that death did not take place as soon as they had expected, they fastened the rope, which up to this time they had held over the beam, the body of their victim writhing in his death agony from the other end, to a peg in the wall, and leaving the miserable man to his fate passed out of the house. After remaining outside long enough for strangulation to take place, they again entered the house, and taking down the now lifeless remains of the murdered man carried them to a coal bank in the vicinity, inside which they concealed them.
"The next day it was noticed that the woman's paramour was rather flush of funds, and this, coupled with the fact that the soldier was missing, induced those who knew the guilty relations existing between the woman and the man to suspect that all was not right; so an inquiry was instituted through which the entire tragedy was brought to light.--The woman, struck with fear or remorse, made a confession of the whole affair, implicating her paramour as the principal in the murder, and both he and she were arrested in committed to jail at New Castle to await their trial for murder.
"The gentleman from whom we obtain our report of the tragedy could not give us the names of the parties, but he vouches for the correctness of the facts as we have given them It is the most horrible affair, and naturally created great excitement in the community where it occurred."
We were fascinated. What a great story! Note how many specific details here give further reason to believe the whole tale. We were already combing the regimental rosters to find the soldier who disappeared in early 1864, when the following article turned up:
Evening Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA, March 12, 1864.
"A SENSATION STORY SPOILED.--The New Castle Courant spoils the sensation story which has been going the rounds of the press for some days relative to the murder of a soldier at Enon Valley by his wife and paramour. The man did return as stated and discovered the infidelity of his wife, but left the neighborhood, either the same night or early the next morning, and though diligent inquiry was made, was not heard from until Wednesday last, when he turned up, alive and well, at Enon Valley, from whence he went to visit his father in Ohio.
"His sudden disappearance excited fears in the minds of the neighbors, which were strengthened by the fact that his wife and her paramour had his watch and plenty of greenbacks. All the twaddle about the tight rope performance, and the parties or either of them having acknowledged their guilt or been arrested, was hatched in the excited imagination of a Pittsburg paper's informant. The guilty pair have left for parts unknown."
Thus perished a great plot for a novel. Sigh!