About The Series

Even for the pioneers of Western Pennsylvania who had fought in the American Revolution and experienced the atrocities of the Indian wars, the ax murder on a homestead near Cross Creek on Sept. 4, 1796, was horrifying. The crime remains Washington County's coldest case – its oldest unsolved murder. “A Sense of Evil” is a true story, written by Park Burroughs, retired executive editor of the O-R.

A Sense of Evil: Afterword

There were no sons in the Leman family, so the numerous descendants of the Lemans are now known by other names – Latimore, Logan, McCarrell and, especially, Brownlee – and many still live in this area.

Joseph Brownlee, who at age 5 was staying at the Ridgeway House until the night before Isabel Stewart's murder, had eight brothers and two sisters. He would marry twice and father nine children. He died in 1867.

Ebenezer Brownlee, the other cousin visiting the Ridgeways who was 11 years old in 1796, never married. He was considered wealthy, having inherited a homestead in Canton Township where he was living at the time of the 1850 census with his nieces Margaret and Martha. He died in 1858.

John Brownlee, the New Orleans trader, was living in East Finley Township in 1850 and died at age 73 in 1854. He is buried in North Buffalo Cemetery.

Also buried at North Buffalo was little Joseph's father, James Brownlee, one of its founders and ruling elders. He died in 1822.

James Ridgeway's widow, Rebecca, sold Belmont and the log house in which Isabel was murdered to John Dinsmore. When he died in 1858, his son Robert W. Dinsmore inherited the property but chose not to move there. In December 1866, Robert was murdered in his Hopewell Township home, a crime for which Robert Folger was executed.

Ella Dinsmore Sanderson then inherited Belmont from her father and sold it in 1900 to Thomas and Hattie Newcomer. They sold the property to August and Louisa Seabright in 1910, who then sold it to E.J Sanders. He gave Belmont to his son, Orville, who turned over five acres to Milton Rice and sold the remainder to Richard Mellon in 1980. The current owners, James and Deborah Costanzo, bought the property from Mellon in 1996.

The Rev. Robert Laing, who delivered the sermon the day of the murder, was “a man of great dignity of manner, and had a sort of stiffness that lessened his acceptability to the people, and consequently injured his usefulness,” the historian Boyd Crumrine wrote. The custom of the day was to place the whiskey bottle on the table when people came to visit, the preacher being no exception. But Laird recoiled at this practice, and soon the congregation began to dislike him. It would be rid of him by 1805.

More stories from the dark side of Washington County history have been published in “Washington County Murder & Mayhem” by A. Parker Burroughs (The History Press, 2014). It is available in bookstores, through online retailers and is sold by the Washington County Historical Society at the LeMoyne House on East Maiden Street, Washington.

Park Burroughs has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1972. He is the winner of numerous state and regional awards for feature, column and editorial writing. He is the author of two books, “Enter, With Torches: Recollections of a Grumpy Old Editor,” and "Washington County Murder and Mayhem." He retired in September 2012 but continues to contribute to the O-R’s news pages.

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