Antoine or Anton Probst, a German immigrant, arrived in America during the Civil War. When learning that the Federal Army would pay enlistees to fight for the Union, Probst promptly volunteered. He had no intention, however, of serving in the front lines.
Instead, he turned his loudly demonstrated patriotism into a business. He enlisted again and again for service in the Union Army, each time collecting a bounty of $300 with each enlistment.
After each enlistment, Probst would desert, thus becoming a professional “bounty jumper.” By the end of the war he had spent all the money, so he first drifted about, committing petty thefts. Finally, he took a job as a handyman on the farm of Christopher Dearing outside Philadelphia.
His laziness and his leering attitude toward Mrs Dearing soon got him fired. Probst pretended illness and went to a charity hospital while he began to work out a plan for getting even with Dearing and for obtaining some money.
On March 2, 1866, Probst went back to Dearing, telling him that he had had a change of heart, that he believed that doing honest work was the best policy and he begged to have his job back. In a generous gesture, Dearing rehired Probst, and the man worked well for several weeks.
On April 25, 1866, the family left Probst at the farm while the Dearings travelled to Philadelphia to pick up a visitor. Probst began his revenge by hitting Cornelius Carey, a young farmhand, over the head with an axe. He beheaded the body and hid it in a haystack.
When the Dearing family returned, he lured them into the barn, one at a time, where he systematically murdered Mrs Dearing, four of the five children, Mr Dearing, and the visitor, Elizabeth Dolan. He arranged the bodies in a row sitting against the barn wall and covered them with hay.
Going into the house, Probst ransacked it for cash, finding a total of $13. Then he changed into some of Dearing’s clothes, and, ironically living up to his new code of work ethics, dutifully fed the animals before leaving the farm.
Neighbours found eight bodies a few days later. All of the victims had been killed with an axe, some of them partially dismembered, some of the body parts hidden beneath horse blankets and stacks of hay, as if the killer had decided to secret the gory remains and had then given up on the grisly chore.
One report held that Probst “had too many bodies to hide and abandoned the idea of covering up the evidence.”
Within five days, the police found Probst in Philadelphia. He was easily identified as wearing Dearing’s clothes and some of the family’s meagre heirlooms were found on his person. Probst did not deny his mass murders, and merely shrugged when he was convicted and sentenced to death. He was hanged on June 8, 1866.
This was not the end of Probst’s story. Like his more infamous counterpart, Albert Hicks, Probst’s body was much sought, not by P. T. Barnum, however, but by a host of physicians.
“The doctors had a field day with his cadaver,” said one account, “putting it through all kinds of tests, including one to test the theory that the retina of the eye of dying persons retains the last image seen.” Probst’s head and right arm were later exhibited in a New York museum of anatomy and science.