Thursday, April 20, 2017

MURDER IN THE FAMILY

It's become an annual habit with me to remember my great aunt Katalin (Kate) Gordon, who was murdered at the age of eighteen on April 20, 1906.

I've told this story on several previous occasions but decided to briefly rehash it solely for those who haven't heard it.

Ironically, I'm related to the murder victim and the murderer.

Katalin Gordon was the eldest sister of my maternal grandmother Anna Gordon Knoll. She was murdered by her uncle Frederick Lang, who was twenty-one years old at the time.

Lang was passionately in love with Kate. He lived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and came to New Jersey to spend Easter week with the Gordon family. His main intention was to propose to Kate. When she rejected his proposal, he became enraged and shot her through the neck - severing the carotid artery. She bled to death immediately.

Lang escaped into the woods and wasn't arrested until over two months later. The trial took place in July, 1906 and he was found guilty. After numerous appeals and a sanity hearing, he was finally executed in March, 1909. Lang was twenty-four years old, and was the last man in New Jersey to be executed by hanging.

I wrote an article about this, which appeared in The New Jersey Monthly in 1996. That was before I had a computer or access to the Internet. It took several years of research to compile sufficient information and to locate the trial transcripts and attorney briefs.

I now have enough information to write a book - which would be a rather interesting project to pursue. 

 Katalin Gordon
(1887-1906)
 This photo was taken only about a week before she was murdered. The white Easter dress that she's wearing is also the dress that she was buried in.
Kate was the eldest of twelve children. She and one other sibling were born in Hungary. The rest of the children were born in the U.S. 
My grandmother Anna, who was ten at the time of the murder, was born in Pennsylvania.

 Frederick Lang
(1884-1909)
Frederick Lang was the illegitimate brother of my great-grandmother Justinia Schmidt Gordon (Kate's mother). He was the black sheep of the family - wild, tempestuous, with a quick Hungarian temper. He was described as being short and slight, with reddish (auburn) hair.
Lang maintained that if he couldn't have Kate, nobody else would, either. He later expressed remorse for killing her and said that he deserved to die. He attempted suicide on two occasions: by setting fire to his jail cell, and by trying to hang himself.

After Lang was executed, he was quickly buried - at midnight during a storm - in an unmarked grave.
Our family had refused to claim his body. 


 John Gordon (Janos Gurdon), who was Kate's father and my maternal great-grandfather.
Gordon was of royal blood but was disinherited when he married a peasant girl (Justinia Schmidt, the sister of Frederick Lang).

18 comments:

  1. Poor Katalin.

    Have you traced them back to Hungary? It would be interesting to know how they fared during the Socialist takeover. Land and property were confiscated from aristocrats as a matter of course. If they weren't prolific the American branch might have a claim! I read somewhere ages ago about the Hungarian government considering compensation claims. At the least it would make an interesting adjunct to your family history. MaggieB

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    1. The Gordon family came from a tiny village in the Bakony Mountains called Borzavar. The family castle is located somewhere near there. My great-grandfather lost his inheritance long before the Socialist takeover. He came to America around 1890.

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  2. Such a sad loss of life. I think a BOOK on the subject is a fine idea.

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    1. I have compiled so much information on this, that a book might be a good idea (even if it's not a lengthy one)
      Ironically, nobody in the family ever had an interest in this story except my mother and I. Most of the Gordons considered it to be a big scandal and were eager to just forget it.

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  3. I remember you telling us about this family tragedy. So sad.

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    1. The older members of my family were all "prim and proper" and wanted to forget that this ever happened. I waited until most of them were deceased before I published my article.

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  4. Tragically this scenario goes on all the time. A woman refuses his advances and he kills her. I have often thought that women have some sort of internal warning for creepy guys and it comes across and warns them. Other keep being attracted to the same type of creepy guy over and over again.

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    1. I'm sure that Kate's life would have been miserable if she had married him - - but it's even more tragic that his murderous rage prevented her from having any life at all.

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  5. I remember this story well from you before, and I believe it needs to be a movie of the week...

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    1. I agree - - heck, I've seen some movies of the week that were less interesting than this....

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  6. So, am I getting this right..... he was her uncle? If so, he couldn't (shouldn't) marry her.

    Totally not relative to your story, but murder brings it to mind - about 30 years ago, I personally knew 3 people who were murdered within one month. No connection among them. How wierd is that. And I did not live in a high crime area. Also, I had an uncle who was murdered. I tend to believe most people never know even one person who is murdered.

    Aside from your aunt, how many people do you know who were murdered?

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    1. In answer to your last question:
      I honestly can't think of anyone else I knew who was murdered. Three murdered people in one month is really weird.

      Yes, Fred Lang was Kate's uncle. Numerous members of the family, however, maintained that Lang was illegitimate - which would have technically made him her "half-uncle". I'm sure this is one of many reasons that Kate didn't want to marry him.
      Lang was only three years older than Kate, which - in his irrational mode of thinking - probably justified his desire to marry her.

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  7. I remember this story but it was interesting to read it again. It would be an interesting book or movie.

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    1. Strangely enough, very few people in my family were ever interested in our history. I'm glad I took the time to research it.

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  8. Such a strange tragedy --to be an object of obsession and then a victim.

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    1. It is indeed strange but - sadly - not uncommon. Obsession and passion can be dangerous things.

      I hate to stereotype Hungarian men, but a LOT of them were prone to violence and had maniacal tempers. I've seen it often on both sides of my family (mother & father).

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  9. What Paula said. :)
    Yours was such a fascinating family, Jon.
    I'm happy that by your telling Kate's story, her memory lives on.

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    1. My mother's family did indeed harbor an extremely interesting cast of characters. You wouldn't believe some of the stories I could tell....
      I'm seriously considering writing a book about the 1906 murder.

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