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Murderer or Schoolteacher?

Updated: Aug 2, 2021


On May 16th 1896, San Francisco was shocked to learn that a horrendous murder had taken place in their city throughout the night. A woman named Mrs. Philopena Langfeldt had been murdered and the main suspect, Josef Edward Blanther was nowhere to be found. Over the next several weeks the story was printed all across the country as the manhunt for Blanther began. A Sherlock Holmes style investigation began and "New Clues" were printed almost daily in San Francisco papers. The portrait to the right was published in the San Francisco Call on May 18th 1896, just 3 days after the murder took place. Immediately after the murder a $1000 reward was offered for Blanthers arrest. Below you can see some of the other clippings from newspaper articles which included portraits, descriptions, and even a drawing of the murder scene. The San Francisco Police hoped that these articles would help lead to Blanthers arrest.



Not long after the murder took place it was discovered that Blanther had departed San Fransisco under the name of H. M. Forbes on May 16th, the day after he murdered Mrs. Langfeldt. He arrived in El Paso, Texas on May 19th, but departed the next day. After El Paso, the trail unfortunately went cold. Blanther had experience fleeing as he was once a Knight in the Austrian Army before he deserted in 1885 to the United States. For the next year, the San Francisco Police Department published numerous articles all around the country and even in Mexico in search of Blanther.


In the meantime, during July of 1896 a man going by Arthur Forbes arrived at the Kopperl rail station. He was a man that carried himself well and was accompanied by his wife (Addie Walker). The fifteen year old town of Kopperl was a popular stopping point along the Gulf Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad so visitors were welcomed. The town had grown substantially since its founding in 1881 and was home to several general stores, hotels, a post office, and a school. It is not exactly known why Arthur Forbes decided to stop in Kopperl, but perhaps he fell in love with the open countryside. After all, in July of 1896 the G.C. & S.F. Railroad advertised Kopperl as "one of the most picturesque portions of Texas, and to the farmer or stockman of limited means it offers great advantages. Here nature dons her most lovely garb, and one finds much to admire in the high, rugged hills and fertile valleys, through with flow streams of crystal water."


The first Kopperl schoolhouse was built in 1882 after Moritz Kopperl donated $500 to the cause. The schoolhouse was the first public building in the town and also served as a church on Sundays. The original schoolhouse was named "Kopperl Academy" and sat on lot 4 of block 5 which is close to where the current cemetery sits today. It was at this schoolhouse in July of 1896 that Arthur Forbes applied to be a teacher and would later become the Kopperl Schoolmaster. The letter below was written to the Bosque County Judge W. B. Thompson on July 10, 1896 by Forbes.

 

The letter is as follows:

Kopperl, Tex, 10-7, 1896

W. B. Thompson, Esq. -

County Judge, Bosque Co.

Meridian, Tex.

Your Honor The School Board of this town decided favorably upon my application for teacher in this district.

I have been teaching for two years in St. Louis, Mo., and during the last four years conducted a private school in Galveston, Tex. In the former school I taught on the strength of my "University Diploma" which document I inclosed to an application for teacher in Oak Cliff, Tex., this year. from where I am unable to receive a reply to repeated requests for returning the same.

I will, therefore, have to make such examination as is required by law for teacher at county public schools and beg to submit herewith my application to be allowed to appear before the Bard of Examiners on the day set for that purpose, I think the Friday before the third Saturday of this month.

Yours respectfully,

Arthur Forbes

 

On October 1, 1896 Mr. Forbes began teaching at the Kopperl School. Although he was approved by the School Board, some members of the community did not like his teaching style and had removed their children from school by February of 1897.

It was in early March of 1897 when the Bosque County Treasurer Homer Randal made a startling discovery. While reading the Chicago publication called "The Detective", Mr. Randal recognized the portrait of murderer Joseph Blanther as the same man that he had been paying $60 a month to for services as a Kopperl School Teacher. The Bosque County Sheriff headed to Kopperl to question the School Teacher and found "Forbes" on the Train Depot Steps with intentions of heading to Cleburne to continue his teaching career. After being addressed as Joseph Blanther by the sheriff, "Forbes" attempted to draw his pistol but was overpowered and arrested. After being taken to the Meridian jail it was confirmed that Arthur Forbes was indeed Joseph Blanther the murderer.


Blanther committed suicide in the Bosque County Jail on March 22, 1897 by taking morphine of which he had stored in his hat brim. This story again made national news and was published all around the country. In these publications you can read about the endless details surrounding the life of Blanther and the murder investigation.



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