My Uncle, The Criminal? If The Shoe Fits….

Before I turn to my three-times great-uncle Meyer and his family, I want to write about another uncle—my four-times great-uncle Simon Goldchmidt, brother of my three-times great-grandfather Seligmann Goldschmidt.

Back in January, I wrote about Simon Goldschmidt, including the fact that he had been in legal trouble in Germany before immigrating to the US. David Baron had located a record that indicated that in 1826 Simon was charged with burglary and attempted robbery. (HStAM Fonds 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No G 40.) I then wrote in that post:

I requested a copy of the file from the Marburg archives and learned that the file covers Simon’s appeal of a ten year sentence for his criminal activity. The listing online indicates that the date of appellate decision was December 24, 1830.

The contact person at the Marburg archives did not reveal the outcome of the appeal, so I am now hoping to find someone who might be able to go to Marburg and provide me with a summary (in English) of the judgment. (I could order a copy, but it would be costly and in German. My German has improved, but 130 pages of a legal decision would be too great a challenge!)

Well, with the help of three wonderful women in Germany, I’ve been able to obtain a copy of the report, have it transcribed, and then have it translated.  First, Floriane Pfeiffer-Ditschler from the German Genealogy group on Facebook volunteered to go to the archives in Marburg and scan the entire 130 pages of the documents in the file.1 She sent it to me as a PDF, and it’s too long to post on the blog, but I will post just a few pages in this post so that you can see how difficult it is to read. If you’re interested in seeing the entire document, let me know.

Cover page of file, HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

Neither Floriane nor I could decipher the text, so I turned to my friend Julia Drinnenberg, who had been one of my wonderful guides during my visit to Germany last year. Julia also found the handwriting difficult to read, so she recruited her friend Gabriele Hafermaas to help. Gabriele transcribed the text, which Julia then translated it into English. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to these three women for their help.  It took many, many hours of work for them to produce a document that I can read.

The file contained three documents: the original trial court opinion finding Simon guilty, Simon’s application for appellate review, and the appellate court’s opinion. Because the documents are quite lengthy and at times repetitive, I thought it best to write up a summary.

The alleged crime took place on the night of May 16, 1826. The trial, however, did not take place until four years later.  At this time we do not have any information to explain the long delay between the crime and the trial, but Julia is consulting with a judge and legal historian in Germany, so perhaps he will have some answers.

The trial court reached its decision on May 14, 1830.

Simon Goldschmidt, first page of trial court opinion
HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

According to the trial court’s opinion, on the evening of May 16, 1826, someone broke into the home of eighty-year-old Georg Wolf, a resident of Oberlistingen.  There was a hole in the wall of his home and a ladder lying on the ground in front of his sitting room. The court found that someone used violent force to break into the sitting room, using the ladder to push the door open and even breaking an iron bar that served as a lock on that door. There was a struggle between Wolf and the burglar, during which Wolf claimed he had bitten the hands of the assailant and scratched and pinched his face and neck.

When neighbors heard Wolf’s cries for help, the assailant ran away.  According to Wolf and several witnesses, a pair of shoes was left behind, which Wolf claimed had belonged to the assailant. Wolf described the assailant as a small and flexible man with frizzy hair, wearing a long black cape and speaking with a Yiddish accent.

Based on this description, Simon Goldschmidt, a 32-year-old tailor, was thought to be the assailant, and local authorities went the next morning to his home to investigate. Witnesses testified that Simon had injuries on his face and hands that were consistent with Wolf’s testimony and that he fit the physical description provided by Wolf. Simon denied the charges and claimed that he had injured himself when he fell on a stack of logs in the corridor while going to the toilet in the middle of the night.

The trial court did not find Simon’s assertion that his injuries came from such a fall credible for several reasons.  The court did not find it believable that Simon had used the toilet in the corridor because he had a “night stool” in his room for bathroom use. Simon claimed he could not use the night stool because Jewish law prohibited sharing of the night stool while his wife was menstruating, but the court cited the testimony of a rabbi stating that there was no such prohibition under Jewish law. There also was no evidence that Simon’s wife was in fact menstruating at the time of the crime. Furthermore, the court found that Simon’s injuries were not consistent with falling on logs, citing the testimony of a doctor that Simon appeared to have bite marks on his hands and bruising on his face.

In addition, in a page torn from Cinderella or the OJ Simpson trial, the trial court found that the shoes left behind by the assailant fit Simon as well as his wife. A shoemaker testified that he had made the shoes for Simon’s wife and repaired them. He was able to identify them by the way the heels were worn down on one side. Simon denied that the shoes were his or his wife’s, saying that her shoes had been stolen. The trial court did not find this assertion credible because the theft of the shoes had never been reported to the police.

By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

The fact that Simon was wearing dirty socks covered with thick straw and half-dry black mud when the authorities came to investigate was also relied on by the trial court in its analysis. Simon claimed his socks were dirty from walking inside his house and from walking outside to his well. The trial court was not persuaded, finding evidence that Simon was ordinarily a tidy man, that his floors did not have dirt like that found on his socks, and that the walkway to the well had a stone path. Witnesses also testified that the dirty socks were like those of someone who walked through the village without shoes.

There was also some discussion in the trial court opinion about the fact that Simon had plans to go to the estate of the aristocratic von Malsburg family the morning of the investigation.  Julia and I were not sure what this all meant, but as best I can tell, Simon was wearing boots when the authorities arrived and claimed it was because he was planning to go to the Malsburg estate. The court seems to have concluded that this was not the case, but that Simon had put on boots to hide his dirty socks, which were only revealed when the investigator asked him to remove his boots.

Based on its evaluation of the evidence, the trial court concluded that Simon was guilty of attempted theft with burglary and attempted robbery with murder and sentenced him to ten years in prison with his legs shackled. The court considered as an aggravating factor in determining its sentence that Simon had not voluntarily called off his attempted crime, but only left because he was afraid of being caught when Wolf called for help.

End of trial court opinoin
HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

Although the court observed that the usual penalty for a crime of this nature would be twelve to fifteen years in prison, it noted that the case had been delayed for two years due to an overload of pending cases and therefore reduced the usual penalty and sentenced Simon to ten years in prison. The court’s mention of a two-year delay is confusing since the crime was in 1826 and the trial decision in 1830. Simon had been incarcerated for four years while awaiting trial.

On July 22, 1830, Simon appealed the trial court’s verdict, making many of the same arguments that he made at trial, but with some additional details. For one thing, he claimed that he had not reported the theft of his wife’s shoes because of their low value. As to the fact that he was wearing boots the morning after the crime, he asserted that it was insulting to claim that a tailor would not ordinarily be wearing shoes.

Simon Goldschmidt’s application for appearl, first page
HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

With respect to his dirty socks, Simon asserted that the stones on the walkway to the well were quite distant from each other and that the humid weather had made the ground very muddy. And as for his claim that he injured himself from a fall when he went to the toilet in the corridor, he asserted that he left the bedroom because he did not want to make a stench inside and that he believed, even if incorrectly, that under Jewish law he and his wife could not share a night stool while she was menstruating.

Simon also pointed out that Wolf had not specifically identified him, but had only given a general description of the person who attacked him. In addition, Simon asserted his overall good reputation as a factor mitigating against his guilt.

The appellate court issued its decision on December 24, 1830. Its opinion is far more detailed and thorough than the trial court opinion and raises some additional issues. For example, the appellate court pointed out that Simon had been having financial problems and thus had a motive for stealing from Wolf. The court also mentioned that Simon knew that Wolf had money because he and his brothers had at one time borrowed money from Wolf.

Appellate decision, first page
HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

Simon’s response was that his financial problems were only temporary and that everyone in the village knew that Wolf had money and might have stolen from him. Simon also argued that since Wolf had loaned money to him and his brothers, it would not make sense for him to steal from him. The court concluded that the evidence of Simon’s financial problems supported the trial court’s guilty verdict, although only circumstantially.

(If I were representing Simon, I might also have argued that since Wolf knew Simon, he should have been able to identify him as the assailant rather than merely providing a general description.)

The appellate court also considered Wolf’s description of his assailant and whether it clearly identified Simon. Despite some inconsistencies in the evidence regarding the description of the assailant’s “singing voice” and hair, the court found that this evidence nevertheless pointed towards Simon’s guilt.

With respect to the fact that Simon was wearing boots when the authorities came to investigate early on the morning after the crime, the court found that it was not Simon’s usual practice to wear boots and that his story that he was planning to walk to the Malsburg estate was not supported by any witnesses. But the court considered this only relevant to the claim that Simon was trying to hide the dirt on his socks.

The evidence that the appellate court seemed to consider most persuasive of Simon’s guilt was the evidence relating to the shoes left at Wolf’s house and the dirt on Simon’s socks. In the court’s weighing of the evidence, it concluded that the shoes belonged to Simon and his wife and that he got his socks dirty when he ran home through the town without his shoes.

The appellate court also considered very persuasive the evidence of Simon’s injuries and concluded that Simon’s story about falling on logs was not credible. In response to the assertion that Simon did not use the night stool because his wife was menstruating, the prosecution argued that Simon’s wife could not have been menstruating because she was breastfeeding [presumably Jakob, their first child born in 1825]. I was impressed by the court’s response to this assertion—that women can menstruate even while breastfeeding—because that is a fact that I would not have thought was commonly known in 1830.

But the court nevertheless found that it was not likely that Simon’s injuries were sustained in a fall, given the doctor’s testimony that there were bite marks and the fact that the injuries were in multiple locations on Simon’s body, not on one side as one would expect from a fall. Also, Simon couldn’t give a convincing description of the fall and refused to show his injuries. Thus, the court dismissed Simon’s assertion that he was injured in a fall.

After weighing all the evidence, the appellate court thus upheld the verdict. However, it reduced the sentence from ten years to four years because Wolf’s injuries were not dangerous or life-threatening and because Simon had not used any lethal weapons.  It thus reduced the original charges against Simon to attempted robbery. The court also observed that the delay in trial was not Simon’s fault and took that into consideration in reducing his sentence. Simon was released from prison after the appellate court’s decision.

Last page of appellate decision, HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

As noted in my earlier post, Simon’s first wife Eveline died in 1840, and in 1844 my four-times great-uncle Simon Goldschmidt married Fradchen Schoenthal, the sister of my great-great-grandfather Levi Schoenthal and thus my three-times great-aunt. Fradchen and Simon left for the United States not long after. Simon was the second member of the Goldschmidt family to immigrate to the US, following his oldest son Jakob, and Fradchen was the first Schoenthal to immigrate.

Passenger manifest for Simon Goldschmidt, Fradchen Schoenthal and Eva Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820-1964. Original data: Selected Passenger and Crew Lists and Manifests. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

I can’t help but wonder whether their decision to leave Germany was in some part motivated by a desire to leave behind Simon’s criminal past and start over in a new country. If so, well, then I have to say that I am awfully glad that Simon was convicted of this crime because in many ways it was that event that led ultimately to the emigration of my great-great-grandmother Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein (Simon’s niece) and my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal (Fradchen’s nephew), who later married Eva Goldschmidt’s daughter, Hilda Katzenstein.

Thus, in some ways Simon’s crime may have led to the merging of three of my paternal family lines—Goldschmidt, Schoenthal, and Katzenstein—in America.  How very strange.






  1.  HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40. 

Fact versus Fiction

The story of Jacob M. Cohen II who allegedly stole jewelry from his father’s store, pawned it, and ran away to St. Louis generated some discussion among some of my readers.  I had speculated that he did it in the aftermath of the death of  his brother Munroe (or Monroe, as it is sometimes spelled in various accounts).  The discussions have caused me to go back and try to piece together the facts and to create a timeline.

The first news story about Munroe’s death was published on March 23, 1903, a Monday.  It said that Monroe died on Saturday, which would have been March 21, but that the accident that led to his death occurred on Thursday, which would have been March 19.  The second news story, dated March 24, said his body was returned to Washington for the funeral, which was to take place the next day, March 25, 1903.

The Kingston Daily Freeman, Volume 01, March 23 1903, Page 3

The Kingston Daily Freeman, Volume 01, March 23 1903, Page 3

The first news story I found about Jacob’s alleged crime was dated March 27, 1903, and said that “several days ago” Jacob had disappeared from his home and that his father thereafter discovered that jewelry was missing from his store.  The police had thought that Jacob would return for Monroe’s funeral, but he had not done so.  I inferred from this that Jacob had disappeared sometime after his brother died or at least after his accident on March 19, since “several” ordinarily means more than two but not more than seven.  If it had been more than a week, I would think that the newspaper would have said “over a week,” not “several days.”  Also, if the police thought Jacob would return for his brother’s funeral, they must have had reason to think that Jacob knew that his brother had died. Thus, I do not think that Monroe’s accident was precipitated by Jacob’s disappearance, as one skeptical reader suggested.  It seems possible, however, that Jacob’s disappearance was precipitated by his brother’s accident and death, as I speculated.

Jacob Cohen son of Hart 1903 arrested


(“Son’s Alleged Dishonesty” Date: Friday, March 27, 1903, Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 15)

I had forgotten to post one other article about the Jacob story in my post yesterday.  In this article, dated October 5, 1903, a few more details of Jacob’s activities were provided.  Jacob admitted stealing the jewelry, pawning it in Washington, spending the money in Baltimore, and then traveling to St. Louis, New Orleans, and Indian Territory before returning to St. Louis, where he was arrested.  He had gotten a job in a dairy in St. Louis and was there a week when he was arrested.  There had been a hearing in St. Louis, and Jacob was unable to provide the security needed for his release and thus was in the custody of a marshal to be returned to Washington.  One reader speculated that he had never actually stolen the jewelry, but had simply run away; the reader wondered whether his parents had created the story of the stolen jewelry to get the assistance of the police in locating their son.  It seems that Jacob’s admission is inconsistent with that speculation, but anything is possible.

Jacob confession pt 1

Jacob confession pt 2

(“Admits the Crime,” Monday, October 5, 1903, Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC), page: 11)


The final story, posted yesterday and dated October 20, 1903, detailed Jacob’s arrest and the items allegedly stolen.  One reader pointed out that in the final sentence of that article it states “it is thought” that Jacob’s parents would not press charges against him when he was returned to the city.  That would explain why I could not find any further reports of a trial or sentence in the case.  To me, this is also consistent with my speculation that Jacob acted out of grief or upset in the aftermath of his brother’s death.

Jacob son of Hart arrested in St Louis


(“Charged with Grand Larceny,” October 20, 1903, Washington Evening Star, p. 11)

Do I know for sure? Of course not.  Certainly most people do not engage in criminal behavior while grieving.  Maybe Jacob just wanted to run away and needed the money to do so.  Maybe he was angry with his parents for reasons completely unrelated to Monroe’s death.  Maybe he just was being a rebellious teenager.  Maybe he was crying out for attention.  Who knows?  The facts suggest he reconciled with and lived with his parents for years after this incident and was not in any other trouble.  I find it unlikely that these two incidents—Monroe’s death and Jacob’s disappearance—were not related.

What do you think?



A Little More on Reuben and Sallie Cohen

Reuben Cohen

Reuben Cohen

Since was still not fully functional and I thus could not get access to many of the documents I need to complete the story of the children of Reuben and Sallie Cohen, I spent time  looking for news articles about the family on, a site that has remained untouched by the attack on ancestry.  Here are a few interesting additional little peeks into their lives.

First, I was excited to find the picture above of Reuben Cohen published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on April 1, 1917, in honor of his birthday. (Sunday, April 1, 1917, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA)   Volume: 176   Issue: 91   Section: News   Page: 2)  It’s always good to be able to visualize what someone looked like, and since I have not been able to locate many photographs of any of these relatives, this was an exciting find.

Reuben and Sallie were also at least twice the victims of crimes.  In 1885 Reuben was the victim of an assault and battery while trying to stop a thief.  He was commended by the judge for his conduct. The accused was sentenced to eighteen months in prison for stealing a $7 roll of cloth.  It’s not clear whether he stole it from Reuben’s store or whether Reuben was just trying to aid in his arrest. I also found it disturbing that the defendant’s race was mentioned for no possible relevant reason other than the blatant racism of those times. (” Civil and Criminal. Suits and Prosecutions from the Court Reports,”  Wednesday, November 11, 1885 Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA) Volume: CXIII Page: 3 )

reuben assault story


Then in 1903 Reuben and Sallie were themselves the victims of theft when a household employee of theirs stole a diamond ring in a “grip” belonging to Sallie when she asked him to carry it for her when she returned to Philadelphia from Cape May.  The accused admitted the theft and also admitted that he had been stealing from the Cohens for some time.  (“Says He Stole Jewelry,” Sunday, August 30, 1903, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA)   Volume: 149   Issue: 61   Section: First   Page: 6)

jewelry stolen


Finally, I was puzzled by this news item, describing a donation by Reuben to the Episcopal Church in Cape May of a silver plate to be used for communion.

church donation

Why was Reuben making a gift to the church?  Although Sallie may not have been Jewish, it does seem that they raised their children as Jews for here is an article announcing the confirmation of their son Arthur at Mickve Israel synagogue. (“A Minute’s Chat,” Wednesday, February 25, 1903, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA) Volume: 148 Issue: 56 Page: 8 )

arthur confirmation

In addition, Reuben, Sallie, and all of the ten children who predeceased them are all buried in Mickve Israel cemetery.  Was this just a generous gift to an important institution in Cape May? Or were the Cohens also church members? Perhaps I can do some research of the church records to find out more.

There were also other articles about anniversary parties, trips to Cape May, and other family events and celebrations. This series of news stories reveals a little more of Reuben’s character and of his social and financial standing in the Philadelphia and Cape May communities.  It also reveals that despite all the heartbreak his family endured, they also continued to prosper socially and economically and apparently to enjoy life.

Adding another Dimension to the Story: What Newspapers Can Reveal

Before moving on to the next decade of the Cohen saga, I decided to spend some time searching through old newspapers online, seeing if I could find some birth, marriage or death announcement that might be helpful.  I was surprised to find some real news stories about my ancestors which add some additional dimensions to their life stories.

First, it seems that Jacob, my great-great grandfather, had a couple of interactions with law enforcement—never as the accused (as far as I found), but as a victim and/or witness to crimes.    One time Jacob was able to identify the man who had stolen a watch and chain and had pawned the chain to Jacob.[1]  The second incident involved Jacob purely as a victim of a crime when one of his servants, Eliza, stole a watch and chain worth about $50 from his home. [2]

Jacob’s grandson, also named Jacob Cohen, continued this tradition in 1899 when he also ended up with stolen goods in his possession as a pawnbroker. The thieves had broken into a house and stolen $1000 worth of household items, including some rugs that they had pawned to Jacob.   Jacob was able to identify the men who had pawned the rugs and thus assisted the police in capturing them.[3]

I am not sure what to make of these three stories, except to observe that (1) being a pawnbroker, one runs the risk of receiving stolen property, and (2) both Jacobs were observant witnesses and willing to assist the police in stopping crime.

I was also able to find several articles reporting that Jacob (among others) had obtained a pawnbroker’s license and several ads taken out by his son Isaac regarding the probate of Jacob’s estate.

The other article that I found quite interesting reported on a street argument or fight among several of my relatives, including Reuben Cohen, Lazarus Jacobs, and Reuben Jacobs.  Apparently an argument started at seven in the morning among what the article refers to as “barkers connected with the South Street clothing stores,” which “created considerable excitement in the neighborhood, with their jargon.” Four men were arrested, including my three relatives, who were taken to the alderman to “keep the peace.”  This article was dated Wednesday, July 10, 1867.[4]  In 1860, Joseph Jacobs, the brother of Lazarus and father of Reuben, had been a business partner in a clothing store Jacobs and Cohen with Jacob Cohen, father of Reuben Cohen.  I noticed in the 1868 Philadelphia directory that Jacob’s business was then called Hamberg and Co., presumably for his son-in-law Ansel Hamberg.  Had Jacob and Joseph had a parting of the ways? Were they now competitors? Were the cousins fighting over business at 7 in the morning? Or was this just a quarrel among young men that had nothing to do with the family businesses?

Although none of these articles revealed any significant clues or information about my relatives, they add a human dimension to the facts and data I can find in the census reports and vital records.  These were all real people with real problems.  Times may have changed, but people always have and always will deal with the forces of and the flaws of human nature.




[1] Hearings at the Central, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 4, 1869, p. 2.  Located at

[2] At the Central, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 15, 1873, p.2.  Located at

[3] Rugs Gave the Clue, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 28, 1899, p. 13.  Located at

[4] City Intelligence, Police Affairs, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 10, 1867. p. 2.  Located at