By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer
In the summer of 1907, the murder of an 18-year-old Jewish woman in Dayton made the newspapers around the country and abroad.
Anna Markowitz, her sister Bertha and their friend, Abraham Cohan, were walking home at night from the recreational park at the Soldier’s Home.
During the way, they heard gunshots and were chased by a man. Bertha escaped but Abraham was shot and would die of his wounds two days later. According to Bertha’s testimony, the attacker caught Anna; she was found strangled to death.
Authorities arrested and put Layton Hines on trial. During the trial, the young African-American confessed to killing Anna and Abraham.
For nine performances between July 19 and Aug. 4, actors will retry the case — with the verdict to be decided by audience members — as part of Dayton History’s Old Case Files program.
“This is going to be the third summer we conduct these court cases,” said Alex Heckman, Dayton History’s director of education and museum operations. Since the verdict can vary from performance to performance, Heckman said the actors rehearse several different endings.
He described the facts in the Hines trial as murky.
“He was accused of rape and murder,” Heckman said, “but he’s not charged with the murder of Abraham Cohan as part of the same incident, and if I remember correctly, they’re not specifically charging him with the rape. It begs a lot of questions if you delve into the case. Was Layton Hines a scapegoat or not?”
A group that was outspoken in support of Hines in the courtroom was the Ohio African American Protective Association.
Josh Cain, program manager for the Old Court House and other Dayton History sites, said the jury consisted of only white men, which was the practice at the time.
One person who believes Hines may have been framed is Brian Forschner, who suggested Dayton History present this trial as part of its Old Case Files.
Forschner is a relative of Mary Forschner, who was murdered in Dayton at age 15 in 1909. He subscribes to the theory that a serial killer may have strangled several young women in Dayton at that time.
Dr. Charles H. Clark, superintendent of the Cleveland Hospital of the Insane, championed the theory in 1909, and several newspapers covered the serial killer angle, including The New York Times.
“Anna’s brothers were initially believed to have committed the crime,” Forschner wrote in an email, “then Hines ‘confessed.’ Newspapers took sides, the defense accused the sheriff, prosecutor and coroner of ‘coercing’ the confession from Hines.”
Heckman said there was contradictory testimony from witnesses among those called by the prosecution and defense.
Forschner added that newspapers extensively covered Anna’s burial at the House of Jacob Cemetery. “There was curiosity about the Jewish burial rites.”
Rabbi Mendel Finkelstein conducted the funeral. According to the Piqua Leader Dispatch, Anna was buried “without a coffin as is the custom of the people to whom the family of the murdered girl belongs.”
Forschner also mentioned a small Dayton Daily News article, Members of the Jewish Race Rarely Murder, connected to Anna’s brothers when they were suspected of her murder.
Hines was tried in a courthouse that no longer exists, adjacent to the Old Court House. Cain said the Old Court House will provide a similar backdrop, since it was also in use in 1907.
Dayton History presents Old Case Files at the Old Court House, 7 N. Main St, Dayton, July 19-Aug. 4. $12 for Dayton History members, $15 for non-members. Call 293-2841 for reservations.