Hex Hollow documentary to screen in York this fall
Nearly 100 years ago, a York County man who believed his string of bad luck and illnesses was rooted in a hex murdered and then burned the body of the man he suspected was responsible.
York County native Shane Free said the story of Nelson Rehmeyer's murder at the hands of John Blymire and his fellow conspirators John Curry and Wilbert Hess in 1928 had been floating around in his mind long before he began work on his documentary, "Hex Hollow," in 2013.
"I love documentaries and true crime; it's just a subject and genre that I really like," Free said. "True stuff is usually way better than whatever they can come up with in Hollywood anyway ... so the documentary was kind of the perfect marriage for me, and it's something from my hometown."
This fall, Free's documentary will be making its world premiere at the Capitol Theatre on North George Street in York City.
Witchcraft: "It's pretty fascinating because we're dealing with witchcraft so far after — over 200 years after — the Salem witch trials," Free said.
Practicing powwow — a healing practice based on spells, recipes, magic and folk remedies inspired by the book "The Long Lost Friend" by John George Hohman — in Pennsylvania wasn't uncommon in the '20s and it persisted to as late as the '50s and '60s in some areas, Free said.
"Withcraft becomes an important part of the story ... it's a very unusual situation and a very fascinating study of the legal system and the community itself," said J. Ross McGinnis, a distant relative of Rehmeyer's and author of "Trials of Hex."
Rehmeyer, a farmer who lived in the North Hopewell Township area, Free said, was among the many known for dabbling in powwow healing.
"A lot of people looked to it because it was cheaper than a regular doctor," Free said.
Many people sensed bad things could come of powwowing, and even though Rehmeyer never did anything particularly bad, there were a few individuals who attributed their bad luck to his practice, Free said.
Evidence of the brutal murder that took place in Rehmeyer's home — which still stands in Stewartstown — remains in the floorboards all these years later.
"It's creepy when you see the spot where he was murdered," Free said. "The floorboards are still burnt, you can still see the charred spot."
The facts: In spite of claims that the Rehmeyer house is haunted, Free said he and his crew didn't experience any strangeness while working on the documentary.
"We filmed a lot in the house," Free said, noting that it is not open to the public. "We didn't really focus at all on the ghost hunting part of it; our goal was to keep it pretty factual."
The documentary relies on court documents, newspapers and a series of interviews from experts and locals with personal connections to the incident. It's co-produced by Wes Blymire, the great-great nephew of John Blymire.
McGinnis, who is among those who were interviewed, said he was initially drawn to the murder because "it took place in southern York County, and I'm a southern York County lawyer."
His book, like the documentary, presents the facts and is based on records, such as court transcripts and first-hand accounts from reporters who covered the incident.
Tickets for the screenings on Nov. 7 have already gone on sale and are going quickly, said Free, who now lives in California.
The brisk sales are no surprise to McGinnis.
"The story continues to resonate, it's an old story, but it's such an important part of our culture, our history, our tradition," he said. "It's noteworthy in many, many ways ... it's just fascinating."
To purchase tickets to the screening, visit www.hexhollowmovie.com.