In March 1934, a taxi-driver by the name of Albert Shinsky (also spelled “Yashinsky” in some accounts) crept through the evening darkness to the home of Mrs. Susan Mummey.
The house was barely lit, so it was not until the woman’s daughter entered the room carrying a lamp that Shinsky could make out the figure of Mrs. Mummey. He took aim and fired.
His bullet struck the 63-year-old in the side, killing her. Susan Mummey, known locally in their Pennsylvania Dutch community as “The Witch of Ringtown Valley,” had put a hex on him eight years ago—or so Albert believed.
He said that there was just one way to break the curse: murder with a magic bullet. Shinsky openly confessed to the crime, even re-enacting it for county detective Louis Buono.
He explained that he shot the woman because she had “hexed” him eight years previously by bringing a spirit down out of the sky. The hex made him ill, tired, and depressed, Shinsky said.
The legend of Susan Mummey’s black magic abilities dates back to 1910. Susan awoke one morning and told her husband that he shouldn’t go to work that day, because she had a feeling he wouldn’t return. And he never did– Henry Mummey was blown to pieces in a explosion at the DuPont powder mill in Ferndale.
And so, in a real-life Schuylkill County version of the Chicken Little fable, word spread throughout the valley that Susan Mummey had foretold her husband’s death. From that day forward, the more superstitious residents came to regard the widow as a fortune-teller.
Yashinsky claimed that ‘Old Suss’ had burdened him with a hex in the form of a monstrous black cat with huge green eyes and the witch’s face. For seven years, he had been climbing into his bedroom through the window, as otherwise “unless he trod evenly on each step, the cat sprang out at him.”
He also claimed that at least once per month, the black cat visited him as he slept.
It slowly crawled through his closed bedroom window and towards his bed. Then it would rest itself on the side of his bed and claw at his side. It was painful torture…
Once a month and sometimes more often, this huge black cat would visit him and make it impossible for him to sleep… after a visit from this cat he would be completely lost and bewildered. He was actually helpless and unable to work.
Apparently, the murder of ‘Old Suss’ was not effective in the banishing of this cat. While in prison, Yashinsky claimed to still be visited by this fiery-eyed, witch-faced phantom, rather like a feline equivalent of Keziah Mason’s infernal familiar, Brown Jenkin, in Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch-House.”
It was a brutally precise single shot that did the deed, as described in the March 19, 1934 Pottsville Republican article:
“The shooting occurred at 8 o’clock Saturday evening the bullet a pumpkin ball fired from a 12 gauge shotgun entered the front window of the living room. Shattering the window glass in its course.
“It struck the victim in the right side passing through the lung and heart and finally lodging in the stomach … Chief Detective Buono said this morning that there was no question the women had been the victim of an assassin’s bullet and the police hoped to get the killer.”
Once Shinsky was identified as the killer, he claimed to have been “prescribed” the bullet he used to kill his elderly neighbor by a “hex doctor” who suggested it was the only way to break Mummey’s hold over him.
“I heard a voice from the sky say ‘shoot that woman’ and I did,” said Shinsky during his confession. “I was hexed. She sent black cats with burning eyes from the skies down at me. Black cats would come into my room and claw at my side. Once, one cat nearly suffocated me with its fur. I had to kill her to break the spell.”
According to Shinsky, he had consulted a pow-wow doctor, who had told him that he could break the spell by saying “abracadabra” whenever the black cats visited him. And if that didn’t work, well, he would have to resort to murder– using a “magical bullet”.
“The hex doctor told me I’d never be right till old Susie was killed by a magic bullet,” he said. “I’ve tried ever since to get strength enough to do it and I made the bullet myself.”
“Susie was in cahoots with the devil,” he continued. “I was outside her house fighting those spirits for half an hour. But finally I overcame her spell, then I let her have it. After I fired the shot I felt sore all over. It seemed as if something was leaving my body… I hard a hard time walking a mile to where my car was parked but I knew the hex was leaving my body and I was glad. Just before I got into the car I shook all over. Then I felt grand. It was wonderful to feel so grand!”
As wild as the accused killer’s story may have been, there was no doubt that he had pulled the trigger. Four people identified his car near the crime scene, and state troopers found Shinsky’s shotgun in the woods near the Weston Place baseball field where he told them he had hidden it. Shinsky was charged with murder before Justice of the Peace M.F. Giblon and transported to the county prison in Pottsville to await trial.
The prison doctor who examined him pronounced him “unbalanced” and “suffering from hallucinations.” But to hear Shinsky tell it, as he did to reporters, Mummey’s death was a huge relief: “I was hexed. There was nothing else for me to do. I had to kill her … the electric chair will be better than the suffering.”
According to paoddities.blogspot.com, Albert Shinsky had planned to marry Selina Bernstel on Easter Sunday. Although their wedding plans were derailed by the murder, Selina frequently visited her lover in the Pottsville jail, and she, too, corroborated Shinsky’s claims of supernatural activity.
There were nights, Selina said, when the ghost of Susan Mummey, draped in a black robe, would appear at the foot of her bed. Selina was so convinced that Albert was telling the truth that she insisted upon getting married at the jail, but Albert refused.
After initial resistance by the prosecutor, Shinsky was declared insane and sent to a state sanitarium rather than being tried for murder.
In January of 1976, Albert Shinsky, now 62, strode out of the dusty pages of Schuylkill County history onto the front pages of newspapers when President Judge James J. Curran ordered that Shinsky was now well enough to stand trial for the 1934 murder of Susan Mummey.
Shinsky was transferred to Wernersville State Hospital to await trial.
Shinsky’s long wait ended at the Schuylkill County Courthouse in March with a lot less fanfare than it began. Sitting motionless alongside his attorney, Jeffrey Matzkin, Shinsky listened as Judge Curran granted a nol prosse motion by District Attorney Richard Russell– since all of the principal witnesses in the case were now dead, Albert Shinsky would not be prosecuted for the murder.
After 42 years of confinement, the man who killed the witch of Ringtown Valley was now a free man.
Unfortunately, Shinsky’s freedom was short-lived. Although he was judged mentally fit, his physical health began to decline. In February of 1983 he was admitted to a nursing home in Shenandoah, and died three months later.
He was buried at Our Lady of Fatima Cemetery in Shenandoah Heights. As for Selina Bernstel, the killer’s fiance, she eventually married Charles Betterton and moved to Bucks County.
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