Devil Down the Hollow

An Occult Crime Watch preview…

In a remote hollow of York County Pennsylvania, on night of the 28th of November 1928, an unlucky farmer named John Blymire set out with two teen-aged accomplices on a grim and superstitious mission. Blymire had been convinced by a fortuneteller that his ill-fortunes were the result of a Hex placed upon him by his neighbor, Nelson Rehmeyer. To break the Hex, Blymire was instructed to steal Rehmeyer’s spell-book and burn it. Belief in Old World systems of Christian witchcraft, or Braucherei, were common among the Pennsylvania Dutch communities of the early 20th Century. The descendants of Nelson Rehmeyer claim he was a Braucher who practiced the benevolent form of “white magick” to care for his farm and community. As with the British Canny folk, the Braucher are explicitly Christian. They derive their magical powers from their faith in the Bible and Christ, and they used those powers to fight evil witches and the Devil.

John Blymire had suffered more than any one man’s share of bad luck, having watched most of his children die as his farm failed. Why he believed that Rehmeyer had Hexed him is not really material to this study, but the results of this theory very much are. In the hours between the 28th and 29th of November, Blymire broke into the Rehmeyer home and violently assaulted its owner. Unable to find the spell-book, the men tied the sixty year old to a chair and began to beat him. Once they were convinced he had died without giving up the location of his “Powwow Book” the vigilantes resolved to burn the man himself.

The men who killed Nelson Rehmeyer were put on trial and journalists from across the U.S. converged on the rural hamlet to cover the story of a man burned in his own home on a spurious charge of witchcraft. The local authorities were not exactly happy to have the national spotlight on their quiet communities, and the criminals were brought to justice quickly. Less than one century ago, just a few hours away from Washington, D.C., a very earnest belief in malevolent witchcraft inspired a violent murder. And before you think this is an isolated incident, not two decades later a violent divorce would reveal evidence of a subculture of black magic and devil worship in Appalachia.

Late in 1937 the FBI raided three houses in Alliance, Ohio, arresting over a dozen people. Ultimately sixteen of them would be charged with transporting sex workers from Pittsburgh across state lines for “immoral purposes” in violation of the Mann Act. This law was intended to deter human trafficking, but it was often used to persecute consenting adults for engaging in unconventional relationships. Alliance was less than 100 miles from Pittsburgh, and easy drive by car. One among those charged was Lillian Mae Sloane. The thirty-three year old Mrs Sloane was acquitted at trial, but that does not mean she was entirely innocent. While little else is known about her life, following her trial she moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, with a stolen refrigerator before disappearing from public records.

The criminal history of Lillian Mae Sloane is noteworthy because her husband was a Spiritualist minister who would go on to become an influential occultist. Herbert Arthur Sloane was not named in the 1938 indictment along with his wife, or ever implicated in any criminal activity during his lifetime. After the public embarrassment of Mrs Sloane standing trial for “white slavery” and then absconding with a major appliance, Herbert moved into a deeply rural county where he was able to enjoy relative anonymity. Although they had been separated for nearly three years, he named Lillian as his wife when he enlisted in the Army in 1941. Sloane worked as a barber, his lifelong occupation, during his service and seemed to spend the whole time in Huntington, West Virginia. After being honorably discharged he would return to Ohio, and resume his religious vocation. Although there are no records of Lillian’s death, or their divorce, Sloane would remarry and settle down in Cleveland. There he worked as a barber by day, and hosted Spiritualist gatherings by night. Over the course of the late 1940’s Sloane would formally organize his friends and followers into The Orphite Cultus Sathanus, founding the Our Lady of Endor Coven in 1948. This is the first properly documented Satanic cult in the U.S., although much of the early history relies on Sloane’s own accounts, the veracity of which remain open to debate. To date, no one has come forward claiming to have been an original member of Sloane’s Orphite Cultus Sathanus. The group was never more than a dozen or so members, but any records Sloane kept are long lost. There is however, one tantalizing case which occurred the same year Sloane founded his coven, and may well of have involved one of its members.

In the Spring of 1948, a West Virginia man known as Ernie Yost shot and killed his soon-to-be-ex wife and her attorney, before turning the gun on himself. In the peaceful churchgoing community of Fairmont, WVA, Yost was regarded as an eccentric loner. Even in a time and place when divorce was still stigmatized, no one would blame Nellie Yost for wanting out of that marriage. He was exactly the kind of guy who would follow his wife into a law office with a loaded pistol. The murder had been premeditated to the point that he had planted bombs in the basement of his house with the intent of blowing up the entire structure upon his death. But, the fires only caused minor damage before they were put out, and the secret motives behind Yost’s murder-suicide plot were revealed to the sheriffs who came to investigate the attempted arson: Ernie Yost was an avowed and practicing Satanist. Towns like Fairmont put a lid on embarrassing cases like Ernie Yost. We only know what we do of the case only because the granddaughter of the lawyer killed by Yost, Charlotte Laws, sought to solve the mystery and tell the story.

Fairmont, Wva, is only a few hours from both Alliance and Cleveland. Given Yost’s hatred of Christianity and deep interest in the occult, it is very likely he would have had some knowledge of Sloane’s Spiritualist ministry. Yost was a highly talented machinist who made a good living as an engineer for a mining company. He could easily afford to travel to Ohio to attend Sloane’s meetings, and his avowed Satanism does support the claim that the Orphite Cultus Satanus was active in the region at that time. However, all of this is pure conjecture. To establish a meaningful link between Herbert Sloane’s ministry and Ernie Yost’s crimes would require more evidence than has been presented thus far.

Enter “April Belle”…

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5 thoughts on “Devil Down the Hollow”

  1. That was a very interesting article. Naturally I did some reading about the individuals mentioned. The Nelson Rehmeyer murder was particularly interesting. After they burned his body, Blymire and his accomplices tried to burn down the house to remove evidence of their crime. However, the house did not burn. This led to speculation that he really was a witch.

    1. Thank you for your interest. It is an peculiar co-incidence that in both of these cases the killers tried to cover their crimes with fire, and failed. With Ernie Yost, it just happened his adult daughter saw the smoke and rushed to the house to check on his dog. In Blymire’s case, they weren’t thinking about how big of a fire is needed to burn a two hundred pound man; so, they basically just lit fire to his clothes and ran away.

      1. I had trouble finding information on Yost at first. I kept getting NCIS episodes. It wasn’t until I put 1948 into my search that I was able to find what I was looking for. Some creepy stuff.

        1. Yes. I would not have know about the case had I not come across Charlotte Laws’ book on the subject. These are just three of the oldest well documented cases I have found so far.

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