James Wosochlo Jr. tells the story of an area man considered America’s first unofficial serial killer in his debut novel.
“Appalachian: Schaumboch’s Tavern,” based on true events, is about Matthias Schaumboch, who owned the tavern in Albany Twp., Berks County, on Hawk Mountain from 1850 to 1889.
On his deathbed, Schaumboch confessed to murdering between 11 and 14 people.
“There was rumor of mysterious people, travelers and peddlers, that would come and go, north and south of the mountain, and if they stayed at the tavern, some were never seen again,” Wosochlo said. “It was never proven that anything was happening until his deathbed confession.”
Wosochlo, who now lives in Colorado, lived in the Orwigsburg and Deer Lake area. He collected Native American and colonial artifacts from around Hawk Mountain, and he was president of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, a founding member of the Hawk Mountain Archaeology Society and president of the Forks of the Delaware Archaeology Society in the Lehigh Valley.
Wosochlo said he heard about Schaumboch from a bartender at the Deer Lake & West Brunswick Fire Company, which Wosochlo belonged to until 2019.
“I couldn’t believe, living in the area for long, I had never heard about it before,” Wosochlo said. “It intrigued me, and because of my big interest in history, I wrote a novel about it.”
Wosochlo said Schaumboch’s tale does not have much documentation in local history.
“It was swept under the rug back in the late 1800s,” Wosochlo said. “It was like a bad memory that everybody wanted to forget about.”
Wosochlo said response to the book has been positive so far, and he has even been contacted about making it into a movie.
“It’s doing really well,” Wosochlo said. “I don’t know how to handle it, but it’s going really well.”
He noted the book has surprised some of his family members.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Wosochlo said. “It’s selling really well, but I have a lot of relatives who are calling me and saying, ‘We never thought you would think of things like this.’ My wife said she had to sleep with one eye open for three nights after reading the novel.”
Wosochlo had never written a horror story but took inspiration from Stephen King books and the movies “The Revenant” and “Silence of the Lambs.”
“I tried to keep the book as much as possible true to history, but there are some things that I had to speculate (about) because there was no record of it,” he said.
The way that Schaumboch carried out the murders was one aspect left to Wosochlo’s imagination. He also left out some details about the location, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, to protect what is now private property of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and restricted from trespassing.
Wosochlo now is working on another novel, “Unexhumed,” a ghost story set in Philadelphia not based on true events. He also will hold book signings on Wednesday, April 7, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Schuylkill County Historical Society, Pottsville, and Thursday, April 8, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Orwigsburg Historical Society, where there will be a question-and-answer session at 7.