Executed on this day in 1866: Anton Probst, who committed a horrific massacre in Pennsylvania. The man slaughtered a family of eight, including four children under the age of ten, so he could rob them. “I only wanted the money,” he confessed later. “I had no ill feeling to anyone in the family. They always treated me well.”
Following the murders he didn’t even bother to try to get the hell out of dodge; he just walked into town and spent some time at a brothel, and days hanging out drinking at his favorite bars. All the while wearing one of the victims’ clothes and carrying their stuff, and making occasional excursions to the pawnshop to unload it. The murders were not discovered for four days and Probst could have been long gone by then, and maybe never gotten caught. But the idea that maybe he shouldn’t be hanging around like that seems like it just didn’t occur to him.
After his hanging, on autopsy, it turned out his brain was unusually small. Almost one pound lighter than average, in fact. (The adult human brain weighs around three pounds.) My mom has a medical background and I asked her what might cause a person’s brain to be that small. She suggested alcoholism. Probst was definitely a drinker, but he doesn’t appear to have had symptoms of Karsakoff’s Syndrome. He knew what he was doing when he killed the Deering family and he knew right from wrong. He could have been no more than slightly mentally retarded, if that: he served in the Army, he could hold a job when he felt the inclination, and I believe he was literate.
I know that having a small brain does not necessarily mean you’re going to be handicapped; there have been cases of people who live out their whole lives normally with jobs and families and normal or near-normal IQs and then it turned out their brain was ludicrously tiny, practically nonexistent. However, it seems like Probst’s actions after the murders and his abnormally small brain size were probably connected, and there must have been something seriously wrong there. Of course, there’s something seriously wrong with anybody who methodically slaughters eight people like that. I wonder what modern neurologists, psychologists and psychiatrists would make of Probst if they examined him today.