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Baltus Roll
The Murder on a Mountain Top

Baltusrol Golf Club

The name of this eminent club was derived from that of Baltus Roll, who owned mountainside property in Springfield, N. J., Baltus, born in 1769, was a son of Abraham Roll (1739-1813) who was a brother of Isaac Roll.

In 1831 Baltus, a farmer noted for his thrift, was attacked, tortured and killed by two strangers in an attempt to make him reveal the hiding place of his money. Two suspects were later arrested; one hanged himself in jail; the other was tried but not convicted.

The gravestone of Baltus in the Presbyterian Churchyard in Westfield, N. J., bears the unusual, but true, statement "Murdered." Baltus and his wife were childless. In the 1890's area residents purchased the property and built a golf course on it.

Roll, Edwin D., The Roll Family, One Branch, October 1982, p. 10, LDS Microfiche 6018739.

The Ghost of 'Old Baldy' Stalks Again

Tragedy made a traditional figure of Baltus Roll. In life, an easy-going farmer and trader, residing in a little house on a lonely road on the hillside; in death, the hapless victim of a crime by which his name became known on two continents.

Judged by the objects with which his name is identified, he might have been a noted sportsman or patriot or public-spirited country squire. Baltus Roll was the grandson of a Dutch Pioneer, Johannes Roll who settle in the mountains back of Westfield about 1740.

He was murdered on the night of February 22nd, 1831. His wife, who was alone in the house with him at the time, testified at the trial of one of the accused that she and her husband had retired early. about midnight she was awakened by a pounding on the door. When admission was refused the door burst open. "Two men entered; one a large man, the other a small man. They seized Roll, drew him from the bed, slatted him about the room and dragged him to the door."

Later, the large man came to the stairs and told her to remain in her room, but when he went out she followed. She saw two men tying Baltus. The snow was very deep, but they threw him in a puddle of icy water. He twice called to her. After that, "he did not make any noise and I thought he was dead." She slipped out of the door and wandered aimlessly into the woods through the snow.

It rained all night and she was exhausted when morning came. Returning to the house, she saw Baltus lying in a snowbank, bound hand and foot, and lifeless. She did not go in for fear the murderers were still there, but went to the home oa a neighbor, Jesse Cahoon. When he heard her story, he summoned Brook Sayre (her husband's cousin) and Joseph Cain, who lived down the road. They thought Mrs. Roll had lost her mind, but returned with her to the house.

It was as she had said. Inside was great confusion. The news spread throughout the country. It was the crime of the century. The metropolitan dailies gave full details. Suspicion at once settled upon Peter B. Davis and Lycidias Baldwin, ne'er-do-wells, who had been seen frequently in the locality. Davis was known to be desperately in need of cash and to have sought an accomplice to go with him to a place where they could "get a thousand dollars." Roll was supposed to have kept a considerable sum of money hidden somewhere in his house.

When Baldwin heard that the police had arrested Davis, he fled to Morristown and committed suicide in a room at the tavern. Davis was tried at a special session of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, in Newark, before Chief Justice Ewing. Although the evidence pointed strongly to his guilt, he was acquitted, because some of the most damaging testimony ws ruled out as "illegal." During the trial, however, he admitted forgery and was afterwards arraigned before court on four indictments, to three of which he plead guilty. He was sentenced to eight years on each count, and died in prison.

Today, the name of Baltus Roll is legend in the hills of his birth. An historic roadway and an internationally known golf course bear his name. Recently a writer of mystery tales re-enacted the scenes of his taking-off.

A stone in the old burial ground memorializes the tragedy: "Ye friends that weep around my grave, compose your minds to rest, prepare with me for sudden death, and live forever blest." And, like the headless rider of Sleepy Hollow, "the ghost of old baldy" stalks the slopes of the little village on the hill top, and tired mothers warn their children to be off to bed before the white moon comes up and eerie shadows creep through the silent wood.

The home of Baltus Roll, on the mountain road which bears his name, as it stood at the time of his murder, 1831. It has since been remodeled. A part of it, at least, was build probably by Johannes Roll, Dutch settler. The residence of Mrs. A.G. Bachelder.

The Ghost of Old Baldy' Stalks Again.
1831. Reprinted in Hoffman, Robert V., The Olde Towne 1700-1894. Brochure. Westfield, N. J., 1937, p 17.

Old Resident Here To See Celebration
Mrs. Mary J. Roll, 89 Years Old
Pronounces It Finest, Finest Thing Ever Seen

One of the visitors to this town to see the 200th Anniversary Celebration last Tuesday and who is still visiting relatives here was Mrs. Mary J. Roll, who is 89 years old.

Mrs. Roll was married in this town on November 17th, 1850, at the old Jonathan Cory house to Henry B. Roll by the Rev. Mr. Edgar who was then the pastor of the Presbyterian church. Mr. and Mrs. Roll went to housekeeping in the old Charles Clark house next to his store and which was located on Jerusalem road. This house belonged to the present Charles Clark's father.

Mrs. Roll's husband's father, Henry Baltus, was murdered when her husband was ten years old and the old house in which the tragedy occurred is still standing at Baltusrol. Mrs. Roll has for the past eight years been making her home in Trenton and came here alone to visit her daughter, Mrs. W. Irving Carpenter, who lives on Central avenue.

Mrs. Roll says at the time she was married Broad street was nothing but woods. When asked by a Standard representative what she thought of the celebration she said that it was the finest thing she had ever seen. Besides Mrs. Carpenter, she has another daughter, Mrs. Mary O'Niell, who lives in Plainfield. She has nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren. She expects to go back to Trenton in time to vote on Election Day.

The Standard,
Westfield, New Jersey, Friday, October 22, 1920.