Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Deaths at Duffy's Cut: Cholera or Cover-up?

Death by Unnatural Causes

Map of Pennsylvania with Duffy's Cut locator
Map of Pennsylvania with Duffy's Cut locator
In Pennsylvania's Chester County, locals have long known that something terrible happened along the old Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad tracks where Philadelphia's Main Line passes Malvern. According to historical records, 57 Irish immigrant workers died there in an 1832 cholera epidemic while working to clear a stretch of the line known as Duffy's Cut. Neighbors have claimed to have seen the men's ghosts dancing on their own mass grave.

Now, thanks to a team of amateur anthropologist-sleuths, it's becoming clear that the story may have involved something even worse than a wave of deaths from a virulent disease. Inspired by a ghost-sighting and by their grandfather's old Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad records, Immaculata University history professor William Watson and his twin brother, the Rev. Frank Watson, now lead a team of researchers investigating the deaths at Duffy's Cut. The Watsons' team has found evidence that many of the Irishmen who died may have been murdered before they could attempt to escape their cholera-stricken campsite.

Rev. Frank Watson (left) and Professor William Watson
Rev. Frank Watson (left) and Professor William Watson
The Duffy's Cut Project volunteers have located the site of the railroad camp and started exhuming the men's corpses in order to give them a proper burialand to find out what really happened at the site in the summer of 1832. They've found that many of the men suffered traumatic blows around the time of death. The Watsons and their team believe that local vigilantes, spurred by a blend of anti-Irish, anti-Catholic bigotry and fear of a deadly epidemic, may have murdered many of the Irish workers.

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