Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

America's First Serial Killers

Thieving Cousins

They moved into a cabin on what would eventually be named Old Maidensville Road, with the extended family sharing everything. Betsy and Sally were described as plain, but Susanna/Sarah was prettier. The woman apparently did not try to escape; indeed, they learned to accommodate whatever they heard or knew about their husbands' activities, and when at one point they did have the chance to go their own way, they reunited with their husbands (although they would later insist they were simply afraid not to). Some writers say that the women even began to assist the Harpes in their crimes.

What the Harpe's cabin probably resembled
What the Harpe's cabin probably resembled

Apparently, once they all settled in Tennessee, they made an effort to raise crops and get along with other residents (although Musgrave writes that they killed a man who showed concern for their women). However, they were restless for more, and it wasn't long before they began to steal livestock from their neighbors to slaughter and sell for profit. At first, no one realized what they were doing, but eventually a few men to whom they repeatedly sold meat suspected its origins.

When several of Edward Tiel's horses went missing, these suspicions were voiced, so he went to the Harpe homestead in search of them. When he found no one at home, he organized several men to help him search. They went into the woods and came across an area where it appeared that horses had been tied. Following a trail into the Cumberland Mountains, the searchers located not only the missing horses, but also the Harpes. The thieving cousins were arrested and escorted back to town, but they managed to break away and escape. Now they were truly outlaws, and it wasn't long before they stepped up their aggression with murder.

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