Artist Murdered at the National Museum

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  • On January 16, 1907, Otto Seelhorst fatally shot Frederick von Iterson in the United States National Museum. Seelhorst arrived in Washington, D.C., from Philadelphia where he worked as an artist. In the early morning, Seelhorst entered the National Museum and obtained directions to the office of Assistant Curator in the Division of Mammals Marcus W. Lyon from Edgar W. Hanvey, a carpenter working in the building. Lyon recently hired von Iterson, an artist at the Wistar Institute of Anatomy, to make some scientific drawings for the Division of Mammals. Around 10:30 A.M., Seelhorst approached von Iterson, talked briefly and opened fire on the man with a .22-caliber Winchester. Seelhorst shot von Iterson four times, three of which were fatal. Seelhorst remained with the body until he was arrested.
  • Seelhorst had a history of mental illness and spent a year in an Eaton, Pennsylvania, sanitarium in 1906. However, the incident was not random. Fifteen years prior to the incident, Seelhorst worked with von Iterson in Philadelphia at the Keterlinus Manufacturing Company. According to Seelhorst, von Iterson molested the young man which caused Seelhorst's life long problems with mental illness. Witnesses to the murder told reporters that Seelhorst claimed he committed the crime to protect other young children from von Iterson and showed no remorse at the scene of the crime. Seelhorst was arrested and put on trial in March of the same year. Seelhorst was tried by the Criminal Court Circuit No. 2 of the District of Columbia and was acquitted on account of his insanity.
  • The murder trial was the shortest trial on record to date in the District of Columbia. Justice Job Barnard committed Seelhorst to the Government Hospital for the Insane until he recovered or for the remainder of his life.


  • Langley, S. P (Samuel Pierpont) 1834-1906
  • Seelhorst, Otto
  • Lyon, Marcus Ward b. 1875
  • Barnard, Job 1844-1923
  • Iterson, Frederick von
  • Hanvey, Edgar W
  • Arts and Industries Building
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)
  • Government Hospital for the Insane (U.S.)


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • The crime occurred during the tenure of Secretary Samuel P. Langley and the Smithsonian Annual Report for the year 1907 made no mention of the incident.
  • "Artist Shot to Death," Washington Post, January 17,1907, p. 2.
  • "Suffered a Breakdown," Washington Post, January 17, 1907 p. 2.
  • "Artist's Slayer Held," Washington Post, January 18, 1907, p. 2.
  • "Insanity Will Be His Plea," Washington Post, January 19, 1907, p. 2.
  • "Indicted for Murder," Washington Post, March 14, 1907, p. 11.
  • "Insanity Plea for Slayer," Washington Post, March 28, 1907, p. 3.
  • "Slayer Found Insane," Washington Post, March 29, 1907, p. 13.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


January 16, 1907


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