By Erin Delmore
“Whenever we host a major or have an event, everyone’s curious about the name,” said Baltusrol Golf Club Co-Club Historian Stuart Wolffe.
Before this place was Baltusrol Golf Club, it was farmland owned and worked by a Dutch family. Last name: Roll. First name: Baltus. And the story of Baltus Roll’s gruesome murder still raises eyebrows around town.
“So on a cold February night in 1831, there was a knock on Baltus’ door, and two gentlemen — Peter Davis and Lascivious Baldwin — broke into his house and he was brutally murdered. They beat him up and he died, and his wife unfortunately witnessed the whole thing,” Wolffe said.
Roll’s sensational murder made headlines coast to coast and was followed by a “trial of the century”.
“They actually had a rope expert talking about the bands of the rope and the key was, a horse did not have one of its horseshoes. And there was a tracking in the snow and they matched that to, I think it was Peter Davis’ horse,” Wolffe said.
The case ended in a hung jury. Of the two suspects, one died in prison on another charge; the other overdosed in a boarding house. When Lewis Keller bought the property in the mid-1900s, he founded a golf club and named it after the former owner. Baltus Roll’s house still stands, and his descendants still live in the area.
“He’s my four times great grandfather through my mother’s paternal side,” said Natalie Reif.
We tracked down Reif, a descendant of Baltus Roll, at work — two miles south of the golf club.
“It’s mind-boggling. I’ve done a lot of research at the Westfield library so I have a lot of documents here. This is a photo of Baltus Roll’s grave. He’s buried at the Presbyterian Church in Westfield in the Revolutionary section,” Reif said.
“People do go visit his grave site, so I think if Baltus is in heaven, he’s probably thinking, ‘Wow, this is not too bad. How many years? 1831-2016, people are still taking about me?’” Wolffe said.
Talking about him and talking for him. The parody Twitter account, @BaltusRolGhost, is taking shots at the 2016 PGA contenders, but Wolffe’s assured us, he’s made many trips to the archive room in the Baltusrol Golf Club’s attic. No ghost sightings yet.