Summers County Couple lived, died together

Charleston Gazette, Friday, January 15, 2009,

Summers County Couple lived, died together

By Chris Chanlett Chris, a small farmer and landscaper in Summers County.

On Dec. 10 [2008] the Summers County, West Virginia, Department of Natural Resources, acting on a tip from the mail carrier, entered the rural homestead of John and Esther Moyer in Hix and found two dead bodies in an outbuilding. A suicide note asked the authorities to contact a local attorney, David Ziegler, to execute their will. On Nov. 15 the couple had posted a letter to the sheriff’s department in Roanoke, Virginia, asking them to fax a request for the Summers County department to check on their condition without mention of why. The busy officers did not respond. That was the only foul-up in their otherwise perfectly executed departure. They had willed their bodies to the West Virginia Osteopathic School for teaching purposes, yet by the time they were found, it was too late to carry out that disposition. But they had so carefully chosen the location and timing, complete with plastic over the sheets in their beds, that the scene carried no lingering odor of death.

In the old farmhouse where they had lived for 35 years, the refrigerator was perfectly clear. A couple who had raised much of their own food left only a bushel of recently dug potatoes in a root cellar stocked with clean mason jars. Appliances were spotless with the owners’ manuals set out beside them. A well-maintained wood shop was ready for the next project. At 79, John Moyer was an Army vet and a retired pharmacist who had worked for decades in Union, Alderson and Hinton, always in a bowtie. Esther was born in Denmark two years before his birth in Pennsylvania and was a keen naturalist, ardent gardener, and exacting housewife. They had no offspring and the only surviving family are her sister, nieces and nephews in Denmark.

Neighbors were shocked and saddened at the news. “If you could pick the perfect neighbors from the Sears and Roebuck catalog, the Moyers would be the ones,” one neighbor said. In fact, it appears that they had been envisioning this conclusion for nearly 10 years. Their obituary in the Hinton News quotes their statement in 1999: “We enjoy our current life style which includes reading, walking, hiking, gardening, watching videos . . . enjoying three well-prepared meals, living in a beautiful natural environment, with few social responsibilities. We enjoy being alone together . . . “We are extremely independent, socially self-sufficient and we think we lead well-controlled lives. It would be upsetting to us to have to depend upon others for support or help. Any decrease in mental or physical ability would negatively affect our attitudes and physical and mental health . . .. “Death is a natural consequence of life and we have no fear of death. The dying process should not be prolonged or painful or costly. We see no point in spending money to prolong the dying process. We do not wish to be placed in a nursing home or have extended care just to prolong life.”

Instead of medical expenses, they put all their accumulated assets into the Summers County Public Library. “John was an enthusiastic user of libraries and must have felt strongly that they were vital for their communities,” said librarian Myra Ziegler. Two Subarus are going to the highest bidder at the law office; their household effects, including several original works of art, go up for auction at the Gus Douglass Center on the State Fairgrounds at 12:30 pm on Saturday, January 17; the log home and numerous outbuildings on 80 acres will be sold later. The library may realize upwards of a quarter of a million dollars.

“They both had a quiet demeanor and were liked and respected by everyone with whom they came in contact,” the obituary relates. Some of the few who could be said to have known them well were Richard and Vivian Pranulis of Wolf Creek Printery in Alderson. They were neighbors when both couples moved “back to the land” in Summers County during the early 1970s. While the Pranulises moved into town, the Moyers maintained their homestead in full production year after year, constantly building weedless gardens and numerous additions to the three log structures. They exchanged visits, meals and written correspondence. According to Richard, Esther was a fantastic cook who offered the Pranulises a menu selection to celebrate anniversaries of their wedding. “John was a deep thinker and engaging conversationalist who always called me on any sloppy thinking or imprecise expression. . . . Only in the last year or two had John not been dropping by my shop, and I was beginning to worry about their withdrawal.” John had said, “Pranulis, it’s the plumbing that goes.”

Many Summers countians still cannot understand what they did. Perhaps that is because suicide is almost always a furious violent incident. Distraught teenage males may use a firearm, and more often than understood, an automobile. The Charleston Gazette regularly reports that spurned lovers kill their girlfriends, then themselves. Always the news stabs at the heart of family and community. The Moyers’ double suicide was precisely the opposite. They deliberately withdrew, meticulously planned their departure, and maximized what they left for the community. Their devotion to one another was so complete, they determined to leave this world together with their faculties intact. They drank some whiskey, breathed some helium, and were gone.

The bodies have been cremated and their ashes will be spread on their beloved place “Bjerggaard” which is Danish for “Mountain Farm.”

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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