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1881 Murder of Gustav Rechfus


Posted By: Reid R. Johnson (email)
Date: 8/11/2016 at 18:44:25

Compiled from newspaper accountings by Reid R. Johnson for Clayton co. IAGenWeb


Dubuque Daily Times, Sun., 3 April 1881:

McGregor, 1 April 1881 - Last night at 9 o'clock, as Henry Rechfus and wife and Gustav Rechfus were sitting in the house of the farmer, about half a mile southwest of Watson Post Office, an unknown person fired two barrels of a gun through a window, one charge of which lodged in Gustav Rechfus's left shoulder, entering his breast and killing him almost instantly. The other charge wounded Henry Rechfus in the hand and he almost bled to death. The assassin escaped. The deceased was a man aged about 55, and was a bachelor, with about $30,000, all in money, out at interest. No cause is assigned and no arrests have been made.

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Elkader Register, Fri., 8 Apr. 1881:

Dastardly Deed ! Gustavus Rechfus Shot Dead in His Own House. Particulars of the assassination - A Reward of $1,500 For the Capture of the Murderer.

When we read in the dailies of the larger cities of the numerous murders committed, we do not feel the horror and sense of insecurity, that we do when a murder is committed in our county. Who can describe the feeling of the residents of Pleasant Ridge, on Thursday evening last, when in their very midst had been committed one of the most dastardly and cold blooded murders recorded in the criminal annals of Clayton county, the shooting down of Gustavus Rechfus, while sitting in his own house, by a cowardly assassin, concealed outside.

Particulars of the crime.
As near as we can learn from the many and confused stories told, Mr. Rechfus had been to Monona on Thursday, to attend a funeral, and on his return stopped at the Watson post office, where he was paid some money. He treated a number of his friends and then proceeded directly to his home. After eating his supper he drew his chair up to the table, on which the light was standing, and taking up a paper commenced to read, which position he occupied at the time the fatal shot was fired.

Mr. Rechfus sat with his chair leaning back against the table. His brother sat almost directly in front of him, and his sister-in-law sat on the other side of the table. The shot was fired through the window on the east side, passing in front of Henry, some of the scattering glass and shot wounding him, and striking Gustavus in the right shoulder, passing downward and killing him instantly, and extinguishing the light.

Henry's first impression was that something had exploded within the stove, but on relighting the lamp he discovered his brother dead in his chair, having died without a struggle. Mrs. Rechfus saw the villian standing by the window after he had fired the fatal shot, but before her husband could get to the door, he had made his escape.

An inquest was held on Friday by Justice Henry Howe, acting coroner, with Charles Reidel, John Sawvel and Wm Smith, jurors. Their verdict was that deceased came to his death from gun-shot wounds inflicted by an unknown person.

There were seven or more buckshot and twenty-four small shot found in the body, most of them in his neck and shoulder. Some six buckshot missed the man and passed entirely through the black walnut cupboard that stood at the other end of the room.

The Deceased.
Gustavus Rechfus was a native of Duttlingen, Germany, and was eight days less than fifty-five years old. He came to America a young man and has lived in this county over thirty years. Besides a sister living in Germany, he has no relatives except his brother here. He was a well educated man versed in seven different languages at one time in his life. He was a great reader and was, perhaps, the best read, most thoroughly informed man in the past current events, in that vicinity. There was not a dishonest hair on his head. He was strictly moral and proud of his honesty and accuracy. He had some money when he came to this country, but by industry and frugality has increased it to nearly sixty thousand dollars. This money is nearly all loaned out at interest, which has been his principal business for years. He is not a speculator, nor a hard man, and when others loaned money at exorbitant rates he was liberal and easy and had a reputation for having helped many poor men.

The Reward.
We are told that Henry Rechfus has offered $1,500 reward for the capture and conviction of the murderer, and several arrests on suspicion have already been made.

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Elkader Register, Fri., 15 Apr. 1881:

The Rechfus Murder.
On Sunday last, Sheriff Place, Judge Murdock and R. E. Price, went up to the scene of the murder, to endeavor to secure some clue to the guilty person, but after a careful search returned home Monday evening, not having found anything which would prove of value in causing the arrest of anybody.

They were unanimous however, in stating that they believe Henry Rechfus and wife had nothing to do with the murder. They make this statement is justice to Mr. R. who has been accused by various parties of putting his brother out of the way in order to get possession of his property. They made a careful survey of the premises and think that Henry could not, by any possible means, have done the shooting.

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Elkader Register, Fri., 6 May 1881. From the McGregor News, dated 4 May 1881:

The Rechfus Murder.
On Monday Geo. Ellinger was arrested upon the charge of murdering Gustav Rechfus, and taken to McGregor. The examination was held on Tuesday, but owing to the absence of witnesses, the proceedings were postponed until May 16th, the prisoner being released under bond. There is said to be considerable circumstantial evidence against Ellinger, who lives 2 1/2 miles from the Rechfus house. Five weeks before the murder Ellinger is said to have been hard pressed to pay delinquent interest by the murdered man, and this is taken as the supposed motive. Stoneman & Chapin appeared for the prisoner, who is said can prove an alibi. The above is gleaned from the McGregor News of the 4th.

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Postville Review, Sat., 14 May 1881. From the McGregor Times, of last week:

The McGregor Times, of last week has the following:
"On Monday Geo. Ellinger, living near Watson postoffice in Allamakee county, was bro't in under arrest by Deputy Sheriff G. Henry Frese and Capt. Benton, on a warrant from Esq. Burlingame, charging him with the assassination of Gustav Rechfus. The examination was to take place before Esquire Burlingame on Tuesday, but adjourned until the 16th, the prisoner giving bail for his appearance on that day. In advance of the examination we are unable to give the evidence on which the arrest is made; the facts will be brought out when the matter has undergone the proper investigation."

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Elkader Register, Fri., 24 June 1881. McGregor Locals column:

The Rechfus murder trial ended Tuesday, by the prisoner being discharged for want of sufficient evidence to continue the examination. Ellinger is generally considered innocent by all his neighbors, and Murdock, Benton and Frese are as confident that they can commit him before a grand jury.

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Elkader Register, Fri., 15 July 1881. McGregor Locals column:

G. H. Frese, one of the detectives in the Rechfus murder trial, says he will not give it up yet. That murderer lives within five miles of the Rechfus house.

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Elkader Register, Fri., 30 Sept. 1881. Home News column:

Geo. Ellinger, who was indicted by the grand jury for the murder of Mr. Rechfus, was released from jail last Saturday, he having secured (looks like $6,000) bail.

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Elkader Register, Fri., 8 Sept. 1882:

District Court.
State vs. George Ellinger, murder, dismissed. This case was for the murder of Gustav Rechfus, Monona township, on the evening of March 31st, 1882. (Year should have been 1881.) Mr. Rechfus was sitting by his own fireside, when some one crept up to a window, and killed him by a shot through the window. Mr. Ellinger was shortly afterwards arrested for the crime, and taken before a justice for preliminary examination, and the case dismissed. The matter was brought before the grand jury, and they indicted Mr. Ellinger, and he was again placed under arrest. The dismissal of Mr. Ellinger makes the matter a deeper mystery than ever before, and it now seems doubtful whether the red-handed murderer will ever be captured.

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Elkader Register, Fri., 9 Feb. 1883. Home News column:

J. M. Baum, the "detective", who was actively engaged in working up the Rechfus murder case, was arrested at Postville, last Thursday, by a deputy United States marshal, on charge of personating a United States revenue officer, and as such extorting money from a Myron, Allamakee county, store-keeper, for neglecting to erase the stamp from a cigar box. He was taken to Dubuque, and on Monday had a preliminary examination before Commissioner Hobbs, which resulted in his being bound over in the sum of $1,000, to answer the charge at the next term of the United States circuit court. In default of bail he now languishes in the Dubuque county jail.

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Elkader Register, Fri., 7 Sept. 1883:

District Court.
The district court for this county met at Elkader on Monday afternoon, and is one of the most largely attended terms of court held for many years. Many were attracted here on account of two important cases, the Mahan and the Rechfus murder trials. In the latter case nearly ninety witnesses were subpoenaed.

The court opened with his honor, Judge L. O. Hatch on the bench, and present Cyrus Wellington, district attorney and J. J. Grinnell, court reporter. In addition there were present a large number of the legal fraternity from abroad, as follows: John T. Stoneman, Cedar Rapids; A. Chapin, W. E. Odell, Judge R. Nobel, R. Quigley, McGregor; J. O. Crosby, Garnavillo; B. W. Newberry, Strawberry Point; S. T. Richards, Edgewood; J. E. Corlett and Martin Garber, Elkport; E. W. Griffith, Volga City; A. McArthur, Clayton; S. S. Powers, Postville.

State vs. Henry Rechfus, charged with the murder of his brother Gustav, in 1881.

A jury was secured in this case yesterday morning, and is composed of the following named gentlemen: George Cooper, Cass; John Larson, Wagner; Fred Krieg, Elk; James Geraghty, Read; Wm. H. Leonard, Boardman; M. Flaherty, Volga; John J. Scheidt, Jefferson; Homer Heath, Cass; A. Wandell, Sperry; Fielding Snedigar and Lucius Haskins, Boardman; Salem Morse, Sperry. After the jury was sworn but before the trial commenced, Mr. Morse was excused by consent of both parties, and the case will be tried before eleven men.

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Elkader Register, Fri., 14 Sept. 1883:

District Court.
District court reconvened at this place on Monday, with Judge L. O. Hatch, Court Reporter Grinnell, District Attorney Wellington, and nearly all the members of the county bar present. The consideration of the Rechfus case was then resumed, and continues to occupy the attention of the court at the time of going to press. The state closed its side of the case Wednesday. Those giving testimony for the state were: J. S. Rupp, John Sutter, Jacob Smith, C. H. Hamilton, G. H. Freese, George Haislett, John Blakely, F. W. Dennert, Christian Metzgar, Henry Trappe, A. H. Falkenhainer, S. S. Powers.

(Submitters note: There is detailed testimony of the witnesses in the above article.)

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Elkader Register, Fri., 21 Sept. 1883:

District Court.
The Rechfus case occupied the attention of the district court all this week, but is rapidly drawing to a close - the testimony is all in, and the case will probably be given to the jury tonight. Those re-called to testify and those testifying for the defense were: James Watkins, John Blakely (recalled), S. K. Adams, Henry Trappe (recalled), J. S. Rupp (recalled), Catherine Gebhardt, Dr. H. H. Clark, B. Leibenstein, Henry Rechfus, Mrs. Dyke, Mena Leibenstein, B. Leibenstein (recalled), S. L. Peck (recalled), Henry Reidell, Wm. M. Schmidt, John Smizer, John Leibenstein, John Smizer Sr., Henry Howe, Dr. H. T. Schneider, Guy Kingsley, John Koch, Adam Schneider, Louis Reuzenheizen, W. S. Scott, Ernest Hofer, Dr. Bass.

(Submitters note: There is detailed testimony of the witnesses in the above article.)

Henry Rechfus testified that he was born and raised at Werternberg, Germany; aged 64 next February; had two brothers and one sister, only the sister now living; parents deceased long ago; left Germany in 1819; he and Gustav came from Germany together, to New Orleans, then St. Louis, to Chicago, to Milwaukee, to Prairie du Sac and Galena, coming to Iowa in 1850; married in 1859; has no children; Gustav never married; Henry never owned or shot a gun, had no gun in the house at the time of the murder. There was a long discussion of how Gustav and Henry acquired their money by loaning money. Henry denies he killed Gustav.

Dr. Bass testified Mrs. Rechfus was sick and unable to appear as a witness.

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Elkader Register, Fri., 28 Sept. 1883:

District Court.
After a long, weary trial the celebrated Rechfus murder case has at last ended, and after a searching examination the defendants stand before the world cleared of any suspicion of complicity in the sad affair. The case was given to the jury on Friday afternoon and at one o'clock Saturday morning the jury sent word to Judge Hatch that they had agreed, and he, accompanied by the district attorney and council for the defense came into court and received the verdict of "not guilty." Thus endeth another chapter in this tragedy.

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Elkader Register, Fri., 4 Jan. 1884:

Mrs. Henry Rechfus, died at the home of her husband in Giard township, on Thursday of last week, after a long sickness. She was buried on Sunday last.

(Submitters note: Gustav/Gustavus and Mary/Maria Rechfus are buried in the Council Hill Cemetery.)

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Elkader Register, Wed., 24 June 1885. Home News column:

Henry Rechfus, of Giard township, started on Monday, for Germany, where he will hereafter reside.

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Clayton County Journal, 2 Feb. 1887:

An article in this newspaper about who pays over $100 in taxes per year in the various townships, notes that Henry Rechfus was still paying $115.20 for land owned in Boardman township. He may have owned land in additional townships but not enough that his taxes paid was over $100 within those townships.


Contributor's notes:
-An 1889 article in the Elkader Register concerning the Elkins murder of that year notes that nobody had yet been convicted of the Rechfus murder.

-A brief accounting of the murder appears in the 1882 History of Clayton County, Chapter XVI, pg 569. It can be read on the Clayton co. IAGenWeb site. http://iagenweb.org/clayton


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