The man who turned the trick of robbing the county was named Knowles, and so far as was ever learned, he was never seen in the town or country previous to the robbery. If he was, he was incognito, and known to none except his confederate or confederates. Where he was concealed the day before the robbery, or how he got away, I think, was never revealed.

For two days before the culmination of the plot, Norris was in company with Stephenson most of the time about town and in a saloon. With them  were  several men  who  participated  in  their hilarity and  drinking, but  never  did  suspicion  attach  to any  of  them in connection  with  the  burglary.  The man who kept the saloon had no knowledge of or connection with the crime.

The night of action was spent until about midnight or later in carousing in the saloon. When it closed  Stephenson  accompanied Norris to his home about one o'clock, left  him there and went to his own home some five miles north of town.

In those days there was no bank in Waverly, and the county money was kept in a safe, and the safe in a vault, which, I suppose, remains in the old court house today. Both, the vault and the safe, were opened by keys, of which there were duplicates. Norris had one set and I had the other.

The weather was bitterly cold. The time was the 29th day of December, and the first Monday in January was the date to· turn over the office and the money to Caleb Morse, who had been elected to succeed Mr. Norris.

About half past five o'clock in the morning Norris and Ezra Williams, who was a constable, came to my home and called me out of bed. Norris told me he had lost his keys and he asked me to hasten to the court house to be assured that all was safe, and added, "I fear the safe is robbed." He and Williams proceeded to the court house and I went as soon as I could dress and get there. The morning was a cold, dark December one.  When I reached the office I found them waiting, for the door key to the office was missing, as well as the other keys.  I unlocked the office door and felt my way to the vault, which was locked, and I called back to them, "All is safe; the vault is locked." In response to this Norris ejaculated, "Thank God!" I unlocked  the  vault  door  and  reached  the safe in the pitchy dark, and found it also locked, which I announced, and again Norris cried  out, "Thank  God, all is safe!"  When I opened the safe I felt for the drawer I knew contained $30,000 in bills that I had carefully put up with bands around each $1000 the day before, in readiness to be turned over. Then the staggering blow fell-the drawer was empty.  In the meantime, Williams had found and lighted a candle. I was speechless for a moment and Norris stood in the door  to  the  vault  and  asked  if the  money  was  all  right.   At my answer, "All is gone!" he sank back and would have fallen, had not Williams caught him. The wail that Norris uttered was one ofdespair and desperation. "My God, all is lost and I am ruined!" For some minutes he writhed and groaned like a dying man. The agony of reproaches he heaped upon himself is indescribable.

Williams and I stood speechless and utterly bewildered as to what to do. The rays of the morning light were breaking, soon the people would be astir, the truth of the situation must be known.   We realized the excitement and the high tension of public feeling that would break upon the little town and the indignation that would sweep over the county at the loss of all the money.  Hastily we decided that Williams and I should go home with Norris and then notify Joe Ellis, the sheriff, and I should go and tell W. P. Harmon, who would be certain to advise what should be done.

Norris was utterly helpless. He had sobered up from his night of revelry and was collapsed and incompetent to advise any line ofaction or give the slightest clue as to how it happened. Suffice it to say the day passed without a bit of suspicion on anyone. A thousand stories were abroad, and in a day or so suspicion rested on several people who were known to be chums of Norris' in bacchanalian nights. In time Stephenson was connected with the robbery so closely that he was arrested", and thru him Knowles was discovered as the principal actor in the work.

He was a stranger to everybody, including Norris.  He  was traced to Davenport, arrested and brought to Waverly, where he remained in jail for  many  months;  was  there  when  I  left  the  county for the  army.  He  was  tried  and  acquitted,  because  the  state  was not able to connect him with the robbery by any better than circumstantial  proof,  and  all  of  that  came  from  Stephenson,  who  was a co-conspirator in the crime, and his evidence could not be corroborated.  The defense claimed  that  Stephenson  was  dragooned  into a  confession  and  therefore  his  testimony  was  not  reliable,  and  that it  was  insufficient  anyway.

Stephenson did confess that he took Norris home and that on the way Knowles fell in company with them, and in helping to get him home he believed Knowles secured the keys from Norris' pocket, which, of course, Knowles denied in toto, even denied that he ever was in the town. The fact that he was never seen in the town or county lent force to his denial. Stephenson admitted Knowles gave him five bundles of paper money, which he concealed under a black walnut saw log at the mill I have mentioned. On a dark and rainy night Stephenson, Sheriff Ellis, Mr. Norris and myself drove to the mill yard, rolled over the log he pointed out, and found the money as he said. But even this circumstance was not held to be sufficient to prove it was county money, notwithstanding the county kept it. It could not be proven that Stephenson got the money from Knowles nor could the county identify the bills as a part of .the stolen funds. I give the story of the escape of Knowles as I beard it after I returned home from the army. The trial occurred while I was gone, so I knew nothing about the details of it except what I heard two or

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Bremer County, Iowa
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Last updated 10/12/13
Pioneer Days of Bremer County -- Chapter I