The Leon Journal-Reporter
Leon, Decatur County, Iowa
Thursday, July 14 1938, Pages 1 & 3


McNelley Was Taken to Ft. Madison; Harris to Rockwell City
Both Sentenced to Life Imprisonment.

The 3-year-old mystery of the disappearance of Cy ARTHUR, 72, former Osceola nightwatch, has been solved with the confessions of Ella HARRIS, 55, and Bob McNELLEY, 39, of Davis City.

The pair admit they killed ARTHUR. Mrs. HARRIS, who is serving a 2-year sentence at Rockwell City on a hog theft charge, calmly admitted poisoning ARTHUR at her home in 1935. However, she denied any knowledge of the whereabouts of the body and did not reveal the motive for the crime.

McNELLEY confessed to shooting ARTHUR in the head after he was summoned to the HARRIS home to complete some work. He told Decatur county officers and state agents that he found ARTHUR suffering from the effects of poison and shot him in the head. He further stated that he dragged the body to the cave at the HARRIS farm home. He alleges men from St. Joseph, Mo., came for the body and sold it to a medical school in Kansas.

Fight Causes McNelley's Arrest

Following a fight with Albert OWENS of Leon Wednesday at Davis City, McNELLEY was arrested in Leon that evening. Early Thursday McNELLEY confessed to two state agents, County Attorney Dio McGINNIS and Sheriff Roscoe SINCO following a 12-hour grilling.

In his confession, he accused Mrs. HARRIS of poisoning ARTHUR. He said she telephoned him to come out and complete some unfinished work. Immediately after his confession McNELLEY was taken to Osceola and placed in the Clarke county jail.

Previously Probed

Mrs. HARRIS had been questioned many times during the past two years regarding the disappearance of ARTHUR. When ARTHUR sold his property at Osceola for $1,300, he went to the HARRIS home to live. At first he left the money with his niece in Osceola. At various times he would ask for $100. Later he requested the balance and left with the $800 for Davis City. ARTHUR made his home in Osceola with his step-daughter, Mrs. Winnie HARRISON, now of Denver, Colo. According to Mrs. HARRISON, ARTHUR was supposed to give her the property for caring for him. Three months later Mrs. HARRISON sought to locate ARTHUR because a relative had died. Mrs. HARRIS told officers at that time that ARTHUR had gone to California.

Body Not Found

Officers have failed to find the body of ARTHUR. They have checked reports that it was quick limed, also that it was sold to a Kansas medical school.

McNELLEY has a wife and two children. Mrs. McNELLEY is a WPA sewing room worker.

Plead Guilty

The two pleaded guilty to a charge of murder late Tuesday and were sentenced by Judge Homer A. FULLER to life imprisonment. "If the body had been found," Judge FULLER said, "I would have sentenced both of them to hang."

Robbery was the motive for the crime. After sentence was pronounced, McNELLEY also confessed to Decatur county officers and state agents in the slaying of C. Lindley McCAY, 59, Leon farmer, who disappeared the day after a public sale. Robbery was the motive in this case. McCAY'S body has not been found.

Taken to Fort Madison

McNELLEY was taken to Fort Madison Tuesday evening following his sentence and Mrs. HARRIS was returned to Rockwell City.

McNelley Attempted Suicide

According to County Attorney McGINNIS, McNELLEY attempted suicide Monday evening at the Clarke county jail. McNELLEY used a broken milk bottle to slash his left arm and foot.

Both McNELLEY and Mrs. HARRIS feared a mob, according to Mr. McGINNIS.

McCay Confession

Following is the confession of McNELLEY regarding the McCAY case:

"I, R. L. McNELLY, being first duly sworn, on my oath state that I am the same R. L. McNELLEY who made a statement to the officers with reference to one Cy ARTHUR, a few days ago; that this morning I requested the sheriff of Clarke county to telephone the county attorney at Leon, Iowa, and ask him to come to Osceola, Iowa, as I desire to make a statement, and I am making this statement at my own request and of my own free will and accord.

"That at the first time I saw Lindley McCAY, Ella HARRIS took me out to this house and she got out of the car and went into the house and I stayed in the car; that she went to the door and knocked and someone came to the door, and there was not light, and she went in a little while, and she then came out, and it was a cold winter night, and I was cold and she said to come into the house, and I went in the house and they had a light on the table at the south window, and all the blinds were pulled down and tacked to the window sills, and I sat in a chair and McCAY and Ella HARRIS got on a couch in the back of the heating stove and I went to sleep. That I heard them talking and Ella HARRIS said 'Are the boys still here' and he said 'yes - one of them is in the pantry there and the other is upstairs'; that we sat there quite a while; that was just after his sale - it was just a few days after the sale; that the reason we went there, she told me -- she said, "I am going to get rid of this old fellow, and get this money he has got'; so, of course, she didn't get it done that night. That was all that was said at that time.

"McCAY and her came to my place one night but I don't remember just how long it was after that; I was up to Davis City one evening and she said McCAY and I are coming down tonight, and it seems that my wife and one boy, or both of them, and Mildred went up to the show at Leon that night; they went in my car and McCAY and Mrs. HARRIS came down in a car that I supposed she got of him; that we didn't go in the house, that we drove the car in the basement and we went in the basement; and we were in there quite a little while, then they got in the car and left but I do not know where they went to, but she was aiming to have him killed in the basement that night -- that was why they came down, but something happened that they did not get the job done; that I never seen anything more of McCAY until a few nights later and I was coming from out the west part of town and there was a car met me and stopped and told me to get in; this was a big car, and this fellow told me that his name was Dan but he didn't tell me his last name; just him and McCAY were in the car; we drove out the road a little piece and the fellow stopped and got out of the car and told me to get out, and we went back of the car and he said, 'you are going to shoot McCAY or I am going to shoot you right here' so I didn't say anything but I was scared very bad, and he pulled a gun out of the holster and handed it to me and said, 'are you going to do it or do I have to use it on you?' So I hesitated for a second and he said 'I am just going to give you one minute, it will either be one lite or two' and, of course, I stepped around to the side of the car and shot McCAY, and he took him on with him, and he said 'if you breathe this to anyone I will come and get you.' This Dan is one of the fellows that were down around HARRIS' there; Mrs. Harris told me he was the ringleader of them, so in a day or so, I think it was was a night or two, she came up and and said 'Well, I got rid of McCAY' and I didn't say anything. This Dan is the same fellow who, she said, had the insurance policy on the other old man. That Mrs. HARRIS told me McCAY had a lot of money but she didn't say how much; she told me that Dan and the other fellow stoppe out at McCAY'S for years -- that they stayed there and at her place. That I shot McCAY right in the car; he was in the front seat; I shot him in the side of the head. Dan was a big fellow; it was a bad night and the roads were blocked; this took place on the highway west of Davis City. Ella HARRIS told me she bought McCAY'S car. I do not know anything about any other crime except that would be hearsay."

The Leon Journal-Reporter
Leon, Decatur County, Iowa
Thursday, July 14, 1938, Page 6
Above is shown the home northwest of Leon near Sunnyside school from which Lindley McCay disappeared in January, 1938, of whom no trace had been found until the confession of Bob McNelly was made to County Attorney Dio McGinnis admitting that he killed him. McNelly and Ella Harris were both given life sentences by Judge Homer A. Fuller in district court here Tuesday evening. Above at left is an old picture of McCay. McCay had held a sale shortly before his disappearance and it is reported had considerable money. McNelly's confession appears on another page [1] of the Journal-Reporter today.

NOTE: Additional information regarding this case is located at Decatur County Historical Society Museum, which includes articles from Detective: True Cases from the Police Blotter, Inside Detective, and the confessions of Ella Harris and R. L. McNelly.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, July of 2013
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