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Early Criminal Events in Floyd County

HISTORY OF FLOYD COUNTY, IOWA
Chicago: INTER-STATE PUBLISHING CO. 1882


1859

Quite a sensation was raised throughout the community by the rumor that Dwight Noble, had voluntarily abandoned his helpless child to the wilds of nature, in the northern part of this county, while traveling with a covered wagon. His story was that he had lost the child and could not find it, believing that it had drowned itself in the creek; but after the case lingered along for a time before the courts, Mr. Nobel was not finally convicted. We do not record the case here as one of crime, but one of a frightful rumor that excited the people for a period in the early history off the county.



1864   Horse Stealing

In July, a thief stole a pair of horses in Franklin County, brought them to Charles City in the night, hitched them to Jacob Leonard's wagon (which stood near his house), and then made off northward, probably into Minnesota.

The Board of Supervisors, at their June session in 1864, decided to offer a reward of $100 to any party in Floyd County who should arrest and finally convict any person as a horse thief, that committed his crime in this county.



1865

Eli P. McCullock - This thief stole a horse from Edson Gaylord at Rock Grove on Wednesday, was arrested on Friday at Faribault, Minn., brought back to Rock Grove and had his preliminary examination on Sunday; was taken to Charles City Monday, where the same day he was sentenced Wednesday to the penitentiary for three years, by Judge Fairfield, at the fall term of the District Court in Charles City.   While upon a steamboat the next day on the Mississippi River, on his way to Fort Madison Penitentiary, he managed to fasten a life-preserver to his person and instantly leaped overboard.   Captain S. O. Page, of Charles City, the officer who had him in charge, seeing the movement, grasped the life-preserver just as he was going over the guard of the boat; it gave way, and MuCullock went down, never to rise again, carrying with him upon his ankles a pair of heavy iron shackles belonging to Floyd County. It was a bright moonlight evening, the steamboat was stopped, boats lowered and diligent search made, but the wretch did not come to the surface.



1865 - Mrs. L. B. Nelson

During the months of November and December, 1865, the town of Rockford, this county, was thrown into a high state of excitement by the mysterious death of a little child of L.B. Nelson of that place, and the elopement of the mother.

The child was poisoned with strychnine, and shortly after its death, and while its father was absent at Rock Grove teaching school, Mrs. Nelson, assisted by a Mr. Pierce, of Ulster Township, packed up her housekeeping goods in part, sold the rest, and disappeared.  Pierce, who married a sister of hers, carried her to Waverly, where she took a train for the East, and he returned.

Previously to leaving, Mrs. Nelson contracted debts at the stores to the amount of some fifty dollars for her husband to pay, and also obtained loans of small sums of money from different neighbors. Just before the child died, one David Davis, who kept a restaurant at the Wells Street Depot in Chicago, and who married Mrs. Nelson's sister, came to Rockford, held a private interview with Mrs. Nelson and immediately left for Chicago, making a visit of only a few hours. The husband, Mr. Nelson, went to Rockford a day or two after his wife had fled, and took from the postoffice a letter addressed to her which had arrived after her departure.

This letter was mailed at Chicago, and unraveled the mystery of the wife's conduct. It came from an old lover of Mrs. Nelson, whose school she had formerly attended in Illinois. It was signed "your affectionate school-mistress, J.E. Whipple, but the real author was probably J. E. Welch, her former school-master. The letter appointed a place for Mrs. Nelson to meet the writer and made other arrangements. The astonished and heart-stricken husband had no suspicions of the plot until he read this letter. They seemed to have lived happily together and they were regarded as respectable citizens by the people of Rockford. They had come there from Cook County, ILL., the preceding spring. She had handsome features, and probably her beauty was her ruin.



A Sanctimonious Scapegrace

"Elder Buck", a bigamist from Wisconsin, appeared at Floyd in February and March, 1868, pretending to heal the sick, cure the blind, raise the dead, and do other miracles, by religious means. On Sunday morning, March 1, Rev. Mr. Riley, United Brethren, had an appointment to preach at a school house near Floyd, and "Elder Buck" and a large number of his disciples, hearing of it, went, armed with revolvers and knives, and took possession of the house. Mr. Riley went in, at the hour for service, knowing nothing of their intentions, and when about to commence, Buck told him that he (Buck) had an appointment there and was going to preach. Mr. Riley, desiring to have to trouble, gave way to him. In the afternoon of the same day, Mr. Riley, had an appointment at another school-house, not far distant. Buck and his disciples went there and endeavored again to drive out Mr. Riley. Here the crowd had a general fight, tore up the seats, broke out the windows, etc. Considerable damage was done to the school-house, but we believe no one was seriously injured.

March 20, this "elder" preached in Charles City, and on the 25th called on the editor of the 'Intelligencer' and demanded explanation and satisfaction for publishing the foregoing facts. The "fighting editor" advised him to make himself scarce in this vicinity, as a coat of tar and feathers awaited him, being already nearly prepared. The "elder" and his disciples acted upon this advice instanter, and fled from town like a "buck". Actually, at this moment more than fifty men and boys had commenced collecting feathers and warming the tar, besides gathering a number of rather ancient eggs. It was understood that at this time also a Charles City magistrate had a warrant out for the arrest of Buck as a polygamist. Soon afterward he married another woman in the northeastern part of the county, and found friends and supporters for some time, and finally disappeared altogether.



1868

Lawrence Gibbons, Oct. 11, 1868, killed George Zweiner, a saloon keeper in Charles City. At the May term of court following he was convicted of man-slaughter and sentenced to the penitentiary for eighteen months.



John Chapman, 1869

This was a Charles City lad sixteen or seventeen years of age, of rather a turbulent disposition and prodigal in his habits. Desiring one day to obtain some money of his father, who kept a meat market, and being refused, he drew a cleaver as if to strike his father with it. His father gave him some money and then had him arrested. He was tried at the April term this year, and sentenced for two years in the penitentiary; but was pardoned by the Govenor some time before his term expired.



Michael Cain, 1871

Sunday, July 2, 1871, John Stentz and Michael Cain had a quarrel at Rockford, and, by-standers interfering, Cain received a thorough threshing. Shortly afterward Cain took his team, and Stentz rode to their boarding place with another party. At this place Stentz threatened to whip Cain, who refused to fight; the former then approached him with uplifted hand; the were separated by other parties, but immediately Stentz again attempted to strike Cain, when the latter took up his neck-yoke and struck him. This weapon was snatched away by a by-stander. Stentz was not able to walk alone, but no fears were entertained that the last wound would prove fatal; but he died from it the third day after.



The Zeiberts, 1873

In this year Mrs. S. O. Page, City Marshal o Charles City, was murdered by Frederick and Julius Zeibert. The first named was tried in February, convicted of murder and sentenced to eighteen years in the State-prison. The jury in the case were L.A. Butler, W.B. Knapp, J.N. Waller, L.E. Powell, E.A. Teeling, F.F. Spaulding, Addis Schermerhorn, A.H. McKallor, John Gordon, A. D. Cheney, J. L. Wright and A. Powers. Julius Zeibert was indicted for manslaughter, tried at the November term, 1873, convicted December 11, and sentenced to the penitentiary for four years. The case of Frederick was appealed to the Supreme Court, which reduced his sentence to nine years, and subsequently both men were pardoned.



Murder of L.A. Billings, 1875

Frank E. Miller was indicted for killing Mr. Billings, his father-in-law, on the 26th of July, 1875. The jury in his case were Henry Pettit, George R. May, Egbert Sandford, Warren Harrison, J.W. Morrison, Moses J. Tatum, Joseph Ankeny, C. W. Swain, John Melugin, Lewis Forthun, Robert Beck and Daniel Brooks. It appears that quarrels between the parties had become chronic, disaffecting their families. Company strengthens prejudices and fires vengeance; and accordingly, one day the feud was brought to a focus by taking life.

The principal prosecuting witness was a "New York boy", who had lived with the Billings family, quarreled with them and went to live at Miller's. This "boy" gave strong testimony against Miller at the preliminary examination but in jail afterward he contradicted his testimony, and at the regular trial he substantially re-affirmed his first testimony. He was implicated in the shooting. The result of the trial, Jan. 6, 1876, was no conviction.

This is the case that created so much comment in regard to jurisdiction as the dead body was found just over the line in Cerro Gordo County, but the accused brought to trial in Floyd County.



Jabez Hall,  1877

Aug 4, this year, this wretch, a resident of Rockford, killed his wife. He was a drinking man, had become burdensome to his wife, had left her, and had taken some of her clothing to another woman, to whom he had become attached.

Returning one day, he said to his wife that if she would give him a hundred dollars, he would go away. She have it, and he went away; but after a time he returned again, proposing to live with her, which was refused. After his departure, she was afraid to remain in the house over-night and went to a neighbor's.

On returning to her house the next morning and opening the door, Mr. Hall dodged out from behind it and inflicted terrible wounds upon her with a butcher knife. Supposing she was dead, he took a dose of strychnine himself, and started for the house of Zach. Mitchell, his wife's brother-in-law, but the poison took effect before he reached the place, and he died on the way. Mrs. Hall died the next morning.



Highway Robbery,  1878

Nov 7, 1878, Monday morning, before daylight, James Bradford, of Cedar, started from home to come to Charles City. When about five miles from town and jogging along, unsuspecting any trouble, suddenly two masked men jumped out of the bushes beside the road, and before he had time to make any resistance, fired two shots at him, one striking him on the forehead, just at the edge of the hair and stunning him, the other passing through his hat.

They then set upon him and must have handled him pretty roughly, or there were a number of bruises on his neck showing that he had been severely choked, and also bruises on other parts of his body. There was also a cut in his hat as if made with a sharp knife. The robbers took from Mr. Bradford $29 and a revolver, and left him lying in the brush near the road insensible. He did not come to his senses until about midnight on Monday. He managed to crawl about until he found a pool of water, when he drank about a gallon, as he thinks.

Tuesday morning his father, Thomas Bradford, while on his way to the city, found him in the road. The story above is as he told it, but of the time between the first attack and that when he woke up in the night, he has no recollection.



Hiram S. Holbrook,  1880

Dec. 13, 1880, at Dubuque, Hiram S. Holbrook killed his eldest child and then himself. As he was well known in Floyd County, and particularly in Charles City, and beloved by all who knew him, besides having been married here to Miss Nettie, adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Kelly, Sr.,, who also has multitudes of friends, the affair created considerable comment and notice in this county. The following account appeared in the Dubuque Telegraph of Dec. 13, 1880:

"One of the saddest tragedies that has ever been enacted in this city occurred this morning. Hiram S. Holbrook, his wife and two children, occupied a suite of rooms in the Willging building at the southeast corner of Lucust and Tenth streets. Mr. Holbrook, his wife and youngest child, the latter a babe but a few months old, occupied one bed, while the other child, named Edith, about three years old, slept in a crib on the side next to Mr. Holbrook. About seven o'clock this morning Mr. Holbrook awakened hiss wife and told her to get up, and when breakfast was ready, to call him. She got up, dressed herself, and went into the dining-room to prepare the table for breakfast. She had been there but a few moments when she heard two loud reports in the direction of the bedroom. Supposing the noise to have been caused by the fall of a stove lid, and little thinking that a terrible tragedy had been enacted, she kept on with her duties until they were completed. She then turned her attention to her husband, and went to call him.

What must her feelings have been when, on opening the door of the bedroom, she saw him lying back in the bed with a pistol clenched in his hand, and the life-blood ebbing away from a bullet hole in his head!   After one glance at him, her thoughts turned instinctively to her child in the crib. She took her up, but when she discovered the blood oozing from her head, threw her down and ran screaming from the room. Kind friends and neighbors were on the scene in a few minutes. Drs. Staples and Boothsby were dispatched for and cam with all possible speed. Although they did all that was in their power, the fatal bullets had done their work.

An examination of the wounds showed their course. Mr. Holbrook had fired the first bullet at his daughter, the ball entering just back of her right ear and coming out over her left eye. He then placed the fatal weapon to his own head, and sent a bullet crashing through his brain, the ball entering just above his right ear. He lived until half past nine o'clock,but was unconscious all the time. The little child died in the afternoon. The weapon with which the deed was committed was a Forehand & Wadsworth pistol, carrying a 32-caliber ball. The bullet which penetrated the little girl's head is in the hands of the coroner.

"What is the cause of this sad calamity?" was asked by every one. That is past finding out. Mr. Holbrook was a young man in the prime of life. He was employed by the American Express Company as agent for this city, and had a lucrative situation, receiving about $1800 a year. He was beloved by his family and a large circle of friends and acquaintances. Recently his friends noticed that he was given up almost entirely to melancholy, which they imputed to an attack of dumb ague with which he had had been afflicted for several weeks, and also to the rush of business, which at this time is large. He complained the preceding week of a slight headache, and also of not feeling as well as he might.

He would not take a rest from his labors, although importuned to do so by his wife and Superintendent Hancock. Yesterday he visited friends with his family, and last night attended to his duties in the express company's office, checking the agents for the western train at eight o'clock and those for the eastern train at ten o'clock.

Nothing different from his ordinary course of conduct was noticed by any of his official associates. He was about thirty-three years of age, and was raised at Dyersville, where his parents still reside. He had two younger brothers and a married sister. His marriage took place at Charles City about seven or eight years ago. He had been in the employ of the American Express Company in various capacities for a number of years and had always been a trust-worthy employe. He came to live in this city about 1876, having been promoted to the route agency of the company. About two years ago he succeeded Mr. Kime as agent for the company.

"At the coroner's inquest, held the afternoon of the shooting, the verdict was in substance that Mr. Holbrook came to his death from a pistol-shot wound, inflicted by his own hand while, as the jury believe, laboring under a temporary fit of insanity, superinduced by ill-health and overwork. Mrs. Holbrook came with the remains to Charles City the next day, and husband and daughter were buried in one grave, with Masonic honors.



Note: This article shown here with written permission of contributor.

Newspaper: Lynching of James Cullin

This file was contributed for use in the USGenWeb Archives by:
shelley_cheri@hotmail.com
April 2003

Copyright. All rights reserved.
June 1957, Globe Gazette, Mason City, Iowa

        [Picture of bridge]

JAMES CULLIN WAS HANGED HERE A stringer on this girder was used in the lynching of James Cullen by a mob at Charles City Jan. 9, 1907. The bridge was moved down the Cedar River in 1909 to make room for the concrete structure which now crosses the river on Main Street. It has been renamed the "St. Mary's" bridge and is used as a Highway 18 crossing. The bridge is substantially the same as it was on the night of the lynching.

 

RESIDENTS STILL TALKING ABOUT IT

50 Years Since James Cullen
Was Lynched in Charles City

By Bill Webb
Globe-Gazette Staff Writer

CHARLES CITY-It's been 50 years since James Cullen was lynched in this usually Peaceful North Iowa Community, but the residents still are talking about it.

There's hardly a soul in town that hasn't heard of the hanging on the old girder bridge that crossed the Cedar River on Main Street. A few old-timers recall with the vividness that Wednesday night in January 1907 when the mob broke into the Floyd County jail, dragged Cullen out and hoisted him up.

Some even claim to be able to point out the exact stringer from which the 65 year old retired carpenter was swung.

Down River

The bridge itself, was floated several blocks down river in 1909 to make room for the present concrete structure. It now serves as a river crossing on Highway 18 and is named "St. Mary's" bridge after a nearby Catholic church.

The terrifying story of James Cullen's lynching in a setting of spats, black derby hats and celluloid collars began a day before the hanging. It was 3 o'clock on the morning of Jan. 8,1907, to be precise.

Cullen had gone to the railroad station to meet his brother, a banker from Warren, Ill. On returning home, he showed his brother to his bed and then stole into his wife's bedroom where he stabbed her through the heart as she slept.

Throat Slitting

He then entered his 17-year-old stepson's chambers where he attempted to cut his throat. The boy, however, managed to wrestle Cullen to the floor where a professor from Charles City College, who roomed at the house and had heard the struggle, separated them.

The boy, Roy Eastman, quickly put on his clothes and announced to all that he was going for the marshal. He spent too much time however, for Cullen got a revolver and shot him through the head as he passed out the door.

Cullen then turned the weapon upon himself and fired, and inflicting a slight wound in his cheek. He was duly arrested by the sheriff and imprisoned in the county jail.

Cullen's Plea

Cullen's plea for the double murder was "self-defense." He said his wife had been trying to nag him to death and her son had been trying to kill him.

He related a tale of having married her a year before and having her beseek him for a division of his property on their wedding night. (He was reputed to be worth from 20,000 to 25,000.)

On the debit side was Cullen's general character. It was said that he was a man of very troublesome disposition, bigoted in his opinions and willing to crucify those who differed with him. He had an uncontrollable temper and was despised by his neighbors.

And, then too, he had been married four times.

Busse Affair

Also a Mr.Busse had killed ins wife in Butler County, had been sentenced to hang, won a reprieve and had just had the judgement commuted. It was a very unpopular change of affairs. "Subversion of justice" was a phrase in common usage in the discussions of the case.

And so it was on the chilly night of Jan. 9, 1907, that an indignant mob began to form in the street by the jail. Soon the street was filled with men in black suits and topcoats which glistened under the arc of the light and it wasn't long before horses and buggies could not get by.

The demand for justice grew each moment and there were cries of "We'll have no more Busse's."

There were women in the crowd, also, their necks stiffened by the whalebone stays in their collars. Some were asssembled their in coats with sleeves puffed at the top, and others, with shawls pulled around their heads, pushed children out through the mob and toward home.

400 Persons

It wasn't long before the crowd had grown to more than 400 persons from all segments of society, from ruffians to buisnessmen.

About 11 p.m., the mob pushed toward the jail voicing its intention of saving the county the expense of prosecuting Cullen. When the sheriff came to the door, he was told to go over to the courthouse and stay, a request he immediately complied with.

At that Moment a team was driven hurriedly into the courtyard and from the wagon was pulled a railroad rail. The rail, which the newspapers the next day said weighed about 750 pounds, was used to batter down the door leading through the brick wall where Cullen's cell was located.

Sledge Hammers

Sledge hammers appeared and the hinges of the cell door were knocked off and several members grappled with Cullen. He tore loose several times in a frenzied effort to escape, but finally was overpowered and dragged into the street.

As the doomed man appeared under the arc of light in front of the jail, a tremendous shout arose and there was a rush toward the head of the mob. Men with walking sticks jostled with those of in overalls as the procession pushed it's way with Cullen toward the bridge a block away.

Many of the women were screaming, many crying while the children added their wail to the general din.

Cullen's pleas and cries of "I'm Innocent," were drowned out by the roar of the mob. The air was filled with shouts.

Allowed to Speak

His hands were tied and when they reached the bridge, a rope was placed around his neck. The crowd then paused to let Cullen speak.

"I'm innocent," he stammered. His remarks rambling, disconnected beyond the first.

"Shoot him down," someone yelled.

"Hanging goes tonight, not murder," another answered.

And with that the crowd hauled away which the newspaper said it did with "a right good will" and after a few spasmodic convulsions in the air, Cullen was dead.

The body was left hanging for an hour that life "might surly by extinct" before it was cut down. On Jan. 11,1907, he was buried by his brother. Cullen's body and remains to this day in a lonely unmarked grave in the Riverside Cemetery.

Strange Sidelight

One strange sidelight of the Cullen case is that though his stepson, Roy Eastman, is listed in the cemetery's records as having been buried there Jan. 10, 1907, there is no record of his death at the county courthouse.

Attempts were made by the county to prosecute the leaders of the mob, but without success.



Transcribed by Bonnie Stickney


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