Fremont County, Iowa

"Murder Most Foul in Fremont County"
by Harry Wilkins

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of September 19, 2016

The comprehensive "History of Fremont County, 1881" provides a fascinating overview of criminal activities during the early decades of settlement. The chronicle acknowledged that, "crime of every species and of every degree known to the calendar" had occurred, but said that geography might have been at least partially responsible. The county's position near several states or territories allowed fleeing felons the opportunity to evade capture by crossing into Missouri, Kansas or Nebraska.

The first recorded death, in Fremont County, was the murder of 35 year-old Richard Flanagan, a resident of Franklin Township. He was shot through the head returning home from a neighbor's house on February 10, 1842. Initially, it was believed Indians had ambushed the bachelor, and Irish immigrant, but after investigation it became clear he was murdered for $30 by Charles Lewis, a known "horse thief and criminal, who was forced to leave the country."

When it came to meeting out justice to lawbreakers, some early residents weren't adverse to taking the law into their own hands. On January 14, 1869, William Jackson and James Orton, described as "rough characters," forced their way into the home of W. M. Holloway, near Plum Hollow (now Thurman), during a dance party. The inebriated pair demanded they be allowed to join the festivities, but Holloway attempted to eject the men. During the ensuing brawl his throat was slashed and he later died. Jackson and Orton were arrested and landed in Sidney's jail, charged with assault and intent to murder. The next day about 200 men, believed to be from Scott County, descended on the jail and demanded the prisoners. When Sheriff William Martin refused, they broke in, and retrieved, the men from their cell. Both were hanged in a timber stand west of town.

In 1879, a murder described as "horrible and revolting in the extreme," rocked the county. John Long was an elderly farmer, living with his wife Elizabeth, in Fisher Township. Long was found dead on February 16, 1879, apparently killed in his barn by a horse. The inquest ruled Long was the victim of accidental death, but members of the community and the Long's adult children didn't believe a word of it. Another inquest was granted and a more thorough investigation conducted. As it turned out, 67-year-old Elizabeth Long had conspired with their hired man, Finis Allen, to murder her husband so they could get married, collect her late husband's property and leave the country together. During their trial in Sidney, Elizabeth testified she had "assented to and even assisted in the perpetration of the foul deed." John Allen was convicted of first degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison. Oddly, Elizabeth's case was discharged, leaving her children "overcome with shame and mortification at the discovery of the extraordinary depravity of their unnatural parent."

To the lament of the writers of the 1881 history, homicide prosecutions hadn't been handled properly up to that time, a situation that has most certainly changed for the better.

Source: History of Fremont County, Iowa; Des Moines Iowa Publishing Company, 1881; pages 524-531. (available on Google Books a/o 9/17/2023)

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Page updated on September 17, 2023 by Karyn Techau