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Past and Present of Greene County, Iowa

The Annals of Crime

The world has a full complement of unfortunates, men and women who seem almost predestined to be under the harrow of adversity, malice or persecution. No history is complete without a record of the wrongs they have suffered and the fate that overtook them. Not that there is pleasure or merit in reopening the sad chapters of their lives, but they lived and are entitled to recognition because they were a part of the great family that is continuously pushing, in one form or another, toward the great sea of eternity. Happily Greene county has been peopled by law-abiding men and women whose record has been of an enviable type, and yet, as the exception always and ever proves the rule, it must needs be that some tares existed in this great human field. We do not claim to have chronicled all the evil deeds of the grosser sort that have been perpetrated inside our territory, only the Infinite has such a record.

The first murder of which tangible record is made was committed near Horseshoe Bend, in Kendrick township, in the winter of 1873. The victim was a young man, a mere lad in fact, named Charles Kendall, a nephew of G. B. Kendall of Jefferson. He came here from Illinois, and, finding much enjoyment in trapping game, a common winter pastime along ’Coon river, he secured a home with a family by the name of Sheets, living in the neighborhood mentioned. One of the startling happenings in Kendrick the previous fall, was a bold robbery of the treasurer of Kendrick township of $2,800. The authorities were at sea as to who took the cash, but a short time after young Kendall, so it is reported, went to Jefferson and told Sheriff Andy Watts that he knew who took the money. It is not known whether he gave the name of the robber or not, but one morning the body of the boy was found frozen stiff in the vicinity of his traps in the ’Coon valley, with a bullet hole in his head. Shortly after the murder a man named Losey Chambers was arrested, charged with the offense, indicted by the grand jury, convicted of the crime and sent to the penitentiary for a long term of years. The case was carried to the Supreme court and after a year in prison he was liberated. It was not generally believed that Chambers fired the shot that killed Kendall, but there was little doubt but what he was an instigator of the dark deed. Many think a fellow by the name of Reed, whose home was at Panora, was the real murderer. There were a good many—too many, in fact—men living in the timber about that time whose presence was a menace to the people, and the killing of the unfortunate young man because he knew too much for the safety of the gang, bore good fruit in ridding Kendrick of these doubtful characters. There was talk of indicting others, but it was not done.

The second man killed was George W. Learned, whose home was just over the line in Guthrie county. He evidently belonged to a loose-jointed gang who went about the country getting on big jags. Some time during the fall of 1875 three of them came to Scranton and got full. Learned was in the party, the other two being Sam Horine and a fellow named Weaver. They came to Jefferson with a mule team, pretty well intoxicated and reinforced with a full flask of gin. They were interested, along sentimental lines, in a girl living in this city, and commenced quarreling before they started home. On the way they were boisterous and noisy, but everything went well with the trio until, as they were going down a steep pitch near the Alexander Duff farm, in the south part of Scranton township, Learned was either thrown over or fell over the dashboard, and was so badly injured by the mules’ heels, the wagon wheels or the shock of the fall, that he died soon after. At the coroner’s inquest Weaver and Horine were held for the killing of Learned and the grand jury indicted them. Weaver was tried, convicted and sentenced to the penitentiary. A stay of execution was had, the case appealed, and the Supreme court reversed the decision of the lower court on the ground, as it was then understood, of insuflicient evidence. He was released and Horine never came to trial. It seemed to be the general—as well as the judicial—conclusion that in the condition the three men were in, one wagon was not large enough to hold them all, and the unfortunate Learned, under the impulse of a jolt of the vehicle, toppled over and his life was ground out by the law of adverse fate. The strange fact about the affair was that only a few days previous to his death he drove over the same ground in company with the girl in the case. She chanced to see a flask of liquor in his side pocket and asked the privilege of inspecting it. As a result they drank at least twice together before their journeys’ end was reached, and as the story goes they arrived in mellow mood. She made a serious charge against him and outside the ill will that tale might have created there would seem to have been no motive for putting him out of the way. At all events, his death carried the future operations of the three men outside the limits of Greene county.

The third and most inexcusable and atrocious murder was that of Mrs. Kate Hyland, a member of the Tierney family, March 17, 1883. She was the wife of James Hyland, and the couple were long time residents of Dawson township. He had the name of being a bad man, passionate and unreasonable, and he led his wife a hard and unhappy life. During the night of the murder of his wife he went to a neighbor’s and reported that his wife was dead and said that a man had broke into the house and killed her. On investigation it was found that the life had been choked out of the unfortunate woman after an apparently hard struggle. There was no evidence that anyone had been in the house during the night but the unhappy couple, and no credence was given his story for the reason that under such circumstances a man would have defended and protected his wife even at the risk of his own. There were finger prints on her neck and evidences of an attempt to smother her with a pillow. Excitement ran high and had there been one resolute man to lead the angry crowd Hyland would probably have been strung up then and there. John Inbody was coroner and as a result of the inquest Hyland was held for the ‘murder of his wife‘ and lodged in jail by Sheriff George G. Eagleson. At the April term of court, 1884, he was indicted by the grand jury and tried before Judge Loofbourow. Although ably defended by four of the best lawyers of the Greene county bar, Messrs. Russell & Toliver and Howard & McDuflie, he was convicted of murder in the first degree and there was mainifest surprise that, in view of the heinousness of his crime, he did not go to the gallows rather than to the penitentiary for life. He lived a score of years to suffer remorse for his awful crime, but toward the end of his career, owing to collapse of mind, he was placed in the insane ward of the prison, where he died. Unrestrained anger caused the death of his wife and a wrecking of his after life.

From Past and Present of Greene County, Iowa, by E. B. Stillman,
hicago, Illinois: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1907

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