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Iowa History

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Iowa Families:

The Myths and Legends

The Face in the Marble Stone

Submitted by Elaine Rathmann

Heinrich and Olga Schultz owned a farm in Cherokee County, near Washta, at the turn of the century. They were a kindly, old couple who had immigrated from Germany a few years earlier. Heinrich’s dream had always been to own his own farm, and that wish had at last come true. The couple was well liked in the community and participated enthusiastically in social events, and were quite active in their church.

 One day a drifter named Will Florence showed up at the farm and asked for work. Florence was a taciturn man, who refused to say much about his background other than he had recently come up to Iowa from Texas, where he had experienced some medical problems. Despite the fact that several men in the area warned him against it, Heinrich hired Florence, paying him a small salary and providing his room and board. For awhile things went smoothly. Heinrich taught Florence how to do chores around the farm, as the stranger was obviously unfamiliar with that type of labor, and Olga treated him as a long-lost son, cooking his favorite dishes and mending his clothes.

About that time, financial institutions around the country were failing, and one day word began circulating that the bank in Washta might fail. Heinrich and Olga decided to withdraw their money from the bank and keep it at the farm, where they considered it would be secure.

Three days after Heinrich had last been seen in town, a friend decided to pay him a visit. What he found at the farm was horrifying. Heinrich and Olga lay murdered in a pool of blood on their kitchen floor, butchered with an axe. The house had been ransacked and the money was gone. So was William Florence.

The authorities tracked Florence down and arrested him in Nebraska a few days later. However, a Grand Jury could not find enough evidence to charge him with the crime, so he was released from custody and promptly disappeared.

Soon a strange story began spreading around the community. It was rumored that a face was beginning to appear on Olga and Heinrich’s grave stone. As time went on the facial features became increasingly and uncannily clear. Townspeople and folks from the surrounding countryside traveled to the cemetery to see the odd occurrence. It was said that the face was that of William Florence. Was this the power of suggestion or were effects of the weather causing the natural characteristics of the stone to appear as a face, as a marble dealer explained, after visiting the stone?

Around this time, the police discovered new evidence that strongly implicated William Florence in the murders. A new warrant was issued for his arrest, but he had vanished without a trace, and although he was never seen alive again, his face remains a haunting imprint on the gravestone of the hapless murder victims. 


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