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The Murder of John Miller and Henry Leiza

The Daily Gate 1845 (Keokuk)

About midnight of Saturday, the 10th day of May, 1845, Jacob Abel, who lived about three miles southwest of West Point, came to the farm residence of Col. William Patterson, about half a mile south of that village, with the intelligence that his (Abel's) neighbors, John Miller, a Mennonite preacher, and Henry Leiza, his son-in-law, had been murdered within the last hour. Col. Patterson accompanied Abel to West Point, where the alarm was given. Sheriff Estes was called up, and in a short time that officer, Col. Patterson and several other gentlemen were on their way to the bloody scene, and arrived there a little before daylight. A most horrible sight was presented. Old man Miller (says Col. Reid, in his Sketches and Anecdotes of the Old Settlers and New-Comers, heretofore quoted), was found just in front of the door, lying dead, stabbed through the heart by a big bowie-knife, and his bloodless face upturned, looked from his open, glassy eyes with an excited stare upon them, like that of a soldier dying in the midst of a charge. A little deep, worn path, leading from the house to the smoke-house, was filled with his hearts blood, which had flowed into it from the place where he had fallen. He was a brave man; had been a soldier, who had seen service in Germany, and died fighting for his life in the midst of excitement. Leiza was severely wounded, but was not yet dead. The door, through which was a fresh bullet-hole, was yet spattered with blood. The last shot fired by the murderers passed through that door, and, striking him under the shoulder blade, penetrated a vital part, and internal hemorrhage caused his death; but his skull was also fractured by the cut of a knife. He, too, had resisted, and fought manfully. He was a stout and powerful young man, in the prime of his life. Had the other cowardly son-in-law, Jacob Risser, come to the rescue, the murderers and assassins would have been defeated and repulsed. But he covered up his head in bed while the fight went on, as he laid still in one corner of the cabin, and, trembling with fright, let his father-in-law and brother-in-law be murdered. Dr. Sala was sent for, but pronounced the wounds of Leiza necessarily fatal.

The crowd kept coming as the news spread. Parties were formed rapidly, and patrolled the country in search of the criminals. The Sheriff and party, mostly Kentuckians, who had lived long on the border, found the tracks of three men, and where one of them had evidently been helped away, and had washed the blood from himself in a little ravine. A rimless cap was left behind, bound around with fur, that fatal cap, as Gen. Reid called it in his speech for the prosecution, by which they so richly deserved.

The leading men in the pursuit were Sheriff Estes, Col. Patterson, and, afterward, Hawkins Taylor.

Traces of the murderers were found at Everhart's, leading down toward Devil Creek bottom, thence by way of Old Grant Reddens, who, with his son Jack, afterward became notorious, another favorite stopping-place of the gang, when all traces were lost. The Sheriff and Col. Patterson, who was now armed with a big horse-pistol, proceeded to Montrose, and, at daylight, awoke one Williams,  landlord of a country tavern, who, seeing the horse-pistol, looked alarmed, till he recognized the parties. Their business was made known, and soon the news of the murder spread through the village, then filled with Mormons. Bonney heard of it, or probably knew of it in advance, and came to Col. Patterson and asked him if he could see that cap which Sheriff Estes had in his saddle-bags. Patterson and Estes held a consultation, and concluded to show it to him. He had no sooner seen it than he said, know that cap as well as I know my jack-knife; it belongs to Bill Hodges. People crowded about and tried to find out what was going on, but this conversation was private, and heard by none but Patterson and Estes, who now had a clue to the murderers, whom Bonney asserted must be in Nauvoo. Thither the party, accompanied by others, proceeded in a skiff, rowed by W. S. Ivins, now of Keokuk. The two brothers, Stephen and William Hodges, were living with their brother Amos, all suspicious characters, in the suburbs of the city. On the night of the 13th of May, with the assistance of one Markham, City Marshal of Nauvoo, the house was surrounded, and, at daylight, they were arrested and taken before a Mormon Justice of the Peace named Johnson. Almon W.  Babbitt, a partner of George Edmunds, Jr., appeared for the prisoners, and the prosecution applied for a continuance till next day, on the pretext of getting witnesses from Iowa. In the mean time, on the 15th of May, 1845, an indictment was procured against them at West Point, and, the next day, when the preliminary examination came on, they were confronted with the indictment and held to await a requisition from the Governor of Iowa. But, by the advice of their counsel, Babbitt, afterward, murdered by the Mormons (while United States District Attorney of Utah), disguised as Indians, they consented to go to Fort Madison, where they were safely lodged in the Penitentiary.

Edward Bonney, whose name is mentioned in the last paragraph, subsequently acquired some notoriety as a detective in hunting down the murderers of Col. Davenport, and other dark deeds of the gang, and as author of a small volume called the Banditti of the Prairies; or, the Murderers Doom. At the time of the murder of Miller and Leiza, he kept a livery-stable at Montrose. He frequently visited Nauvoo, and traveled a great deal on the river. He had, says Col. Reid, an extensive acquaintance with all classes of people, knew in detail all the secret operations of the Danites and their confederates. Time has left little doubt but that he was an unmitigated scoundrel and the scheming projector of all the operations of the band, which resulted in getting money. Though not himself a Mormon, he knew them all, consulted with and advised the perpetrators of crime, and no doubt shared the proceeds of their villainy. When they failed, he pursued and arrested them to get the reward; and when they were hanged or sent to the Penitentiary, their mouths were closed against him forever. Though not personally present at the perpetration of a crime, putting  little facts and circumstances together, and still greater revelations which have since come to light, there is little doubt that he was an accessory generally before and always after the fact.

Leiza came to Iowa first and made the improvement, built the log cabin, etc., where the murder was committed. He was unmarried at that time, but returned to Ohio and married a daughter of old John Miller. They all moved to Iowa, accompanied by a brother-in-law and his wife, and came on a steamer by way of the river. Bonney, who appeared as witness on the indictment, and took an active part in having the murderers arrested and convicted, was heard to remark at West Point that he came up with them on the same boat from St. Louis, and that from their big German boxes and general surroundings they were a better class of Germans than generally came to the country, and that they must have plenty of money!

The Hodges had worked on the Court House at West Point while it was building, and were well acquainted in the neighborhood. A short time before the murder of Miller and Leiza, Stephen Hodges had stayed all night at the house of Samuel B. Ayres, then County Treasurer and Collector. Mr. Ayres was absent at the time.  The county had neither vault nor safe, and Ayres kept the county money locked up in a trunk in his house, and, at this particular time, he had a large amount on hand. Mrs. Ayres was naturally afraid the money would be stolen, and, believing that Hodges was an honest man, she congratulated herself on his presence, and  told him of the fact of the money being in the house. Strange to say, the money was not disturbed, although at that very time Hodges was out on a prospecting tour, and the next night the house of Jerry Smith, on Sugar Creek, was entered, and he was made to deliver his money by two masked men. They failed in getting much; he had sold a farm, but had left the money with Adolphus Salmon, in West Point. After their robbery at Smith's, the Hodgeses went to the house of a man known as Mill Walker, who owned and operated a small mill on Sugar Creek, where they remained in concealment. Walker's honesty was not like the virtue of Caesar's wife, above suspicion. He was a kind of pettifogger before Justices of the Peace, and strange and unknown men were often seen going and coming from his house. Nothing was ever established connecting him in any way with robbers or murderers, but it was generally believed that he kept a robbers roost, and that his house was a stopping-place and place of concealment for them. That they met there to perfect their plans, and that he was their confidential adviser, and the receiver of money realized from their nefarious practices. These suspicions were almost confirmed by the developments of after years. Walker finally moved from Lee County to Quincy, Ill., where he died about the year 1873 or 1874.  After his death, nearly $100,000 in specie was found concealed under the cellar floor of his residence, where it had been stored away in old sardine-boxes and oyster-cans. The treasure consisted of coins that were in circulation previous to 1845, such as Mexican silver dollars, half-dollars, Spanish doubloons, etc. His widow, who knew where the money was hidden, had it brought out from its hiding-place, counted by her lawyers, and then deposited it in bank. It was maintained by those who knew Walker, his habits and business pursuits, that he could not have accumulated so much money by honest means, neither before nor after leaving Lee County.

A redeeming trait in the character of Walker, after he went to Quincy, was that he was very generous to the poor, and made no parade about it. He would often haul in a load of wood, and without saying a word throw it over into the door-yard of some very poor person. This, probably was done by way of atonement for past offenses.

After the Smith robbery, and while the robbers were staying in concealment at Walker's, one of them ventured out to the house of Miller and Leiza, near by, carrying a whip and pretending to look for cattle, got a drink of water and tried to get a $10 bill changed. This was only a ruse to discover where their money was kept, and to get the plan of the premises, the interior arrangement of the house, and to note such other matters as would facilitate the purpose of the robbery already planned. The excitement consequent upon the robbery of Jerry Smith had hardly died away when the murder of Miller and Leiza was committed.

Indictment, Trial, Conviction, and Execution of the Hodges

The District Court was held at West Point, then the county seat, when the Hodges were arrested on the charge of murdering Miller and Leiza, all was in session at the time. Hon. Charles Mason was Judge; Dr. Joel C. Walker was the Clerk, and L D. Stockton was the regular District Prosecutor; but, for some reason, probably because of the absence of Stockton, Hugh T. Reed was appointed District Attorney pro tem for the prosecution of this case. He drew the indictments and conducted the prosecution throughout, from it beginning till the close of the trial, which resulted in their convictions, sentence, and final execution.

William Hodges, Stephen Hodges, and Thomas Brown were indicted by the grand jury at West Point May 15, 1845, for the murder of John Miller, by stabbing him on Saturday night, the 10th of May, 1845. Solomon Jackson was the Foreman of that grand jury. The indictment was exhibited and filed in Court May 15, 1845.

The names of the witnesses upon it were James L. Estes (then sheriff), Robert McNair, Abraham K. Drollinger, Jacob Able, Peter L. Montjar, and Edward Bonney.

On the 21st of May, 1845, William Hodges and Stephen Hodges were brought into court, arraigned, and pleaded not guilty, and the District Prosecutor immediately joined issue.

Leiza was not then dead, but died afterward. On the same day the Hodges filed a joint affidavit, praying for a change of venue on the ground that they could not obtain justice, as the people of the county were so prejudiced against them they could not get a fair trial. This affidavit was sworn to before S. B. Ayres, Justice of the Peace, and was signed by Stephen Hodges, and William Hodges made his mark.

In granting a change of venue, Judge Mason ordered that the cause be heard and determined in the District Court for the county of Des Moines, where the cause complained of does not exist, the same as if originally instituted there, and that the Clerk certify the papers to the Clerk of the District Court of Des Moines County.

On the 19th of May they were taken by Sheriff Estes from Fort Madison to West Point, and kept there till the 23d, and then taken up to Burlington by way of Fort Madison on a steamer. Their guards during the time were Hawkins Taylor, E. B. Taylor, D. M. Sherman, Elijah T. Estes, Joseph Stotts, and Luke Allphin.

On the 21st of June they were put upon their trial, sixty petit jurors being summoned, J. C. Hall, F. D. Mills, and George Edmunds, Jr., appearing for the prisoners.

They applied first for a separate trial, and then for a continuance, both of which applications were refused.

After a lengthy trial the jury brought in the following verdict, which is not dated, and the record does not say when it was returned.

Burlington, Iowa T., 1845.
We, the jury find the defendants, William Hodges and Stephen Hodges, guilty of murder. Joel Hargrove, Foreman, James Snow, David Leonard, John Smith, William Bennett, Thomas staught, Ely Walker, Robert Mickey, Isaac Chandler, Vincent Skelly, John D. Conover, Moses Nutt.

Forthwith, says the record, the Court demanded if they had anything to say, etc., and then pronounced sentence upon them, as follows: That you be taken to the Jail whence you came, and remain there till the 15th day of July next; that on that day you be taken by the proper officer of the county to some convenient place within the same, and between the hours of 10 A. M., and 4 o'clock P. M., be hanged by the neck until you are dead.

Dr. Freeman Knowles, who was then a practicing physician at West Point, a gentleman of high standing and character, with a remarkable memory of details, was a witness in this trial, and says it continued about a week. He is still living and a citizen of Keokuk.

The affidavit for continuance on account of the absence of material witnesses residing in Nauvoo and St. Louis, Mo., was sworn to before John S. Dunlap, Clerk of the District Court of Des Moines County, on the 10th days of June, 1845. By these witnesses, they alleged that they expected to prove that on the night of the 10th of June 1845, the time the murder was committed, they were at home in Nauvoo, and that the cap found on the premises did not belong to either of them.

On the 15th day of July, 1845, both of the Hodges were hanged in a ravine now in the city limits of the city of Burlington. Till the last moment, it

is said they expected to be pardoned or rescued. Sheriff McKenny made the following return, under the order of the Court:

Sheriff's Return

Territory of Iowa, Des Moines County. In obedience to the within sentence, I did, as on this 15th day of July, 1845, at two o'clock and forty-five minutes P.M., of said day, in the presence of Dr. Enos Lowe, Dr. L. W. Hickok, Dr. J. S. Dunlap, Evan Evans, Col. Temple, and many other worthy and respectable citizens of said county of Des Moines and Territory of Iowa, at a place selected by me in said county, then and there hang by the neck, the said William Hodges and Stephen Hodges, until they were dead
John H. McKenny.
Sheriff of Des Moines County, I. Ty.

On the 18th day of August, 1845, the Board of County Commissioners of Lee County being in session, it was ordered that John H. McKenny, Sheriff of Des Moines County, be allowed $400 for services in securing and executing Stephen and William Hodges, criminals from this county, and that said allowance be made in four orders of $100 each.

The same day it was further ordered that John H. McKenny be allowed for cash expended for ropes to hang William and Stephen Hodges, criminals fifteen dollars.

Capt. Edward Guthrie, who was Warden of the Penitentiary when the Hodgeses were imprisoned there after their arrest and awaiting trial, was afterward Captain of Company K, Fifteenth United States Infantry, Mexican War, and was wounded while acting as guard for a supply-train on the way from Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico, in the thigh, by an escopet ball at Pass La Hoya, and was taken to the Castle of Perote, where his thigh was amputated. A second amputation became necessary, in consequence of which he died from physical exhaustion, caused by hemorrhage, or, in other words, he bled to death.

James M. Layton and Edward A. Layton were the two guards of the prisoners at the Penitentiary.

Says Col. Reid: John Miller was a Mennonite German minister. The society of Mennonites wear clothing very much the same as the Dunkards, except instead of buttons they wear hooks and eyes on their coats. They all wear heavy beards.  Miller was stabbed through the heart by a huge bowie-knife manufactured from a big file, such as was used in those days for sharpening mill-saws. We saw the arsenal of huge bowie-knives taken by Sheriff James L. Estes, from the prisoners, afterward at the old tavern, or hotel we would call it now, of Billy McIntyre, on Second street, at Fort Madison, where he and Joseph C. Estes, his brother, then boarded.

While the prisoners were in jail at Burlington, Irwin Hodges, who was attempting to raise money to defend his brothers, publicly denounced and threatened Brigham Young for not sending men to break open the Jail and release them. That night on his way home, early in the evening, he was met by two men, who assassinated him by stabbing him with his own knife, as they afterward confessed when arrested on a criminal charge in Adams County, Ill. One of them was arrested next day on suspicion, but as there was no evidence against him he was discharged.

The Hodges trial was the most noted criminal trial which ever took place in the State, and created much comment at the time. Gen. Reid prosecuted the prisoners with great vigor, and on the cross-examination of the witnesses to prove an alibi for the defense, completely entrapped them, as no two witnesses could agree as to the particular place the prisoners were at in Nauvoo on the night of the murder. His closing speech of three hours was a masterly effort of great eloquence and power, and was listened to by the vast crowd in the court-room and out side with breathless attention.

The day the murderers were hanged, their father was permitted to come to see them from the Alton Penitentiary, where he was under sentence for larceny. Soon after the execution, two of their sisters eloped with Dr. Lyon, a married man, then living at Fort Madison, and went to Texas.

On the scaffold Stephen spoke first. He was a tall, finely-formed, dark-complexioned man, with black hair, and a loud, ringing voice, in which there was not the slightest tremor when he spoke. Calm and collected as on an ordinary occasion, he addressed the crowd, who listened with great attention while he spoke. Among other things, he said, "How can that jury who brought in a verdict of guilty, sleep calmly on their pillows at night?" William spoke well, but was excited and trembled slightly, and his voice was not so loud or his manner so decided.

They expected to be rescued, and till the last moment looked as if for some one to come. But no rescue came. The New Purchase ferry-boat came in just before the execution, loaded down with passengers from Nauvoo, and its whistle was heard just before the execution, at the levee.

1879 History of Lee County, Iowa

Daily Gate City (Keokuk)
Tuesday mprning
April 4, 1876

The Hanging of the Hodges.

The Mystery Cleared Up

A Matter of Interest to Old Settlers.

In the month of June, 1845, two brothers named Hodges were hung in what was known as Gallow Hollow, near Burlington, for a murder committed in this county. It was at the time when the Mormon excitement at Nauvoo was at its height. The condemned men were Mormons, and it was understood that the followers of Joe Smith were determined to rescue them. To prevent this a picket guard was kept on duty in the vicinity of the jail. This guard was under the direction of Captain John H. McKinney, the then Sheriff of the county, and by his vigilance all danger from that direction was averted. It was strongly suspected at the time that the Mormons had strong sympathizers in Burlington who would aid in rescuing the Hodges. And among others one A. F. Green, who disappeared on the night of the execution and has never since been heard of.

On Friday last while workmen were engaged in remodeling an old building in Burlington, they discovered in the tin scroll which surmounted the cap at the head of the waterspout a roll of manuscript which sheds new light on this mysterious circumstance.

The Hawkeye, from which we learn the above says: The manuscript fully confirms the suspicion that Green was in the plot to rescue the Hodges and burn the city if necessary. The paper gives the names of several of the then prominent citizens of Burlington who were relied upon for help. The writing on some of the sheets is almost illegible, but upon the whole is remarkably well preserved, considering that nearly thirty-one years have elapsed since it was executed. The theory is that Green, knowing he was suspected, placed these papers in this, as he supposed secure, place for fear they might be on his person. Among other papers was a commission to Green, from the prophet Joe Smith, dated in May, 1844, just before the latter was killed in the Carthage jail, written on parchment, in red ink, fully empowering Green, in the name of the church, to do a great many things which would now be regarded as unlawful.

The list referred to we refrain from publishing as it gives the names of several parties who have friends still living here, but were in no wise connected with this nefarious transaction.

The papers were last evening pasted together and given to Lyman Cook, Esq. for safe keeping who will no doubt take pleasure in showing them to all who may desire to see them. Mr. Cook owned the building at the time and remembers well many of the circumstances.

The discovery clears up a number of things that were quite mysterious at the time, and adds an important link to an authentic account of an important item in the history of our city.

Compiled and contibuted by Nettie Mae Lucus from newspaper articles and history books

Biography and History


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