Early Marion County IA Murders

Excerpts from the Knoxville Journal, September 25, 1930

Many Murders Have Been Perpetrated in this County
Red Rock Major Center of Crimes in Early Days
Many Unsolved and Unpunished Crimes Found on Records of the District Court

by L.A. Gee

During the eighty-five years that Marion county has been settled, many murders have been committed. It is impossible to estimate the exact number because in the early days many killings were considered so justifiable by neighbors or friends that they refused to file charges against the guilty party. Of course many murders which have been committed remain unrevealed to this day. The town of Red Rock is the most notorious homicide center in the county, it being settled early and as an Indian trading point it accumulated a rough class of citizens who did not look askance upon shooting or stabbin affrays. It was a part of the pioneer life. It has been estimated that nineteen or more murders occurred in and around Red Rock. In the following story, the facts regarding many of the Marion county homicides have been gathered here and presented as a historical record.

One of the first murders which occurred in Red Rock was the killing of a half-breed Indian, but no record is available regarding the crime and the details have not been remembered. The body of the Indian was buried in the sourthwest corner of the Red Rock cemetery.

Burns is Killed.
The murder of Burns by Shaw at Red Rock was one of the first recorded murders and also one of the coldest blooded crimes ever committed in Marion county. With thousands of acres of timber land, this murder was committed in an argument over a load of wood, according to John Haning, one of the few survivors who remember it. Burns had been taking some wood from Shaw's timber and the latter accosted him when he was hauling out a load. After an argument Burns deliberately grabbed his axe and cleaved Shaw's head open and left the elderly man dead.

Shooting of Lloyd.
Very little more is know of the shooting of Lloyd by Joel Wines in the late forties. Wines, however, was arrested for the crime and after many continuances the case came to trial. It was a long tedious trial which was finally dismissed by the illness of one of the jurors. Before the next term of court the death was definitely settled by the death of Wines.

Death of Keeton.
In 1873 some trouble existed between the families of Harry Williams and Mr. Keeton. From this trouble arose the dispute which perpetuated one of the most spectacular murders ever enacted in the Red Rock community. On the evening of September 15, Harry Williams and a relative, with a man by the name of Anderson, went to the home of William Eutaler and requested hiim t go to the Keeton home with them, saying that the old quarrel had been settled and that they wanted to talk the matter over. The Keeton home was two miles west of Red Rock. When they arrived at the Keeton home Mr. Eutsler asked him to come outside. But he had hardly crossed the threshold when Harry Williams began using insulting language to him and flourishing a revolver. Keeton told Williams if he would lay aside the gun and meet on equal terms he would fight him and turned to enter the house. that much was agreed upon by the witnesses, but beginning there, accounts differ, some saying that Keeton was shot as he was re-entering the house. Others claim the shot was fired as Keeton reached to take his gun from the rack. Just as Harry Williams shot at Keeton the other Williams fired at Eutsler, woundinghim in the hip. Harry Williams was later tried and sentenced to twenty years imprisonment but before being taken to Ft. Madison escaped from the officers.

Killing of Cole.
Another Red Rock killing was the murder of Cole by William Bass in 1864. Bass, who was in the union army, was forcing everyone to sign the oath of allegiance and he entered a saloon where Cole, a shoemaker, was at the bar. He called to Cole to sign the oath, ina casual way, but the shoemaker, who was a big man, refused. Then Bass pulled a revolver and then Cole started towards him with a drawn knife. Bass fired and the bullet penetrated Cole's body just below the heart. John Haning, who was an eye witness, says the man exhibited remarkable vitality. He still followed Bass out of the saloon and collapsed to the ground where he began to pray. Cole lived a few weeks, but the bullet had pierced his body clear through. Bass was tried after war and acquitted.

Bob Cole, son of the murdered Cole, was also killed in Red Rock a year later by Dick Gray, another union soldier. John Haning was playing on the steps of the James Johnson drug store, the scene of the murder. Cole and Gray became involved in an arguement and Gray pulled a knife. Gray was the smaller man and Cole did not resist as he plunged the knife into him and turned it around. "I can still hera that sound" said Mr. Haning, "It sounded like the tearing of cloth." Cole said, "He has killed me." Some of the other men in the room maintained he wasn't hurt and told him to come on back and have a drug. Gray was on the pint of stabbing Cole again, but thought better and walked out of the store, wiping his knife on the trousers of his dress uniform. He then crossed on the ferry operated by Martin Hollingsworth and went over south of Knoxville where his wife was. Cole in the meantime also walked out of the store. He went to a hitching post and leaned over, his head in his arms. Suddenly he gushed out more than a quart of blood and toppled over dead. Gray was also tried for the murder after the war, but like Bass, he too, was acquitted.

Shafer Kills Wife.
The George W. Shafer case at Red Rock was one of the most misunderstood cases in the history of Marion county. On story has it that Shafer was of no-account, the man's friends still maintain that he was a poor, hard-working man who was the victim of a mother-in-law's distaste for his marriage to her daughter. Upon this fact hinges the case's merits. Shafer was married in 1867 to Sarah Yearns, daughter of J.B. Yearns, who resided three miles north of Red Rock. One story is that Shafer was unable to properly provide for his wife and she was induced to return home. On the evening of Feb. 6, 1869, while Mr. Yearns was in Knoxville, Shafer went to the Yearns home to induce his wife to return home with him. She refused. In the dispute that followed Shafer struck Mrs. Yearns over the head with a club, drove out the rest of the family. Still his wife refused to go with him. Then he pulled a revolver and shot her through the head, killing her instantly. Then he attempted to kill himself. Five times the revolver clicked, but the shells failed to explode. Then placing himself beside the form of his dead wife, Shafer took a dull butcher knife and attempted to cut his throat. Neighbors who soon arrived found the child of Shafer's playing in a pool of blood. But Shafer recovered and was brought to trial in 1870. He escaped from jail, however, but was never returned. It is said that he died in Missouri.

Fighting Irishman.
A murder on the 25th of November, 1869, occurred at the Irish settlement five miles northwest of Knoxville when, Samuel Brown and Daniel Maloney took into a dispute over Brown's cattle running at large. Hot words carried the dispute through until Maloney grasped a neckyoke and struck Brown over the head with it, felling him to the ground and knocking him senseless. It was thought by many, however, that the real cause of the attack centered around some marital troubles. Only a short time before, Mrs. Maloney, who did not live with her husband, but had been staying at the hoe of her uncle, Samuel Brown, served one of the most novel writs on Maloney that had ever been served in Marion county. This writ ordered the constable of the township to take the woman's wearing apparel from the husband and restore it to her. This was thought to have been the real cause for the animosity which resulted in the killing of Brown. Maloney had always been a rough character, having some years as a "roustabout" on a Mississippi river steamboat, he was between 35 and 40 years of age. He was arrested and after preliminary examination was released on $2,000 bond. A trial was held in Knoxville, but after one continuance, he was granted a change of venue to Jasper county. He was later convicted of a charge of manslaughter and given a prison term of five years.

Back in the seventies two brothers, James and Robert McKay, lived in Liberty township near Bussey. The two brothers had a quarrel, Saturday, Oct. 9, 1873, which ended in the shooting of Robert by James, the younger brother. Conflicting stories are told about the affair. Some stories state that Robert was pursuing his brother with intent to commit bodily injury, while others carry the tale that James was too friendly with his brother's family. James McKay was arrested and brought to trial in May term of court 1876. He was found guilty and given a life sentence of imprisonment at Fort Madison for the crime of fratricide.

Marv Williams Dies.
The next recorded murder in that vicinity was the killing of Marv Williams, brother of Harry, by T.R. Buttery. This shooting was said to be the tenth murder at Red Rock and occurred Sunday, August 12, 1877. The killing was caused by a dispute over the status of Williams in the store owned by Buttery. The two had come into possession of a drug store, Williams claimed he was a full partner while Buttery said he was only a clerk. After trying several times to settle the matter by words and reasons they met the fatal Sunday with revolvers and proceeded to try lead for a medium of argumentation. Buttery got in his arguments first with the result that a shot penetrated Williams' heart and he died immediately.

Short Prison Sentence.
There are those fatalists who believe they were the hand of fate in everything. Fate no doubt played a part in the shooting of Peter Huffman, 27, clerk in a hardware store at Swan. When Harry Bowers entered the store with a combination revolver and target rifle in hands and laughingly pointed it at each of those assembled there with the command to throw up their hands, he thought the gun unloaded. When he had pointed it at several of the men present and turned to Peter, saying, "I'll get you next," he was as startled as the others to hear a loud report. Huffman fell to the floor with a bullet through his brain. Fate alone seems responsible that it was Huffman instead of one of his companions who stopped the fatal bullet. This tragedy was so obviously an accident that the judge who heard Harry Bowers' plea of guilty, gave one of the most unusual sentences ever heard in Marion county, "That the prisoner be confined one day at the state prison at Fort Madison and pay a fine of $500 and costs."

Quarrel Over a Bottle.
When John Wren and J.S. Williams engaged in a quarrel over a bottle of beer at 2 a.m. Sunday morning, Jan. 8, 1898, neither thought it would end in tragedy. A crowd of men were in Frank Moose's room in rear of the second story over Fair store when Wren and Williams quarrelled over a bottle of beer. Sharp words and rough epithets were followed by assault in which Ed Wren, brother of John, too part. In the scuffle that followed two shots were fired, one striking John below the left ear, causing death in a few minutes, and the other striking Ed in the palm of the hand. the quarrel began when Williams shared a bottle of beer with the men, when Wren asked for some he was handed the empty bottle. Wren called a hard name and Williams said if Wren meant it he would slap his ear. Wren grabbed a shovel and started for Williams. Ed Wren then grabbed Williams by the throat and the two forced him onto a bed in the room. Later Williams looked for an officer to give himself up, but finding none on the streets he went home to be where he was arrested.

Dan McCarty.
The killing of Dan McCarty on Sept 1, 1893, marked the passing of one of Marysville's nororious characters. Dan was a stock buyer and quite a prominent fellow, who rarely missed being in on any activity in the community. Of average height, slender build, he always wore a long-tailed black alpaca coat, which gave him a scholarly, almost clerical mein. But his eccentric habit of walking with his hands behind his back, gave the lie to his seemingly quiet demeanor, because twin six shooters usually reposed in his hip pockets. Along in the summer of '93, Dan and two neighbors had a dispute over a team. Dan demanded a mortgage but John Davis and John Nethrow refused to give it. One day Nethrow started to the harvest field and was intercepted by McCarty and the difficulty was renewed. It was culminated at the bridge over Cedar, where McCarty tried to pull Nethrow from his horse. Nethrow shot him with a .38 caliber revolver. It was thought to be a fatal shot. But McCarty almost recovered from that wound before his nemesis traced him down. An unverified story goes that McCarty wrote a letter to someone in Monroe county that it was now time to burn the mill. It is supposed that he lost the letter before it was mailed and thus incurred the enemity of several Marysville citizens. McCarty was in Knoxville on the afternoon of September 1 and was warned to keep away from Marysville for the rest of his days. He answered he guessed he was able to take care of himself and his two six shooter guns bore out the statement. Returning to his home he spent the evening reading and about 9:30 his brother, Joe, started to the well to get a pail of water. Dan followed him to the porch and as he stood, almost in his own doorway, his assailant shot him with a shotgun. He was struck in the abdomen and died almost instantly. Popular opinion pointed to Davis and Nethrow and they were arrested and brought into court. Davis, the one formally charged with the killing, was acquitted in 1900. So the killing of Dan McCarty has not only remained unsolved, but the guilty party was never brought to justice.

Kills Half-Brother.
James Blee shot and killed his half brother, Isaac Failor, Wednesday, March 22, 1905, in the barnlot of the latter's near Swan. The shooting grew out of a dispute over a private road. Blee and another half brother, William Failor, lived together, one mile south of Swan. Isaac Failor's 80 acres was a "shut-in" tract a quarter of a mile still farther south. Isaac had purchased a strip of land 20 feet wide on the west side of Blee's land for a private road, opening on to the main road. Later Blee had purchased a 40 acre tract south of Isaac's land and in order to get to it had to use the private road and also go through Isaac's feedlots. The two men had quarreled on several occasions and about two months before had fought about it. Spring work had renewed the trouble and each had threatened the other. Isaac closed the south end of the private road by setting a post in the middle of the road and nailing the gate to it. The morning of the shooting Blee took his gun, hammer and nails and said he was going to shoot gophers and tack up some loose wires. His fence repairing completed he was on Isaac's premises nar the sheds where Failor and his 10-year-old son, Frankie, had been feeding cattle. Blee had started home, but a quarrel began in which Failor ordered him off the premises. Blee retreated until he was near the obstruction and asked why it was there. Failor told him it was there to keep him out of the pasture and he was going to see that it didi. Hot words followed and Blee shot him. Blee was arrested when he went to Swan immediately after the shooting and gave himself up to authorities. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to five years in prison and fined $50 and costs.

Dispute Over Cattle.
In a dispute which began over the freeing of cattle which had been taken up by John Duncan, Ed O. Campbell, 22, was shot and killed by Louis Sherman, April 26, 1880. Campbell's cattle had been taken up and were being held on his premises by John Duncan, father-in-law of Sherman. The matter had been placed in the hands of Dallas townshp board of trustees. Ed Campbell and his sister, Viola, turned the cattle out and were driving them away when a messenger informed Sherman, who mounted his horse and followed them. He caught them on the road about two and one-half miles north-east of Dallas. B. Walker, at work in a field nearby said the first he knew of the presence of Sherman was when he heard him say, "Throw up your arms and throw down that revolver." He didn't hear any more conversation but saw Campbell get off his horse and face Sherman. Walker says he didn't see a revolver but saw Campbell make a quick move with his right arm to right and across the horse's neck. Sherman fired and Campbell fell dying almost immediately. A loaded cocked revolver was found on the ground by Campbell. Sherman was arrested by William Vernon of Melcher, indicted on a charge of manslaughter and brought to trial in May 1880, but after a number of continuances, he was found not guilty by a jury in January 1881.

Death of Kelso.
Back in 1888 a colt belonging to Noah Kelso got in a timber lot which John McGee, Sr., had charge of. One of the Kelso boys attempted to get the colt and a quarrel followed. He went home for his brother and father and his father took a gun on the return trip to the timber. As he approached the timber land he was fired upon by the McGees who were hiding in an adjoining brush patch. Both Kelso and his horse were wounded. He turned and rode a short distance before he fell from his horse. He got up and started on foot, pursued by the McGee boys, who took him and shot him twice, killing him instantly. The McGee boys then pursued the Kelso boys but did not fire any more shots. It was proven that Kelso was disagreeable and quarrelsome. He indulged in several threats against his neighbors, sometimes punctuating them with shots. John McGee, Sr., and Joe Noe were held on bail for a charge of second degree murder, but John McGee, Jr., and Joel McGee were held without bail. The trial was dragged out for many days. Joel McGee was sentenced to a life term of imprisonment, John McGee, Jr., was given an 18-year sentence and in November 1888 David Cooper, also a defendant in the case, was found not guilty. John McGee, Sr., was found not guilty in January, 1889. In 1890 the supreme court reversed the decision and both Joel and John, Jr. were liberated.

Young Doctor Shot.
Liberty township added another tragedy to the list of murders which have been enacted within her borders, with the shooting of young Dr. W.O. Hamilton at Marysville by an unknown person. November 26, 1900. K.L. Bush, a Knoxville contractor building the new school building at Marysville, was the first to know that a tragedy had occurred. He saw Dr. Hamilton stagger and fall at the door of the Vanskiver home. He was dead before Dr. Hughes could arrive. Domestic trouble is said to have been brewing for some time in the Fred Ahn family and rumor had it that Dr. Hamilton was involved. Mrs. Ahn had been living with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Yancey, and divorce proceedings and counter proceedings had been begun by both Mr. and Mrs. Ahn, although they had not yet culminated in a divorce. Ahn had made violent threats against Hamilton, according to trila records, and several people had seen danger and had advised Hamilton to leave. On the morning of the shooting Hamilton had gone to the barn to care for his team. He was in the act of getting a sheaf of millet from a stack in the barnlot. When he was directly opposite the southeast corner of the barn, he was hit in the right cheek by a bullet, presumably from a revolver. He had either dodged or had stopped to see what it was because the bullet had entered his cheek. The investigation showed where a picket had been removed from the fence which enclosed the barn and hen house and where a man had walked to his place of hiding. Ahn was immediately arrested. The trial was a long one and more than fifty witnesses were examined. The jury brought back a verdict of "not guilty" to the charge of murder after having been out from 5 p.m., Saturday evening, to 8:30 p.m. Sunday evening.

Harry Cooper Case.
In the early part of December, 1914, Harry Cooper, jockey and a horsetrainer, shot and killed R.C. Jones, Omaha stockman, at the Central hotel in Knoxville where both men had rooms. The shooting occurred at the supper hour when the waiting room was full of guests. Jones, Cooper and two others had been in Jones' room for a good-natured meeting and for a friendly drink. As they came down stairs, Cooper, who had remained behind, called to Jones. He had not seemed angry when he called and had even used the name "Jonsey" by which Jones was known to some of his intimate friends. Before Jones had reached the landing on his way back upstairs, Cooper appeared at the head of the stairs and fired two shots at Jones, who fell on the stairway. He was carried down stairs and died in a very short time. Cooper appeared cool and went back to his room where he changed clothes and awaited the sheriff. He called to those downstairs, "Don't get excited I am not going to run away." Jones was a native son of Knoxville, but had lived in Chicago a great deal of his life until about ten years before when he had taken a position in the stockyards at Omaha and it was in the interests of this commission company that he had been in the vicinity of Knoxville during the greater part of the summer. Cooper had been in Knoxville about two years and had been training horses for a number of local men. Little was known ofhim except among horse fanciers. He was arrested and charged with second degree murder, found guilty and was sentenced to sixteen years at Fort Madison.

Murder of Galish.
One of the most unprovoked murderous attacks ever made in Marion county resulted in the killing of Jacob Galish, Austrian, by Ellis Stenson, American, on October 24, 1913, at the Rock Island railroad camp at Melcher. Stenson killed Galish and seriously wounded another foreighner. Stenson was the water tank man for the railroad, while the Austrian, with others of his countrymen belonged to a "surfacing gang" and lived in a box car along the track. Stenson had business in the timekeeper's car which was backed up against the Austrian's quarters. When he attempted to climb a ladder into Galish's car instead of the timekeeper's car, Galish informed him of his mistake. Stenson did not stop but kept climbing, Galish pushed him back. After he had been pushed back three times by Galish, Stenson pulled off his right glove, placed it on his left extended palm, put a handkerchief on top and then laid his five-shot .32 caliber revolver on top of the pile. Then he called, "Make way or I'll drop you in your tracks." Grabbed revolver and fired. One of Galish's companions came up just then with a pail of water but was so frightened he dropped the bucket and ran down the tracks. Stenson called to him to halt and then fired twice at him, seriously wounding him in the back. Stenson was arrested, plead guilty and was sentenced to fifteen years for first degree murder.

Marshal Charged with Murder.
What an ironical gesture of fate that one who is sworn to uphold the law should be charged with a major crime. But it was in such a position that City Marshal Homer McNeill found himself after the shooting of young James Kersey of Flagler in the city jail of Knoxville in 1918. Kersey was arrested by McNeill, who asked the night marshal, Ed Jones, to assist him. Kersey said "I'll go with you, Mr. Jones," seeming to imply that he wouldn't go with McNeill. When they were in the jail corridor Jones asked, "What have you got on you?" following the custom of emptying the prisoners pockets before they are lodged in a cell. Kersey reached in his pocket and drew out a pint bottle which he dropped on the floor with a crash, saying "There is one you won't get." According to Mr. Jones the only eye witness of the crime, McNeill's revolver cracked before the prisoner had finished speaking. At a preliminary hearing, it developed that Kersey, although he had been drinking was not drunk, and that he was of good reputation. McNeill was charged with manslaughter and released on $2500 bond. A delegation of Flagler friends, including a brother of the dead man, appeared before authorities and filed a charge of murder and had bail increased to $10,000. As the feeling in Flagler community mounted high over the affair, McNeill was granted a change of venue to Warren county.

Brawl Ends in Murder.
The shooting of James T. Johnson, white, by Joe Kelly, negro, in Kelly's dooryard at Andersonville, was the culmination of an all night drinking brawl, July 4, 1921. Kelly used a shotgun and fired a single charge into the breast of Johnson. Charles McAninch, young white man, gave the story of the murder which was pretty generally accepted for the truth. He says that James, Orval and David JOhnson had been at Kelly's most of the night drinking. They had trouble about midnight but came back about 1 o'clock in the morning having settled their difficulties. They were preparing to leave for Knoxville when Kelly ran in the house and grabbed the gun he had borrowed from McAninch, saying it was to be used for rabbit hunting. Oval Johnson said Pink Howard, another Negro, got the gun when Kelly called for it to "clean out the crowd." Immediately after shooting Kelly left the house and it was more than two days before he was aprehended by the posse which was organized. He was brought to trial and the jury found him guilty of manslaughter instead of second degree murder as charged in the indictment and he was sentenced to eight years at Fort Madison.

Will Holloway Murder.
Will Holloway, 21, was shot and killed by John Davis at the home of Davis in the mining town of Wier City, one mile south of Bussey, while a dance was in progress at the Davis home. Holloway, who had been drinking, was making himself generally disagreeable by "calling," thumbing guitar strings, and had been asked by Davis to stop. Davis finally forced Holloway into the kitchen, saying, "I don't want trouble and wish you would go away." Holloway said "If it's trouble you want you shall have enough." Holloway took off his coat and took a knife out of his pocket, opened it ready to strike. Davis retreated and picked up a stick of stove wood, which he threw but Holloway dodged. Words were exchanged and Davis went into a bedroom and got a .32 caliber rifle and pointed the rifle at Holloway, who stood outside the door. The bullet passed through his body just below the heart and he was dead before friends could get him into a sleigh. Davis was arrested and charged with manslaughter for the shooting of Holloway and in court was sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment and $200 fine and costs.

Most Recent Murder.
The most recent murder to occur in Marion county was the killing of Peter Donkersloot at Huntsville, near Pershing, March 6, 1930. Wm. (Chief) Greenhalgh confessed to the crime, but would reveal no motive. Greenhalgh pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to fifteen years at Fort Madison. The man's mind is said to have given away under the strain and he is now confined to the insanity ward.

Transcribed by S. Ferrall for Marion County IAGenWeb and reformatted by Al Hibbard on 5 Oct 2013.