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RINGGOLD COUNTY COURTHOUSE, circa 1915

 

By Mike Avitt

Mary Ellen Shimerdla sent me this copy of a postcard with a 1913 cancellation. This photo also appears on page 14 of the Mount Ayr centennial book.

While attending a history presentation in Albany, MO, I heard one of the speakers talk about the early days of criminal offenses and prosecution, or lack thereof. It reminded me of all the crimes I had read about in the old newspapers and the results reached by the courts, if any. Ringgold County has had many serious criminal cases that ended up being dismissed or had the charges drastically reduced. This week, we'll look at the decision of a Grand Jury that convened in the courthouse in this week's picture. All of the information I have comes from the Mount Ayr Record-News.

On March 26, 1913, the remains of John B. Williams were found "in a hog pasture near Redding." The location is important. it was estimated Mr. Williams had been in this location a little over two weeks. Two bullet holes were apparent; one in the head and one in the lower chest. A .32 caliber revolver was found near the body.

The body was found by a search party that was organized when John Williams could not be located. The county coroner, Dr. M. F. Hannelly, was on hand when the body was discovered and he conducted an inquest the same day. The jury panel consisted of S. R. Emerson, D. M. Rich, and W. F. Bernard. It was determined the cause of death was by gunshot; either self-inflicted or by another hand.

The case seems to have gone to sleep over the next several months but County Attorney Charles J. Lewis had asked assistance from the state attorney's office and they sent T. Wilkie to look at the facts. The body of John B. Williams was exhumed.

Another inquest was held January 30, 1914 in Redding. At the beginning of the inquest, Attorney Fuller of Mount Ayr announced [that] his client, Elmer Williams, son of John B. Williams, would refuse to answer questions, as was his Constitutional right in accordance with the 5th Amendment. Elmer's wife Olive also refused to answer questions.

A Grand Jury convened in Mount Ayr after this inquest. The finding on April 15, 1914 was an indictment against Elmer Williams - murder in the first degree. So now we have a murder case on our hands, right?

It was announced in the September 18, 1914 Mount Ayr Record-News [that] the Iowa State Attorney's Office had filed a motion to dismiss the case against Elmer Williams. The reason? I'll print the exact words used in the newspaper because I failed to fully understand what it said. The paper stated, "... on account of some investigations recently made at Blockton which tend to show that if John Williams was murdered the crime was committed in Taylor County, in which case the district court of Taylor County would have jurisdiction ..."

So was it murder or was it suicide?

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker


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