Tama County, Iowa
1920 Frank Linhart Murder

One of the most sinister deeds in Tama County history.

Back to Murder Cases of Tama County.

The Ireton Ledger (Ireton, Iowa) Thu, Jul 15, 1920, page 2


     Traer, Ia., July 10.—The body of Frank Linhart was exhumed and a second inquest held, at which evidence of foul play was found.

     It will be recalled that Mr. Linhart, who lived in Cutlier [Clutier], came up missing on Saturday, two weeks ago, and no effort was made to locate him, or even any mention of his disappearance was made until Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week. He was found on Wednesday in a shallow pool of water not three feet deep.

     A coroner's inquest was held at which the verdict was death by drowning, as he was known to have suffered a stroke of apoplexy some time before. The people of Clutier were dissatisfied with the verdict and appealed to the county attorney, who in turn, asked permission to exhume the body for a second inquest. At the second examination on Saturday it is said a fractured skull was discovered and other evidence to denote a violent death.

Iowa City Press-Citizen (Iowa City, Iowa) Tue, Jul 20, 1920, page 2


     Mystery still envelopes the death of Frank Linhart, who was found lifeless in a stream near his home town, Traer.

     Dr. Henry Alert [Albert] has completed his pathological examination of Linhart's exhumed vitals, which he examined in the Iowa university and Iowa state laboratories, in quest of evidences of disease.

     If any existed that might have spelled a fatal ending, then foul play might not be alleged.

     He, like Prof. W. I. Teeters, who sought poison traces, declared he is bound in honor not to make a public statement as to his findings, and there fore he has sent his report to the state officials, only, and asks the newspaper boys to await the state's announcements.

Another View Point.

     The following story sent anent the tragedy is from the Cedar Rapids Gazette something along the line of the Daily Press' earlier announcements.

     The Gazette said:

New Developments

     Interesting developments may be expected in the case of Frank Linhart, of Clutier, believed to be a murder victim, according to State Agent J. E. Risden of the attorney general's office, who is in charge of the case. While no arrests have been made, a special session of the Tama County grand jury has been called, which in itself is considered a significant fact.

     Linhart, it may be recalled, went fishing with a friend, on a stream in Onieda township between Clutier and Elberon three weeks ago. The friend returned to Clutier alone. Linhart did not return and little of no effort was made to find him from Saturday until the following Tuesday. Then the town took up the search and on Wednesday morning the dead body was found in three feet of water. A few weeks before that it is said, unsuccessful attempt was made to poison him.

     Analysis of the dead man's vital organs has been made by Dean W. J. Teeters of the college of pharmacy at the Iowa State University. Dean Teeters has mailed his report to Mr. Risden but refused to say whether he had found any trace of poisoning or not.

     When seen by the Gazette reporter today Mr. Risden also refused all information as to the result of Prof. Teeter's [Teeters'] examination. Mr. Risden said that he expected to have some startling disclosures to make about the last of this month and explained that while the special grand jury had met at Toledo on Saturday, it was necessary to order a postponement of the case until July 31, owing to the fact that one of the jurors was absent.

Iowa City Press-Citizen (Iowa City, Iowa) Mon, Aug 2, 1920, Page 5


     Toledo, Ia., Aug. 2—Frank Wisner of Clutier has been arrested charged with the murder of Frank Linhart.

     Linhart was found dead in a shallow creek on June 23.

     It was decided that he had drowned, but relatives were not satisfied with the verdict and started an investigation.

     This resulted in the exhumation of the body and a post mortem.

     In this inquiry expert chemists at the state university were enlisted to examine the vital organs of the deceased.

     They came to Toledo Saturday to give evidence before the grand jury.

     The report of the grand jury has not been made public.

     Wisner, however, was arrested Saturday after the session of the grand jury, by Marshall O. H. Chitty of Clutier and was turned over to Sheriff N. S. Peterman.

     Reasons for the arrest and the theory on which Wisner is connected with the case and charged with the murder of Linhart are not known and will not be given out by the officers until after the grand jury report is filed.

     Linhart disappeared on a Saturday. It is claimed that his disappearance was not reported to the authorities till the next Tuesday. Search then was made and he was found face downward in Salt Creek about six miles southest of Clutier.

     The water was not more than three feet deep.

     A verdict of death by drowning was returned by the coroner's jury. Linhart had suffered a stroke of apoplexy some time before his body was found.

     The protest of the people of Clutier was so vigorous that the county attorney started an investigation, the body was exhumed, the post mortem followed and then the session of the grand jury and the arrest of Wisner.

Iowa City Press-Citizen (Iowa City, Iowa) Mon, Aug 2, 1920, Page 2


     Murder is now suspected in the Frank Linhart mystery. Frank Wisner of Clutier, Iowa, companion of Linhart, when the latter went fishing, at Traer, and vanished, has been arrested, following the grand jury's session, at Traer, Saturday.

S. U. I. Experts Testify.

     S. U. I. experts were subpoenaed, and testified.

     Dean W. J. Teeters of the college of pharmacy, told of his discoveries as to poison or no poison, in the dead man's exhumed vitals.

     Dr. Henry J. Albert testified as to the presence of disease germs in the man's body.

     Both S. U. I. savants refused to disclose their testimony, describing it as in opposition to the tenets of professional honor, but the arrest of Wisner lends belief inevitably that they must have made two discoveries of correlated type—that is, that there was evidence of poisoning; and that disease did not kill Linhart.

     The central figure of the mystery disappeared, the day he went fishing, and was never seen again until his lifeless body was found, face downward, in Salt Creek, six miles from Clutier.

     His body was exhumed, after the coroner's jury first decided that apoplexy caused his death, and after relatives had become suspicious.

     The prosecuting attorney is believed to have built up a case, bit by bit, against the prisoner, and that he will make a bitter fight to convict Wisner.

Iowa City Press-Citizen (Iowa City, Iowa) Wed, Aug 4, 1920, Page 8


Nephew, Alleged to Have Killed Uncle, Confesses?--S. U. I. Scientists Help State

     Murder is now directly charged against Frank Wisner, who has confessed—it is alleged by James Risden, recently in Iowa City, as Attorney General H. M. Havner's special agent—that he poisoned to death his uncle, Frank Linhart.

     Sheriff Peterman, County Clerk Russell and County Attorney H. J. Ferguson (a former fellow-classmate of W. J. McDonald, S. U. I., law, 1901) are also among the men who aver they have heard Wisner's confession.

     He is quoted as admitting that he secured some rat poison, and administered it to his kinsman when they were on a fishing trip, June 19.

     Wisner, the alleged confession proceeds, was indebted to his uncle, and had been looking for weeks for an opportunity to invite Death to cancel the debt.

     He finally stole some rat poison from Joe Zmolek, late in May, or early in June, and stored it away, pending the trip. The men went fishing; Linhart became thirsty, asked Wisner for a drink—and the latter's chance was at hand.

     Accordingly, he dumped the deadly stuff into the receptacle, and then handed the poisonous draught to his uncle, who tossed it off—and duly died.

     Ultimately, the body was found lying face downward in a few feet of water, in the stream near Traer, and Clutier.

University of Iowa Scientists Aid

     University of Iowa Scientists aided in the pursuit of evidence, as already recorded herein.

     Dean W. J. Teeters, of the college of pharmacy, and Dr. Henry Albert, as told in the Press, examined the vitals of the dead man, for traces of poison, or germs of disease,respectively. Neither has given out the contents of the respective reports, or summarized his subsequent testimony before the grand jury of Tama county, but it is generally accepted that their findings led to the arrest of Wisner, and the information they evoked and gave the state's officials must have played a goodly part, too, in laying the foundation for the state's case, and making it possible for the officials to push the prisoner into a confession, since Wisner must have been surprised to find out how much the officials knew about the secret conditions.

Story of Crime

     One June 23, Linhart's body was found face down in Salt Creek six miles from Clutier, where he and his nephew, now facing trial for murder, both lived.

     The coroner's jury returned a verdict of death by drowning, it being represented that Mr. Linhart, who had suffered a previous stroke of paralysis, had been overtaken by a second stroke.

Then S. U. I. Plays Role

     After residents of Clutier protested the decision to the county attorney a full investigation was ordered and the body exhumed in order that the vital organs might be sent to the university laboratories for examination. Prof. Henry Albert, professor of pathology and bacteriology and state bacteriologist, and Dean Wilbur J. Teeters of the college of pharmacy conducted the chemical examinations which proved strychnine had caused Mr. Linhart's death.

Iowa City Press-Citizen (Iowa City, Iowa) Sat, Aug 7, 1920, page 5


Linhart-Wisner Poisoning Tragedy Reviewed Thrillingly
by Iowa Writer

     "Cold-blooded"—really the most cold-blooded murder ever known in Iowa—is the way the Cedar Rapids Gazette describes the slaying of Frank Linhart by Frank Wisner, his nephew, who will be brought to the bar of justice largely through the instrumentality of science.

     Thanks to the testimony and skill, as bacteriologists and chemists of Iowa scholars, definite knowledge was obtained, as to the cause of Linhart's death, and now the man's confession, herein before quoted, seems to settle the case.

     Prof. W.J. Teeters and Dr. Henry Albert, of Iowa university, still maintain silence as to the contents of their report—and, also, the contents of Linhart's vitals—but the officials of Tama county are not so reticent, and the Hawkeye scholars are given full credit for splendid work in the cause of science, humanity and justice.

     The Gazette, whose statement is quoted above, gives the following long story of the crime:

     One of the strangest cases of cool, calculated, premeditated murder in the annals of this state is now engaging the attention of officials and residents of Tama county.

     Frank Wisner, a ??er, 33 years of age, a resident of Cluttier [Clutier], stands confessed as the slayer of Frank Linhart, 59 years old, his uncle and partner in business. Wisner, who is married and has three young children, is in the county jail at Toledo. He has been indicted for first degree murder by a Tama grand jury and will go to trial before Judge J. W. Willett on August 14.

     He has said he will plead guilty. A report that he had committed suicide gained circulation yesterday, but was promptly denied. State agent "Jim" Risden, of Cedar Rapids, attached attached to Attorney General Havner's staff, who worked up much of the evidence against Wisner, has declared that the crime is one of the most revolting in his experience and was planned deliberately and carried out in cold blood.

Men Lived Together

     Wisner and the dead man, Linhart, were more than partners in business. They lived together, worked together and were relatives through marriage. Wisner himself has said: "Except for my father and mother, no one was ever kinder to me than Frank Linhart."

     Yet, because of c???idity for his partner's money, the younger man deliberately poisoned Linhart, who was almost twice his age and who as he himself has declared had always been the soul of kindness to him. The murder, according to State Agent Risden, was planned by Wisner after he had stolen a certificate of deposit for $200 belonging to Linhart, forging the latter's name in order to cash it. Later, fearing discovery he resorted to murder, giving poison to his uncle and partner on two separate occasions.

     Risden's investigations have showed that the murdered man was hard-working, inoffensive, well-liked in his community. He had never married.

     His self-confessed murder, on the other hand, bore a hard reputation among his neighbors. In the days when all saloon doors opened inward and there were no padlocks thereon, Wisner acquired a reputation as a rough and tumble fighter. Risden says that on one occasion he struck a man over the head with a beer bottle—a blow from which the man subsequently died.

     According to Risden, the first attempt to kill Linhart was made on April 21 last. On that day, Wisner, Linhart and a man named Havran were working together. Wisner bought three bottles of lemon extract and some pop, and gave some of the extract to Linhart to drink. Havran has testified that Linhart complained that the drink tasted bitter. All three drank some of the lemon extract.

     Soon thereafter Linhart became sick, rolling around the ground in convulsions, his body jerking. Havran has testified before the grand jury that Wisner said he could not understand why Linhart was sick, as "We drank the same stuff and we are not sick." A Dr. Wagner of Traer who was called to attend Linhart found him to be suffering from strychnine poisoning. Linhart recovered in a few days, but this incident was not forgotten by his neighbors.

Wisner Collected Accounts

     Before Linhart was made ill the first time—on April 7, to be exact—Wisner, who looked after the collection of moneys due to the pair and took the contracts, took a certificate of deposit belonging to Linhart to Traer, and by representing himself to be Linhart took $200 from a Traer bank, according to the story Risden tells.

     "I think that Wisner probably owed Linhart $500" said Risden. "Wisner had been systematically stealing from his partner and feared discovery."

     On June 19 Wisner and the older man went fishing in Salt Creek, which is near their home. Wisner returned alone later in the day—he has a wife and three young children—and told his wife that Linhart did not return with him because he wanted to fish a little longer. After the two started out together that morning Linhart was not seen again alive.

     His body was found four days later, after neighbors had instituted a search, lying in three feet of water, part of the face and one shoulder out of water. Examination of his lungs subsequently showed that he had not been drowned. An analysis made of the contents of his stomach revealed the presence of enough strychnine to kill a dozen men. Wisner confessed that when Linhart complained of feeling thirsty while they were fishing, he offered to go for water.

     He confessed that he had invited Linhart to go fishing with him for the express purpose of killing him. He was all prepared. In one of his pockets he had a vial or bottle of water containing a large amount of strychnine and this he mixed with the drinking water which he gave Linhart to drink. Then he went off and left the old man to die in agony. All this he confessed.

     Where did he get the strychnine to kill his partner? That's a curious little story in itself, showing Wisner's cunning and the manner of man he was. Some time previously he had been visiting at the place of a man named Smalek [Zmolek], who had been bothered considerably with rats about his place.

     Smalek had sprinkled some strychnine around his place to kill rats and he had also placed some of the strychnine in a pan of water in the belief that the rats would drink it. During Smalek's [Zmolek's] temporary absence, Wisner filled a bottle he had with him from the pan and then tipped over the pan to make it appear that some animal about the place was responsible for the loss of the poisoned water.

Dug Uncle's Grave

     When Linhart's body was recovered from the creek in which it was found Wisner dug the grave for his uncle and filled it in after the funeral. It was not until some time later that Marshall Chitty of Clutier recalled how ill Linhart had been in April as a result of what Dr. Wagner had pronounced to be strychnine poisoning. His suspicions aroused, he talked the matter over with his neighbors in Clutier, and at length reported to the county attorney of Tama County his belief that Linhart had been poisoned. The county attorney requested the aid of the attorney general's office, the body was exhumed and the rest of the story is now known.

Iowa City Press-Citizen (Iowa City, Iowa) Sat, Aug 21, 1920, Page 1


Hard Labor for Life is Edict of Judge Willetts at Toledo, Iowa, Today


Local Experts Found Poison in Stomach of Dead Man--Wisner Confessed Crime

(Associated Press.)

     TOLEDO, Iowa, Aug. 21—Frank Wisner, charged with the murder of his uncle, was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor by Judge Willetts today.

     Wisner confessed to putting poison in water when on a fishing trip with his relative. No announcement was made as to when he will be taken to prison.

Frank Linhart's gravestone says he died on 19 Jun 1920, at age 59, so he was born between 19 Jun 1860 and 19 Jun 1861.

This page was last revised on 7 Sep 2015 by William Haloupek.