Good Afternoon Readers!
Today I have another exciting crime story! Small town Iowa may seem like it is not a very lively place, but crime does happen. Sometimes, as you will see today, there are even bandits!
Thursday, July 23, 1931. The paper that came out that day told a frightening story under the headline “Bandits Shoot Marshal”. Early in the morning that day, between 3:30 and 4:00, three bandits robbed several business firms in Minburn. Gottschalk, E. H. Shaw grocery, a Minburn Oil company station and Butler’s garage were all hit during the robberies. In total, they stole some tires, tubes, and $205.00 dollars from all for places (that is worth about $3,011.65 today!) The bandits, however, did not quite get away clean. Mrs. Henry West, a night telephone operator in the building next to the Gottschalk store, heard the men moving around. She quickly spread the alarm, calling Bill Hagenstien, who called J. C. Untied and S. R. Gottschalk. Together, these three went to Virgil Untied, the marshal. A stranger who had heard the excitement joined the four men to confront the criminals as well. Together, all five went to the business district.
Once in the business district, the five men decided to split up to cover more ground. The marshal and Hagenstien were together when they were surprised by one of the bandits! The bandit commanded the men to back down or he would shoot. It is unknown if Untied refused to comply, but unfortunately for him the crook started firing at him with a sawed-off 12 gauge shotgun. Untied fell under the gunfire, and the bandit made off to a waiting car where he and his accomplice were whisked off. Presumably the third bandit was the getaway driver. The Minburn men exchanged shots with the fleeing vehicle, but the bandits made their getaway without any believed injuries. The car they were driving was either a Dodge or a Ford with a Polk County license plate.
Virgil Untied, the wounded Marshal, was immediately rushed to the Kings Daughter hospital. Upon arrival he was taken to the operating room, where Dr. Pond operated on him. The doctor unfortunately gave little hope for his survival. Virgil had his right eye shot out, the bullet entering the brain. He also had a slug in his abdomen, cutting the colon and making two perforations through the bowels, and a slug enter his left arm and one in his left leg. The article does not reveal more on Virgil’s condition, but one can assume that with such wounds he did not make it.
Sheriff Davis of Green County and Sheriff Knee of Dallas County began working on the case that day after the shootout. Based on their evidence, the bandits had also robbed places in Jefferson and Rippey. They had little other evidence to go on. No description of the men was provided, and the scene of the crimes left little evidence. There was a crow bar found, but no prints were left on it, meaning the men were wearing gloves. Brass shells were also found, but they proved to be no help either. Evidence from Rippey showed that a crow was used to get into the places that they robbed.
Despite all the tragedy, there was a slightly humorous moment in Rippey. The manager of the Hanson Lumber Company unwittingly left the card containing the safe combination on the dial of the safe. The bandits had found this and wrote a note on the back reading “We thank you for the combination but where in Hell is your money?” Only fifty cents in pennies was taken from the lumber office.
Were the bandits ever captured? Even I don’t know, as the article ends with a confirming that Virgil Untied’s condition has not changed. However, come back next week and I will find out if the story continues in another article!
Today I have another exciting story about an infamous member of the Perry community. In fact, this story is about three men who were arrested for nothing less than making counterfeit coins!
An issue of The Perry Press came out on Friday, May 20, 1938 with the headline “Counterfeiting Plant Found On Perry Farm.” According to the article, federal authorities were holding three men on charges of counterfeiting: V. R. Starling, his son Forest W. Starling, and Cartha M. Candall. They were arrested in a raid containing the combined forces of federal, state, county, and city officers on the Starling farm. Counterfeiting equipment was found in various places around the farm. The press was found in the basement, along with about $200 worth of fifty cent coins. A roller, furnace, and casting forms were found in the machine shed. Dies, crucibles, and punches were buried in a barrel under the dirt floor of the garage.
According to Starling, he had been making fifty cent coins since 1934. He claimed he and his son distributed the coins, but authorities suspected that others may be implicated in their distribution. The counterfeits were almost true reproductions of legal pieces, containing a good proportion of silver making them practically impossible to recognize them as fakes. Skilled Chicago Federal Reserve bank employees, who noticed an almost invisible flaking and pitting, first detected the fakes. They confirmed their suspicions after a microscope test.
After detection of the counterfeits, federal authorities started a search. A tip from an Iowa jeweler, who told authorities that Starling was buying all the scrap silver he could get, lead authorities to the farm. The plant that they found on the farm was reported to be the most complete plant both from a manufacturing and distributing point that had ever been found in Iowa. It was equipped to turn out a large amount of coins, as evidenced by the large amount of dies that were found. The coins were dated for several years, but the majority were either 1899 or 1912. The Starlings had distributed most of the coins through five and ten cent stores or tobacco shops throughout Iowa and surrounding states.
It is amazing to think that such a small group of people were able to make near perfect copies of fifty cent coins! V. R. Starling plead guilty to his charges, while his son plead not guilty and Cartha Candall was released after it was found he was not directly implicated in the case. Reading about this makes you wonder: do any of these coins still exist? I suggest checking your 1899 and 1912 fifty cent pieces (if you have any) to make sure they are real!
Today you will all be excited to know that we have finally made it to the trial of Mr. Smith! What will the verdict be? Will all get the answers to our questions about the case? Read on to find out!
We start the story of the trial on September 28, 1931. In that days edition of the Perry Chief, it is announced that Smith will come to trial on Tuesday (the next day). State Agent Tullar had been travelling nearby states the previous two weeks, investigating matters related to the case. He stated that he believed the “case against Smith is now airtight.” The case was built upon a charge of conspiracy to defraud an insurance company, and it was this charge that Smith would face the next day. The trial was to begin if the proper witnesses were secured to appear. Specifically, Doctors Wittle of Clarinda and Donohoe of Cherokee were slated to appear as the first two witnesses.
The next day, September 29, 1931 was the day of the trial. Perhaps surprisingly, the jury deliberated for only fifteen minutes before reaching a verdict. With a single sentence came the closing of the Smith Conspiracy: “We the jury find the defendant John M. Smith to be insane.” Judge W. S. Cooper immediately announced that Smith would be taken to the Criminally Insane Ward at Anamosa, until such time he was deemed sane upon which he would be returned to the Dallas County Sheriff for a second trial. What happened to the airtight case that Tullar was boasting about? What happened that caused Smith to be declared insane so quickly? Well, to start only Dr. Max Wittle and Dr. George Donohue were heard as witnesses before the jury. Both of these witnesses claimed unquestionably that Smith was insane. Dr. Wittle, for instance, said that Smith could not tell right from wrong, and that he was susceptible to suggestions from others who could influence him to act. Dr. Donohue said the same thing, adding that he though Smith was “too dangerous to be discharged.” Thus, the entire trial last only from 9 a.m. to 10:35 a.m., when the jury presented their verdict declaring Smith criminally insane. As if to prove the verdict, upon leaving the courthouse Smith collapsed at the bottom of the first flight of stairs. He appeared to be in a semi-conscious stupor and continually called for “Edith” his wife, even though she was with him the whole time.
Many of you may be wondering if this is it. Unfortunately, it appears to be so. Even the paper says that the entire debacle is a “mystery which still has many loose ends and which will probably never be fully told.” For example, the story of the body found in the car will never be fully told. A story about Smith did reappear in May 1932, but it was a small article about an interview where Smith claimed he was the victim of a “gigantic conspiracy”, and that he remembered nothing “from the time he was bumped on the head” the night the truck was found until he was found near Garner, Iowa. You will have to decide for yourself if the jury was correct, because for now, this case, is closed.
Happy Wednesday readers!
I hope that you are all surviving out there in the rain. Today we will be continuing the Smith Conspiracy Case, drawing ever closer to its conclusions. This week’s paper is from September 7, 1931, and it contains a big break-through in the case: a confession from Mrs. Smith that she was indeed involved in a conspiracy with her husband!
According to the paper, County Attorney George Sackett released portions of a signed confession from Mrs. Smith after she had been grilled for more than five hours. This session occurred at the statehouse in Des Moines, and was conducted by Attorney Sackett, State Agent Tullar, Sheriff C. A. Knee and James E. Risden, the chief of the state bureau of investigation. Sackett did not release the full confession, but the portions that were released were sufficient to unquestionably incriminate both Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
Two particular portions were quoted directly in the paper. First, after admitting that she had conversations with her husband about life insurance, Mrs. Smith goes on to describe one in particular. She said that “In one of those conversations he told me that he would disappear and that it would be up to me to bury him and collect the insurance. Then, after I had collected the insurance, we could communicate in some way and then go back together and live together again after a year or two. Under our plan I was to collect the insurance or accept it when paid and then meet John when he got into communication with me, which might be any time from one to two years.” Clearly, Mrs. Smith knew of the conspiracy, and was quite willing to go along with it.
The second portion that was quoted in the paper indicates that Mr. and Mrs. Smith had indeed been in communication since his disappearance. Mrs. Smith said, “I received a note asking me to meet a certain party near Fremont, Nebraska, on the 19th day of June. On that day I together with my son drove to Fremont and met my husband, John M. Smith and spent the afternoon with him.” Most surprising about this meeting was that it occurred exactly four days before Mr. Smith was found on a side road near Garner, Iowa. Perhaps the two decided the conspiracy was in danger and they needed to take some kind of action. At this point, it is unclear.
Unfortunately, no details were secured about how the couple procured a corpse to use in the conspiracy. Other details also remain untold, but authorities said they would be released when the proper time arrived. Another unfortunate matter is that the case against the two does not seem to be moving ahead as fast as hoped. Sheriff Knee of Dallas County said that he expected no developments on Monday, as the court in Adel was not in session. In addition, although Smith has claimed he would tell all to a grand jury, he has not appeared willing to appear before them.
Despite this set back with the grand jury, it appears we are finally getting to the heart of this conspiracy! Come back next week to see if Smith and his wife finally go before the jury!
Welcome back readers,
Today we are continuing the story of John M. Smith. They are many questions that remain from last time: What are the charges that he faces? Will he be proven innocent or guilty? Where did he get the body that he burned? Find out some of the answers to these questions and more today as we head toward the beginning of Mr. Smith’s trial!
The date is September 2, 1931, and shocking new information has come forward in the Smith case even before his court case officially begins. The newspaper that day read “Smith May Face Bigamy Charge.” According to the paper, Eauline Shaw of Chautauqua, Kansas identified Mr. Smith as the man she married on March 11, 1931. Mrs. Clayton, with whom Mrs. Shaw lives, saw a picture of Smith being fingerprinted at Garner and wrote to the sheriff expressing her suspicions. Her case was turned over to Sheriff Knee of Dallas County, and State Agent Myron Tullar (who had been on the case since it was discovered that the burned body was not Smith’s) started further investigation into the matter. Tullar went to Kansas with a more recent photo of Smith in order to confirm the identification.
According to Mrs. Clayton, the man who married Eauline Shaw used the name McJay Smith. He had arrived in town in February, and soon took an interest in Ms. Shaw. When he proposed to her, Mrs. Clayton began to ask questions. McJay Smith said that he had recently invented a “Miteless Chicken roost” and received $35,000 for the patent right. He also claimed to be a manufacturer of chicken stock food and disinfectant, and was fully capable of earning a living for a wife. The marriage was performed on March 11, two days before it was discovered back in Iowa that the burned body did not belong to John Smith. It is also said that upon his arrival in Chautauqua, McJay Smith was driving a yellow wheeled Chevrolet with a Minnesota license, which compares favorably with the car supposedly driven by John Smith on the night he met his wife near Black’s corner. Kansas officials say that no warrant had been issued for bigamy against John Smith, but a warrant had been issued for removing mortgaged property (an automobile) from the state of Kansas.
Upon positive identification, the charge of bigamy would be added to the charge of conspiracy to defraud. The defrauding charge is the one that Smith would face when he came before the grand jury later in September 1931. What will happen during this court case? Will the charge of bigamy be added? Join us next time, as John Smith and his wife, Mrs. Smith, face charges!
Good afternoon readers!
I hope that you are ready to hear more about the Smith Conspiracy, because there is much more to come! Today we are looking at the headlines from the March 21st Perry Chief. The headline for this paper is “Smith Escapes Officers and Wife.”
According to the paper, Mrs. Smith received a phone call from DeSoto at 6 p.m., in which a man identifying himself as a salesman of the Disintone company and asked her to meet him at 7 p.m. at the junction of highway 169 and 7. This intersection was more commonly known as Black’s corners, and is about 14 miles south of here. Mrs. Smith, thinking this was information concerning her husband, immediately notified local police asking for an escort. This opened an opportunity for the arrest of John Smith. Unfortunately, things were not going to go their way.
Shortly before 7 p.m. Mrs. Smith left Perry. A car driven by Deputy Sheriff McCarthy, who was accompanied by Deputy Sheriff Chase and Perry night officer Grant Herrold, followed her. Deputy Burger of Adel was also notified, and was accompanied by Dutch Baldwin, the Adel marshal. These two officers reached the point first and took up a vantage point where they could see the entire intersection. As they watched, a yellow-wheeled Chevrolet coupe arrived, but they were unaware of who was in the car. Mrs. Smith came from the north, maintaining a quarter mile ahead of McCarthy’s car. When she finally came to the intersection, the yellow-wheeled car met her. Mr. Smith was driving this car and as he approached Mrs. Smith’s car, he slowed down so that he could talk to her. Upon identifying him, Mrs. Smith yelled to the officers, and the chase began.
Smith took off, and Mrs. Smith and McCarthy turned to follow his car. Smith stopped his car just east of the end of the wide east turn, and Mrs. Smith stopped behind him. McCarthy stopped at the corner and picked up Deputy Burger, and Baldwin drove past both cars to stop in front of Mr. Smith. Noticing he was trapped, Smith again started east. McCarthy turned back in the road to head him off, and Officer Herrold got out of his car, but knocked a shotgun to the ground. As he bent to pick it up, Smith’s car blew past him, missing his head by about 8 inches and running over the gun breaking it at the stock. Because of this, McCarthy halted his car to avoid Herrold, and Smith was given the necessary room to make his escape to the north. Baldwin then got into Mrs. Smith’s car, and she started to give chase. When asked if she could drive, she replied, “I’ll drive it as fast as it will go to catch him.” Unfortunately, a driver in a passing Ford thought that the officers were chasing Mrs. Smith’s car, and so he blocked her car, causing her to go into the ditch. Mr. Smith then got away, and was still at large upon the printing of the paper.
What happens next? Do the police find and capture Smith? Find out next week, when the headline is “Smith Must Face Trial in Dallas”!
Happy Wednesday Readers!
Last week I told you all the beginnings of the Smith Conspiracy, which was a big event here in Perry in 1931. Today, we will be continuing that story, looking at the next big headline in the March 13th Perry Chief, which read “County Attorney Sackett to Ask Complete State Inquiry In Smith Case”.
The County Attorney at the time, George Sackett, formally requested that the State Department of Criminal Investigation in Des Moines inquire into the mystery of the John M. Smith Case. Now, many of you may be asking why such an inquiry was needed. Well, if you remember from last time, there was also an article in this paper titled “Body Exhumed Here Was Not That of John M. Smith Thought Killed in Accident.” This happened because of an inquiry carried out be three insurance companies: Traveler’s of Hartford, Massachusetts Mutual and Minnesota Mutual. Primarily, Mr. Smith had bought a $5000 Travelers policy in Omaha good for only 12 days, and his supposed death occurred 7 days later. There were also other details about John’s death that aroused suspicion, such as how the car had not been wrecked but merely driven off the road at an angle and then burned.
Both of these suspicions lead to the exhuming of the body at the C. D. Bemmar funeral home. Dr. D. J. Glomset and Dr. C. B. Luginbuhl performed an autopsy, along with many other doctors and dentists who attended. What they found was startling: the body that was buried there was not that of John M. Smith. There was much to back up this discovery. First, the doctors found that the body was embalmed before it had been burned. They found that the body had an incision under the right arm, arteries had been drawn and drained, and then had been tied off. In addition, they found that the dental work did not match Mr. Smith’s dental records. The doctors also examined the skull of the body for a fracture that Mr. Smith had received while living in Nebraska that they believed had left an indentation. They did not find any such marking on the skull of the body. Clearly, the body buried in the cemetery was not that of John M. Smith. So, the all-consuming question became “Where was John M. Smith?”
Further details only made the case more interesting. To start, friends of Mr. Smith presented the theory that foul play might be involved. Where the body was secured also became a mystery, and mutilation of that body was determined to be a charge placed against anyone found to have taken part in the incident. Mrs. Smith also gave a statement, saying she would not collect any of the insurance money as long as there was doubt that her husband was alive. However, it was reported that Mr. Smith had approximately $50,000 in insurance, which was all payable to either his estate or Mrs. Smith.
Many factors about the Smith Case were coming to light, and each one only brought with it more questions. What happened next? Find out next week as the story unfolds with the headline “Smith Escapes Officers and Wife”!
Happy Wednesday readers!
I have a little update for all of you before we get to today’s topic. Do you all remember the photo of Rich Saemisch presenting couples at the 1976 prom? Well, thanks to some help from Kathy Lenz, we have figured out who they are! Two people in the front closest to Rich are Janice Godwin and David Wempe, and the couple in the back are David Hanson and Lynn Paulsen. Therefore, for those of you who were wondering, now you know!
Now for today’s topic. If you look around Perry today, many of you may think that it is a quiet little town. You may think that nothing much of national importance ever happens here. However, that has not always been the case. For instance, here is one story that got Perry quite a lot of national attention: the death of a Bonnie and Clyde gang member! The year was 1933, and Perry had a hospital called the Kings Daughters Hospital. On July 24, Marvin Barrow was admitted with four wounds: One .45 caliber bullet in the shoulder, two in the hip, and one in the forehead. He was in serious condition, and near death. He received these injuries during a gunfight near Dexfield Park, an area between Dexter and Redfield. During the escape after the gunfight, the gang had to ditch their cars. Unable to continue on foot due to his injuries, Marvin had to stay behind and his wife stayed with him. Bonnie and Clyde, along with another member got away from Iowa police. On July 25th, police question Marvin about a recent murder, and he apparently responded “unconcernedly.” Many officers from around the country came on the 25th, attempting to identify him for various crimes. On the 26th, Barrow’s mother came to the hospital, and Barrow, who had slipped into a coma, awakened briefly and was able to see his mother. It was discovered from his mother that his nickname was “Buck.” Unfortunately, Marvin “Buck” Barrow was to die on July 29th at the age of 31.
As you can see, Perry has had some interesting brushes with criminals. There are also stories about a man who faked his death for insurance money, someone who owned a bank and took all the money to flee to the Bahamas, and of course the KKK march that happened here. If you wish to know more about Marvin’s story, or about any of the other interesting stories, please do not hesitate to stop by!
To a lot of us, Perry seems like a small, innocent little town. However, Perry is not quite as innocent as it seems. There was once a time when Perry was a hub for things that were far from innocent. Let me tell you of a story of one such time.
The year was 1923 and a big group of people had gathered in Perry. Most of them were dressed in white, but not everyone belonged to the same group. The first group of people were Nurses and Sisters, who had come to oppose the second group. The second group, supposedly composed of mostly men, were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Charolette Kaster, who donated a photo of the event to us, also gave us a brief history of the event, as told by her grandmother. It is as follows: “The KKK came to Perry in about 1923. In addition to motivational speakers, there were a group of "thugs" from out-of-town who had come to organize Perry and promote their organization. Some in Perry resisted, and were threatened with burning of homes and businesses if they did not participate. The first meeting was a large crowd, many of whom were curiosity seekers rather than Klan followers. There were some number of men who donned the white robes and hats/masks, whether by belief or fear, only each knows for himself. There was to be a parade of the KKK during a holiday. As they lined up, these Sisters dressed in their uniforms stood forward and blocked the street. None of the Perry men would harm the Sisters, so they disbanded. They did meet later that night, burned a cross in someone's farm field, but nothing further came of it. It was the beginning of the end for the KKK in Perry.”
There are a few other stories about the KKK and the march that they held here in Perry. One quote, which we believe is from George Soumas, talks about how his father knew who people were in the march because he could recognize their shoes. According to other photos we have in our catalog, the KKK also had a building in town that they used for meetings and parties, according to the photo. We even have a Perry Chief article about the march, which you can come and see in the database here in the Town Craft building. The most interesting thing that we have in our archives from the dealings of the KKK here in Perry, however, is an actual outfit worn by a member, complete with the hood.
As you can see, Perry is not quite the innocent town that it may appear. There are plenty of other stories about the KKK’s dealings in Perry, but you will have to go out and discover them for yourself.
Sorry for the late post this week, we are rather busy here at Hometown Heritage as of late.
However, there is something interesting that I would like to share with all of you. First, let me ask you this question: have you ever wondered if you, or someone you know, appeared in one of the Perry Newspapers? Well, all of us here at Hometown Heritage are excited to tell you that now, you can find out! We have recently installed on our public research station a database of all the Perry Newspapers that have ever existed from 1874 to 2013. Not only do we have this database, but it is also super simple to search! So now you can find out if you have ever appeared in The Perry Chief, or any of the other local publications. Or, perhaps you have wondered what was happening on this day 100 years ago? The database can do that as well! The database is a wonderful tool, and we are very lucky to have it. All of this is possible thanks to Mary Murphy and the Perry Public Library. They were the ones who put in the hard work to create this database, and then shared it with us. For this reason, we would like to extend a big thank you to Mary and the Perry Public Library!
I highly encourage anyone to come down either to Hometown Heritage in the Town Craft Building (see the below map if you do not know where we are), where we have this database on our public research computer, or to the library to have a look at the database, and conduct a search for their own name. Not only could you find something interesting in the database, but there is plenty of fun and exciting things here at Hometown Heritage as well. Plus, it gets a little lonely down here. So please, do not hesitate to come down and take a look!