Episode 25: Horace and Geneva: The Wrong Way to Fix a Marriage

Horace and Geneva’s marriage began to fall apart for all the usual reasons: money, jealousy, and neglect. Their path to reconciliation would quickly take a dark turn through rage and madness, speeding toward a terrible conclusion in the summer of 1920.

Horace and Geneva: The Wrong Way to Fix a Marriage

Living with another person is not always an easy thing.

Sharing your personal space with another human being always involves a learning process. People learn where to put things, how to organize around each other, how to divide household chores. The list is endless.

For many of us, our first experiences living with someone else – outside of our own family – is with a roommate. Personally, I only ever had one roommate. Luckily, he was a really nice guy and we got along very well. It also didn’t hurt things that he spent most of his time with his girlfriend.

With a roommate, things can be difficult at times, but people learn out of necessity. We need someone to pay a share of the rent, or maybe we don’t want to live alone in a more crime-prone part of town. Still, the situation isn’t meant to last forever. Eventually, the relationship comes to an end. You shake hands, share a few words, and then go your own separate ways.

When the relationship is something more intimate, however, things aren’t always so simple. When two people have made a decision to live together out of love, the situation is no longer a business arrangement. It’s now an entirely different animal. The couple is closer, with their feelings carefully and often messily intertwined.

This couple are serious about one another. They want to see if they can handle that day to day grind of sharing that space, of living with each other’s problems. Next, the two become engaged, and the level of the relationship’s seriousness gets cranked up another notch.

When you’re just dating, there’s always that parachute clause in the back of your head. If things ever start heading south, you can pull that ripcord and get away. Sure, it might hurt, but you’re going to survive relatively unscathed. You break up, you move on. Maybe get drunk along the way.

When you’re engaged, you and your significant other have agreed to a deeper, more long-term commitment. Sure, you always know that you can break things off and move on. But, to return to the parachute analogy, this time it’s more like pulling that cord just a little too late. You survive, but you hit the ground hard. Probably break your legs. Things suck way worse.

And then there’s marriage.

Marriage, to many people, is a sign of ultimate commitment. You’re going to be there for one another, no matter what. Whatever life throws at you, you’re going to stand firm and face it together. You’re going to make it work, no matter what comes along.

Obviously, things don’t always work out that way. Like ships on the ocean sailing through a hurricane, some marriages stay afloat, and others hit the rocks and sink. Geneva Angle knew that better than anyone in 1919.

Geneva and her husband, Horace, had gotten married in 1917. She had previously been married to a man named Theodore Johnson when she was only sixteen years old. The union bore one child, a daughter named Dorothy. After the couple had split up, Geneva retained custody of the young girl.

After their marriage, Horace and Geneva settled in Davenport, Iowa. From all appearances, the couple were happy together, and everything went very well. However, as time passed, things began to sour under the strain of day-to-day living.

The Angles’ marriage began to unravel. Like so many couples, they fought over bills. Geneva complained that Horace wouldn’t take her out anymore. She believed that he was so jealous of any other man that might even look at her that he couldn’t stand taking her out as a couple anymore. By April 1920, they agreed to separate.

Geneva took Dorothy, who was now fourteen, and moved to a small apartment on Perry Street. The two women began working as seamstresses and managed to earn a comfortable living.

The separation, as intended, allowed the pressures of their married life to calm down. Geneva and Horace began talking again. Things improved to the point that they were able to reconcile, with Geneva telling her estranged husband that she’d move back in with him on September 1, 1920. For whatever reason, Geneva was absolutely adamant on that date, and couldn’t be persuaded to change it. Horace, apparently just happy that his marriage had been seemingly saved, accepted it.

Or at least, he seemed to when he was with his wife.

Horace, now living alone, had a lot of time to think about his situation. Some people are able to sit by themselves and dwell on their problems. Eventually, they puzzle out a solution and put it into action. They face the issue, get it taken care of, and are better people for it. Horace Angle was not one of them.

During the day, he was alright. His mind was occupied by his work as an engine inspector for the Rock Island Railroad. Valves to check, gears to turn. When his job ended for the day, though, Horace couldn’t stop himself from wondering what Geneva was doing in her little apartment along Perry Street. He gave his imagination free reign, and before long it started to take him to dark places.

Alone in his apartment, Horace must have dreamed up every conceivable infidelity and indiscretion that Geneva might be committing. For him, there must have been a parade of nameless, shadowy men, all eagerly awaiting their turn to enter the dimly-lit opium den that must have been his wife’s apartment. There was nothing too lewd for this crowd, no sin not worth exploring.

It didn’t matter to him if these fantasies were actually true or not. What is important is that, to all appearances, he wanted to believe them. He chose to believe them.

Before long, his thoughts began to twist and warp. They became irrational, based only on the horrible images spawned by his imagination. In the dark recesses of his beleaguered brain, Horace puzzled and picked at the problem of his marriage until he finally came to his own bizarre conclusion. His mind made up, Horace Angle decided to murder his wife and then commit suicide.

He took his time, allowing himself to think over the problem like he would an engine issue on one of his locomotives. Horace convinced himself that everything was Geneva’s fault. He had repeatedly told her how he wanted things done, and she absolutely refused to step into the role of a dutiful wife and simply obey what he, her husband, told her to do. It was her fault that all of this had happened.

While he knew that a murder/suicide was the definitive answer to his problems, Horace was sure that there would be other people who would want to know the rationale behind his actions. He wanted them to understand, wanted to explain to them not only that he was right, but why. Sitting down one night, Horace carefully began to write out a suicide note, explaining his actions.

That part of his plan now finished, Horace went out soon after and purchased a .32 caliber revolver. Once he had the gun, though, he hesitated.

The awful truth at the center of all Horace’s problems was that he was still in love with his wife. Every fantasy, every horrible, torturous thought of her being with other men tormented him. It pained him day and night, and the hurt they caused stoked the fires of his anger.

But no matter how upset he got, he didn’t necessarily want to kill her. Surely, Horace thought to himself, those thoughts must have come to him in his darkest moments. There had to be another way.

Finally, he had a stroke of genius. Horace began to formulate a plan that he thought would get him exactly what he wanted.

At the end of July 1920, Horace went to the Davenport Police Department and told them that there was some bizarre and apparently deviant behavior happening at his wife’s apartment. He explained that there were several strange couples staying with her there. He may not have been able to furnish details, but whatever they were doing couldn’t have been good. Horace kindly suggested that it might be something worthwhile for the police to look into.

The police must have agreed. That night, a detective and an officer went to the address and began to watch the area for anything suspicious. The two men wouldn’t be disappointed.

As they watched the apartment building, they noticed a man in the area who was behaving strangely. They had come on the report that there were some odd people in the area, and it looked to the officers like they had just found one.

As they watched, the man kept moving from shadow to shadow in an obvious attempt to not be seen. The policeman probably had to stifle a laugh. The man’s attempts to move stealthily down the street were so bad as to be almost comical. Contrary to what he must have wanted, the man immediately attracted the officers undivided attention.

As they watched, they kept getting the feeling that they had seen the man somewhere before. Suddenly, it came to them: the man was none other than Horace Angle himself, the same tipster who had suggested that they go out there that night!

To satisfy his own delusions, Horace had skulked around the area that night, waiting for the police to arrest some nefarious character that only existed in his own strange fantasies. To help keep himself from begin recognized, he had even donned a fake mustache.

That was more than enough for the police. Granted, watching Horace dip and dive through the dark was funny, there wasn’t anything going on. The only person doing weird things in the neighborhood that night was Horace. With nothing more for them to do there, the officers left.

Horace was furious. How could they leave? How could they not find anything? He was so convinced that something was going on with his wife that he must have been sure the police would see something. When they did, he’d have known that he was right all along. Horace’s theories and fantasies would be completely vindicated.

His anger grew. Horace had spent so many long evenings stoking it with his delusions, adding fuel to it with his fantasies. Something was going on with Geneva. He knew something was going on. If the police weren’t going to give him satisfaction, then he would have to find it himself.

At about half past midnight, Geneva heard someone banging on her apartment door. She was immediately concerned. This wasn’t a bad neighborhood, but that didn’t always matter. She was home alone with Dorothy, and the last thing that she wanted was some lunatic knocking on her door.

Tentatively, she asked who was there. Horace, her husband identified himself through the closed door. Relieved that it was only him, Geneva unlocked the door and let him in.

Horace stomped in, obviously angry. He immediately stated shouting at her, making accusations about her and other men. In his fury, Horace turned his long-held ideas about Geneva’s infidelities into outright accusations.

Geneva was no shrinking violet. She had survived on her own just fine without Horace, and she wasn’t about to be talked to like this by anyone. Geneva hadn’t been having any affairs, no matter what Horace thought. He had no right to bully her, and she let him know it.

The argument went back and forth, their voices getting louder and their tempers burning hotter. Without warning, Horace reached into his pocket and took out the revolver that he had bought to kill his wife. He had brought it with him, and now, in his rage, he was determined to use it. He pointed it at Geneva, screaming that he was going to kill her.

Bullying and shouting was one thing, but staring down the barrel of loaded gun was another. Geneva felt ice-cold fingers of terror along her spine. She didn’t think of anything, just reacted. There wasn’t any time to process any of the madness that she had fallen into, and Geneva gave in to what her instincts were screaming at her to do. She ran into the next room of the apartment.

Horace went right after her, screaming and waving the gun as they went. Geneva ran everywhere that she could, looking for a place to hide, to escape. She saw nothing, making her even more desperate. Finally, in a split second of clarity, Geneva saw a way out.

Without hesitation, she ran at the second story window and jumped straight at the plate glass. Geneva passed through easily, feeling a momentary weightlessness before landing heavily on the street below.

Almost miraculously, she was unhurt. Geneva hadn’t even been cut by any of the glass that glittered on the concrete all around her. Still desperate to escape, she shook off her momentary shock and began running towards the nearest police station that she knew.

Breathlessly, Geneva told the police what had happened. Officers were immediately sent out to find Horace. A short time later he was in their custody and brought back to the jail. When he was searched, police found the revolver and a box of bullets in his pockets. They also discovered the suicide note that he had written earlier that year.

The following morning, police questioned both Geneva and Horace about what had happened. Unsurprisingly, they started arguing all over again. The officers were in no mood to be patient with their bickering, and forced them to control themselves.

Before long, all of the underlying issues that had been plaguing the Angle’s troubled marriage came to light. Horace said Geneva nagged him and complained about their finances. Geneva wanted to go out, but Horace was never willing to take her. And, of course, he had just tried to kill her.

But, in spite of all that had happened the night before, Geneva could not bring herself to press charges against Horace. It didn’t matter that he had just threatened to kill her. None of the other marital strife they had mattered. The only thing that mattered to her in that moment was that she still loved him.

And Horace, despite months of deluded fantasies and his murder/suicide plot, still loved her.

The police were much less touched by the couple’s newly re-kindled love. Horace Angle had just attempted to murder his wife, no matter what her feelings of good will were. There was a price to pay for breaking the law.

Ultimately, Horace was charged with carrying a concealed weapon. Later, the judge deliberately set Horace’s bond at $5000, which was far above what everyone knew he could afford. Unable to pay the price, Horace was sent back to the Scott County jail.

Jail isn’t any fun for anyone, and a few days later Horace was eager to get out. He promised his defense attorneys that he would never attack his wife again. His bail was reduced to a more affordable $300, which Horace gladly paid.

Horace and Geneva continued to love one another – for a time. Their marriage didn’t last, and the two of them went their own separate ways.

Marriage is a hard thing.

Sometimes they last, sometimes they don’t. Like so many things in life, they require a lot of work, a lot of understanding, and more than a little patience. And it never hurts to show your significant other that you love them.

However, never show your love by chasing them through a second-story window at gunpoint. It may seem like a good idea at the time, but it’s probably not. Just ask Horace.

Fancy Shoes: The Bizarre Fate of Big Nose George

When I was growing up, western movies were just starting to pass out of popularity. After decades as one of the most popular genres, cowboys just weren’t as cool as they used to be.

Thankfully, I got quite the education in the genre from my family, especially my grandfather. We would watch everyone from John Wayne and Gary Cooper to Tom Selleck and Sam Elliot play hard-bitten men who took a no-nonsense approach to life.

Of course, every great hero needs an appropriately evil villain.

Even after the anti-hero gunslingers portrayed by Clint Eastwood had started to climb into the limelight, there needed to be someone that the audience loved to hate. They had to be willing to do anything and everything that the hero was not. In addition, they needed to be just as fast and deadly, because what kind of villain doesn’t pose some kind of threat?

For years, the villain was always portrayed by a sinister-looking man wearing a black hat. That black hat became synonymous with being a bad guy. By contrast, the hero always wore the white hat, meaning that they were the good guy and the one the audience should be rooting for.

While it was so obviously clear-cut in the movies, in reality the line between good guys and bad guys could get a little blurry.

Historical events, such as the infamous shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, were often overdramatized in the movies, portraying a thin portrayal of what actually took place.

However, no matter how skewed the depictions became, Hollywood and real life usually agreed that the bad guy had to be brought to justice.

While there were some individuals that seemed to survive their outlaw days mostly unscathed, most did not. There were many  who went to prison, were shot dead by either a posse or one of their criminal contemporaries, or hung by a rope.

On the western frontier of the 19th Century, there was a high-price to be paid for breaking the law.

Of course, there always has to be a few standout individuals, those people whose story goes above and beyond anything else. These stories become legend, and are made all the stranger for being completely true.

In 1878, one of these stories was forged on the Wyoming frontier, ready and willing to take its place among one of the most gruesome and bizarre stories to ever come out of the American West.

George Parrott stood near the rail line just east of Medicine Bow, Wyoming, watching the men work under the hot August sun.

 

George “Big Nose” Parrott. Courtesy of Wikipedia

 

He glanced down the rail line, seeing it stretching into the far distance. It was a good plan, George told himself. He was confident that it would work.

George had been an outlaw for a while now, and had built quite the reputation for himself by stealing horses and robbing stagecoaches.

Well, if he was being honest, he robbed the passengers. George wasn’t picky. He took cash, jewelry, and whatever else they had to offer. Sometimes he would get an especially rich haul when there was someone heading to the frontier to get a fresh start. These people would carry their entire savings with them, and always made for a good catch.

While stagecoaches were a lucrative target, even an outlaw needs to diversify. Taking the knowledge that he had learned from stealing stagecoaches, George moved into robbing trains.

His infamy grew, and he became known among the outlaw ranks by a name that reflected his most notable facial feature: Big Nose.

That day, Big Nose and the rest of the gang that he rode with were after the pay car on a  Union Pacific train. It carried a significant amount of cash that UP’s workers had earned while doing various jobs for the company. Big Nose George and the other outlaws were determined to take that money for themselves.

In order to perform a successful robbery, they would need to get on the payroll car. That meant that the robbers would either have to board the train while it was still moving or make the train stop. Big Nose the other six robbers decided that the best and easiest way to get what they wanted was to derail the train.

One of the men digging out the spike gave out a small cry of victory as it popped loose from where it had been driven.

The rails were held in place by large spikes driven into timbers laid underneath them. If one of these spikes were taken out in just the right place, then the rail would pop up. The deformation of the track would be enough to derail the train and leave it vulnerable.

The rail came up a little from where the gang had removed the spike, just like they had wanted. It wasn’t much, George thought, but it wouldn’t take much. After a few more moments of looking, he decided that it would work just fine.

George and the others nodded their approval.

Removing some telegraph wire, the outlaws started on the second part of the plan. One of them started to wrap the wire around the spike, making sure to secure it tightly when he had put enough on. He then walked over to the hole and pushed the spike back in far enough that the rail returned to its normal position.

The man started to walk back toward some sagebrush, unspooling the wire as he went.

The plan was simple: when the train was close enough, they would pull the wire and yank the spike out of place. The rail would then pop up and derail the train. If they just left the track the way it was, then the train engineer might be able to see that there was something wrong with the track and be able to stop the train before it hit their trap.

By doing it this way, they could pull the spike loose and deform the rail before the train crew could react in time to stop. It was a good plan – in theory. So far, everything was going well, but there was one last thing to do.

George yelled at the man with the wire, telling him to give the spike a good, hard pull. All of this work and trouble would be for nothing if the spike didn’t pop loose.

For a tense second, they all watched the rail as the outlaw gave a hard yank on the line. To their immense relief, the spike popped loose of the hole and the rail came up, just as they had hoped it would. Smiling, the gang reset their trap, then hid themselves as best they could nearby.

After what must have seemed like hours, the gang finally heard the distinct rumble of the train as it made its way tirelessly toward its destination.

It was time. In just a few more moments, the train would be there.

The man manning the wire knew this, too. With a sharp yank, he pulled the spike free. Just as it had before, the rail popped up. Everything was set.

A few more moments passed, and the train still hadn’t come into view. Something was wrong.

Before too long, a group of railroad workers came into view. They were a section crew, whose job it was to repair bad places in the track.

What was this? They were waiting for a train, not a section crew. What was worse is that they had seen the section of track that the outlaws had dislodged, and had begun to repair it.

One of the railroad men, apparently the foreman, told the others to keep working. He told them that he would ride back and tell the train that there was a section of bad track. With that, he rode away at a slow gallop.

Inwardly, the outlaws all cringed. They knew that their plan had failed.

One of them, Frank McKinney, wasn’t about to be deterred. He was here for a big payday, and was going to get it, one way or the other. Quietly, he reached to draw his revolver.

Big Nose George and another of the outlaws, Frank Tole, stopped him. George told him in no uncertain terms that he had come there to rob a train, not to kill a bunch of section crew men just doing their job.

McKinney stared at George for a tense moment, then took his hand off his gun.

The robbers watched silently as the railroad workers repaired the track, then went away. Shortly after, the train rolled past, gliding easily down the newly repaired track, taking their payday with them.

After making sure that all the repair men and the train were long gone, the outlaws left.

Somehow, word reached the local sheriff that Big Nose George and his compatriots were in the area, and had planned to derail the train that day.

A Carbon County Sheriff’s Deputy named Robert Widdowfield, along with Henry Vincent, a Union Pacific Railroad detective, went to where the track was repaired and found a clear trail made by the would-be robbers.

The two law enforcement officials tracked the robbers nearly 25 miles southwest to a place called Rattlesnake Canyon, where they had set up camp. The outlaws saw Widdowfield and Vincent coming, and, taking no chances, murdered them.

Now Big Nose and his fellows were wanted not only for robbery, but also for the murder of two lawmen. Knowing that they couldn’t stay in the area, the men split up, going their own way.

When the bodies of Widdowfield and Vincent were discovered a short time later, both the local populace and county authorities were furious. A $10,000 reward for their murderers was posted almost immediately.

The following January, one of the outlaws, Dutch “Charley” Burris, was arrested in Laramie, Wyoming. Taken into custody, authorities escorted him by train back to Carbon County in order to stand trail. He never would.

While at a train stop in the town of Carbon, a lynch mob forced Burris from the train and hanged him from a telegraph pole. After, the mob cut him down and buried him in an unmarked grave.

It was grim foreshadowing of events to come.

In July 1880, a telegram was sent to James Rankin, the sheriff of Carbon County. It stated that a man in a Montana bar was heard bragging about killing Robert Widdowfield and Henry Vincent after a failed train heist. It might have seemed like a sketchy lead, but at the time it was all he had. Rankin left soon after to investigate the claim.

It turned out that the braggart was none other than Big Nose George himself. Rankin arrested George and together, they boarded a train back to Wyoming. This train made the same scheduled stop in Carbon, just like the one carrying Dutch Burris had.

Once again, the mob was waiting.

Boarding the train, they carried George off to a telegraph pole, where a noose was put around his neck.

George pled for his life, promising to make a full confession if they’d only cut him down and let him go the rest of the way to Carbon County. Surprisingly, the mob had mercy and returned the terrified outlaw to Sheriff Rawlins.

The legal proceedings against George began on September 13, 1880. Initially pleading Guilty to the charges against him, he then changed his mind and pled Not Guilty.

By mid-November, he had flipped one last time, once again pleading guilty. Big Nose George was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to hang on April 2, 1881.

In March, Big Nose apparently decided that he didn’t want to die after all. Using a pocket knife, George was able to cut through the rivets that held his leg shackles together and get free. He then used them to hit his jailer in the head and ran for the door.

Big Nose’s luck had finally run out.

The jailer’s wife realized what was happening and slammed the outside door to the jail shut before George could reach freedom. She then fired a revolver into the air to alert others that there was trouble at the jail.

Several local men came running, re-capturing George and tying him up. The group of men decided that justice had waited long enough, and it was time for Big Nose George to die.

Taking him to a telegraph pole, they stood him on an empty kerosene barrel with a noose around his neck. Nearly two-hundred people watched as they kicked the barrel out from underneath him, causing George to drop sharply toward the ground.

As he did, the rope snapped. The outlaw was alive, but hurt badly. Pain seared through his neck and body, and George begged the mob to shoot him.

His cry fell on deaf ears. Big Nose George was a convicted murderer sentenced to hang, and they were going to make sure that it happened.

Unfortunately for Big Nose, no one in the mob was a skilled hangman. Like many people, they probably thought that it was fairly straightforward to kill a man by hanging. They didn’t know that there was actually a lot of thought and hard science that went into an official hanging that ensured that death came swiftly and relatively painlessly for the victim.

It took two more attempts to actually hang George, one of which actually tore his ears off. On the final try, the rope didn’t break George’s neck, and the outlaw spent his last moments of life slowly strangling to death while the crowd watched.

George’s body was left hanging for the next several hours until the local undertaker finally cut him down.

When no one came forward to claim George’s body, a local doctor named John Osborne, along with Thomas Maghee, a physician for the Union Pacific Railroad, stepped forward and claimed him.

They told authorities that they wanted to use it for medical study, checking George’s brain for any abnormalities that may have caused his criminal behaviors. Officials saw nothing wrong with this, and gladly remanded George’s remains to their custody.

Together, the two doctors set about performing a crude autopsy of George’s corpse. Assisting them was a 15-year-old named Lilian Heath, a protegee’ of Dr. Maghee who had an avid interest in both science and medicine.

 

Dr. John Osborne

 

The doctors carefully sawed the top of George’s skull off, taking care not to damage the brain. Once the skull cap had been removed, the brain was taken out and carefully examined.

To their disappointment, Osborne and Maghee saw no abnormalities, the brain tissue looking just like everyone else’s.

To commemorate their endeavors, Maghee gave the skull cap to Heath as a kind of grisly souvenir.

At that point, Maghee’s and Heath’s interest seems to have ended. Osborne’s plans, however, were just beginning.

Using plaster of paris, Dr. Osborne carefully took a death mask of the notorious outlaw. Once that was finished, he carefully cut all the skin from George’s thighs and chest. Packing the skin carefully, he sent it off to a tannery in Denver, Colorado.

In a letter, Dr. Osborne instructed the tanner to use the skin to make him a medicine bag and a pair of shoes. The tanner complied, and a short time later, the doctor received a pair of dress shoes and his medicine bag, both clad at least partially in human skin.

The rest of George’s body and bones were buried in a whiskey barrel and forgotten.

Osborne would soon take an interest in politics, and eventually became the governor of Wyoming. At his inauguration on January 2, 1893, he made sure to wear his prized shoes made from the skin of Big Nose George.

The shoes and George’s death mask were eventually put on display in a glass case at the Rawlins National Bank in Rawlins, Wyoming.

In 1950, workers doing some excavating discovered a buried whiskey barrel. Looking inside, they found human remains, including a skull with the top removed. Suffice it to say, the gruesome discovery drew quite the crowd.

As authorities worked to identify the remains, someone remembered the story of Big Nose George. Could it be his long-lost and forgotten remains? It was theorized that, if someone knew where the skull cap was, than perhaps it would fit on the topless skull.

The last known person to have the skull cap was Lillian Heath, and authorities immediately looked her up. As it turned out, Heath was still alive and well in her eighties. She had gone on to become Dr. Lillian Heath, the first female doctor in Wyoming history.

She had kept the skull cap all that time, given to her by Dr. Mahgee and Dr. Osborne as a kind of grisly souvenir. She had put it to practical use, utilizing it as both a door stop and an ashtray at different times. When asked, Heath was glad to lend it to authorities.

Heath’s husband went to Rawlins with the skull cap, and it was placed on top of the skull. The two pieces fit perfectly. The remains definitely belonged to Big Nose George.

Today, the skull cap is kept at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The other half of the skull, along with the death mask and shoes, are on display at the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins, Wyoming.

 

Big Nose George’s death mask and the shoes made from his skin on display at the Rawlins National Bank in Rawlins, Wyoming.

 

And the medicine bag that John Osborne had made? No one knows.

There’s a good chance that it’s still out there in the world somewhere. Maybe it’s gathering dust in someone’s attic, or on a shelf in the storage collection of a museum.

Or, perhaps its been traveling around all this time. Perhaps one person used it as a luggage bag for short trips where they didn’t need to pack much. Maybe another person gave it to their kids to put their toys in, or play dress up, completely ignorant of it’s gruesome past.

So next time you’re at a yard sale or a resale shop, keep an extra close eye on what you’re buying. If you’re not careful, you might just be purchasing a literal piece of Old West history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weiser, Kathy. Big Nose Becomes A Pair of Shoes. http://www.legendsofamerica.com

Van Pelt, Lori. Big Nose George: A Grisly Frontier Tale. Wyoming History, www.wyohistory.org, 11/15/2014

Episode 54: Fancy Shoes: The Bizarre Story of Big Nose George

Stories of the American West have captivated generations of people. But beyond the tales of cowboy shootouts and outlaw exploits lies the bizarre story of Big Nose George, a notorious outlaw whose name became linked to a very special pair of shoes.

 

Sources

Weiser, Kathy. Big Nose Becomes A Pair of Shoes. http://www.legendsofamerica.com

Van Pelt, Lori. Big Nose George: A Grisly Frontier Tale. Wyoming History, www.wyohistory.org, 11/15/2014

The Insane Doctor: Medicine, Drugs, and Murder in Small-Town Iowa

By 1930, 68-year-old George W. Appleby had practiced medicine for forty-years in the small town of Bristow, Iowa. In many ways, he was exactly what you’d expect – a white-haired elderly man who seemed to genuinely care about his patients and treated their various ailments with a healthy mixture of sage wisdom and medical knowledge.

George Wilder Appleby
Dr. George Wilder Appleby (Courtesy of Mike Appleby, via Find-A-Grave.com)

It probably came as quite a shock to them when federal agents arrested Appleby for trafficking narcotics. The man who was loved and trusted by so many was suddenly at the heart of a national drug smuggling investigation that had been tracking him for several months prior to the arrest.

According to H.G. Higbee, the federal agent in charge of the investigation, the almost-stereotypical small-town doctor had, since the middle of 1929, become one of the biggest narcotics buyers of narcotics, in his capacity as a doctor, in the entire Midwest. Obviously, law enforcement officials were very curious as to why a doctor in such a small Iowa town needed more medication than some physicians in Chicago, Cincinnati, and St. Louis required for their much larger practices.

Agents soon discovered that Appleby was selling the drugs to whoever asked for them. One man, Elwin Walsten, was arrested as he was coming out of Appleby’s office on January 30, 1930. As the officers approached him, they saw Elwin drop a pill bottle into a nearby snow bank. When they recovered it, they discovered that it contained 100 morphine tablets.

Later the same day, Elwin’s wife, Gladys, was arrested at Appleby’s house. When the officers came in, they discovered her lying in bed, pretending to be sick.

The couple had come to Bristow at the end of 1929. Publicly, they sold novelties to earn a living, namely Christmas cards. In private, the Walsten’s were long-time drug addicts. Somehow, they found their way to Dr. Appleby.

While he was supplying locally, two men, Billy Fisher and F.B. Toal, said that they had received drug shipments from Appleby all across the state. Fisher even claimed to have gotten parcels from the doctor at various points across the county by mail.

When confronted, Appleby quickly confessed to the crime. When he was questioned about why he had masterminded a large narcotics ring, he gave a surprising answer. He stated that his recently deceased wife, Nellie, had been an addict when she was young. Because of that, he felt sorry for other addicts like she had been.

Appleby, true to his reputation, was cooperative and kindly, offering little resistance to authorities. He waived his right to receive a preliminary hearing, paid a $1000 bond, and went home to await his trial.

News of the drug ring arrests didn’t take long to circulate in newspapers around the state. Most small-town doctors pushing seventy-years-old were thinking about playing with their grandchildren or retirement, not starting a national drug ring. People were eager to find out more about Dr. G.W. Appleby.

Always ready to hit a hot story and sell more papers, newspapermen began to look deeper into his past. For a good majority of it, he had lived a quiet life with his wife, happily tending to the medical needs of Bristow and the surrounding area.

It was far from newsworthy. Still, you can’t keep good reporters down for long. Finally, they found something.

Most people have some kind of skeleton in their closet. The reporters so eager to dig up dirt on the drug-dealing doctor were probably expecting to find something more along those lines, like getting a hefty fine for prescribing too much drug medication. What they found was far worse.

To their utter astonishment, the kindly, hometown doctor was a murderer.

George Wilder Appleby was born in 1861 in Stockton, Illinois. After earning his medical degree and getting married, Appleby and his wife moved to Bristow, Iowa in 1890. The couple were quickly welcomed into the town.

He treated nearly everyone with gentle kindness, regardless of their background. He delivered babies, did consultations, and helped cure sickness to the very best of his ability. His wife, Nellie, was a religious woman, and quickly became active in the local church.

Things continued very well for the Appleby’s for several years and they seemed to be comfortable in their lives.

However, doctor’s sometimes shoulder heavy burdens.

People come to them, looking for deep answers. The very nature of their profession requires them to regularly handle life-and-death situations. Their patients want them to be miracle workers, able to cure every ailment and mend every wound.

But doctors are just people. No matter how skilled or knowledgeable they may be, they’re only human. It’s their job to stay cool, calm, and collected, all the while telling someone that the person they love most in the world is about to die.

This happens again and again over the course of years. The answers you give have little margin for error. You have to get things right. People are relying on you to save the day.

The stress builds. Like so many other stressful jobs in the world, some are able to find positive outlets to cope. Others find negative ones, like alcohol, or drugs. No matter whichever road they choose, sometimes they aren’t able to get rid of all the stress, and it just continues to build inside them.

Cracks begin to form, warning of a potentially dangerous situation where something has got to, finally, break loose.

Sometime in 1899, Appleby called a fellow doctor and friend, a man named Hobson, for a consultation.

While he was there, Hobson could see the tell-tale signs of being overstressed in his friend. He was well aware of the toll the job could take on a doctor. Appleby was a reliable doctor who treated not only the town that he lived in, but all of the farmers and their families for some distance around. That kind of work can take a toll on a person, and Hobson became concerned that his old partner was overworked.

Dr. Hobson suggested that Appleby take some time off. He could come and work in Hobson’s own practice in Hampton, Iowa. It would still allow him to work, but also to get away from his daily stresses and responsibilities. Appleby gratefully accepted.

By January of 1900, Appleby was one of at least three physicians working at Hobson’s office in Hampton. The three seemed to get along well together, and there were no worries about Appleby’s ability as a doctor.

On January 10, Henry Marty and his wife came in with their 10-month old son. The infant boy was only a little sick, some minor illness that children get that would pass quickly. Still, the concerned parents wanted a doctor to examine her, just to make sure that she was alright.

Dr. Hobson understood. It was part of his job to ease the fears of his patients, and if a quick examination of Baby Wearly would make her parents feel better, than a quick exam wouldn’t hurt anything.

As he was about to go in to see him, one of his office staff approached him. Someone had just contacted them, and Hobson was needed at their home.

In 1900, house calls were an everyday part of the medical profession, especially in more rural areas. A doctor never knew what exactly they would be responding to, so there was no way to know how long they would be gone.

Still, it wouldn’t be right to simply ignore the Marty’s. Luckily, he had another doctor that was available.

Hobson went and found Appleby and explained the situation to him, asking if he would take care of Baby Marty. Appleby readily agreed, and Hobson left to see his bed-ridden patient.

Dr. Appleby went straight to the examining room where the Marty’s waited.

When the worried parents saw the doctor, they must have felt some relief. Here was the person who could ease their concerns and help their little boy.

Without a word, Appleby crossed the room and roughly grabbed the baby from his parents. Henry and his wife immediately protested Appleby’s treatment, probably asking what he was doing. They probably also told him not to treat their baby like that.

Appleby ignored them, laying Baby Marty on the examination table.

Without warning, the doctor grabbed the poor babe’s head in both hands, hooking his thumbs under his chin and clamping his fingertips firmly on the top of his skull. Then, mercilessly, Dr. Appleby began to squeeze.

His head and face were smashed under his pitiless grip, blood pouring from his mouth and nose.

Then, lightning fast, Appleby tore his hands away and grabbed the baby’s ankles, wrenching him off the table and into the air with a sickening jerk.

The parents fought desperately to get their daughter away from the murderous doctor, but to no avail. No matter how hard they tried, the Marty’s could not free their child. As they clutched and grabbed and clawed, the insane doctor began to twirl the child over his head.

Screaming, Mrs. Marty ran to get help while Henry fought on.

A few moments later, one of the office staff ran into the room, joining Henry in wrestling the baby away from Appleby. But even their combined might was no match for the insane Appleby, who continued swinging the infant. Then, another physician, Dr. Rich, ran into the room, joining the struggle. Together, the three of them were finally able to wrest the child away from Appleby.

Rich immediately went to treat the injured baby. His well-trained physicians mind must have already realized that they were too late. Baby Marty was dead.

But Dr. Rich wouldn’t give up. Despite what was obvious to him, Rich still poured a stimulant liquid onto a spoon and prepared to give it to him.

As he reached his hand forward to the still babe, Appleby knocked the spoon from Rich’s hand. Staring at his fellow physician, Appleby, his eyes filled with madness, said that Jesus had instructed man to “Suffer little children to come unto me.” He told Rich that she was dead anyway.

The authorities were called immediately and the insane Appleby arrested.

A few hours after his outburst, Appleby seemed to have calmed down a great deal. When asked why he had killed the baby, the doctor replied that he was aware of everything that he was doing at the time, but he couldn’t stop himself.

Given his behavior, it was probably no surprise to anyone that officials at the mental hospital at Independence, Iowa, were sent for. They came and collected Appleby, taking him back to Independence, where he was promptly committed.

independence iowa mental hospital
Iowa State Hospital for the Insane, Independence, Iowa. (Courtesy Google Images)

In the aftermath, life went on. The Marty’s buried their daughter and mourned. The Appleby family, meanwhile, probably remained apprehensive about the condition of their beloved husband and father.

The citizens of Bristow and Butler County probably wondered what had happened. What had caused a gentle doctor, loving family man, and upstanding member of his community to suddenly commit such a heinous act?

The experts at the mental hospital stated that it was likely that the stress and hardship of managing a large medical practice like his had initially caused his physical health to decline, and then eventually began to degrade his mental health.

Appleby was treated at the hospital for the next four months. According to the doctors there, he made significant strides toward recuperation and rehabilitation. The hospital felt that his mind had been rebalanced. Appleby had exhibited no symptoms of the madness that had caused him to commit his horrible crime.

In their expert opinion, Dr. George Appleby was cured. He was released under his own recognizance and returned home to his family.

In general, the people in the region welcomed him happily. They had known him to be a kind and gentle man for several years, and they apparently had faith in the mental hospital to have returned his temporarily unhinged mind to a state of balance.

Not surprisingly, Appleby didn’t bring up the events of January 1900, probably not wanting to talk about what he had done. Appleby would say, however, that the mental hospital at Independence had completely cured him. Whatever they had done, it was exactly what he had needed to return to normal.

He began to practice medicine again, and he and his wife returned to their church. They raised their children and remained active in various aspects of town life. No charges were ever brought against Dr. Appleby in the death of Baby Marty.

Life continued quietly for the Appleby’s for the next several years. If anyone made any mention of the events of 1900, they did so either privately or in hushed whispers.

In 1929, Nellie died, and Appleby began his drug ring.

Bailed out of jail by relatives, Appleby settled in to await his trial. During that time, he continued to live out the life he always had. He delivered babies, visited family members in Ames, Iowa, and even took one patient to the hospital in Iowa City to receive an operation.

On June 12, 1930, Appleby was charged with the illegal sale of narcotics. However, he didn’t go to prison, and was allowed to continue living free. He continued to actively practice medicine until 1933, when he retired.

In 1943, George Wilder died of a heart attack ten years later at the age of 82.

Was it a mental breakdown brought on by stress that caused Dr. G.W. Appleby to murder a helpless child in 1900? Or was it something deeper that was always there, lurking beneath the surface?

Ultimately, we’ll probably never know.

The frontiers of the human mind are still a mystery. Contemporary scientists, doctors, and psychologists continually further into the field, pioneers pushing the boundary of what is known and understood just a little further.

Their explorations are no doubt filled with excitement and wonder at the things they are able to find. But, in the darkness just beyond their reach and understanding, there are still strange and terrible things that will fill us not with fascination, but with terror.

 

Sources

‘Mad Deed of A Doctor.’ The Courier, 1/10/1900

‘Dr. Appleby’s Crime.’ The Evening Times-Republican, 1/10/1900

‘Insane Doctor’s Crime.’ The Des Moines Register, 1/10/1900

Doctor’s Awful Act. The Davenport Democrat, 1/10/1900

‘Shocking Deed.’ The Davenport Weekly Reader, 1/12/1900

‘May Charge Murder.’ The Courier, 3/09/1900

‘Appleby’s Condition.’ The Courier, 3/16/1900

The Greene Recorder, 5/8/1912

‘Mrs. G.W. Appleby at Bristow Passes Away.’ The Greene Recorder, 4/10/1929

‘Mrs. Appleby Dies at Bristow Today.’ The Courier, 4/6/1929

‘Widespread Dope Ring Broken by Doctor’s Arrest.’ The Courier, 1/31/1930

‘’Dope’ Doctor Is One Who Killed Babe At Hampton.’ The Courier, 2/1/1930

‘Physician Free on Bonds Pending Trial on Narcotic Charge.’ The Mason City Globe-Gazette, 2/1/1930

Bristow Doctor is Held to Jury. Des Moines Register, 2/1/1930

‘Two Girls Born.’ The Mason City Globe-Gazette, 3/14/1930

’10 Indicted by Federal Jury.’ The Mason City Globe-Gazette, 6/12/1930

‘Submits to Operation.’ The Mason City Globe-Gazette, 9/1/1930

‘Dr. G.W. Appleby.’ The Courier, 1/22/1943

 

 

 

Episode 53: The Insane Doctor: Medicine, Drugs, and Murder in a Small-Town

Dr. George Appleby was everything a small-town doctor should be: polite, gentle, and caring. But under the surface seethed hidden secret that would burst forth one dark day in 1900.

 

Sources

‘Mad Deed of A Doctor.’ The Courier, 1/10/1900

‘Dr. Appleby’s Crime.’ The Evening Times-Republican, 1/10/1900

‘Insane Doctor’s Crime.’ The Des Moines Register, 1/10/1900

Doctor’s Awful Act. The Davenport Democrat, 1/10/1900

‘Shocking Deed.’ The Davenport Weekly Reader, 1/12/1900

‘May Charge Murder.’ The Courier, 3/09/1900

‘Appleby’s Condition.’ The Courier, 3/16/1900

The Greene Recorder, 5/8/1912

‘Mrs. G.W. Appleby at Bristow Passes Away.’ The Greene Recorder, 4/10/1929

‘Mrs. Appleby Dies at Bristow Today.’ The Courier, 4/6/1929

‘Widespread Dope Ring Broken by Doctor’s Arrest.’ The Courier, 1/31/1930

‘’Dope’ Doctor Is One Who Killed Babe At Hampton.’ The Courier, 2/1/1930

‘Physician Free on Bonds Pending Trial on Narcotic Charge.’ The Mason City Globe-Gazette, 2/1/1930

Bristow Doctor is Held to Jury. Des Moines Register, 2/1/1930

‘Two Girls Born.’ The Mason City Globe-Gazette, 3/14/1930

’10 Indicted by Federal Jury.’ The Mason City Globe-Gazette, 6/12/1930

‘Submits to Operation.’ The Mason City Globe-Gazette, 9/1/1930

‘Dr. G.W. Appleby.’ The Courier, 1/22/1943

 

Pretty Things and A Good Right Hook

In 1922, Myrtle Belden was a rural mail carrier around Yorkville, Illinois. A single woman in her late twenties, she cared about her position and, seemingly, did a good job.

For whatever reason, the cashier of the Farmer’s State Bank in Yorkville, a man named Clarence Beecher, had allegedly been saying some bad things about her. Myrtle, described as a ‘robust’ woman, took grand exception to these remarks.

On April 6, she had enough and confronted Beecher outside of the bank. Their conversation quickly turned into a full-fledged fist fight. Unfortunately for Beecher, Myrtle was much more “robust” than him, outweighing him by nearly fifty pounds and completely outclassed him as a fighter.

For the next few minutes, Myrtle proceeded to beat Beecher up one side and down the other, culminating with her knocking him through the large window in the front of the bank. Satisfied that he had learned his lesson, she left.

Myrtle spent the next several hours making sure her deliveries were made on time, while Beecher was busy telling everyone that he and Myrtle were just having a little sparring match, and he hadn’t really just gotten his ass kicked by the mail lady.

Myrtle wasn’t looking for trouble. She was just a hard-working young woman trying to make a living. But she was also powerful, confident. When trouble came her way, she took care of it.

Throughout the 19th and through much of the 20th Centuries, women were often thought of as demure creatures that needed to be sheltered and protected. They could be strong and confident, just as long as they did so within their sphere of influence. This was a term used to classify tasks and jobs as male and female appropriate, with men earning the paycheck and protecting the family, while women raised the children and took care of the home.

These societal norms allowed this idea to seep into the collective social consciousness of the nation, lending support to the notion that a woman is helpless in the face of an attacker, and that they’ll have to depend on a man to fight for them.

A man was there as protector, a strong defensive presence that fought for the home while the woman nurtured it. Like an old Hollywood movie, if a woman ever got into trouble, a strapping, handsome, manly man would stride out and take care of the bad guy.

In reality, just like today, women didn’t always have a man around to protect them from the bad people of the world. Sometimes they were unmarried or there weren’t any men around to help. They had to rely on themselves if any trouble came their way.

Some women, like Myrtle Belden, had no trouble with that whatsoever.

   It was just a few days after Christmas when a man walked into Alexander McBain’s grocery store wearing a mask and carrying a revolver. Pointing the gun at McBain, he demanded that the store owner give him all of the money he had.

McBain had opened his store in Moline, Illinois in about 1907. He had been successful, and had been able to support his wife and children off the money that he made there. Standing behind the counter, McBain looked at the gun leveled at him and decided to comply with the robber’s demands.

Quickly, yet carefully, he gathered up the $50 that he had made that day. As he started to hand it over, the robber snatched it out of his hand and began to walk toward the door, keeping his gun trained on the grocer.

As he was about to leave, the door to the store suddenly opened and a man named Louis Snodgrass walked in.

Moving fast, the robber swung his gun around and jammed it into Louis’ ribs, making him gasp. The robber demanded Louis turn around and face away from him. Louis complied.

Almost leisurely, the robber walked out the door and down the street. McBain checked on Snodgrass and then called the police.

The police interviewed the two men, taking down the robber’s description. Other officers performed a thorough search of the surrounding neighborhood, but couldn’t find their suspect.

They were positive that this hadn’t been the first time the robber had struck, and were positive that just a few nights before, the robber had already tried to rob someone else.

   Hazel Anderson was walking home alone on the night of December 26, 1920. It had been cold that month, jumping back and forth over the zero-degree mark.

Just after 10 p.m. on Sunday evening, she was walking toward her home through a residential neighborhood in Moline, Illinois. Hazel’s footsteps thudded rhythmically as she made her way along through the dark streets, echoing faintly off the silent houses.

The late hour and the quiet winter night might have been enough to unnerve anyone, but Hazel had been born and raised in the city. She knew the area she was in, and wasn’t worried about having any trouble. Not only that, Hazel had done this countless times before and  had been just fine.

As she walked along, bundled up warmly against the cold night, Hazel was a little surprised when a man walked up to her. People lived in this area, so it wasn’t necessarily unusual to see someone, so she probably didn’t think too much of it.

Still, she was alone and potentially vulnerable. Hazel felt herself stiffen a little bit. The guy was probably just like her and heading home. Still, she didn’t know him, and you just never knew, did you?

Instead of passing by her, he stopped in front of her, staring hard.

“Give me your purse!” he demanded.

Hazel stared just as hard back at him. She had just worked a full shift in the offices of the Deere Harvester Company. She was tired and her feet hurt. She may not have much money, but what she did have, she had earned every cent of. Not only that, it was just too damn cold for this nonsense.

“No,” she said flatly.

The would-be robber, was not expecting this. A young girl alone on the streets was supposed to do exactly what he said. She was supposed to shake and cry, then do exactly as she was told. Well, at least that’s how it had all worked out in his imagination a few moments before.

A little irritated now, he demanded the purse again. Hazel gave the same answer.

“No.”

That made the man angry. It’s really, really cold, and he just wants to get this done. Didn’t this girl know how this was supposed to work? What was the matter with her? If she didn’t know, then he was going to have to teach her.

The robber reached into his pocket and took out a pistol with one hand, and grabbed Hazel’s arm with the other. Putting the muzzle of the gun in her face, he commanded her to give up her money.

Although she was a little more anxious now, Hazel again refused. There was no way she was going to give into this clown.

Tightening her grip on the purse, Hazel began shouting for help as loudly as she could. Her screams pierced the still night like tiny explosions as she began to struggle to free herself from the robber.

Making her free hand into a tight fist, Hazel began to punch the robber in the face and head as hard as she could. He raised his gun arm and tried his best to ward off her onslaught. As he did, Hazel felt his grip on her arm loosen and she was able to break away.

Without thinking, she ran onto the porch of the nearest house she saw. The robber ran after her, quickly catching up. Immediately Hazel started to struggle again, grabbing onto her purse with both hands as the he tried his best to pry it away.

Inside the house, Minnie Brown had heard the commotion. She had heard Hazel calling for help, and could hear her struggling with her attacker. She wanted to help, but she wasn’t a prize fighter, and she wasn’t about to take any chances.

Quickly as she could, she took out a revolver that was in the house, then went out to the front porch where all the noise was coming from.

There, she saw Hazel struggling with the robber for possession of the purse. Minnie didn’t hesitate. She immediately pointed the revolver at the robber and told him to move out of the way or she would shoot.

By this point, the robber had to be frustrated. Nothing had gone according to his plan.

As if the girl with the purse wasn’t bad enough, now there was this strange woman with a gun pointed at him, threatening to shoot him if he didn’t let go! Didn’t they know that he was the robber? They should be doing what they were told, not holding him at gunpoint!

No, now it was his turn to be defiant. He’d show them. This lady wouldn’t shoot him. She didn’t have the nerve.

That’s when Minnie Brown pulled the trigger.

While Minnie didn’t want to take the chance of hitting Hazel, she didn’t really want to shoot the robber, either. She just wanted to scare the man off, not kill him. So, instead of aiming, Minnie just fired in his general direction without taking aim.

The robber must have just about had a heart attack when the revolver roared, the muzzle flash searing his vision. As if this night couldn’t have gotten any worse! The younger woman had been bad enough, but now he had another woman shooting at him.

The robber let go of Hazel and ran off the porch, ducking his head a little and hunching his shoulders in an effort to not get shot. Suddenly he turned, raised his own pistol, and fired back at the house.

Like Minnie, he wasn’t necessarily aiming his shots. He just wanted to get away now, far away from these awful women. Enough was enough. Let them keep the purse. The woman had missed him, and he wasn’t going to give her enough time to correct that.

The robber ran out into the street, keeping to the ruts carved into the snow by passing cars. As Minnie and Hazel watched, the man was joined by a second, larger man about a block away. Together, the two men ran off into the night.

Going inside, Hazel and Minnie called the police. About five minutes later, two patrolmen were at the house. Despite a thorough search of the neighborhood, they didn’t catch the robbers. But Hazel had her money, and had probably taught the robber a hard lesson that he likely wouldn’t forget any time soon.

   A few nights later, another young woman, Helen Depue, was walking home from her job at the Moline Plow Company. She worked there as a clerk, and was no doubt just wanting to get home. About a block away from her family home on 6th Ave, she noticed a man in a long overcoat and cap walking in her direction.

Like Hazel Anderson, Helen was no doubt familiar with the neighborhood. She lived there, and felt safe there. While it wouldn’t have been unusual to see an unfamiliar man around, it was still something to take notice of.

Helen didn’t recognize him, she was alone, and she had to walk right past him to get home.

As their paths crossed underneath a bright street lamp, her heart jumped in her chest a little as the man stopped and demanded Helen to give him her purse. Helen’s attitude flipped like a switch.

Where she had been quietly cautious and observant before, she now bristled with anger. The pent-up tension that she must have felt as she and this stranger approached each other on a mostly dark street suddenly found release.

“NO!” Helen screamed at the robber.

At the same time, her grip tightened on the bundle of shoes she was carrying as she swung them in an arc toward the man’s head.

The blow hit the robber hard, knocking him off-balance. He staggered, but quickly found his footing. But the blow had been enough. Turning, he ran off into the night, shoes slapping against the frozen pavement.

Helen didn’t waste any time, either. She went straight home and told her family about what had happened. They immediately called the police. By the time the authorities arrived, however, the robber was long gone.

Neither of the robbers were ever caught, nor was the apparent accomplice that had met up with Hazel Anderson’s attacker. While authorities at the time thought that Hazel Anderson’s attacker was responsible for the grocery store robbery, they concluded that the attack on Depue wasn’t connected at all.

   The men who had attacked Hazel Anderson and Helen Depue had obviously thought they were going to get their way. These young women were simply going to comply with their demands and give them what they wanted.

They were wrong.

The women they had attacked were neither weak, nor helpless. They may have been caught in a vulnerable moment, but they were more than equal to the challenge of the situation that they had found themselves in.

These women were all the dashing heroines of their own story. They may have liked flowers and pretty things, but they also packed a devastating right hook.

 

Sources

Girl and Woman Rout Bandit in Daring Battle. The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 12/27/20

Brave Women Frustrate Plan of Holdup Man. The Rock Island Argus, 12/27/1920

Gets $50 In Holdup of a Moline Store. The Daily Times, 12/28/1920

Girl Fights Off Thief on Moline Street. The Daily Times, 12/29/1920

Alexander McBain, Moline Grocer for 25 Years, Is Dead. The Dispatch, 4/11/1932

US Census Records

US Immigration Records

1921 City Directory, Moline, Illinois,

Episode 52: Pretty Things and a Good Right Hook

In many true crime tales, women are all too often the unfortunate victims. In the 1920’s, Hazel Anderson and Helen Depue turned the tables and showed just how ferocious they could be.

Sources

Girl and Woman Rout Bandit in Daring Battle. The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 12/27/20

Brave Women Frustrate Plan of Holdup Man. The Rock Island Argus, 12/27/1920

Gets $50 In Holdup of a Moline Store. The Daily Times, 12/28/1920

Girl Fights Off Thief on Moline Street. The Daily Times, 12/29/1920

Alexander McBain, Moline Grocer for 25 Years, Is Dead. The Dispatch, 4/11/1932

US Census Records

US Immigration Records

1921 City Directory, Moline, Illinois,

Episode 51: The Koenig Murder/Suicide of 1870

William Koenig came to America with his family for a better opportunity. On a warm August night in 1870, it ended in tragedy and death.

 

 

 

The Koenig Murder/Suicide of 1870

Some have said that the most dangerous people that you can ever come across are people that have nothing to lose.

They aren’t going to lose any social standing. They’re not going to lose the respect or love of their family. They’re broke, so they’re not going to be losing anything financially. These individuals have everything to gain.

So, if they decide to climb aboard a transport ship to a new world, what risk are they really taking? They have nothing where they’re at. They can die just as easily on a sea voyage as they could at home. I mean, why not take the plunge and take that chance?

In the 19th century, there were many who did just that, making something of themselves and hardly ever looking back. But what about the people who did have something to lose?

They had stable lives, with sources of steady income that had made them at least moderately wealthy. Their friends, family, and professional connections were all right there, tying them securely down. Still, they might only be able to make it so far in the homeland. Social and societal constraints might be holding them back, keeping them from achieving as much as they would like.

But there, across the cold Atlantic, was a beacon of opportunity shining forth like a bonfire in the fog. In the New World, they might be able to achieve just as much as they already had, and maybe a lot more.

The mid to late 1800’s was a time of intense migration from Western Europe to the United States. Millions of immigrants made their way across the Atlantic to settle anywhere and everywhere. They came for many reasons, but ultimately, what they all wanted to do was to make a better life for themselves and their families.

The city of Davenport, Iowa was a great place for them to settle. While other immigrant groups, such as the Irish, had also successfully settled there, Davenport’s German community was especially strong.

In the late 1840’s a group of individuals from northern Germany had been forced to flee their homeland after a failed rebellion. Many of them were intellectuals and professionals that had wanted to make their home better. When they eventually settled in Davenport, that desire hadn’t been diminished.

They were determined to make their new city a better place, and used all of their considerable knowledge and drive to make that happen. They were instrumental in building a German community that embraced their new homeland while celebrating their cultural heritage.

German immigrants settling into the area later in the 19th century found themselves surrounded by people who shared the same language, culture, and customs as they did. Along with that, Davenport had a strong economic base that offered jobs and opportunities for many of these new arrivals.

In 1870, William Koenig walked into Davenport with his wife and two small children, ready to seize some of the opportunity that America promised.

Back in Germany, he had been a moderately successful school teacher. While certainly not wealthy, William did have some nice furniture and belongings, which the family had brought with them. Like so many immigrants during those times, Koenig and his family settled down and prepared to build upon their previous life successes and take them to even greater heights.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out the way that they had planned. Almost as soon as they arrived in Davenport, the family met with misfortune.

First, William couldn’t find work as a teacher. Part of the problem was the language barrier. He couldn’t speak English, which kept him from finding work in his chosen field, or anywhere else that would have required a certain fluency in the language. Worse still, William couldn’t find any decent jobs anywhere else, either.

He was between a rock and hard place. Desperate for a steady income, William began to look for any jobs that he could find. Unfortunately for him, they all involved low-paying manual labor, far from the better academic jobs he was accustomed to.

The hard physicality of his new profession took its toll on his body. He was unused to carrying heavy loads or using tools all day. His soft hands blistered and chafed, and his joints and muscles ached.

The Koenig family hadn’t brought very much money with them, and they quickly spent what little they had. The poor wages that William was earning didn’t cover their expenses, and the family soon fell into dire financial straits. This was further compounded my Mrs. Koenig’s poor health.

Soon after their arrival in Davenport, Mrs. Koenig suddenly took ill. Despite William’s best efforts, her health began to rapidly decline. A doctor diagnosed her with a degenerative eye disease that rendered her all but blind.

Mrs. Koenig’s sickly condition left her unable to get around the house very well without assistance, and there was absolutely no possibility of her working.

With their situation growing worse every week, the Koenig’s started to sell some of their nicer belongings to help pay their bills. When they took it in their finer silver and furniture wasn’t worth as much as they had hoped. While it had looked nice and gave the appearance of being expensive, the fact of the matter is that it was just average at best.

William and his wife soon settled into a deep depression. When they were in Germany, they had a good home and a dependable income. They had a good life. If Mrs. Koenig had gotten sick there, it might have been a blow to the family, but they would have been able to get through it.

But no. They had decided to give all that up, to gamble everything on the American dream. They had squandered all of their good fortune on a chance at something bigger and better, not fully appreciating what they had.

And now it was gone. The American dream had vanished when cruel reality had shattered their illusions and forced them to open their eyes. They rented cheap rooms, had no position, no money, and poor health. Things must have seemed hopeless.

However, in spite of everything, there was one bright spot in Williams life. In his short time in Davenport, he had been able to develop a friendship with a German tailor named Jacob Rohlfs.

On the night of August 20, 1870, William Koenig was visiting with Jacob at his shop. At about 10 o’clock, he left while Rohlfs went to bed.

Shortly before midnight, Rohlfs was awakened by the sound of someone pounding on his front door. Answering it, he found Koenig on his doorstep. Surprised and probably somewhat annoyed, Rohlfs asked his friend what he needed, but quickly realized that something was very wrong.

William was soaking wet from the waist down, and there was something strange about his attitude. He seemed far different from the relatively happy man that had left his shop such a short time before. William seemed distant, almost dazed.

“If I tell you something, could you wait until tomorrow to tell anyone else?” William asked.

Rohlfs stomach began to turn. What kind of a question was that? It was probably one that he didn’t want to know the answer to. But William was his friend, and was obviously in need of some kind of help.

Reluctantly, Rohlfs agreed to his friend’s request, and brought William inside. After a few tense moments, he began to speak.

William said that after he had left Rohlfs shop earlier, he had walked back to where his family was rooming near 2nd and Warren Streets. When he opened the front door, the rooms were dark. This came as no surprise. It was fairly late, and he hadn’t expected anyone to be awake when he got there.

Lighting a candle, William carefully made his way across the room. He assumed that everyone was asleep, and didn’t want to wake them.

As he did, he noticed something lying on the floor. It was too dark for William to quite make out what it was. Curious, he held the candle closer to it, allowing his eyes to adjust. Suddenly, he realized what it was.

There, lying motionless next to a bucket of water, was the unmoving body of one of his children. With a cry, he rushed to his child’s side, but it was far too late. The child was dead, apparently drowned in the bucket of water.

William immediately got up and started to look for the rest of the family. In the other room of the apartment he found his other child, also dead.

That still left his wife. He looked through the two-room apartment again, searching frantically. With her poor eyesight, she couldn’t have gotten far. William cried out for her, getting desperate. It was clear that she wasn’t inside the house, so he went out into the back yard.

There, to his relief, was Mrs. Koenig, sitting near a well that sat on the back side of the property. William crossed over to her, distraught. He asked her about the children, what had happened.

Calmly, she looked up at him and said that she had drowned them both.

“Why?” Mr. Koenig asked, shocked by her answer.

His wife explained that their situation was hopeless. They had no money. She was sick and he couldn’t find a good job. They were living in a poor apartment and might eventually even lose that. There was no future for them. It was better that they all die together than to go on living the way that they had.

William said nothing. He grabbed Mrs. Koenig’s hand and pulled her back into the house. Once inside, he carried his children to his bed and tried desperately to revive them.

While he was doing that, his wife went back outside. She had no intention of living, and had decided to commit suicide by drowning herself in the well. When he saw her start to walk out, William stopped his efforts to recitate his children and brought her back in. Back inside, he immediately went back to work on the two little ones.

This awful scene played itself out a few more times as Mrs. Rohlf tried to get to the backyard and William led her back inside.

After the last time, however, William finally allowed himself to believe what he had known all along – his children were gone, dead by their own mother’s hand. The hope that he had clung to so tightly began to slip away, leaving a terrible, aching despair in its place.

From where she sat, his wife spoke soothingly to him. She explained once again that everything that they had was lost. There was nothing left for them in this world. The only way that they could find an escape from their situation was to die and join their beloved children in death.

William, his soul feeling hollow in his grief, began to discuss the matter with his wife, talking it over as matter-of-factly as they would making a grocery list. Finally, they reached a conclusion.

The two would go to the well in the backyard and jump in, drowning together. The matter decided, William got up, crossed over, and took his wife by the hand. Gently, he guided her through the gloom and into the backyard, toward the well.

There, on the edge, he stared down at the dark, empty abyss that awaited below. Maybe they said a few last, loving words to each other, or perhaps they just stood, staring down at their fate. Whatever they did, it is certain that they both extended a foot outward and stepped out into the empty air.

Their stomachs lurched as they began to fall. There was a moment of complete weightlessness, like floating through the night sky. Then they hit the water below with a jolt. Remarkably, both of them were relatively unharmed by the impact. More surprising still, the water was shallow enough that they could stand on the bottom.

This was not what they had planned. They were supposed to hit bottom and sink into the well, drowning in its icy depths. Now William and his wife were standing in the cold water, wondering what to do next. They were both still determined to commit suicide, but options were much more limited at the bottom of the well.

Taking advantage of the only thing available, the Koenig’s laid down in the water. With an almost inhuman will, Mrs. Koenig held herself under the water until she died.

William said he tried to follow suit, but he just couldn’t do it. Gasping for air, he decided to shoot himself instead.

Slowly and deliberately, Koenig climbed his way up the wall of the well, and then went into the house to find his gun. The effort it took to climb out of the well had taken its toll, and William found himself too exhausted to lift his gun from where it lay on a high shelf.

As he lay there, he decided to go to his friend Jacob Rohlfs and tell him what happened. After the story had been told, he could take the gun and kill himself then.

When William finished telling his story, Rohlfs was stunned. After taking a moment to gather himself, he said that he needed to see what had happened with his own eyes. William agreed, and the two men left the shop.

When they got to the Koenig’s residence, Rohlfs woke up a few neighbors and told them what had happened. With their help, the tailor began to search the area for the Koenig family.

It didn’t take them long. Everything was just as William had said it would be. The bodies of the children were on the bed, and Mrs. Koenig was in the well. With some effort, Rohlfs and the others climbed down into the well, removed her body, and placed it in the yard.

True to his word, Rohlf waited until the next day to contact the police. When they arrived, they placed William under arrest and started an investigation into the events of the previous night.

The evidence pretty much spoke for itself. Both children had been forcibly drowned, and Mrs. Koenig had died by drowning, apparently in the well. Nothing physical contradicted the narrative presented by William Koenig.

That all started to change when the police and the coroner started their interviews during the coroner’s inquest.

One neighbor, Christina Peters, said that while Mrs. Koenig had told her that she wanted to go back to Germany, she still had a very positive attitude and bright outlook on life. She never showed any sign of depression or expressed a desire to commit suicide.

Claus Miller, one of the men who had helped remove Mrs. Koenig’s body from the well, said that he didn’t believe it was possible for the couple to have jumped into the shallow well without receiving some kind of injury.

Perhaps most telling of all was the testimony of Dr. Henry Wessel, Mrs. Koenig’s personal physician. He said that she was very positive, in spite of being told that she would never recover most of her eyesight. Wessel testified that she could see well enough to move around by herself in the daylight hours, but that it would have been extremely difficult to do so at night.

He also described Mrs. Koenig as being very weak physically. The doctor was of the opinion that she wasn’t strong enough to drown her children as they fought to get away.

The coroner’s jury found him innocent of the deaths of his children, but guilty of being an accessory to his wife’s suicide. William was taken back into custody to await his trial.

By the end of November 1870, he was found innocent of all charges regarding his wife, and was released. With nothing left for him either in Davenport or in America, William returned home to Germany.

Life in Davenport went on. People went to work, built their careers, and spent time with their families.

A few years later, news arrived from Germany that Koenig had died. While the memories had faded, there were still plenty of people who still remembered the awful events that had befallen his family that long-ago night. The news that accompanied Williams passing must have been especially shocking for them.

On his deathbed, he had confessed what had really happened to his wife and children that terrible night.

He said that he and his wife had drowned their own children together, and that after they had finished, he had helped his wife commit suicide. There were a few who had already suspected this, but there was never enough evidence to prove William’s guilt.

By this time, the matter was of little consequence. The two poor children were long dead, their lives tragically cut short at the hands of their own parents, who were also both dead now. They were beyond the reach of any mortal court, and any justice that may have awaited them was far out of any human hands.

Many people who came to America were able to seize hold of better opportunities for themselves and their families. They bettered their lot in life, and oftentimes helped to enrich their communities. But not everyone did, and were lost along the way.

 

Sources

A Triple Murder. Daily Davenport Democrat, 8/22/1870

The Koenig Tragedy. Daily Davenport Democrat, 8/23/1870

The Koenig Tragedy. Daily Davenport Democrat, 8/25/1870

Davenport Democrat and Leader, 11/26/1870

The Koenig Tragedy: A Death Bed Confession. Daily Davenport Democrat, 5/11/1872