Life in rural Clinton County could be hard, just like it could be everywhere else. But, for the most part, it was a good, clean place to live. It was a place that you could settle down with your family and not really worry about anything bad happening to you and yours.
But, sometimes, the biggest threat to a family comes from within.
In 1874, George Scott and his wife Jean lived near Delmar, Iowa, in northern Clinton County. The couple were relatively happy, and had six children together. They had a modestly-sized farm, with a two-story wood frame house, along with a barn and outbuildings for equipment and livestock. The farm was successful, and they had plenty of money to live on and do with as they wanted.
Sometimes, Jean was jealous of Mr. Scott, and sometimes he had a bad temper. All in all, this was nothing out of the ordinary for many couples throughout the world. They were happy together on their idyllic little farm. That is, until the winter of 1874.
Suddenly, George spent a lot of time being angry with Mrs. Scott, and began to treat her very badly. This change in behavior probably stemmed from the fact that he had convinced himself that his wife was poisoning him.
Mr. Scott was so convinced of this that he actually took some coffee from the house to a local doctor named Sloan. Dr. Sloan tested the coffee for poison, as per Mr. Scott’s request, but found absolutely nothing. He told the farmer to relax, and that there was nothing wrong. Everything was fine.
But George wasn’t so easily convinced. He continued to treat Jean poorly, to the point where she confided with some neighbors that she was afraid that he might kill her. They should have listened.
A Deadly Decision
On the afternoon of February 25, 1874, George told his wife that he was going to go upstairs to their bedroom and lie down for a while. She didn’t think anything of it, and went about her normal chores.
It was a simple ruse, but it worked well enough. His mind was sick, you see, and in its troubled depths George had reached a decision.
Once he was upstairs, he quietly took out two shotguns and a seven-shot revolver. Carefully and deliberately, he loaded them. George looked at the guns and mentally re-checked himself, making sure that everything was in order for what he had planned. With a curt nod, he decided that all was well. He took the revolver and put it in his pocket, then took one of the shotguns in hand.
Taking a deep breath, he called downstairs for his wife. He told Mrs. Scott to come up to the bedroom, and that he wanted to talk to her about something.
Jean stopped what she was doing and started toward the stairs. As she climbed to the second floor, it may have been she was slightly apprehensive because of the way that he had been treating her that past few weeks, but she certainly didn’t expect what awaited her.
As Jean entered the bedroom, she was shocked to see her husband standing just a few feet away, a shotgun placed against his shoulder and aiming steadily at her!
Her eyes widened as George squeezed the trigger.
Jean blinked, expecting to feel pain. But, after feeling no effect, Mrs. Scott realized that the shotgun had misfired. Her natural instincts hammered in on her startled mind, and she immediately turned and went down the stairs as fast as she could.
Mrs. Scott crossed the living room and went through the front door. She was running now, trying to reach their front gate as fast as she could. Mrs. Scott could hear her George behind her, his footsteps thudding heavily right behind her. She was almost to the gate, but she knew that Mr. Scott had caught up to her.
She turned and grabbed the shotgun in her husband’s hands. They began to struggle, one to kill, one to survive. Their whole world had been reduced to gaining control of the shotgun in George’s hands.
As they fought, the gun roared, discharging its deadly shell harmlessly into the air. A small part of Mrs. Scott was relieved, but she had no time. Her husband was still coming.
Mrs. Scott broke away and began to run again, trying desperately to get away from her would-be murderer. Mr. Scott ran too, quickly gaining ground on his prey.
He caught up to her a short distance away, and Mrs. Scott once again turned to grab the shotgun. But this time, Mr. Scott was ready for it.
As his wife turned, George fired, and this time succeeded in hitting his mark. Mrs. Scott screamed in pain as the blast tore away a section of her right breast.
Mr. Scott threw the shotgun to the ground and drew his revolver, eager to finish his gruesome work. Mrs. Scott seized her husband, and once again they struggled for control of the firearm.
Mrs. Scott was bleeding profusely from the wound in her chest. She had begun to weaken from the blood loss, and was feeling faint. But still she struggled on, because to lose that battle would mean certain death.
As they fought, the revolver went off, hitting Mrs. Scott in the right hand. She broke away and began to run again, trying to reach the safety of the barn. As she did, Mr. Scott steadily raised the revolver and aimed.
As Mrs. Scott began to run around the corner of the barn, Mr. Scott squeezed the trigger again.
The shot hit Mrs. Scott behind her right ear. She stopped then, dazed. The revolver barked again, and a second shot entered Mrs. Scott’s head above her ear, and exited through her forehead. After fighting so hard, she had nothing left, and dropped to ground like a stone.
Mr. Scott crossed the yard and took a moment to examine his wife. With wounds like hers, she had to be dead.
Satisfied, he raised the revolver one last time, placing it firmly against the side of his head. Mr. Scott squeezed the trigger, killing himself.
But, Mrs. Scott was not dead. She was still alive.
As soon as the fatal battle between his parents had ended, their oldest son ran to a neighbor’s house for help. Horrified at what the boy told them, the rescuers went to the Scott farm as fast as they could.
To their immense surprise, they found the woman inside the house, bleeding profusely from her head and chest, but still conscious and aware. Impossibly, she had come to her senses shortly after her husbands suicide, stood up, and walked back into the house under her own power. A doctor was summoned to treat Mrs. Scott’s horrible wounds, along with law enforcement officials.
A coroner’s inquest was held the next day. Mrs. Scott, although badly wounded, was still able to testify during the proceedings, but only just.
A search of the home and grounds reveled that George Scott had nearly $1000 in a tin trunk in his barn. He had plenty of money, so that was ruled out as a motive.
At the end of the questioning, the authorities had no answers. Neither did anyone else. None of it made any sense. George Scott had just gone suddenly insane, and had eventually decided to murder his wife.
The only thing that they knew for sure was that Mr. Scott was dead. Jean, although grievously injured, recovered almost completely from the attack. She wasn’t any more sure of why her husband had decided to kill her than anyone else.
The only thing that anyone knew for certain was that George Scott went slowly insane, eventually setting out to kill her and himself on a cold winter day in 1874.
“The Delmar Tragedy.” Daily Davenport Democrat, 2/25/1874
The Morning Democrat, 2/25/1874
“The Delmar Sensation!” Daily Davenport Democrat, 2/26/1874
Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, 2/26/1874
Des Moines Register, 2/26/1874
The Daily Democrat, 5/22/1874