It probably came as quite a shock to some people when 68-year-old G.W. Appleby was arrested on drug charges in early 1930.
Appleby had been practicing medicine in the small-town of Bristow, Iowa for forty years. He was loved and trusted by many, and suddenly he was arrested for being part of a large narcotics ring. The old doctor wasn’t only giving out the illicit medications in person but had also sent drugs all over the United States through the mail.
The doctor quickly confessed to the crime. He stated that his recently deceased wife, Nellie, had been an addict when she was young, and so he felt sorry for them.
Sympathetic to drug abusers around the nation, Appleby had become one of the largest narcotic buyers in the entire Midwest. Needless to say, it probably raised a few eyebrows when a rural doctor who mostly catered to a farm town east of Des Moines was suddenly buying more medication than some physicians in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Cleveland.
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. People wanted to know who this addict sympathizing doctor was.
Reporters and authorities alike began to look deeper into his past, and it didn’t take long for them to uncover an old skeleton in Appleby’s closet – the good doctor was a murderer.
George Wilder Appleby was born in 1860 in Northwest Illinois. After earning his medical degree and getting married, Appleby and his wife moved to Bristow, Iowa in 1890.
He treated nearly everyone with gentle kindness, regardless of their background. He delivered babies, did consultations, and helped cure sickness to the best of his ability. His wife, Nellie, was a religious woman, and became active in the local church.
The couple were quickly welcomed into the town.
Things continued very well for the Appleby’s for several years and they seemed to be comfortable in their lives.
However, all of that changed one cold January evening in 1900.
Appleby was working in the office of a former partner named Hobson in Hampton, Iowa. Dr. Hobson had been called to Appleby’s office in Bristow earlier that year for a consultation.
While he was there, he noticed that Appleby seemed stressed, possibly overworked. Concerned for his associate, Hobson offered Appleby a chance to come to Hampton to get away from his daily stresses and responsibilities. Appleby accepted.
On January 10, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Wearly came to Hobson’s office with their 10-month old daughter. She was a little sick, and the concerned parents wanted a doctor to examine her to make sure that she was alright.
As they came in, Dr. Hobson was called out of the office. He immediately thought of his friend, Dr. Appleby. It was a fairly straightforward case, one that Appleby could easily take care of, so Hobson asked the visiting doctor to take care of it. Appleby agreed, and Hobson left.
He went straight to the examining room where the Wearly’s waited.
Crossing the room, Appleby immediately grabbed the young girl from her parents. He was so rough with her that both parents said something to him, almost certainly asking what his problem was and not to treat their daughter like that.
Ignoring their protests, Appleby put the child on the table.
Without warning, the doctor grabbed the poor babe’s head in both hands, hooking his thumbs under her chin and clamping his fingertips firmly on the top of her skull. Then, mercilessly, Dr. George Wilder Appleby began to squeeze.
Her head and face were smashed under his pitiless grip, blood pouring from her mouth and nose.
Then, lightning fast, Appleby tore his hands away and grabbed the baby’s ankles, wrenching her off the table and into the air with a sickening jerk.
The parents fought to get their daughter away from the murderous doctor, but to no avail. Try as they might, they could not free their child from the madman as he began to twirl the child over his head.
The mother, screaming, ran to get help while the father fought on.
An office person came first, joining Marty in his struggles. But they were still no match for the insane Appleby, who continued swinging the infant. Then, another physician, Dr. Rich, came to help. Together, the three of them were able to wrest the child away from Appleby.
Once she was freed, Rich immediately went to treat the injured baby. Even though he could probably tell that she was dead, Rich still poured a stimulant liquid onto a spoon and prepared to give it to her. In spite of the horrific scene in front of him, he still seemed determined to help.
As he reached his hand forward to the still babe, Appleby knocked the spoon from Rich’s hand. Staring at his fellow physician, Appleby told him that Jesus had instructed man to “Suffer little children to come unto me.” He told Rich that she was dead anyway.
The authorities were quickly called and Appleby detained. Given his behavior, it was probably no surprise to anyone that officials at the mental hospital at Independence, Iowa, were sent for. They came shortly thereafter and collected Appleby, then took him back to Independence, where he was promptly committed.
In the aftermath, life went on. The Wearly’s buried their daughter and mourned. The Appleby family, meanwhile, probably remained apprehensive about the condition of their beloved husband and father.
Most of all, people 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 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.
As his mental balance began to decline, he became very interested in a religious revival that was taking place in the region. The first cracks began to show when he made some apparently outlandish remarks to his fellow church members.
Whatever the reason for his mental collapse, 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, and to them, he was apparently cured.
Dr. George Wilder Appleby was released four months after he was committed. He returned to his family in Bristow and even started practicing medicine again.
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, and that it was exactly what he had required 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.
For the most part, their lives continued that way for several years until, in 1929, Nellie died. The next year, Appleby was arrested for the sale of illegal drugs.
While he was awaiting trial, Appleby continued to live out the life he always had. He delivered babies, visited family members in Ames, Iowa, and even took one patient to Iowa City to receive an operation.
On June 12, 1930, Appleby was charged with the illegal sale of narcotics. However, he did not go to prison. 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 and fueled by a religious mania 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, being pioneered even today by scientists, doctors, and psychologists. And, just like the physical frontiers pioneered throughout the centuries, it can be filled with both wonder, and terror.
‘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
‘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
‘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