Driving can be a relaxing thing for many of us.
We allow our minds to wander, doing anything from daydreaming to tackling the existential mysteries of the universe. We think about our college days, we make our grocery list, we think about smacking that guy who cut us off out on the interstate a half hour ago.
But what most of us don’t do is think that this may be our last drive. It’s highly unlikely that Charles Englehart had that in mind as he drove home for the last time on the night of September 23, 1935.
A Life Well Lived
Englehart had been successful in his life. Originally from Grandview, Iowa, he had moved to Davenport, Iowa as a young man and become a barber. For years he had been employed at the prestigious Hotel Blackhawk, cutting the hair of well-to-do patrons who needed a trim before attending to their business.
Although he had never married, he had joined fraternal orders, and they had been good to him. Not that it was hard for other people to be good to Charles. He was known for being a very kind man, friendly and easy to get along with.
Charles wasn’t a wealthy man, but he had done very well for himself over the years and made wise investments, allowing him to live comfortably. In the midst of America’s Great Depression, not everyone could say that. It’s also where Charles started to run into trouble.
Charles had a habit of carrying around large sums of cash. At a given time, he routinely carried anywhere from $50 to $200 in his wallet. Unfortunately, having a lot of cash is one of the things that Charles had become known for.
For most people, it wasn’t a big thing. They might have known, but it didn’t matter. For others however, who were strapped for money in a time where there frequently wasn’t a lot to be had, it presented an opportunity. Although Charles had been robbed twice before, he refused to change his habit.
It’s impossible to know what Charles was thinking about as he pulled up behind his home at 215 West Eighth Street, just a few blocks north of Davenport’s thriving downtown business district. Perhaps he was thinking about the nice visit that he’d just had with his brother across town, or maybe he was thinking about one of the duties that he had to perform as a 32nd degree Freemason.
Charles came to a stop in front of the large wooden shed that he used for a garage. He stopped the car and took the keys out of the ignition. Needing to step out and open the garage door, Charles opened the driver’s side door of the car and began to step out.
Suddenly, white hot pain exploded in his head. Stunned, he stopped, probably confused, trying to figure out what had happened. Without warning, the pain tore through his pain again, and then again.
Still not knowing what happened, Charles fell back into his car and lay there, motionless.
R.C. Townsley, a man who lived on nearby Main Street, pulled up in front of the garage a short time later. He shared the garage on 8th Street with Charles Englehart, and thought nothing of Englehart’s car parked in front of the door. Maybe he thought that the older man was about to park his car as well.
Townsley got out, opened the garage door, and pulled his own car inside. On the way out, he became curious about Englehart’s vehicle.
He walked over to the driver’s side door and saw Englehart lying across the seat. Townsley asked Charles if he was sleeping.
Englehart replied that he wasn’t really sure, and seemed confused and only half awake to Townsley. About then, Townsley realized that Englehart was hurt and bleeding. He quickly ran and called authorities.
Police arrived a short time later. Englehart was taken by ambulance to Mercy Hospital, where he was examined by doctors. He had apparently been struck on the head several times, crushing his skull and damaging the underlying tissues. Englehart had also lost a lot of blood before he was found.
Charles immediately underwent emergency surgery, but was unable to recover. He passed away shortly after midnight, only a few hours after he was attacked.
Meanwhile, police had launched their investigation. They performed a thorough search of the surrounding area in the hopes of finding the murder weapon, but were never able to. They fingerprinted the car, and began questioning neighbors.
One neighbor had seen an unknown individual walking around the garage the previous night, but they assumed that it was one of the other neighbors and went about their business.
Englehart’s wallet was missing, but his jewelry was left alone.
Police explored the idea that Townsley had actually been the intended target, but that theory was quickly ruled out.
The autopsy and the coroner’s inquest revealed little that was helpful, other than confirming what police already knew.
The severe blows that Englehart received were more than any man could have endured and still stood on his feet, which led to the belief that Charles was still sitting down when he was hit. The coroner was amazed that Charles lived as long as he did.
Based off the missing wallet, robbery was eventually assumed to be the motive for the murder.
Police theorized that the assailant hid outside of the garage and waited for Englehart to come home. As soon as he opened the door, they stepped forward and struck him repeatedly in the head to either kill or incapacitate him, and then stole the wallet.
They also theorized that Townsley arrival shortly after the attack led the assailant to flee the scene with only the wallet in hand, forcing them to leave the jewelry alone.
The available leads quickly dried up.
Based on the testimony of some, it was theorized that Englehart’s car had actually been seen in the driveway at around 9 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. It only led to confusion, and amounted to no actual developments in the case.
The most promising lead that police received was when a young man named Young was shot to death in a gunfight with a Chicago policeman. It turned out that he was a nephew of Englehart’s sister-in-law, and there was allegedly a letter he wrote with his sister that placed him in Davenport at the time of Charles’ murder.
Davenport detectives spoke with Chicago police about the case, but the lead was ultimately disproved, as there was conflicting evidence that Young was ever in Davenport at that time, let alone in the area of West 8th Street.
A reward of $500 was posted for any information that might lead to the capture of Englehart’s murderer, but no one was ever able to claim it.
To this day, Englehart’s murder remains unsolved.
Many of us enjoy driving. For many of us in the Midwest, the distances between places make it an absolute necessity. We take it for granted most of the time, barely giving a second thought to the dangers that are present on the roadways.
More to the point, we, much like Charles Englehart, don’t ever think about the dangers that might be lurking when we stop the car and get out. We simply pull into our driveway, or park along the street.
Next time you go somewhere, remember the sad end of Charles Englehart, and make sure to be mindful of your surroundings.
You have been reading John Brassard Jr., the Kitchen Table Historian. Please check in every week or so for brand new true stories of triumph, tragedy, and everything in-between. If you want to make it easier on yourself, you can subscribe to John’s blog and have new entries sent directly to your inbox, or you can ‘Like’ the Kitchen Table Historian Facebook page, and receive them in your news feed.
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‘C.A. Englehart Robbed, Slain.’ Davenport Times and Democrat, 9/23/1935
‘Seek Motive for Englehart Slaying.’ The Daily Times, 9/23/1935
‘Iowan Killed by Assailant.’ Iowa City Press-Citizen, 9/23/1935
‘Inquest Fails to Throw More Light on Slaying of Charles A. Englehart.’ Davenport Times and Democrat, 9/24/1935
‘Englehart Murder Mystery Deepens As Neighbor Tells of Seeing Auto in Driveway Shortly After 9 P.M.’ The Daily Times, 9/26/1935
‘Time Element In Murder Case Puzzles Police.’ The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 9/26/1935
‘Police Seek Connection Between Slain Chicagoan and Murder of Englehart.’ The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 10/21/1935
‘Police Check Whereabouts of Chicago Gun Victim at Time of Englehart Murder.’ The Daily Times, 10/21/1935
‘Offer Reward of $500 In Murder Still Unsolved.’ The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 10/28/1935
‘Post Reward for Englehart Slayer.’ The Daily Times, 10/28/1935
‘Local Officers In Chicago on Englehart Case.’ The Daily Times, 11/4/1935
‘Chicago Angle in Englehart Case Fizzles.’ The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 11/6/1935
Bowers, Nancy. ‘Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases.’