Guy Gilbert was probably a little surprised when his son Gene showed up on the doorstep of his Yale, South Dakota home.
While far from unwelcome, Gene hadn’t said anything about coming for a visit. But here he was just the same. Guy welcomed Gene inside. Guy Jr., Gene’s brother, was also there, and the three of them sat down to talk.
Gene was alone, but Guy wasn’t surprised. His son had been known to head back to South Dakota from his home in Delmar, Iowa, just a little over eight hours away, on a moment’s notice.
The visit went well, and Gene might have made mention that he had stopped to see his mother, Evelyn Bacon, before coming to Guy’s home. He definitely mentioned that he feeling under the weather, and that he hadn’t been sleeping very well, either.
The next morning, Guy and Guy Jr left Gene sleeping on a cot while they went to a doctor’s appointment. When they returned that afternoon, the two men discovered that Gene had shot himself. A .38 caliber revolver was lying on his chest, with an apparent suicide note nearby.
Guy immediately called the authorities.
Thoughts quickly turned to Gene’s family back in Iowa. His wife, Bonnie, and his five children had to be told. Law enforcement in South Dakota gave a call to the Clinton County, Iowa, Sheriff’s Department and asked them to contact Gene’s wife.
Michael Galusha, who had only been on the job for a few days, was among a group of deputies sent to the Gilbert home to deliver the bad news.
When they arrived at about 6 p.m., there wasn’t anyone home. It was their understanding that Bonnie was a devout Jehovah’s Witness, and they thought that maybe the family was attending services.
The Sheriff’s Department called police in the nearby city of Maquoketa to see if they wouldn’t try and contact the family after church. One officer, Curt Gruver, got in touch with some local Jehovah’s Witnesses to see if they knew where the family was.
It was Saturday night, and there were no services that evening, which meant that they weren’t there. Gruver, after finding someone with the Gilbert’s phone number, had them call Bonnie. No one answered.
With mounting concerns, Officer Galusha, along with another Sheriff’s Deputy and an Iowa State Trooper, went to the Gilbert’s and went inside. To their horror, they found Bonnie and all five children upstairs. All of them were dead, each shot twice in the head.
On just his fourth day on duty, Michael Galusha had helped to discover one of the worst homicides in the history of the state of Iowa.
An investigation was started immediately.
Bonnie, 34; Dawn,13; Michelle,10; Jason,8; Gene,2; and Rachelle, only 10 months old, had all been shot to death in the upstairs bedrooms. Authorities theorized that the oldest child, Dawn, had apparently been awake and struggled with her killer. She had been tied up with nylon cord and then shot, while the others had seemingly been asleep when killed.
The bodies were removed from the house in front of a large crowd of locals, who were shocked by the crime. What bothered them even more was that Gene, their father, had been their murderer. Ballistics tests would later conclude that the same gun Gene had used to commit suicide had been used to kill his family.
With the entire family and their murderer dead, there was only one question left – why?
The Gilbert’s had moved to Delmar 14 months prior to the murder. Bonnie and the children attended church regularly, and the children were liked at school. Gene was polite and liked well enough at his job, too.
They were a very private family. They didn’t mingle with their neighbors, or with anyone else for that matter. They were quiet and didn’t cause any problems. But that’s not to say that there weren’t any.
The children’s teachers noticed that the girls were sad a lot of the time. Dawn even gave one a gift. Attached to it was a note, saying simply, “Thank you for loving me.”
Another person claimed that they had the impression that Dawn was afraid of her father, but no one could quite figure out why.
Gene was a very quiet man who kept very much to himself. He was a strict disciplinarian, and seemed distant to some. Others described him as being ‘weird.’
One of Dawn’s friends claimed that the previous summer, Gene had threated to kill his family. Soon after, Bonnie had found a bag of knives and axes at the home. She the allegedly took them to a local man who worked at a nearby gas station to dispose of them.
To everyone else, however, Gene gave no sign that he planned to kill his family at all. But he was under a lot of strain.
Gene had lost his job at Seven Hills Pavement Maintenance several months before. In the same time frame, Michelle got sick, requiring her to make several trips to the University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City, Iowa.
Gene struggled to make ends meet with his unemployment checks, but it caused significant strain on the family.
Ultimately, there was no definitive reason. Not even the suicide note gave a motive. It didn’t mention the family at all.
The only thing that was known was that Gene Gilbert murdered his family as they slept, then travelled to this father’s home in South Dakota and committed suicide.
Gene was buried in South Dakota, while Bonnie and the children were buried in Bellevue, Iowa.
Both the family and locals in South Dakota and Iowa were eager to let the issue rest and move on. There were no more answers to be had, no justice to serve. There was only time to heal.
And heal they did.
Time moved on, and so did everyone else. Today, there isn’t a sign or a mark that indicates that anything so tragic ever took place there.
It’s still a quiet and unassuming place, a great town to raise your children in. But some scars run very deep, and for some, Delmar will never seem quite as it had before Gene Gilbert had left town for the last time on a cold January day in 1981.
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‘Gilbert death ruled suicide; family shootings being investigated.’ Rapid City Journal, 1/6/1981 p. 7
‘Officers probe Delmar man’s previous threats to family.’ Des Moines Tribune, 1/5/1981 p.1
‘Iowa town rocked by suicide, murders.’ Lead Daily Call, 1/5/1981 p. 1
‘Pupils at Delmar talk about schoolmates’ tragic deaths.’ Des Moines Register, 1/6/1981
‘There was no one to answer call about suicide.’ Rapid City Journal, 1/5/1981 p. 5
‘Tests identify Gilbert’s gun as murder weapon.’ Sioux City Journal, 1/8/1981
‘Murder suspect ‘kept to himself.’’ Argus-Leader, 1/6/1981
‘A family’s grisly tragedy.’ Quad City Times, 1/5/1981
‘Eulogy: Don’t ask for reason.’ Quad City Times, 1/8/1981
‘Maquoketa church mourns 6 members.’ Quad City Times, 1/9/1981