Struck Down in the Dark

 

Charles 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 to look their absolute best in order to impress their own business customers and associates.

Davenport-Iowa-Blackhawk-Hotel-Vintage-1920s-Cars-Real-Photo-Postcard-RPPC
Hotel Blackhawk, Davenport, Iowa. Circa 1920’s. Courtesy of Google Images.

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. Nearly everyone who associated with him knew he was a kind and friendly man.

Charles wasn’t wealthy, but he had done well enough to retire at a reasonable age. More importantly, he’d made wise business investments, which had allowed him to live quite comfortably, even in the midst of the Great Depression.

Untitled
Charles Englehart. Courtesy of the Quad City Times.

Unfortunately, Charles had a habit of carrying around large sums of cash. At any given time, he routinely carried anywhere from $50 to $200 in his wallet.

In a time when most people didn’t have a lot of money, people took notice of anyone who paid their dinner by peeling a few bills off a large wad of cash like that. He did it so often that eventually Charles had earned a reputation for always having a good amount of cash on his person.

For most people, it wasn’t a big thing. They might have known, but it didn’t matter. For others, who were strapped for money in a time where there frequently wasn’t a lot to be had, it presented an opportunity. They could ask for a loan and take advantage of his generosity, or they could get it through more direct, and far less scrupulous methods.

 

Waylaid

 

It’s impossible to know what Charles was thinking about as he pulled up behind his home at 215 West Eighth Street on September 23, 1935. Perhaps he was thinking about the nice visit that he’d just had with his brother across town, or maybe about one of his various duties 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. Charles opened the driver’s side door of the car and began to step out in order to open the shed door.

Suddenly, something struck him hard on the left side of his head.

Stunned and confused, Charles tried his best to orient himself and figure out what was happening. Before he could, white hot pain tore through his head again, and then again.

Charles, unable to take any more, fell back into his car and slumped across the front seat, his keys slipping from his limp hand.

Charles Englehart Garage
The building that Charles Englehart used as a garage. He was attacked here on the night of September 23, 1935. Courtesy of the Quad City Times

 

R.C. Townsley lived on nearby Main Street and shared the garage with Englehart. As he pulled his own car in the drive, it didn’t surprise him when he saw the older man’s car parked in front of one of the doors.

Townsley got out, opened the garage door, and pulled his own car inside. On the way out, he became curious about Englehart’s vehicle. Why hadn’t Charles gotten out yet? Charles was 70 years old; had something happened to him?

He walked over to the driver’s side door of Charles’ car and looked inside. There, lying across the seat and barely moving, was the old barber. Townsley, probably with a combination of curiosity and concern, asked Charles if he was sleeping.

Englehart replied that he wasn’t really sure. To Townsley’s ears, Charles seemed confused and only half awake. About then, Townsley realized that the old man was bleeding, and obviously hurt. He quickly ran to the nearest phone and called the police.

They arrived a short time later.

Englehart was taken by ambulance to Mercy Hospital, where doctors immediately began to treat him. It appeared as though he had initially been struck on the left side of the head, and had then received several more blows to the back of his head.

The various impacts had crushed his skull and damaged the underlying tissues. Charles had also lost a good amount of blood in between the time that he was attacked and brought to the hospital.

He was immediately sent to surgery to treat his awful wounds. Sadly, Charles passed away shortly after midnight, only a few hours after he was attacked.

 

Hunting a Killer

 

When Englehart died of his wounds at Mercy Hospital, police had already been hard at work.

Investigators had the car towed to their garage so it could be fingerprinted.  They also conducted a thorough search of the surrounding area to locate the murder weapon, but it was never found.

Englehart Car Fingerprinted
Police fingerprinting Englehart’s car. Courtesy of the Quad City Times.

They noted that Englehart’s wallet and cash had been taken, but his jewelry, which included a diamond ring, had been left alone.

Detectives, after questioning several of the neighbors, talked to one that had seen someone walking around the garage the night before. The neighbor assumed that it was one of the other people in the neighborhood and had gone back to what they were doing.

Later, police visited Englehart’s bank, where they discovered that he had just made a deposit the previous Wednesday. He had withdrawn $59, which he carried in his wallet. After a few more inquiries, they were also told about Charles’ habit of carrying large sums of cash, and that it had gotten him in trouble before.

Twice before, the 70-year old retiree had been robbed. But, Englehart had stubbornly refused to change his habits, in spite of what had happened to him.

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, which led to the belief that Charles was still sitting down when he was hit. The coroner was amazed that Charles had lived as long as he had.

Detectives quickly theorized that Englehart’s murder had been motivated by robbery.

Charles was known to have large amounts of cash on his person at almost any given time. Despite his brother’s insistence that Charles wouldn’t have given up his money without a fight, it wouldn’t be hard for an able-bodied and determined individual to overpower a 70-year old retired barber, especially if he was taken by surprise.

Detectives figured that the assailant was waiting for Englehart to come home. The area surrounding the garage was dark, and offered plenty of places to hide. As soon as Charles opened his car door, the killer stepped forward and struck him repeatedly in the head to either kill or incapacitate him, and then stole the wallet.

When questioned, Townsley had said that the radiator on Englehart’s car was still warm. Detectives theorized that he must have arrived shortly after the attack, forcing the killer to flee before he had a chance to take Englehart’s jewelry.

The detectives followed up every lead that they had, but nothing lead anywhere. No wallet, no murder weapon, and, most importantly, no real suspects.

Still, they quickly followed up on any new developments that came up.

 

A Possible Connection

 

The most promising lead they received was when Roy Young, a 32 year old shoe clerk, was shot to death in a gunfight with a night watchman in Chicago.

Young had been a nephew of Englehart’s sister-in-law. Allegedly, he had written a letter to his sister, Ruth, that placed him in Davenport at the time of Charles’ murder.

Davenport detectives travelled to Chicago and spoke with police about the case. Unfortunately, there was conflicting evidence that Young was ever in Davenport at that time, and the lead was ultimately disproved.

After that, the case grew cold. A reward of $500 was posted in the hope of finding new leads, but none ever surfaced.

To this day, Englehart’s murder remains unsolved.

 

Charles Englehart was a good man who shared that goodness with others. He lived conservatively, enabling him to live a comfortable retirement in his last years.

Unfortunately, his kindness was tempered by a stubborn refusal to stop making a mistake that had caused him to be robbed twice already. The third time he made it, it cost him his life. But these things shouldn’t be cause for a death sentence.

Eighty-three years later, Charles Englehart’s killer remains unknown and unpunished. Over eight decades later, it is unlikely that their identity will ever come to light.

Still, there might be hope.

If you know anything, please contact the Davenport Police Department at 563-326-7979, and help bring a close to one of Scott County’s older cold cases.

 

   You have been reading John Brassard Jr., the Kitchen Table Historian. Please stop over and have a seat at the table every week or so to hear new stories of true crime, disasters, the paranormal, and other weird and dark stories from America’s Heartland. 

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Sources

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.’

www.iowacoldcases.org

 

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