Struck Down in the Dark – The Charles Englehart Murder

I’m not afraid of the dark.

I take my trash out in the middle of the night without a flashlight, treading the familiar ground of my yard with confidence in the inky blackness of the night. At the end of the day, I turn off the light’s downstairs and, if I need to do something else, will walk my darkened rooms unafraid.

The darkness is just an absence of light, just another environmental condition, similar to the weather in that regard. Sometimes it’s cold, sometimes it’s hot, and sometimes it’s dark. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to think about overly much.

The dark is something that we take for granted. Often, we conquer it as children.

Our parents, just as familiar with it as we will one day become, tell us that we don’t need to be afraid. They aren’t, and don’t you want to be like mommy and daddy? We tell them that there’s a monster under the bed or behind the clothes hanging in the closet.

Patiently, they show us that there’s nothing there. If we wake them in the middle of the night and insist that there was a scaly, scabby claw caressing our ankle, they comfort us and tell us that it was all just a bad dream.

Nothing to worry about. It was all in our heads.

Maybe to help ease us into things a little better, they put a nightlight in our rooms. Now we have something to hold, a beacon of light against all of the terrors of the dark.

Gradually, we come around to their way of thinking. We don’t need the nightlight. Any strange noises that we hear can be explained away by something completely rational. It’s the wind, or a tree branch scraping along the side of the house.

In 1935, Charles Englehart wasn’t afraid of the dark, either. If things had gone differently, perhaps he would have changed his mind.

   In 1907, the Davenport Hotel opened in its namesake city, Davenport, Iowa.

Designed to be luxurious, rooms boasted brass beds and beautiful wooden furniture. They had electric lighting, telephones, and even hot and cold running water. Although taken for granted in the modern era, these things were considered fancy amenities for that time.

Guests could dance in the ballroom on the top floor, or they could have dinner in the enormous hotel dining room. The Davenport Hotel was set to impress, and it did it very well.

That is, until the Blackhawk Hotel opened in 1915.

 

Blackhawk Hotel 1915
The Blackhawk Hotel in 1915. Courtesy of the Davenport Democrat and Leader. 

Where the Davenport was set to impress, The Blackhawk Hotel was designed to compete with the grand hotels of Chicago and New York. No expense was spared, and no detail overlooked, both in front of and behind the scenes of the operation.

The Blackhawk had everything that that the Davenport did, and more.

Like the Davenport, rooms in the Blackhawk had hot and cold running water, but also their own bathtub or shower. In addition to this, all the rooms had a special ice water tap, which delivered extremely cold water on demand, chilled by a refrigerant system in the basement. All of this was made possible by nearly two miles of pipe that had been installed to accommodate the plumbing needs of the Blackhawk’s guests.

Like the A-list hotels that they were trying to emulate, the Blackhawk’s goal was to provide for their guests every need without them ever having to leave the premises. A fine cigar store and a drug store were directly in the hotel to provide more basis amenities, while a billiards room and bowling alley provided on-site entertainment.

The entire hotel was adorned with the finest materials, from woods to glass. The furniture was provided by the same company that furnished some of the very finest hotels in the nation. The owners were determined to set the Blackhawk above the best luxury hotels in the Midwest, and no price was spared.

The Davenport just couldn’t compete.

But the Miller Hotel Company, the owners of the Blackhawk, weren’t interested in putting their competition out of business. Instead, in 1916, they bought the Davenport and took over its operation. After all, it was still a great hotel, but just not quite the caliber of the Blackhawk.

Many top hotels at that time boasted barber shops. Guests at the Davenport and the Blackhawk were often travelling businessman, merchants, and entertainers who wanted to look their very best.

To get that, the hotels hired skilled barbers who would be able to provide their clients with whatever hairstyle they needed. These were competent individuals who practiced their trade with excellence and the utmost professionalism.

For many years, Charles Englehart was one of them.

 

Untitled
Charles Englehart. Courtesy of the Davenport Democrat and Leader.

 

Born in Grandview, Iowa, Englehart had moved to Davenport and become a barber. Charles didn’t ever become wealthy, but he did well enough to retire by the 1930’s. More importantly, he’d made wise business investments, which had allowed him to live quite comfortably, even in the midst of the Great Depression.

He had never married, but had joined several fraternal orders, namely the Freemasons. Nearly everyone who associated with him knew Englehart as a kind and friendly man.

Unfortunately, Charles had also become well-known for carrying around large sums of cash. At any given time, he could have anywhere from $50 to $200 in his wallet. In a time when most people didn’t have a lot of money, people took notice.

For most of them, it didn’t matter. Sure, they needed money, but they weren’t about to steal it. Others, however, didn’t care how they made ends meet. If they needed to steal a few bucks here and there, so be it. For these kinds of people, an elderly gentleman carrying a couple hundred bucks in their pocket provided an opportunity.

On September 23, 1935, Charles pulled his car behind his home on West Eighth Street. He had just had a pleasant visit with his brother across town, and was returning to his apartment for the night.

Charles brought the car to a stop in front of the large wooden shed that he used for a garage. Turning off the car, he took the keys and began to open his door. Englehart had just begun to stand up when he felt something strike 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. He felt something hit him again, a white-hot pain tearing through his head, 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.

R.C. Townsley lived on nearby Main Street and shared the garage with Englehart. As he pulled his own car into the driveway, he saw Englehart’s car parked in front of one of the doors.

Townsley got out, opened the garage door, then went back and pulled his own car inside. As he walked out of the shed, something about the older man’s car struck him as odd. Why hadn’t Charles gotten out yet? Charles was 70 years old; had something happened to him?

Walking over to the driver’s side door, Townley squinted and peered inside. There, lying across the seat and barely moving, was the old barber. Townsley, concerned, asked Charles if he was sleeping.

Englehart groggily replied that he wasn’t really sure. At first, Townsley thought that Charles had been sleeping and he had woken the older man up. About then, he realized that there was blood coming down Englehart’s head. Knowing that his neighbor needed help, Townsley ran to the nearest phone and called the police.

Englehart was taken by ambulance to Mercy Hospital, where doctors examined his wounds.

He had been struck repeatedly on the head by some kind of blunt object. 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 his arrival at the hospital. Seeing the severity of his injuries, Englehart was immediately sent to undergo emergency surgery. Sadly, Charles passed away shortly after midnight, only a few hours after he was attacked.

The police investigation that had already been started that night had now turned into a murder case.

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 Davenport Democrat and Leader.

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

After questioning several of the neighbors, detectives 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 stayed on their feet, 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 concluded that Englehart’s murder had been motivated by robbery.

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 retiree, especially if he was taken by surprise.

Detectives theorized 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.

Charles Englehart Garage
The scene of the crime. Englehart was struck down as he went to get out of the driver’s side door. Courtesy of the Davenport Democrat and Leader.

When questioned, Townsley had said that the radiator on Englehart’s car was still warm. Detectives reasoned 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.

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.

Charles Englehart wasn’t afraid of the dark. It was just another environmental condition to overcome. Sometimes it’s hot, sometimes it’s cold, and sometimes it’s dark.

But what he didn’t realize was that it wasn’t the dark itself that was dangerous or scary. It was what hid inside the dark, covered by shadows, that brought about his terrible and untimely end.

 

 

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

I am an author and historian who writes about long-forgotten and out of the way events and places. I love the bizarre, the unusual, and the downright weird. I write a regular blog at my website, www.johnbrassardjrcom.wordpress.com, and also manage a facebook page about things of historical interest called The Kitchen Table Historian.

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