Beyond Recognition: What Started the St. Elizabeth’s Fire?


The fire had started at around 2 a.m. in the early morning hours of January 7, 1950.

Half an hour later, St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital would be engulfed in flames. Firemen and other rescuers hacked at the iron bars covering the windows to the patient’s rooms. Many of the patients screamed desperately into the night, begging to be saved as fire blazed ever nearer, black smoke rolling into their rooms.

Some of them were saved, while others were engulfed by the flames, their voices forever silenced as their would-be rescuers watched helplessly.

By morning, the building was reduced to a smoking ruin. Exhausted firemen began to sort through the charred and water-logged wreckage, looking for remains. They had been told how many patients and staff had been inside the building that night, and they needed to try their best to account for them all.

As they entered one area, the firemen were incredibly surprised to find a patient who was still alive.

Somehow, almost miraculously, 45-year-old Ruth Finnerty, a long-time patient at St. Elizabeth’s, had survived not only the fire, but also the freezing January temperatures. Carefully, they removed her and took her to Mercy Hospital, just a short walk away.

Doctors saw that she was suffering from shock and smoke inhalation, in addition to the effects of being out in the cold night all that time. They admitted her to a room and immediately began treating her.

Over the next few days, Finnerty developed pneumonia. The doctors tried their best, but on Monday, January 9, Finnerty died from what was deemed to be injuries sustained as a result of the disaster.

She had just become the final victim of the St. Elizabeth’s Fire of 1950.

The fire had already claimed the lives of forty other people. Finnerty was the forty-first, and one of the few to die after being rescued.

Two nights before, as the fire raged, C.H. Wildman, the county coroner, and his assistant, Dr. Gordon Rock, had set up a temporary morgue in one of the nursing classrooms inside Mercy Hospital, the main hospital a short distance away from St. Elizabeth’s. As more and more remains were brought in, wrapped in black rubber sheets, they began to run out of room.

Wildman had called area funeral directors to come and temporarily collect them so that they didn’t jam the hospital corridors. They had been quick to respond, with every funeral home in the city turning out to do their part.

The Sisters of Mercy, the Catholic nuns who managed St. Elizabeth’s, kept a list of the patients who were being housed there. They also knew the staff members who had been working that night. When things had calmed down, a count was taken of both survivors and victims to make sure that at least every person was accounted for.

The issue was that many of the bodies had been badly burned, some beyond all recognition. It was Wildman’s responsibility to identify as many of those remains as possible, both for the victim’s families and for legal purposes.

The day after the fire, he began making his way between the various funeral homes to identify the dead. Accompanying him were Sisters Mary Gabriel and Mary Winifred, and Lucille Messick, a nurse’s aide. The three women had all worked at St. Elizabeth’s and knew the patients there, making them able to make a positive identification of the remains.

Sisters Mary Gabriel, Sister Mary Winifred, and Scott County Coroner C.H. Wildman while identifying the victims of the St. Elizabeth’s fire. Courtesy of the Daily Times

In some cases, the families of the deceased were able to come and identify their loved ones. In others, there wasn’t anyone but the sisters to say who they were.

As expected, some of the bodies had been so badly damaged by the fire that they were difficult for anyone to recognize.

One victim’s extremely long hair had been untouched by the fire, although the rest of them was unrecognizable. The sisters recognized the hair and were able to say who it was. In another case, a few scraps of clothes remained. One of the sisters were able to identify that victim because they had helped to dress them the day before the fire.

Sadly though, there were some that were burned beyond all recognition, and remained unidentified.

Meanwhile, trained fire investigators were searching for clues as to how the fire had started. Workmen were only allowed to remove select debris from the site, and even that was carefully checked for any possible evidence by the fire inspectors before it was hauled away.

As they worked, they were watched by an estimated 50,000 spectators who had travelled to the Mercy Hospital campus to see what was left of St. Elizabeth’s for themselves. Some of them had driven for hours to satisfy their morbid curiosity. Police were stationed at the site at all times to keep any curiosity seekers or trophy hunters from entering the area.

One of Wildman’s duties was to conduct an official coroner’s inquest of the fire. A coroner’s inquest was a panel that determined the official cause of death of a person, usually in the case of a murder, accident, or a disaster like St. Elizabeth’s.

To that end, Wildman gathered three men – Harvey Hoffman, Forrest Kilmer, and Carl Stoelting – together at the ruin of St. Elizabeth’s and swore them in as his official coroner’s jury. They would help to rule on the conclusions on the cause of death of the 41 victims after hearing the testimony of witnesses and experts.

For now, however, the gathering of the coroner’s jury was only a formality. It had already been decided that it would be put on hold for the time being, pending the conclusion of another inquiry.

A special investigations board composed of state, county, and city officials was convened to determine the cause of the fire. They would conduct an official hearing in a meeting room in the basement of Mercy Hospital, interviewing witnesses in an effort to determine the exact cause of the fire.

It was decided that the proceedings would be carried out behind closed doors and under strict secrecy until their investigation had reached its conclusion.

Reporters, eager to learn any information about what was going on that they could, lined the corridors outside. To ensure that no one became too eager and gained access to the meeting room, a fireman in official uniform was posted at the door.

Fireman guarding the door to where the fire inquest for the St. Elizabeth’s fire was being held in the basement of Mercy Hospital. Courtesy of the Daily Times

While the hearings were being conducted in the basement of Mercy Hospital, on the floors above doctors and nurses went about their rounds, taking care of patients and performing surgeries.

One of those doctors was John Sunderbruch, a 39-year-old doctor and surgeon. Heavily involved in the local community, he was also a member of the Second Alarmers, a group of volunteers who assisted firemen at fires.

Sunderbruch had been called to St Elizabath’s the night of the fire as both a doctor and a Second Alarmer. He had spent the night mainly working with the firemen in helping get patients out of the burning building. He left the scene in the early morning, only to return a few hours later to perform his normal rounds and see his patients at the main hospital.

It seemed that everyone was talking about the fire. Some were true, other things were just speculation on things that no one knew. One of those things was the cause of the fire itself. While many had their own ideas, there was one rumor that kept being repeated over and over again.

When Sunderbruch first heard it, he ignored it. He wasn’t a gossip and didn’t care to repeat any rumors going around. He expected it to just die out in a day or two, replaced by the actual facts of the matter as they emerged.

But this one didn’t. One of the patients had confessed to setting the fire, they said. They said that they were responsible.  Over and over again he heard it, and with every telling it started to weigh on him more and more.

On Monday, January 9, Sunderbruch happened to run into Lester Schick, the fire chief for the city of Davenport and one of the investigators conducting the hearing, in the halls at Mercy Hospital. The two men had at least a casual acquaintance, so they began to talk a little.

As they did, Sunderbruch mentioned the rumor about people seeing someone confess to setting the fire. Schick simply said, “Yes,” and wouldn’t elaborate any further.

Sunderbruch decided to not press the matter. They finished their conversation and went their separate ways.

But the rumor kept nagging at him. What if there was something to it? God, what if it was true? What if someone had confessed to it?

Sunderbruch decided that it wasn’t up to him to decide if it was true or not. However, it was his responsibility to talk to the investigators and tell them about it. What they did with it from there was up to them.

When his work shift ended that Monday, he drove to Lester Schick’s office at the Central Fire Station in downtown Davenport.

When he arrived, he was told that Schick was out of the office for the day. Thinking for a moment, Sunderbruch asked if Captain Othmar Mangels was in. Mangels was a fire marshal and fire investigator and was also one of the officials on the St. Elizabeth’s fire inquiry board.

He was at the station, so Sunderbruch was shown to his office. After exchanging a few pleasantries, the doctor told Mangels everything that he had heard in regard to the rumor. Mangels listened attentively, thanked Sunderbruch, and showed the doctor to the door.

Satisfied he had done the right thing, Sunderbruch left and went home.

The next afternoon, he was surprised when Captain Mangels stopped by his office. Coming inside, he shut the door behind him, then asked Sunderbruch to repeat everything that he had told him at the fire station. The doctor repeated everything that he had the day before. Mangels asked a few questions, then thanked him and left.

Little did Sunderbruch realize, he had just touched on one of the most sensitive parts of the whole investigation.

As the closed-door investigations continued in Davenport, Bernard Moran, a state’s attorney in Rock Island, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from Davenport, received a strange phone call.

It was a man named John Epperly. He was a local iron worker, and he said that his wife, Elnora, had set the fire.

The past year, Elnora had started having hallucinations. John, a devoted husband, took her to be seen by a doctor. As a result, she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted to St. Elizabeth’s for treatment in December of 1949.

Elnora had survived the fire, and John had taken her back to their home in Rock Island. She had started telling him that she was responsible for the fire, that she had started it in her room.

At first, John ignored her. Part of Elnora’s illness was that she took responsibility for things that couldn’t possibly be her fault. If there was a mass murder across the world, she had caused it. If there was an earthquake in Tibet, then she had something to do with it.

But Elnora was insistent. She kept saying over and over again that she had started the fire, and that John needed to call the State’s Attorney in the area so that she could confess. Finally, John caved in and made the phone call.

Moran was very interested. Choosing his words carefully, he asked John if Elnora would be willing to make that same confession to him over the phone. After a brief silence, Elnora spoke into the phone. Moran repeated his question, and Elnora agreed. She told him plainly that she had started the fire at St. Elizabeth’s a few nights before.

Moran thanked her, got their phone number and address, then hung up the phone. Immediately he dialed his chief investigator, Harry Weinbrandt.

Giving Weinbrandt the Epperly’s address, Moran told him to go over there right away, despite the fact that it was 9 o’clock at night. He said Mrs. Epperly had information about the St. Elizabeth’s fire, and Weinbrandt needed to talk to her.

About fifteen minutes later, Moran’s investigator was knocking on the Epperly’s door. When they answered, Weinbrandt introduced himself and he was shown inside. Once they had settled, Weinbrandt asked Elnora what she wanted to talk about.

A small, dark-haired woman with eyes to match, Elnora looked directly at the investigator and asked him, “Do you think I’m crazy?”

Weinbrandt replied, “No. I don’t know you. I don’t think so.”

“Well, I’m the person who started a fire at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital,” she replied.

Not letting his surprise show, Weinbrandt asked if she was telling him the truth. With all seriousness, Elnora said that she was. Taking a deep breath, he asked her to tell her story.

With her husband there to support her, Epperly started talking.

In early December of 1949, Elnora had been admitted to St. Elizabeth’s for psychiatric treatment. She had been diagnosed as schizophrenic and had been there on the night of the fire.

According to her account, Elnora had been locked in her room for the night when she suddenly had the idea that someone was killing her husband. She was desperate to get to him but couldn’t figure out how to get out of the room. Suddenly, she had an idea.

While the hospital staff took all matches and lighters from the patients every night, Elnora had hidden the one she had borrowed from her husband. Using John’s cigarette lighter, Elnora lit a newspaper on fire and then used that to light her room curtains on fire.  They caught fire in a few moments, and quickly spread to the window frame and other things in the room. Elnora told Weinbrandt that she had no idea that it would spread that fast.

Her idea was to give the duty nurse a reason to open the door to her room. The plan worked well. The duty nurse ran to the door and quickly opened it, her attention focused on the fire and getting her out of the room. As the nurse stepped inside, Elnora ran out.

Aware that the fire was quickly spreading, she ran to the room of another patient whom she was friends with. She opened the door, leaned inside, and shouted, “Fire!” Then she turned and started making her way out of the building.

When she got to a nearby parlor area, Elnora was stopped by a locked door. She tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. She noticed that there were glass and wire panels on either side of the door, so she took a chair and began breaking out the glass on the left side panel.

When she had made a big enough hole, she reached through and turned the doorknob from the outside, which opened it. In the process, Elnora cut her thumb badly on a piece of glass and began bleeding.

Going through the door, she made her way outside. There, Elnora stood until someone came and brought her into the hospital. She was shown into a room, and someone stitched the cut in her thumb.

Weinbrandt asked her the same questions about her story several different times, and every time she gave the same answers. By the end, he was convinced that Elnora Epperly was telling the truth.

As the interview came to a close, he asked her and John if they would come to the state attorney’s office the next morning and repeat her story. She agreed, and a time was set.

When they didn’t appear the next day, there was immediate concern that the couple had fled the area. After a brief search, they were found at Elnora’s mother’s house. They had overslept and missed the appointment. After a brief stop at their home to change their clothes and get cleaned up, Harry Weinbrandt escorted them to Bernard Moran’s office.

Before they started, Moran asked permission to make a recording for legal purposes. The Epperly’s agreed, and the interview began. When they were finished, the Epperly’s were asked if they would go and be interviewed by the official fire commission. Moran also explained their legal rights to them, making sure that they understood them. The Epperly’s did and agreed to be interviewed again.

Elnora Epperly on the day she gave her confession to city, county, and state officials. Courtesy of the Daily Times

Instead of the designated meeting room at Mercy Hospital, the commission decided to meet in the judge’s chambers in one of the courtrooms at the Scott County, Iowa Courthouse in Davenport. Once again, they were escorted there by Harry Weinbrandt.

There, in front of officials that included Othmar Mangels, C.H. Wildman, and Scott County Attorney Clark Filseth, Elnora told her story for a second time that day.

As she went through the events of that night, she would often break into fits of laughter, rolling her eyes and bowing her head. Even though she didn’t give any outward signs of being nervous, she constantly smoked throughout the entire interview, her cigarettes being lit by either John Epperly or Clark Filseth.

After the interview was over and all questions had been asked, Elnora was arrested for starting the deadly St. Elizabeth’s fire. She was taken directly over to the Scott County Jail.

The investigators were now curious to talk to her psychiatrist, Dr. Warner Hollander.

He verified that he had originally seen Epperly when she was admitted to St. Elizabeth’s on December 12, 1949. Hollander was able to confirm what John Epperly had already told them: Elnora was prone to hallucinations and had a tendency to take the blame for things that weren’t her fault.

In the time that she was his patient at the hospital, Elnora hadn’t responded well to treatment. Because of that, she was due to be released on January 7, 1950.

Hollander had explained to John that Elnora hadn’t been cured of her mental illness, and that she would probably have to be institutionalized again. However, she had been admitted as a private patient to St. Elizabeth’s, and it would be very expensive to continue her treatment there.

Because of this, Hollander recommended John admit Elnora to a state hospital. She would still get the treatment that she needed while making it more affordable for him.

Before any of that could happen, however, the fire had broken out at St. Elizabeth’s.

Like many other doctors, Hollander had been at the main hospital helping to treat the survivors. At some point during the night, Elnora was brought to where he was. He remembered that she had a bandage on her thumb, but she had already completely bled through it.

The cut she had there had already been sutured, so Hollander cleaned the wound and re-dressed it. One of his nurses later told him that she had confessed to starting the fire. Like her husband, Hollander knew that Elnora had a tendency to take the blame for things, so he assumed that she was doing the same thing in this situation.

When questioned by investigators, Hollander advised them that, because of the delusional nature of her mental illness, they should be skeptical of her confession. For his part, he told them that he didn’t believe Elnora, and that she was just trying once again to take the blame for something beyond her control.

Another psychiatrist, Dr. John Marker, who was present at Elnora’s interview with the fire inspection board, disagreed.

Marker had been asked there by Clark Filseth to evaluate Epperly’s mental state and to determine if she was telling the truth. To that end, he directed specific questions to her throughout the proceedings. Afterward, Marker had concluded that, while she was delusional, she was telling the truth about setting the fire.

Marker was also able to uncover information that would make the events of January 7,1950, even more disturbing than they had already become.

Originally, Elnora had told Harry Weinbrandt that she had started the fire as a distraction to get the nurse to open the door to her room. However, when Marker asked her why she had set the fire at the hearing, Epperly told him flatly that it was none of his business. When John began to elaborate on her behalf, she threatened to divorce him if he ever divulged why she started the fire.

Later that day, John approached Marker and told him what Elnora had originally told him. According to her, she had clearly seen, in another building far away, people who were going to kill John. Elnora said that one of those people had her husband’s lighter, even though it was physically with her.

To distract these nameless, phantom people from hurting her husband, Elnora had initially set her pack of cigarettes on fire to distract them. When that didn’t work, she set the curtains in her room on fire with the newspaper.

When the duty nurse had opened her door, Elnora simply took advantage of the situation and ran out the door. Everything else that she had done that night was an extension of that.

Elnora Epperly had been reacting to a hallucination caused by her schizophrenia, not methodically plotting out her escape.

Because of this, Marker contended that Elnora wasn’t guilty of the fire because, although she had deliberately stared it and was telling the truth on that part, she had committed arson under the influence of a delusion caused by her mental illness.

A sanity board would examine Elnora Epperly while she was in custody, and found her to be of an unsound mind, and was therefore not capable of being tried for any criminal activity.

Originally, Clark Filseth had planned to take Elnora to trial for first-degree murder. After the findings of the board, however, he abandoned those plans. She was removed from the Scott County Jail and taken to the Mount Pleasant Mental Hospital.

Confession aside, there was still a chance that she had just made the whole thing up. Investigators would need something harder than the confession of a mentally ill woman to finalize their case.

During her interview, Elnora had said that she had dropped her cigarette lighter in the parlor just before she went through the door.

The next day, Lester Schick and one of the Deputy State Fire Marshals went back to the ruins of the hospital and began sorting through the rubble in the parlor where Elnora said she had dropped the lighter.

As they searched, they found a cigarette lighter in the area of a first-floor parlor. It was flat and had been burned black, but the initials “J.W.E.” could clearly be seen etched into one side.

It was exactly like the one described by Elnora Epperly during her confession. Almost miraculously, John Epperly’s lighter had survived the fire, exactly where she said she had dropped it.

Fire investigators search through the wreckage of St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital looking for evidence. Courtesy of the Democrat and Leader.

Meanwhile, Othmar Mangels was able to determine where the most probable location was that the fire had started. According to him, the origin of a fire is most likely where the most severe, intense burning has been.

After interviewing several firemen who were at the scene that night and examining the different construction materials present in the hospital, Mangels determined that the fire had started in one of the first-floor rooms next to a dumb waiter shaft.

When he asked hospital officials who had been staying in that room, they confirmed that it had belonged to Elnora Epperly.

Mangels also examined the parlor where Elnora claimed to have broken the glass and cut her hand.

The door and adjacent glass panels were still intact. By examining the scorch patterns around the panels, he was able to find evidence that indicated the glass had been broken out before the fire. Glass on the floor next to door was also found to be smoked on one side, indicating that it had been lying against the floor before the fire had come through the area.

Mangels also discovered what looked like blood on the door frame, as if someone had been bleeding and then touched the door.

The glass was carefully photographed, collected, and sealed in an evidence envelope. The section of wooden frame that had the blood deposits were photographed, then carefully removed with a hammer and chisel and taken into evidence.

All of this matched Elnora’s account of her actions on the night of the fire and added more concrete proof to support her story.

Eyewitnesses at the fire on January 7 testified that they had seen a woman fitting her description outside the building that night, cradling one of her hands as if it were injured.

In early February, the official coroner’s inquest was finally held after being put off for so long. Many of the same witnesses that had been questioned during the original inquest were put on the stand again, repeating their earlier testimony.

The official ruling for the cause of death for all 41 victims of the tragedy were deemed to be as a result of the fire in some way shape or form. C.H. Wildman and his assistant, Gordon Rock, weren’t sure of the specific cause of death in some of the victims.

Rock would explain that it could have been severe burns or smoke inhalation. Or, it could have any number of natural causes such as stroke or heart attack brought on by the severe stress of the situation. And the plain fact was that some of the remains had been so badly burned that the exact cause of death might never be able to be determined.

But they knew that each and every victim had died from being in that fire, and that had resulted from a deliberate act of arson by Elnora Epperly.

While they had determined the actual cause of the fire and who had started it, investigators still had to account for why the St. Elizabeth’s fire had spread so fast and taken so many lives.

It was not a cut and dried answer. There were several contributing factors to the issue, and each one was covered in detail by the investigators.

The hospital was several decades old, and had been consistently maintained over that time, including an extensive remodel in 1949. This meant that several layers of paint had been added to the walls, and multiple coats of varnish to the wooden surfaces.

Fiberboard panels, commonly used during the 1930’s and 1940’s, had been used to cover several ceilings in the building.

Unfortunately, all of these materials were highly flammable and allowed the fire to spread very quicky once lit.

Another factor in allowing the fire to spread quickly was the lack of any fire breaks in the walls of the building. A fire break is a blockage – usually as simple as a 2×4 stud – installed in the space between wall supports that prevents fire from travelling up that space to the rooms or spaces above it.

With no fire breaks, the fire at St. Elizabeth’s was able to travel quickly from the first floor all the way up into the top floors and roof area in a very short amount of time.

The hospital also lacked a fire sprinkler system. While not legally required, it had been recommended that one be installed in the building for several years. The sisters had planned to install one but had been misinformed about how effective they could be, and so never had.

Another issue was in the area of evacuating patients. There was no set, formal plan for the evacuation of the building. All the nurses on staff knew was to get everyone out as quickly as possible, however possible.

Inspectors noted that a fire alarm would have also helped in this area. It would have allowed the staff at St. Elizabeth’s an easy way to notify the main building of an emergency without having to first find a telephone and make a call. They could have just pulled the alarm, and then began their evacuation procedure.

Then, of course, there was the matter of the bars on the patient’s windows. The inspectors understood and appreciated that they were installed as a safety measure to prevent suicide. However, there was no way for firemen to easily remove or open the bars from the outside, and that had contributed to many of the deaths at the hospital on January 7.

While the inspectors were critical, it was also noted that the building had been very well kept. Othmar Mangels had recently inspected St. Elizabeth’s, and he found that the wiring had been up to date, all possible combustible materials and liquids safely stored, and it was remarkably clean.

Neither the fire alarm nor the fire sprinkler system was legally required to be installed, and so could be put off so that other things could be taken care of. Unfortunately, one terrible deed had shown the effect that these upgrades could have had.

However, the fire and the subsequent findings of the investigation team lead to several institutions across the nation examining its own policies and procedures and updating them accordingly.

Elnora Epperly would never stand trial for the deaths caused by the St. Elizabeth’s fire. She had already been placed in the custody of the Mount Pleasant Mental Institution. Later, she would be moved to the East Moline State Hospital in East Moline, Illinois.

The tapes made of the confession, the lighter, and all of the other evidence that had been collected during the investigation was carefully stored away, just in case Epperly would ever be found fit to stand trial.

The Sisters of Mercy were devastated. Devoted to the lifelong care of their patients, the last thing that they ever wanted to do was cause them any kind of harm.

On a dreary midwestern day, the last sixteen victims of the fire were buried on a plot of ground on the Mercy Hospital grounds. These last victims either couldn’t be identified or hadn’t been claimed by family or friends.

Instead of a mass grave, each one was buried separately in their own casket, escorted by members of the fire and police department. Floral arrangements had been donated by the Davenport Floral Association, and music was provided by the acapella choir of a local university.

Because some of the victims were Catholic and others were Protestant, both a Catholic Priest and a Protestant minister officiated the funeral at different times.

The funeral was attended by several members of the hospital staff, nursing students, police and firemen, and, of course, the Sisters of Mercy. For some of the patients that had died in the fire, their families hadn’t come to see them in years. They had no one else in the world, and so the sisters had become their family.

The St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Fire would become one of the deadliest fires in Iowa history and the third most devastating hospital fire in United States history.

The spot where the hospital stood, and the scene of so much tragedy, is a parking lot now. Also gone is the sprawling building that was once Mercy Hospital, long since replaced by a more modern hospital building on the other side of the campus.

The Sisters of Mercy are buried in their own cemetery plot nearby, resting peacefully within the boundaries of the legacy that they founded. Very close is a granite marker etched with the names of the unclaimed victims of the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Fire, the only physical reminder of one of the deadliest tragedies in American history.




Fire Probe Opens; Toll Rises to 40. The Daily Times, 1/9/1950

Funerals Start Today for Victim’s of St. Elizabeth’s Fire. The Daily Times, 1/9/1950

Sprinkler Systems for Public Buildings Demanded by Schick. The Daily Times 1/9/1950

Kin, Nuns Reduce Number of Victims Remaining Unidentified. The Daily Times, 1/9/1950

Need for State Code Is Emphasized by Hospital Disaster. The Daily Times, 1/9/1950

County to Bury All Unidentified Dead of Hospital Blaze. The Daily Times, 1/9/1950

Jury to Investigate Hospital Fire. The Democrat and Leader, 1/9/1950

Secret Probing of Fire Continues. The Daily Times, 1/10/1950

Final Arrangements Are Made for Burial of Fire Victims. The Daily Times, 1/10/1950

Fire Probers Hear Witnesses and Inspect Ruins. The Daily Times, 1/10/1950

Operate Mental Facilities at Hospitals, Psychiatrists Urge. The Daily Times, 1/10/1950

Inspector Assures Thorough Probe of Blaze at Hospital. The Daily Times, 1/10/1950

Coroner Wildman Operates Office on Full-Time Basis After Hospital Fire. The Daily Times, 1/10/1950

Hospital Fire Death Toll Reaches 41 as First Clew is Found. The Democrat and Leader, 1/10/1950

Plan Burial Rites for Unclaimed Bodies in St. Elizabeth’s Disaster. The Democrat and Leader, 1/10/1950

Woman, Who Lived Thru Fire in St. Elizabeth’s, Dies of Shock. The Democrat and Leader, 1/10/1950

Keep Secrecy Clamp on Fire Probe. The Daily Times, 1/11/1950

Mass Committal Service Friday at Sacred Heart Cathedral. The Daily Times, 1/11/1950

Probers Balked as Heroine Unable to Testify. The Daily Times, 1/11/1950

Hospital Fire Probe Remains Secret, Safety Chief Decides. The Democrat and Leader, 1/11/1950

Nurse’s Aide, Horrified by Fire Experience in Hospital Ward, Unable to Give Story to Board. The Democrat and Leader, 1/11/1950

Report Patient Confesses She Set Hospital Fire; Faces Murder Count. The Daily Times, 1/12/1950

Probers Knew of Impending Break: Schick. The Daily Times, 1/12/1950

Mrs. Epperly’s Words Recorded as She Confesses Starting Fire. The Daily Times, 1/12/1950

Find Lighter; Woman to Face Court. The Daily Times, 1/13/1950

Find Cigaret (sic) Lighter in Fire Ruins. The Democrat and Leader, 1/13/1950

Bury Last of Fire Victims Near Hospital. The Daily Times, 1/13/1950

Set Fire to Escape, Mrs. Epperly Says. The Daily Times, 1/13/1950

Preliminary Report on Fire Probe May be Presented by Officials Next Week. The Daily Times, 1/13/1950

Mrs. Epperly Lawyer Charges ‘Somebody’s Being Shielded.’ The Democrat and Leader, 1/15/1950

Mrs. Epperly Orders ‘Cold Plate’ Lunch Including Bottle of Milk in Place of Regular Jail Fare. The Democrat and Leader, 1/15/1950

Hospital Fire Investigators Quite Certain from Start of Probe Mrs. Epperly Set Fire. The Democrat and Leader, 1/17/1950

6 Factors Blamed in Mercy Fire. The Democrat and Leader, 1/24/1950

Evidence Presented to Board of Inquiry Probing Hospital Fire Supports Mrs. Epperly’s Confession. The Democrat and Leader, 1/25/1950

Murder Charge in Mercy Fire is Weakened. The Democrat and Leader, 2/2/1950

Mrs. Epperly, judged mentally Ill at R.I. Hearing, Scheduled to Enter East Moline Hospital. The Democrat and Leader, 2/2/1950

Coroner Jury Blames Mrs. Epperly for Fire. The Democrat and Leader, 2/3/1950

Evidence in Epperly Case Stored Away. The Democrat and Leader, 2/5/1950

Former City Policeman Dies in West. The Rock Island Argus, 11/22/1967

Dr. John H. “Jack” Sunderbruch. The Des Moines Register, 3/30/2006

Year: 1940; Census Place: Davenport, Scott, Iowa; Roll: m-t0627-01202; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 82-27

Year: 1940; Census Place: Davenport, Scott, Iowa; Roll: m-t0627-01202; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 82-20

United States of America, Bureau of the Census; Washington, D.C.; Seventeenth Census of the United States, 1950; Record Group: Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790-2007; Record Group Number: 29; Residence Date: 1950; Home in 1950: Rock Island, Rock Island, Illinois; Roll: 90; Sheet Number: 20; Enumeration District: 81-163

United States of America, Bureau of the Census; Washington, D.C.; Seventeenth Census of the United States, 1950; Record Group: Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790-2007; Record Group Number: 29; Residence Date: 1950; Home in 1950: Rock Island, Rock Island, Illinois; Roll: 90; Sheet Number: 14; Enumeration District: 81-163

United States of America, Bureau of the Census; Washington, D.C.; Seventeenth Census of the United States, 1950; Record Group: Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790-2007; Record Group Number: 29; Residence Date: 1950; Home in 1950: Rock Island, Rock Island, Illinois; Roll: 4081; Sheet Number: 79; Enumeration District: 81-139

National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; WWII Draft Registration Cards for Iowa, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 49

State Historical Society of Iowa; Des Moines, Iowa; Iowa Death Records, 1888-1904 U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

St. Elizabeth Hospital Fire Inquest – Microfilm 977.769 Cor . The Inquest took place on February 2 and 3, 1950.

Condon, Sister Mary Brigid. From Simplicity to Elegance: The Story of Mercy Hospital, Davenport: 1869-1994. Davenport; Genesis Health System.




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