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Poison in the Whiskey: Murder of L. L. DeLong 1904


Posted By: Karen Brewer (email)
Date: 5/5/2016 at 13:42:10

Poison in the Whiskey: Murder of Leonard DeLong 1904

By Nancy Bowers
Written July 2011

Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases.

When wealthy Clarke County farmer Leonard L. DeLong died suddenly the day after his 52nd birthday in 1904, family and neighbors in Washington Township assumed he had a heart attack.

His funeral was held, and he was buried in an Osceola cemetery not far from his home

However, DeLong’s sons Homer and Leroy had lingering suspicions about the death. They found it odd that their strong and robust father died 30 minutes after consuming a whiskey with quinine water.

And — significantly — he recently made out a new will.

Secret Exhumation and Aftermath

The DeLong brothers obtained a court order to secretly exhume their father’s body at the end of December 1904, almost four months after his death.

DeLong’s vital organs were sent to the lab of Des Moines Professor Sherman Riley Macy, an expert in poisons. Macy found strychnine.

On January 14, 1905, Professor Macy accompanied the DeLong brothers to the office of Iowa Governor Albert B. Cummins, who listened carefully to the facts. After the meeting, Governor Cummins issued a $200 reward for information leading to the person who laced Leonard DeLong’s whiskey with strychnine.

The Governor’s public proclamation was the first time Clarke County citizens learned Leonard DeLong’s death was not from natural causes.


The Clarke County Sheriff Jacob S. Banker, and a Mr. Scott, County Attorney, gathered evidence for a prosecution, focusing on those closest to DeLong.

They settled on son-in-law Clark Williams, the 32-year-old husband of Leonard DeLong’s daughter Sylvia Mae Williams was present at the DeLong farm the night of the poisoning, but left so quickly after the whiskey was drunk that he was back at his own farm before the victim died.

His motive? To obtain an inheritance through DeLong’s new will.

In November 1905 — well over a year after DeLong’s death — an Osceola grand jury indicted Clark Williams for murder. His bond was set at $15,000; attorneys arranged an agreement reducing that amount to $10,000. The murder trial was set to take place in February 1906 in Osceola.

Newspapers, however, reported that Williams was sick with appendicitis-like symptoms and was too ill to stand trial if he did not improve. After he recovered, Williams — whose name was incorrectly reported as “Williamson” in some early news accounts — was put on trial in May.

On May 7, 1906, Judge Hiram K. Evans dismissed the case against Williams, saying the evidence presented at trial was not as strong as that presented to the grand jury and was insufficient to convict.

The community was shocked by this sudden and unexpected turn of events.

Clark Williams and Sylvia Mae DeLong divorced before 1930, and she married Jacob Steven Hart. Williams died in Des Moines on August 6, 1947 at the age of 74 and is buried in the same cemetery as Leonard DeLong, the man he was once accused of poisoning.


Clarke Documents maintained by David Dinham.
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