Crawford County, Iowa, IAGenWeb


Tragedies and Accidents

Prior to 1908

Source: Standard Atlas of Crawford County, Iowa. Including a Plat Book of the Villages, Cities and Towships of the County. 1908. Geo. A. Olgle and Co., Publishers and Engravers, 134 Van Buren St, Chicago.

This material pertains to the tradegies and many farm and railroad accidents.

First half is tragedies.

Second half is accidents.

Chapter XXXII

A Chapter of Tragedies

It is only by an examination of the the actual records that one can realize the number of tragedies that have taken place in Crawford county. Prior to this century all the records are not available but since the year 1900 the complete files of the Denison newspapers afford a fairly accurate source of information.

Crawford is a law-abiding county: its people as a whole a happy, contented and prosperous, few of its people are engaged in hazardous pursuits. Nevertheless the newspaper files show that since January 1, 1900, six people have been murdered, eleven have been victims of self-destruction and more than sixty have met sudden and unexpected death through accidents. This is an appalling record for a space of but little more than ten years, a record which few would believe unless they saw the facts and the figures.

To the credit of the county let it be said that but one murder was committed by an actual resident of the county, but on the other hand it must be recorded that but three of the guilty parties have been punished for their crime.

Of those who died by their own hand, nine were men, but two women having committed this awful deed. Of these unfortunates let no more be said. They must answer to the Almighty, not to men, and the deep burden of grief borne by their relatives is heavy enough without having the names of their misguided loved ones thus preserved in a permanent record of the county.

Of the deaths by accident about fifty per cent were in connection with the operation of the railroads of the county. Another heavy toll to pay. A large number were occasioned by runaways and similar accidents with horses. Strange to say, until the recent accident at Kiron when a loaded automobile was run down by a train, there is no record of a single death in an automobile accident or where a machine in any way occasioned the mishap.

J. H. Love

The first murder in the county during this period, from 1900 to date, was that of J. H. Love, whose body was found by trainmen of the Milwaukee lying near the track west of Arion.

The skull was battered in by a blunt instrument and although considerable money was found on his person, the fact that he had displayed a still larger amount at Arion the day before led to the belief that robbery was the motive. From the actions of Mr. Love at Arion it was thought that he was a professional gambler. He had been making his home in a "hoboe" camp.

The inquest developed little information beyond that given. Suspicion was directed towards local parties but they were able to prove an alibi. Search was made for two Negroes said to have been with Love shortly before his death, but no trace of them was found and no arrests were made for this crime. The date of this murder was August 16, 1901.

Fred Powell

On July 20,1902, Fred Powell, a brakeman on the Milwaukee, was killed near Arion, the crime occurring at almost the identical spot where the body of Love was found.

The story of the crime was that Powell attempted to drive some tramps from his train, demanding either that they get off or pay. In the fracas which followed Powell as stabbed near the heart; he managed to make his way back to the way-car, where he soon died.

It was soon learned that a Negro had boasted to one W. H. Pfeiffer that he had "marked" a "brakie" who had tried to put him off the train. After an exciting chase this Negro was captured near Dow City and another Negro who had been his companion was captured at Sioux City.

In the sweat box the first Negro captured, who gave his name as Numley, practically confessed his guilt. His story was that a brakeman came along the train, firing a revolver and ordering all of the tramps either to leave the train or put up some money. That the brakeman demanded money of him and stepped on his hand as he was climbing up the side of the car and that thereupon he struck at the brakeman twice, with a knife. That the brakeman ran to the back of the train and that he (Numley) then left the train. He said he did not know the man was badly hurt until he overheard parties at Dow City talking about the man who had been killed by a Negro, he then tried to make his escape.

Numley was arraigned before Justice Wm. McLennan and was held under $15,000 bond. This he could not give and he was confined in the county jail.

On the evening of September 8, 1902, Numley succeeded in effecting his escape in the following manner: Sheriff Henry Bell went at nine o'clock to lock the prisoners in their cells, they having been allowed in the general cell room during the supper hour. Entering the jail the sheriff neglected to lock the outer door behind him. The inner door opened hard and the sheriff put up both hands to force it open, suddenly it flew back and Numley, who had evidently been lying in wait, jumped on the sheriff, struck him repeatedly, forcing him to his knees and then ran out of the jail and into the darkness. Sheriff Bell recovered himself at once and started in pursuit, firing several ineffectual shots at the fleeing Negro. Failing to stop him and being unable to outrun him the sheriff stopped the pursuit and organized a posse for his capture. A reward was offered and the country was thoroughly scoured but he was not recaptured.

Detlef Evers

On December 29, 1903, Detlef Evers, a farmer, living in Goodrich township, killed his eighteen months old child by administering carbolic acid to the helpless little one. It developed that Evers and his wife entered into a suicide pact by which the lives of the entire family were to be ended. The gruesome work was commenced by giving the fiery liquid to the baby and it died an agonized death. Both Mr. and Mrs. Evers partook of the poison but not in a sufficient quantity to end their lives. Evers was arrested, but the plea of insanity was made, he was taken before the insane commission and adjudged insane and sent to the state asylum at Clarinda, from which he was afterwards released as cured. This was the only punishment meted out for this crime.

Fred Nawfl

On January 6, 1907, occurred the murder of Fred Nawfl a Syrian peddler. The body was found in a pasture in Goodrich township, a few miles northwest of Denison. There were bullet wounds and the skull had been battered by a blunt instrument. There were wagon tracks, and articles belonging to a peddler's stock were found. The morning following the murder Nawfl's horse and wagon were found on the Illinois Central tracks. Circumstantial evidence led to the arrest of two cousins of the murdered man, Joseph and Solomon Hassan.

Joseph Hassan attended the inquest as a voluntary witness and interested friend of the dead man. It was not until after the inquest that evidence developed which led to his arrest. Joseph was first held as a witness and later Solomon was captured near Sac City and confined in the county jail. A preliminary hearing was given them before Justice W. C. Rollins and they were bound over to await the action of the grand jury. Owing to recent changes in the law there was some question as to legality of the grand jury as drawn and a second indictment was found by a new jury.

It was not until September 16th that the actual of the case commenced and it was not until October 12th that the trial was competed and the jury returned its verdict, finding Joseph and Solomon guilty of murder in the second degree.

This was the most interesting, sensational and hardest fought criminal case in the records of the county. The court room was thronged with spectators throughout the entire four weeks of the trial and the whole county followed the case with the greatest interest. Motion for a new trial was filed and overruled and it was not until January 29, 1908, that sentence was passed, condemning the Hassans to twenty-five years each in the penitentiary. The case was appealed, but the Supreme court affirmed the decision of the lower court. Judge F. M. Powers presided at this trial. The jurors were Thomas Lang, G.T. Childress, F.A.Brown, Sidney Jobe, R. G. Theobald, W. R.Rogers, Josiah Inghram, S. C. Dunham, H. Beardsley, Fred Heiden, A. J. Randall and E. H. Smith. The case was prosecuted by County Attorney P. J. Klinker and Mr. Jacob Sims, while the defense was conducted by the firm of Conner & Lily.

Lee C. Warner and Alva C. Brechtel

On the night of June 19, 1909 occurred the murder of Lee C. Warner and Alva C. Brechtel, both brakemen on the Northwestern railway. The scene of the murder was a moving train passing through the yards of Vail at about midnight.

The details of the crime were almost identical with those of the killing of brakeman Powell at Arion, in 1902. These brakemen attempted to put a number of tramps off their train. A fight is said to have followed on a tank car, when shots were fired from the top of a box car just in the rear. Warner was killed outright and Brechtel was so badly wounded that he died in the hospital at Carroll a few days later.

The conductor, Mr. W.M. McCarthy, found the two men lying in the tank car. He stopped the train at West Side and notified Sheriff Cummings at Denison. The sheriff was on the spot within two hours. Evidence showed that the crimes had been committed by Negroes and by ten o'clock at least ten Negroes were under arrest at different points along the line. The right men were captured at Manilla on Sunday forenoon and were immediately brought to Denison. They gave their names as Hubbard and Clark.

At the preliminary hearing Clark made a confession, but claimed self-defense. He stated that the brakemen were about to throw Hubbard from the moving train, that he felt that his turn would come next and that he shot to protect both Hubbard and himself. He also told of their overland night journey to Manilla and their arrest by the marshal of that city. The confession completely exonerated Hubbard save as an accessory after the fact.

On Sunday, August 8th, Hubbard and Clark also made a desperate attempt to escape. When the sheriff went to lock the prisoners in for the night, Hubbard seized him from behind, while Clark attacked him from the front. Hubbard failed to hold the sheriff's arms and after some fierce fighting, Mr Cummings succeeded in breaking away from the two men and locked them in their cells.

Soon after Clark attempted suicide by hanging, making use of a towel provided for the prisoners. He was almost successful but the guards heard him strangling and he was cut down before his life was extinct. Clark pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to the penitentiary for life while Hubbard was given ten years for his share in the crime and in the attempted escape. This completes the history of the murders committed in Crawford county since 1900.

Accidental Deaths

Mrs. J. B. Romans

Our chapter of accidents which have occurred since the beginning of the new century opens with the tragic death of Mrs. J. B. Romans, on July 5, 1900. Mrs. Romans was one of the most prominent women of Denison. Her death was caused by burning, her clothes having caught fire from burning gasoline.

J. F. Rudd

In October of the same year J. F. Rudd, a pioneer trapper of Dow City, came to his death by drowning in the Boyer river and Will Vennick, a young man of Vail, was killed by a fall from a windmill tower.

Mrs. H. Stiisi

In 1901 the first accidental death was that of Mrs. H. Stiisi, wife of a bridge foreman, living in East Denison, who was killed by burning gasoline. The accident being similar to that which resulted in the death of Mrs. Romans.

Thomas Luney

In June, Thomas Luney, son of W. D. Luney, was killed at the railway crossing near the Luney mill, being run down by a train.

Henry Warn

And in March occurred the awful tragedy in which Henry Warn, crazed by financial difficulties, set fire to all his belongings on his farm northwest of Denison. His house, his barn, his horses, his cattle, his hogs, his faithful dog, which he had chained in the barn purposely, and the demented man himself were all consumed in this fearful holocaust.

Gale McBride

In April, 1901, Gale McBride, a charming little girl was playing on the roof of a shed at her father's place in Washington township. She slid off the roof and her muffler caught on a shingle nail and she was strangled to death before help arrived.

Hans Thiesen's son

Just one week later the little three year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Hans Thiesen fell into a pail of boiling water and was scalded to death.

Doranus Henning

In July Doranus Henning, a two year old tot toddled away from his home west of Charter Oak and got on the railroad track. The engineer and firemen of a fast freight saw the child, but too late to stop the heavy train. The fireman ran out on the fender and grabbed for the child but just then it fell and its head was cut off by the wheels.

August Clifford Kelly

In August Clifford Kelly, whose home was found to be at Des Moines, went to sleep on the track west of Vail and was literally ground to pieces by the Northwestern Flyer.

Olaf Larson

During the same month Olaf Larson, section foreman at Deloit was killed by the cars. With his men he was on a handcar when they saw the train coming. All the men jumped to safety but Larson went back to try to save the hand car, the crash came quicker than he thought and he was killed.

Patrick Henry

January 12, 1902, Patrick Henry was run down by a train while in the performance of duty, inspecting the tracks of the Illinois Central near Arion.

Henry Topf

The same month Henry Topf was killed at Charter Oak, by being crushed in a horsepower feed grinder.

M. C. Lawler and H. F. Pfannkuch

In February two Crawford county farmers, M. C. Lawler and H. F. Pfannkuch were killed in a railroad accident on the Illinois Central railroad, just east of Dubuque while on their way to Chicago with stock. Dan'l Lawler. T. F. Jordan and J. J. Moorehead were also severely injured in this accident.

Martin Conroy

On June 23rd, Martin Conroy, one of the pioneers of the county and a mail driver in the early days before the railroads, was thrown from his wagon when driving home from Dow City and died from his injuries.

John Thrope

In July John Thrope, section man at Manilla, slipped from a coal bank and was killed by a passing engine.

Bernard Lane and others

On January 28, 1903, there occurred a wreck on the Northwestern near Chicago in which Bernard Lane of Vail was killed and A. P. Lyman of Boyer township and Wm. Jochims and Evers Nielsen of Schleswig were severely injured. These men were going into Chicago with stock and were asleep in the way-car when their train was run into by an engine. The way-car caught fire and Lane and C. K. Coe of Woodbine met a fearful death, being pinioned beneath the wreckage and burned.

Johnny Clark

In July Johnny Clark came to his death by drowning in the Boyer river just below the Luney mill dam. He was bathing, could not swim, got beyond his depth and was drowned. Arthur Cushman, who was with him, made strenuous but unsuccessful efforts to save his life.

Wesley Cochran

In June, 1904, Wesley Cochran was struck and killed by the Fast Mail on the Northwestern just as he was crossing the railroad bridge west of the station.

August Leroy Cadwell

In August Leroy Cadwell, a popular young farmer residing near Manilla was killed by a stroke of lighting while going to town with a load of grain.

Thos. Butler

In December, Thos. Butler, an aged resident of Vail, returned from a visit in Nebraska. The fast train on which he came stopped at Denison but not at Vail. He left the train at Denison therefore and started to walk to his home. A blizzard was raging and he lost his way. The next morning his frozen body was found by Dan Scanlan, Jr.

Ward Butterworth

In January of 1905 Ward Butterworth, son of Mr. and Mrs. Clair Butterworth of Dow City, was killed by the accidental discharge of a rifle held in his own hands. The boys were out rabbit hunting and Butterworth climbed a tree as a vantage from which to shoot. His companion handed him the gun and as he drew it towards him it was accidentally discharged.

Paul De May

In August Paul De May attacked his wife with and ax, inflicting severe wounds upon the head from which it was feared she would die. He ran from the house after committing the crime. A thorough search was made for the supposed murderer and his body was finally found hanging to a tree in a small grove near the house. Mrs. De May fortunately recovered.

William Glau

In September William Glau, a young farm hand, was shot as the result of his own carelessness in handling a gun. The wound was in the shoulder and the young man bled to death before medical help could be obtained.

Franz Heppner

On the evening of October 17th, Gus Herring started to drive from Denison to the farm of Franz Heppner, north of town. The night was dark and Herring drove a horse which was blind. In some way he lost the road and fell off on embankment just north of Denison. Herring fell in such a manner that his neck was broken. The body was discovered by Leslie Gullick, the following morning.

Hans Kuhl

In November Hans Kuhl, of Willow township, died after suffering from all the agonies of hydrophobia, which came as the result of a bite by a mad dog some time before.

John McSorley

In May, 1906, John McSorley, a respected farmer near Manilla, was found dead in his field. The cause of his death is not certainly known but was supposed to have been caused by overheat.

C. H. Woodard

On the 27th of the same month C. H. Woodard was killed while engaged in moving a house at Manilla. A rope broke and the house commenced sliding down hill. Mr. Woodward attempted to put a block under one of the trucks, but the house slipped from the trucks pinioning him to the ground and killing him instantly.

August George Ullrich

In August George Ullrich, of Charter Oak, fell from a grain stack. He struck the up-pointed tines of a pitch fork and died as a result of his injuries.

Mrs. Lorenz Lorenzen

In October Mrs. Lorenz Lorenzen, living south of Manilla, was killed in a runaway accident, the horses becoming frightened at some coats hung on a fence by the roadside.

John Segebart

In November John Segebart, an Iowa township farmer, was killed while crossing the Milwaukee track near Aspinwall. He failed to notice the approaching train and he was thrown some distance when the engine struck his wagon.


The first accident in 1907 was the death of an unknown man, killed by the cars in the Northwestern yards at Denison.

Halver Norman

In March Halver Norman, Sr., one of the pioneer Swede settlers of the county, was killed by a Northwestern train while he was walking on the track within the yard limits of Denison.

Austrian Laborers

In April five Austrian Laborers were killed by the Illinois Central train No. 5 when it dashed into their hand car near the station of Ells. These men were working with a surfacing gang; as it was rainy, they took a hand car without permission and went to Boyer to buy a keg of beer. It was on their return to the camp that the fast train swung around a curve and caught them just as they were crossing a small bridge. All the men on the hand car were killed.

Claus Frahm

In June Claus Frahm was killed near Boyer while working with a section gang on the Northwestern. He was lifting rails when a jack slipped, striking him on the point of the jaw and breaking his neck.

John Perowitz daughter

In October the fifteen months old baby girl of Mr. and Mrs. John Perowitz of Charter Oak was burned to death in a fire which destroyed their home. The father made desperate but vain attempts to rescue the babe. The fire started in some unknown way while the father and mother were at work in the barn, leaving the two little ones in the house, the older child ran from the building and gave the alarm, but the baby had crept to another part of the room and could not be found when the father rushed into the blazing house to save her.

Mrs. H. J. Cummings

The early months of 1908 were singularly free from fatal accidents, but on September 7th occurred an accident which took from our county that splendid wife and mother Mrs. H. J. Cummings. Mrs. Cummings was hastening to take a train at Arion, evidently thinking that an oncoming train was on the Northwestern instead of the Illinois Central track she stepped directly in front of the swiftly moving train and was instantly killed.

Henry Jaacks

On Christmas Day, Mr. Henry Jaacks, a well known retired farmer living in Denison, went to his old farm to visit his son. He went to look over the place, and started to repair a windmill which appeared to him to be out of order, when planking over the well broke with his weight and he fell into the water and was drowned.

Chris Diersdorf

In May of 1909 Chris Diersdorf, a farmer in the vicinity of Charter Oak, drove home with a load of lumber, at a sliding place in the road the lumber slipped and fell on him, crushing him to death.

L. L. Servoss

On June 17th, L. L. Servoss, a well known Denison youth and an expert mason, was killed when the scaffolding broke with him while he was at work on the new Catholic church at Mapleton.

F. Boger

In July F. Boger, a prominent farmer was killed in a runaway accident at Buck Grove.

Arnold Lee

In the month following, Arnold Lee of Dow City, was killed by falling from a wagon in such a way that his neck was broken.

Harry Dobson

Harry Dobson, a young man of Deloit, was killed when the balance wheel of an engine attached to a sawmill burst, the pieces striking him, braking his bones in a number of places, so that he died in a short time. Just a few days later, November 3rd, Mr. John Smith, a Milwaukee engineer, was killed in the cab of his locomotive when the driving rod broke and threshed wildly about. This accident occurred between Charter Oak and Ute.

William Kunze

On December 18th William Kunze was killed at a railroad crossing near Charter Oak, being run down by the second section of a passenger train. His wife was also thrown from the wagon but escaped with minor injuries.

Robert Whited

In February, 1910, Robert Whited and his son Bert drove out of Buck Grove with a load of lumber. The team ran away, overturning the wagon and the son was killed by a timber which fell on his head. Mr. Whited was also severely injured.

B. F. Kradwell

On April 16th, B. F. Kradwell, of Racine, Wis., was found dead lying near the Northwestern track, between Denison and Vail. He had been a passenger on a west bound train the night before and it is not known whether he deliberately stepped off the train or accidentally fell from the platform of the observation car.

Mrs. Frank Sherwood

In June of 1910 Mrs. Frank Sherwood, a bride of three days, was killed at Arion at the same place and in almost the identical manner in which Mrs. H. J. Cummings was killed the year before. This is a dangerous and confusing crossing, but so far, no steps have been taken to make it safer.

Austin Gibbons son and Ruth Crakes

During the latter part of May the ten year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Austin Gibbons, of Vail, was killed when his horse slipped and fell on him, and in August, Ruth Crakes, a three-year-old, was burned to death at Manilla. She went up stairs, got to playing with matches and set her clothing on fire.

John Reimer child

Just a month later, September 15th, the sixteen months old babe of Mr. and Mrs John Reimer, living near Kenwood, was killed by falling into a twenty gallon crock which was partially filled with water.

John Powers, John Thies

On November 12, 1910, two fatal accidents occurred. Mr. John Powers, of Vail, driving through a storm with a blind horse, drove into a fence, overturning his buggy. He was injured and lay unconscious through the night, dying the next day.

John Thies, of West Side, lost his life in a runaway accident the same day.

Chris Lantau

In January, 1911, Chris Lantau was killed at a railroad crossing near West Side.

Leora Henry

On April 14th, Denison was greatly shocked and grieved over the death of one of her fairest and most capable daughters, Miss Leora Henry. She presided over her school in East Boyer Township and on Friday afternoon walked to Denison to spend the week-end at her home. Coming down the right of way of the Northwestern she stepped aside to avoid an oncoming train and stepped directly in the path of train coming behind her. She died within a short time after being taken to her home. We have already in this chapter noted the death of her father, Patrick Henry, in January, 1902 in a similar accident.

Arthur Wilson

During the early morning hours of July 20th, fire was discovered in the new hotel owned by Mrs. S. Dawes, of Denison. The flames spread so rapidly that but little could be done to save the building or contents. There were several people sleeping in the hotel, all of whom escaped except Arthur Wilson, a nephew of Mrs. Dawes, who, with his brother had but recently come to this country from England. The brother tried to arouse the unfortunate young man but failed to do so and in the morning his charred remains were found.

Louis Pranschke, Wm. Koeppen

On July 27th, Louis Pranschke, a young lad living west of Denison, was killed when his horse fell on him and on the first day of August, Wm. Koeppen was killed when a threshing machine fell through a bridge in Goodrich township.

A. F. Johnston

The last of these many tragedies occurred on August 10th, near Kiron, when Mr. A. F. Johnston, his wife and two daughters were killed when a Northwestern train struck their automobile at the railroad crossing. This is the only fatal accident in the county in which an automobile has figured in any way.

Thank you to Pauli Mullin for her efforts in typing this material.