Thursday, September 30, 2021

Was the Reverend Lyn George Jacklin Kelly the Villisca Ax Murderer?

Rev. Lyn George
Jacklin Kelly
 Was the Reverend Lyn George Jacklin Kelly the Villisca Ax Murderer? He was often described as a queer, strange, little man—he stood only five foot two and weighed 120 pounds. An article in
Smithsonian Magazine said Kelly was well-known in the area as a sexual pervert. Just days before the murders, he had been observed peeping into windows in Villisca.

Detectives arrested Kelly in 1917 and charged him with murdering the Moore’s, and for a while, it seemed as if they had the case wrapped up.

Kelly made a written confession.

He saw a shadow by the Moore house while he was out walking. “Something prompted him to follow it. He saw an ax. He picked it up. Then came a voice saying: ‘Go in. Slay utterly.’”

He crept up the stairs and into the children’s bedroom. The voice came back. “Slay utterly. Suffer little children to come unto me.” He replied, “Yes, Lord, they’re coming quick.” Chop—went the ax.

From there, he went into Joe and Sarah’s room. “More work yet. There must be sacrifices of blood.” Again, the ax did its work.

Downstairs, he discovered the Stillinger girls. “More work still.” The ax resumed its work.[4]

Eight people were dead. The voice was satisfied.

The next day Kelly repudiated the confession. He did not remember making it.

The court acquitted Kelly on November 26, 1917.

[1] Dash, Mike. “The Ax Murderer Who Got Away.” June 8, 2012.

[2] Dash, Mike. “The Ax Murderer Who Got Away.” June 8, 2012.

[3] Evening Times-Republican. September 7, 1917.

[4] Evening Times-Republican. September 7, 1917.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Blown to Bits in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Helen Sieler

The year 1937 was a particularly bloody one in Iowa.

It started with a bang when some bumbling robbers blew up a powder warehouse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The New Year’s Eve explosion at the Lawson Hardware Company powder house just east of Sioux Falls blew Harry Baker to bits. “Only bits of flesh, a piece of bone and a shred of scorched cloth” remained of him, reported the Des Moines Register.[1]

The Sioux Falls Police arrested Harry Reeves a few days later, on January 3.  “I was near the scene of the explosion,” he told authorities, “but I didn’t have any part in any jewelry robbery.”[2]


He said the explosion at the powder magazine was an accident. Baker’s girlfriend, Helen Sieler, got uppity and demanded her share of “the dough” from when the boys robbed the Ehlerman Wholesale Jewelry Company in Sioux City, or she’d squeal.

A Murder in Vinton Iowa


Myrtle Cook

Myrtle Cook’s death contained all the elements of a good murder mystery—the Ku-Klux-Klan, rum runners, and an estranged husband who fumbled some of the details of his alibi.

Cook, age 51, was shot to death in her Vinton, Iowa home at 703 Third Avenue on September 7, 1925. The assassin crept up to her living room window, peered inside to ensure his victim was within range and fired. Myrtle was writing a speech for the next day’s W. C. T. U. (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) meeting when the bullet pierced her heart.


She lived long enough to whisper what many people thought was her killer’s name to her mother-in-law, Elizabeth Cook. However, the police took that evidence with a grain of salt. The man she implicated was a prominent Vinton businessman considered to be above reproach.


Myrtle’s husband, Clifford B. Cook, wasn’t so sure. He said the family re-enacted the crime to determine if his wife was able to see her killer. “A person on the outside could not have looked up in her face without putting his own face directly in the light.”  So, it wasn’t improbable that Myrtle saw her killer.[1]

Investigators initially assumed liquor runners might have had a part in the attack since Myrtle was an ardent prohibitionist and urged strict enforcement of the prohibition laws. She was constantly harping on the mayor, sheriff, and state officials to go after the criminals.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Blown To Bits In Mason City Iowa

Nick Grba fell in love with his best friend’s wife,
Big Anna. A year later, Big Anna’s husband
was blown to bits after parking his taxi in his
garage. (Dubuque Telegraph Herald.
November 11, 1923)
Nick Grba, a Serbian immigrant, had been carrying on with his best friend’s wife, almost from the day they met. He took a taxi ride with Big Anna (his pet name for her) the day after he moved into the neighborhood, and within a month, they became lovers.

A year later, Anna’s husband, Mike Baldizar, got blown to bits after parking his car in the garage.


Investigators found a wire strung from an electric battery in a patch of nearby woods connected to a dynamite stick under Baldizar’s garage steps. When Baldizar left the garage, the killer detonated the dynamite.


Newspaper accounts said, “Baldizar was a mass of bleeding flesh and bones when picked up.” Doctors amputated his right hand and left leg. But his internal injuries were so severe that doctors said it would be a miracle if he lived.[1]


Baldizar died at the Park Hospital in Mason City, four days later from the injuries he sustained in the explosion.


Suspicion quickly turned to Nick Grba.


Grba admitted buying a sixty-foot roll of copper wire from the Mason City Electric Company, just days before the murder.  He insisted he used it to blow up fish in a pond near the Lehigh Cement Plant.


Witnesses saw him buy four sticks of dynamite at a local sporting goods store. He had first tried to get dynamite sticks and blasting caps at the Lehigh Cement plant where he worked, but employees there refused to sell it to him.

Davenport Iowa Author Alice French / Octave Thanet


Alice French
(The Reader. October 1904.)
In the 1890s, Alice French, pen name Octave Thanet, was hailed as “the wittiest letter writer among women.” Another paper declared, “she is without doubt one of the best writers of short stories in the United States.”[1] Several of her books sold over a hundred thousand copies, making her one of the highest-paid writers of the day.

Today, when she’s talked about at all, Alice is best-known as that lesbian writer from the turn of the century. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette called her the “best-known “lesbian Arkansan of the 19th century.” The paper noted that Alice, and her lover, Jane Crawford, lived “openly” from 1883 to 1909.[2]


For over three decades, the couple split their time between Thanford, their estate at Clover Bend, Arkansas, and their home in Davenport, Iowa.


Thanford was a lavishly appointed antebellum estate. After it burned in 1895, the couple built a 15-room mansion nearby, on a curve of the Black River. They enjoyed winters there until 1909, when Alice began to spend more time on the road. After that, they made their permanent home in Davenport.


Contemporary articles referred to Crawford as the author’s companion. The Des Moines Register followed suit in 1909, describing Jane as Alice’s “chosen friend and companion.”[3]


Jane and Alice were close in their teens and early twenties. Jane married Joseph Crawford in 1872 and divorced him four years later, in 1876. The two women got back together in 1882. They stayed close for the remainder of their lives, except for the short period Jane spent touring Europe.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Captain Jim Kolian Chicago Gang Leader

Captain Jim Kolian ran a gang of nine ghetto kids on Chicago’s west side. But the Captain wasn’t a kid; he was twenty-one and worked the kids for his amusement and profit. Some boys said he stood over them with a whip, threatening them if they didn’t do as he commanded. One time, he handed one of the boys a gun and told him to stand guard. “Shoot anyone who tries to interfere” was the order.[1]


Ike Khan and Sollie Cohen  (Chicago Tribune. November 15, 1901.)
Most of the boys were under twelve years old—some as young as seven. The Captain taught them how to steal, then sent them to the big stores downtown to grab what they could. He’d assembled a band of nine neighborhood kids in less than a year, among them—Sollie Cohen, Isador Kahn, Isaac Kahn, Charlie Meyers, James Klosiek, Charles Hadda, and Joe Kufner.


The only thing in the way of growing his operation was Policeman Francesca S. Capparelli, the truant officer. Capparelli kept rounding up Captain Jim’s kids and taking them back to school.


Things came to a head in November 1901 when the Captain decided Capparelli had to go.


“Jim told me to go to Rothschild’s store and take Ike Kahn,” said Sollie Cohen. “He told us to steal a revolver. When we got to the store, we couldn’t take anything because the man was watching us. He put us on the elevator and sent us downstairs, and said if he saw us in there again, he would have us locked up.


Saturday, June 5, 2021

General Napoleon Bonaparte Buford


General Napoleon Bonaparte Buford.
(The Portrait Monthly. August 1863.)

Napoleon Bonaparte Buford was born at Rose Hill, his family’s plantation in Woodford County, Kentucky, on January 13, 1807. He graduated sixth in his class at West Point in July 1827 and received a commission as second lieutenant of Third United States Artillery.
He was assigned to the Topographical Engineers Corps from 1828-1830 and did the survey for the slack water navigation in Kentucky. He later surveyed the land around Rock Island and the Des Moines River rapids on the Mississippi.

He took a leave of absence from the military in the early 1830s to attend the Harvard University Law School. After graduation, he taught natural and experimental philosophy at West Point.

Like many of his fellow West Point graduates, Buford found advancement in the peacetime army next to impossible, so he resigned from the military in 1835. He worked as a civil engineer in Kentucky, then relocated to Illinois in 1843, where he worked as a banker, manufacturer, and later as president of the Rock Island and Peoria Railroad.[ii]

He built his home, called “Ivy Place,” in Rock Island somewhere around 1849-1850. The inside walls were three feet thick, and it had a three-story circular staircase. The home had thirteen rooms with a fireplace in each room.[iii]

At the start of the civil war, Napoleon operated a bank in Rock Island. He was heavily invested in the southern securities and the financial crisis that ensued swamped his business. Buford signed everything he owned over to his creditors and re-enlisted in the service, serving as a colonel in the 27th Regiment of Illinois Volunteers. Abraham Lincoln appointed him a brigadier general of volunteers in April 1862.

He fought with General Ulysses S. Grant at Belmont Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. He later distinguished himself in the fighting at Vicksburg and Corinth. “His career has not been very showy,” noted the New York Daily Herald, “but it has, nevertheless, been a brilliant one.”[iv]

Napoleon served on the court-martial of General Fitz-John Porter after the Union debacle at the Second Bull Run.

When General Grant learned Lincoln intended to promote Buford to major general in 1865, he vigorously protested his appointment. Napoleon Bonaparte Buford “would scarcely make a respectable hospital nurse if put in petticoats,” exclaimed Grant. “He is unfit for any military position. He has always been a dead weight to carry, becoming more burdensome with his increased rank.”[v]

Beginnings of the Davenport Friendly Society


The Davenport Friendly Society purchased the  Claus Groth Gilde 
hall at 1228 West Third Street  in 1912. (The Daily Times.
April 10, 1912.)
The People’s Union Mission morphed into the Davenport Friendly Society in 1911. Reverend Ned Lee stayed on as the first superintendent of the society until his term ended on July 1, 1911. Then, Harry E. Downer assumed control.

The society grappled for some time over whether they should affiliate with a specific religion or not. Finally, it was decided to “leave religious instruction to the churches” and follow the societies’ mission of “improvement—moral, industrial, and educational.” They dropped “religious” from the mission statement altogether.

The organizational meeting made it clear the society’s work was not about “poor relief.” Its three principal aims were education, sociability, and recreation.[1]

When the Friendly Society took over, the neighborhood around the old mission was changing and becoming more industrialized. As the factories and businesses crowded in, fewer families lived nearby, so it was harder to serve the society’s target market. The Friendly Society purchased the Claus Groth Gilde hall at 1228 West Third Street in April 1912 for $13,000.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Davenport Car Dealer Meets a Gruesome End


John Buck's second wife
Bertha threw a fiery jar
of gasoline at him while
he was getting ready to
eat supper. (The Daily
Times. April 2, 1910)
Davenport, Iowa auto dealer John Buck met a gruesome end. In June 1925, his wife, Bertha, threw “blazing gasoline over him as he was seated over the supper table.”[1]

The coroner’s inquest re-enacted the scene inside the home. The couple was just getting ready to sit down for dinner. Bertha Buck was at the stove finishing up supper. She mentioned some bills and asked if Buck intended to pay them. 

“What bills?”

“You know what bills.”

“Those bills on the sideboard are not addressed to me,” said Buck. “I can’t open your mail."

“She turned to the stove without a word,” Buck told his son Emil. “I heard a roaring sound. A flame leaped by my head. She had thrown burning oil at me. 

“In an instant, my neck was on fire, and I rose to rush from the room. I noticed the screen door was locked, and that was very unusual at our house.” He grabbed a chair and battered the door open, then ran outside.

Arthur W. Parker was sitting in his swing on the second floor of the Parkview Apartments. “We heard a scream,” said Parker. “Then Buck came rushing out the door with his neck aflame” and just stood there, bewildered.

Parker yelled at him to lay down in the grass and roll around. When he got to Buck, Parker tore a piece of cloth from his wife’s apron and extinguished the fire. Buck groaned and whispered, “my wife threw kerosene on me.”

Detective Peter Kuehl questioned Mrs. Buck the next day. There’d been trouble brewing between them for four years. And “it was gasoline, not kerosene. She lit it and threw it at him.”[2]

A jury found Bertha Buck guilty of manslaughter. She was sentenced to a term of not less than eight years in the woman’s reformatory at Rockwell City.[3]

[1] Davenport Democrat and Leader. June 23, 1925.

[2] Davenport Democrat and Leader. June 24, 1925.

[3] Davenport Democrat and Leader. April 3, 1928.

Fred J. Barr Put the Quad-Cities on Two Wheels

Fred J. Barr ran this advertisement
for the Flying Merkel in 1913.
(The Daily Times. February 15, 1913.)
 Fred J. Barr of the Barr Distributing Agency handled the Flying Merkel Motorcycle in Iowa. They cost between $200 to $275 in 1912, and he was financing them on the pay-as-you-go plan.[1] Barr also sold Harley-Davidson, Indian, and Henderson motorcycles. 

  • A 1913 ad priced the following models
  • 1913 Twin Excelsior $240
  • 1913 Twin Indian $240
  • 1913 Twin Flying Merkel $260
  • 1913 Henderson 4 Cylinder $325

Barr sold 500 bicycles in 1912 and 600 bicycles in 1913. Things slowed down some in 1914, and he only sold 250. Some of the brands he carried included the Flying Merkel, Racycle’s, Miami’s, Miami Bull Dog’s, and Comets. In the same three-year period, Barr reported selling 700 motorcycles.[2]

Barr received a shipment of 78 Flying Merkel Motorcycles valued at $16,000 in April 1914 and sold thru the entire lot.[3]


Barr wrote an article describing his business for Motorcycles Illustrated in 1914. He said he started his business with $2,000 and made money from the start. He always put his customers first. In 1912, “we kept our shop open from 7 o’clock in the morning until any old time in the evening.” He made sure to be there whenever it was convenient for his customers.

Finally, Barr made a point that every one of his employees, including himself, owned and rode motorcycles.  He advised dealers to “get in the game not only financially, but personally and with enthusiasm.” His dealership participated in all club runs and knew all the local trails and paths.

Fred Barr showed the Quad-Cities how to have a good time on two wheels.


Barr published this ad to entice buyers to the 1912 Auto Show.
(The Davenport Democrat. February 25, 1912.)

[1] Davenport Democrat and Leader. February 25, 1912.

[2] Davenport Democrat and Leader. September 7, 1914.

[3] Davenport Democrat and Leader. January 4, 1914.