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.

One of the gang members shot her or hit her with a hammer. Reeves wasn’t sure which.

More shots rang out. Reeves said he tried to drag the girl out of the line of fire, but the “boys ordered him to leave her alone, or else.”


He left and walked back to the car before the magazine blew up. He didn’t see the girl or any of the gang members after that.


Some of what he said rang true.


Helen Sieler lived through the attack and told the police a fantastic story of survival.

She was hit with a hammer, shot eight times, and then dumped in the powder house with Harry Baker, later identified as Floyd Parker.


Somehow, she dragged herself out of the powder house and escaped death.

Unfortunately, the explosion tossed her over 100 feet into the air. Her foot got buried in the snow. She spent the next several hours crawling through a nearby field, where a party of farmers eventually found her and rescued her from the cold.


Helen told the police the gang went to the powder house to get dynamite for some upcoming safe-cracking jobs. She waited in the car with Harry Reeves until one of the gang members ran out to tell them Harry Baker was in trouble. Someone had knocked him out.


She ran inside to see him, then someone hit her on the head with a hammer. After that, the gang members took turns shooting at her and kicking and calling her nasty names.

They lit the fuse on the detonator when they finished beating her, then left her there to die with Harry. She tried to drag him out but couldn’t, so she made her way through the snow.[3]


Helen told detectives she hadn’t known Harry Baker long.


Harry picked her up on the Sioux City viaduct on December 12. Ten days later, they participated in the jewelry heist at the Ehlerman Wholesale Jewelry Company, where the gang got away with $37,000. Then, on December 31, Harry was dead. Blown to bits in the powder house.


The Sioux Falls authorities held Helen as a material witness in the murder of Harry Baker.

The following year, Lee Bradley, a convicted bank robber, explained how he shot and killed Floyd Parker, then dumped his body in the powder house, where it was blown to bits. His narrative differed substantially from the story Harry Reeves had told them the previous year.


 Bradley said the gang members were “lit up on marijuana” when they argued over Helen Sieler, Parker’s girlfriend.


Parker’s death didn’t have anything to do with Helen or their threat to squeal; instead, he made a disparaging remark about Helen.


Parker struck him with his fist, then a hammer. “I shot,” said Bradley, and “he fell like a log.”


One of the boys ran out to get Helen. When she knelt over Parker’s body, Harry Reeves grabbed a hammer and smacked her over the head. Then, when she cried out for help, Reeves shot her.


“I guess we must have all thought of the same thing at the same time,” said Bradley. “Let’s get rid of these bodies.”


They lugged Harry and Helen into the powder house, then jumped in the car and raced away. He guessed they were five or six miles away when it blew.[4]


They would have gotten away with the robbery and the murder if the girl had died in the explosion. They all thought she was dead. After all, she’d been shot eight times and beaten with a hammer. Who’d figure she could live through that?


They should have checked, but she wasn’t moving.

[1] Des Moines Register. January 3, 1937.

[2] The Courier. January 5, 1937.

[3] Des Moines Register. January 3, 1937.

[4] Iowa City Press Citizen. December 29, 1938.

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