Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Cold case: The brutal slaying of John Clowser, Part 1

I doubt that anyone else remembers now who rests beneath this tiny stone in the Chariton Cemetery, a marker without inscription of any sort; the only clue, nearby monuments of others who bear the surname Clowser, too.

But the remains of John E. Clowser are here, the victim in 1928 of a brutal slaying --- still unresolved --- that occurred half the state west in a tourist park at Glenwood, Mill County's seat.

I call John an honorary cousin because I know some of his kinfolks, who made a visit to Iowa some years ago in search of their Lucas and Wayne county roots. His maternal uncle, John Newton Fox, is a neighbor of my family out at Salem Cemetery; his maternal grandparents, Levi and Sarah S. (Hartley) Fox, rest in the New York Cemetery.

John's parents, however, are buried at Confidence --- John was born near there on Oct. 19, 1877. They were James Monroe (1844-1888) and Missouri (Fox) Clowser (1851-1880).


John was only 3 when his mother died and 11 when his father passed, so he grew up a little rootless, although older siblings always opened their homes to him. He seems to have been an honorable and hard-working man, scrupulously honest, congenial and well liked --- just never settled down, or married. He worked as a coal miner, farm hand, any job that came to hand.

During the late spring of 1928 he gave up a job he had held for two or three years at the Hotel Charitone, bought a Ford roadster and, with a companion, headed west for the wheat fields of Kansas, where hard labor paid well --- $5 or $6 a day. He was over 50 by now, but still hardy enough to pay his way with a strong back.

The harsh end came during August as John and another companion --- never identified --- were driving toward Chariton on U.S. 34 in the old Ford roadster after the work in Kansas had ended and stopped for the night at a tourist park in Glenwood.


Here's the initial, detailed report --- an exemplary job of reporting --- as published under a banner headline, "Man Murdered Here In Tourist Camp," in The Glenwood Opinion-Tribune of August 9, 1928. One caution --- the initial suspect was Joe Welch, also of Chariton, who had accompanied John west during May. They had parted in Kansas City, however, and Welch had nothing to do with the killing.

The Glenwood Lake Park tourist camp was the scene of what appears to have been one of the most cold blooded and brutal murders in the history of southwestern Iowa on Tuesday night when J.E. Clowser, 52, of Chariton, Iowa, was murdered, presumably by a young man about 35 by the name of Welch of Chariton who was a traveling companion of Clowser.

W.L. Jamison, walking through the tourist park shortly after noon Wednesday, came upon patches of blood-soaked ground and in looking about found a blood-stained coat and in it was wrapped a blood-stained crowbar which he recognized as having been taken from his tool house. He immediately notified Sheriff DeMoss who came to the scene and they found other blood-stained garments including a light colored cap bearing the name of a Chariton, Iowa, clothing house, and also evidences of where a body had been dragged to the edge of the bank and rolled over toward the highway opposite the oil station. With one foot caught in the limb of a small tree on the bank and the body concealed from view of the passers by on the road, by weeds grown up on the bank, they found the body of the man, which his hands tied behind him with a pair of suspenders.

The head showed that he had been brutally murdered. At the back of the head was a large gash indicating a wound from a hatchet or ax and the face and forehead and skull had been battered almost to a pulp by the crowbar. Coroner Dr. Edgar Christy of Hastings was notified and the body was brought to the Raynor funeral home. Coroner Christy empaneled a jury consisting of John Wolfe, C.P. Hamilton and H.C. Stranathan. They found a letter addressed to C.E. Clowser of Chariton and also a $20 note signed by J.E. and C.E. Clowser and given to a Chariton, Iowa, bank, May 25, 1928, and paid August 2, 1928. Sewed in the sleeves of his undershirt which were turned back they found three $10 bills. The pockets of his clothing had been turned inside out and his garments had been apparently ransacked, so the conclusion was that the motive of the murder had been that of robbery. Telephone communication was established with C.E. Clowser of Chariton who said he believed the man must be his brother, J.E. Clowser, and that he would come to Glenwood to identify the body. He arrived with Sam Beardsley, undertaker of Chariton, shortly after midnight and they took the body back to Chariton, leaving Glenwood about 1:30 this Thursday morning.

Ate at Cozy Cafe

Upon hearing of the murder Wednesday evening, Mrs. E.M. Travers of the Cozy Cafe said she believed the man had eaten there Tuesday evening and when she saw the body was able to identify it. Both Mrs. Travers and Bernice Fogerty, waitress at the cafe, recall that Mr. Clowser, accompanied by a younger man wearing overalls and in light colored shirt, rather dirty and unkept in appearance and very quiet in disposition, ate supper here at the Cozy Cafe between 6:30 and 7 o'clock Tuesday evening. Both described Mr. Clowser as a genial man who visited with them, expressing his fondness for fried chicken which he ordered for supper and asked if the tourist camp at the park here was a cabin camp, stating that he noticed the cottages there, and when told that they were the Epworth League cottages he replied that he could sleep very comfortably in a blanket on the ground as he was used to it.

They also recall that he inquired how far it was to Omaha and that in going out he paid for both meals. Mrs. Travers sates that he took a black and rather worn bill fold from his pocket and that it contained a quantity of bills. She believes they were not all $1 bills as the two suppers totaled 90 cents and he looked through the currency for a $1 bill.

Mr. Clowser, they said, was much neater in appearance that his traveling companion but both showed signs of being badly sunburned and the young man, who was a little more than medium stature, thin of body and light complexion, was badly sunburned. The blood-stained cap found near the scene of the murder, size six and a quarter, was far too small to have belonged to Mr. Clowser, according to F.H. Raynor, undertaker in charge, who said that Mr. Clowser would have worn a size 7 or larger. Mrs. Travers, when questioned, recalled that Mr. Clowser was wearing a felt or straw hat and that the young man with him was wearing a light colored cap.

Left Chariton in May

C.E. Clowser, the brother, told the Opinion-Tribune editor in a telephone conversation this Thursday noon that the brother, who was an old bachelor, 52 years old, had for two and one-half years been employed in the Charitone Hotel in Chariton but that late in May he decided to go into Kansas and work in the harvest fields. He bought a Ford roadster which is registered there as 51-2972 and left on May 25. He recalls that his brother borrowed the $20 at the bank and that he signed the note with him on the day he left and that the note, though made for 90 days, was paid August 2. He says his brother wrote him from Sylvia, Kansas, sending him the money to pay the note, which he did and returned the note to him. He further says that a young man about 35 years old by the name of Welch left Chariton with him. The description of this young man tallies quite well with the description of the young man who was with him at the Cozy Cafe here Tuesday evening. The brother says in a letter he received that his brother said he was making five to six dollars a day in the harvest fields but said nothing about returning, nor whether Welch was still with him or not. In addition to C.E. Clowser, who is a farmer and coal miner residing five miles northeast of Chariton, the dead man had two other brothers, Henry, who is employed in a shoe factory in Omaha, and W.M. of Otis, Colorado. Funeral arrangements had not been made at noon today, Thursday.

There Are Many Suppositions

Will Meredith, night man at the Darting oil station, reports that a young man driving a Ford roadster wearing a light shirt and overalls, drove into the oil station between 11:30 and 12 o'clock Tuesday night and bought three gallon of gas and a quart of oil which he paid with a $1 bill but he does not recall whether he took the bills from a black leather bill fold or not. He says the young man did not seem in any great hurry and that he told him that he had come from Lincoln and when Meredith asked him how he came to drive into Glenwood from the east he replied that he had just been fooling around in the country. He said he was headed for the harvest fields of Minnesota. Mr. Meredith remembers that the car had an Iowa license plate with county number 51 but did not recall the car number.

Mrs. W.E. McCoy who resides just east of the subway on federal highway 34 reports that about 9 o'clock Tuesday night a car drove into their driveway throwing their lights on the porch in such a way that they could see her. A man got out and came into the edge of the year inquiring the location of the  Glenwood tourist camp which she explained. He returned to the car which she describes as a Ford roadster and she says she knows there was someone else in it for the young man said, "We have to go back to that oil station and turn in there." In the darkness she was unable to get good enough look at the man to be able to describe him.

Mr. and Mrs. W.L. Jamison, who operate the oil station opposite the entrance to the park and who reside just west of the station, were away from home that evening, leaving about 7 o'clock and not returning until after 11. they say that when they did return everything was quiet in the park.

How the persons who stole the crowbar found their way up to the house, as the way would not be easy for one who was not familiar with the lay of the ground, and why the person selected the crowbar from among hammers and other smaller tools, is a mystery.

The body when found was hatless and had no shoes on the feet. It is presumed he probably put his hat in the car and took off his shoes and also put them in the car and laid down on the heavy overcoat, lumber jacket and blue denim work jacket which was found, blood stained, near the scene of the murder. It is thought that the murderer probably struck Clowser in the back of the head with a hatchet or ax and then tied his hands behind him and robbed him of his money and watch. Then evidence on the ground indicates that Clowser might have gained consciousness and struggled somewhat, rolling a few feet from where he had been attacked and then the large patch of blood-soaked ground indicated that he was here beaten with the crowbar and from the amount blood it would seem that the body had been left there for some little time probably before it was dragged over to the edge of the bank and cast into the weeds. In all it is one of most brutal crimes on record.

To be continued

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