Thursday, June 24, 2021

Murder on the Levee & a bump in the road to justice

There's nothing left of Chariton's "Levee" these days --- other than a church created from the former Eagles Lodge building. But back in the day, from the 1870s well into the 20th century, this was the city's roughest neighborhood --- a small commercial district just west across Commercial Avenue from the C.B.&Q. Depot. This photo taken during 1923 gives some idea of what the area looked like although by then some buildings had been taken down and it was in decline.

Some of the commercial establishments served travelers and as places to buy staples for those who lived in the neighborhood, but liquor, gambling and the occasional prostitute generally were available here --- even in the harshest days of Prohibition --- and violence, including the occasional murder, was no stranger.

It was here that young Belden S. Cook lost his life overnight on June 14-15, 1902, shot dead by Charles Zimmerman, a farm boy who lived with his family in Wayne County. Belden, employed in a brickyard, was a veteran of the Spanish American War, having served in Jacksonville, Florida, with Chariton's Company H of the Iowa National Guard. His remains have rested for 119 years now beneath a government-issue tombstone in the Freedom Cemetery.

Sam Greene, writing for his Chariton Herald, compiled the following report in his edition of June 19, describing how it came to be that this young man's life was cut short:


Another Cold-Blooded Murder Enacted on the Streets of Chariton

The "Levee" has borne fruit again. Belden S. Cook, a young laboring man of this city, was shot and killed in a notoriously cold-blooded manner last Saturday night in a drunken quarrel on the sidewalk just west of Mullen's place by Chas. Zimmerman, a farmer boy living about three miles north of Corydon in Wayne county. The particulars of the affair are exceedingly hard to get, as very few persons witnessed the shooting, and it transpired so quickly that no two stories agree.

It seems that Zimmerman drove to Chariton last Saturday with his cousin, Will Zimmerman, of the same neighborhood. They put up their team at Ryan's barn, and in the evening they did what many young men do, who think they are "tough" --- went to the "Levee," the tough resort near the depot which the officers allow to exist with the consent of the people of Chariton. There Charles evidently bought some whiskey, and, according to his story, he and his cousin were drinking it when a crowd of town fellows came along, and, to use his own words, "jumped onto" him. In the crowd were Belden Cook, Beaman Cook, his brother, Will Mullen and Ira Clark. What transpired may never be known, but it is presumed that Cook and his crowd, who were evidently drinking too, began to worry Zimmerman, who now shows signs of having been beaten some. The latter says they wanted him to contribute toward the purchase of some liquor, but he said he had no money. He says that he handed them his bottle of whiskey and told them to help themselves. That sounds fishy, however. At this juncture a half dozen boys passed the quarrelling crowd, and one of the boys relates what happened as follows:


"I saw Belden Cook with a bottle of whiskey in his hand, and this other fellow (Zimmerman) was about 10 or 15 feet away. Cook said, 'Give him back his whiskey, boys. He's got a gun.' "

Zimmerman pointed his gun at Cook and said, "Put it down on the sidewalk there and go away."

Cook did not set it down, but kept walking toward Zimmerman, holding out the bottle and saying, "Here, boy, is your whiskey. We don't want it."

"I'll kill every one of you fellahs if you don't let me alone. I've got the gun and I'll do it," said Zimmerman.

It was dark and he (the boy) could not see what happened then until a shot rang out, and Cook stumbled and fell. Three more shots were then fired, one of them passing close to the crowd of youngsters, and they broke and ran. They did not know that anyone was killed until they went back afterward.

Zimmerman was seemingly afraid that Cook was coming toward him to try to grapple with him, so he fired, as in self defense. Three of the four shots struck Cook, one in his abdomen to the right of the stomach, one in the stomach, ranging upward, and the third struck one of the brass buttons on his bib overalls, carrying the button into his left breast over the heart.

It is said that Cook stumbled and fell on the edge of the sidewalk, but jumped up after he was shot and ran perhaps 80 or 90 feet, saying that he was shot like McKinley and would die. He fell again and was picked up and carried to the front of Woods' barber shop, and physicians and his wife were sent for. Mrs. Cook came shortly and bid her husband an affectionate farewell, he groaning and repeating that he was killed.

A crowd had of course gathered, and Doctors Storie and Yocom were soon at the scene. The shooting occurred about 11:30 o'clock p.m. and Dr. Storie arrived within a few minutes, Dr. Yocom coming soon after. Cook died about 12:15 o'clock, having lived only three-quarters of an hour after the shooting. Coroner Stanton was called and empaneled a jury composed of J.O. Crips, W.B. Lusk and F.C. Wood, who declared that deceased had come to his death by gun shot wounds inflicted by one Chas. Zimmerman.


Dr, Storie testified that he had reached Cook's side while he was yet conscious. Cook asked anxiously if he was done for, and the doctor told him he would die within an hour. He described the man who shot him, said the fellow was a stranger to him, and had gotten too gay, so he was going to fix him. He said he had whipped a fellow in the afternoon, but would not say whether it was the same man who shot him or not. He asked for his wife and she came, but he did not talk rationally after that. While rational he called for morphine or anything to ease his pain. Any of the three wounds would  have caused his death. The bullet extracted from his back was a 38-caliber. One ball entered about two and a half inches above the apex of the heart, another entered about five inches to the right and one inch above the umbilicus, and the third about two and a half inches above and two and a half inches to the right of the umbilicus. The one that entered nearest the umbilicus was removed from the back between the shoulders. The bullet that struck above the heart had the brass button surrounding it like a ring, and penetrated only the skin. The third bullet could not be found.

Dr. Yocom's testimony was short, he having arrived later, and only saw the victim gasp once or twice and die.


Beaman Cook, brother of the murdered man and 21 years old, said, "my brother and I were going home from the Levee and stopped in front of Mullen's to talk to Ira Clark and Will Mullen Jr. Belden went into Mat Rolson's to get some crackers, and I thought I saw him come back and said 'Hello,' but it was somebody else, so I sat down with the boys and waited till Belden came back. After he came, we were sitting there talking when the fellow I had seen came up toward us and set a bottle of whiskey on the walk, saying he dared any son of a b---- to pick it up. Belden started up as if to pick it up, when the fellow pulled a gun and commenced shooting. He shot six times, hitting Belden three times and missing him once. He shot at Mullen and me once, but I had hold of his arm, so he could not hit us. Belden ran across the street and fell in the grass. I let go of the fellow and ran over to my brother, and don't know what became of the fellow. Belden and I had drank two bottles of beer about eight o'clock. He bought the beer himself. I am sure the fellow who shot was not the same one Belden had a fight with. I was with Belden all evening, except while he was getting the crackers."

Will Mulley, aged 26 years, said he had seen the fight Belden had about 6:30 o'clock, after which Beaman took his brother away. His story about the four young men sitting in front of his father's place late in the evening was practically the same as that told by Beaman Cook, except that he said Belden had picked up the bottle when the fellow dared him to do so. Mullen and Beaman Cook tried to grab the fellow when he began shooting, but he ran backward, shooting all the time. Belden stumbled and fell, and the fellow yelled, "I'm going to kill you all." Mullen did not have hold of the fellow and did not see him after the shooting. He said it was about 10:30 o'clock when they were sitting together on the walk.

Ira Clark told the same story, and says he warned the boys when the fellow pulled a gun, calling, "Billy, he has a gun. Get in the clear," after which he himself ran around the corner. After the shooting he came back and met the fellow with the revolver still in his left hand. Clark saw Belden Cook fight with a man earlier in the evening, and said the man's name was Wishart, and that he was not the same man who did the shooting.


The coroner's inquest ended about two o'clock, when the search for the murderer began in earnest. William Zimmerman, the cousin, was arrested at Thompson's barn, and it was thought for a time that he was the murderer. He proved that he was not, however, and was not even present at the shooting. He said he had seen his cousin after the shooting, however. They had walked over to the Swedish Lutheran church corner together and talked over the situation, and Charles had decided to get home, if possible, and there change his clothes and escape. Whether Will was to assist him in his escape or not is not known, but the officers thought that the latter might try to do so, so they held him in jail.

Meanwhile all the livery barns were notified to not let any teams go out, and Sheriff Boss, with Officers Householder, Milthorpe, Adams and Waynick, and James Buffington, started toward Corydon in three different rigs, and on three different roads. They reached the neighborhood of Zimmerman's home about six o'clock Sunday morning, but could not find him. Suspecting that he was near, they watched the neighborhood thoroughly, and about nine o'clock, Milton Rose, a brother-in-law of the murderer, came out and surrendered him to the officers. The capture was a good one, well executed, and all the officers concerned deserve credit for it.


Zimmerman was brought to Chariton and placed in jail. Those who know him say he comes of a respectable family, and is himself a respectable young man, but has the bad habit of drinking. He is aged 23 years. He will be defended by Attorney Steele, of the firm of Miles & Steele, of Corydon. Some people claim that the prisoner is a little queer, and it may be that old, old story of insanity will be introduced in his defense. He was certainly not in his right mind when he did the deed, but it was whiskey that did it.

Belden Cook, the murdered man, was aged about 27 years, and has been a railroader, but of late has been employed in the brickyard. He is described as an industrious young man,, economical with his salary and a good husband --- except, of course, when drinking. He had been married about three years, and had no children. His mother died a few months ago, and his father's name is Walter Cook. Belden lived on Osceola avenue. His funeral services were held at the home Monday afternoon, conducted by Rev. Hastie. Company H was in attendance, as Cook served with the Company at Jacksonville during the Spanish war. He was to have been initiated into the Modern Woodmen on Monday evening last. He was of splendid physique, and was a fighter of repute. It is said that he whipped Chas. Zimmerman in a fight on last Fourth of July, but that is not known for sure. He was in the Fair store about 10 o'clock on Saturday evening with his brother, Beaman, and told Ben Darrah, one of the clerks, that he would be back in a few days to get a certain pair of shoes. But instead he went to his death within an hour.

At the prelminary hearing before Squire Long, held in the court room yesterday morning, Chas. Zimmerman was bound over to appear before the grand jury in September, on the charge of murder in the second degree. His bond of $10,000 was signed by his father, Peter Zimmerman, and his uncles, J.A. and Michael Zimmerman, all of whom are said to be wealthy. William Zimmerman, the cousin, was discharged, there being nothing against him. He and John Thomas Corrigan, an umbrella mender who saw the shooting, were bound under $200 bonds each to appear as witnesses in September. Miles & Steele are defending Zimmerman.

It is the opinion of many people that the affair was an attempted hold-up on the part of Cook and his friends. Considerable loose silver was found on the ground where the trouble occurred the next morning. The prisoner's attorneys will attempt to prove that he was attacked, and perhaps beaten, and that he shot in self-defense. His face showed signs of having been beaten, when he was captured the next morning. It will also be attempted to prove that he is not bright mentally. The case will certainly be an interesting one in the September term of court.


The state's case against Charles Zimmerman was brought before a Lucas County Grand Jury by County Attorney Eli W. Drake during the September, 1902, term of district court --- but much to Drake's displeasure, the jury returned an indictment for manslaughter rather than second-degree murder.

Drake rejected the indictment, opting to bring his case before the grand jury again during the November court term with the following result, as reported in The Chariton Democrat of December 11:

"Chas Zimmerman, who was charged with shooting and killing Belden Cook on the night of June 14th, has been released, the grand jury having ignored the case. Zimmerman was indicted at the summer term of court on the charge of manslaughter, but there was a flaw in the indictment and the case was dismissed on the motion of County Attorney Drake."

Drake passed to his final reward during June of 1931 and in his obituary it was noted that he had served "very acceptably" as county attorney for two terms before being hired as Chariton city treasurer. This may have been a case of damning with faint praise since it certainly would appear that he bungled the opportunity to bring Mr. Zimmerman before a jury to sort out the somewhat confusing circumstances of Belden Cook's death.

1 comment:

Boswell said...

Two great -uncles of mine. Grandma or Dad never said a word about this story.
Shirley Boswell Videtich