The Shy, Quiet Victim: Murder of Emma Lewis 1976

Murder Victim

Emma Sophia Lewis
80-year-old Widowed Homemaker
Cause of Death: Drowned in Own Blood After Beating
Motive: Robbery

Murder Scene and Date

Lewis Home
Waukee, Iowa
Dallas County
September 14, 1976


By Nancy Bowers
Written June 2010

Waukee, Iowa, mapIn 1976, Emma Sophia Carlson Lewis was widowed and lived alone in a modest, well-kept house in Waukee.

Emma was losing her eyesight, but was independent and determined to stay in her house as long as she could see at all.

At 8:00 p.m., Monday, September 14, 1976, Emma’s friend Phyllis Hinkson called to remind her of a doctor’s appointment the next day. There was no answer. When there was still no answer at 9:00, Phyllis drove to Emma’s house. She found the porch light on and the front door open.

from the Muscatine Journal

Inside on the floor near the bathroom, 80-year-old Emma lay dead on her back. She was beaten with someone’s fists or an object. Blood flowing from head and face wounds blocked her nasal passages and windpipe, causing her to drown. The 5-foot-3, 100-pound woman turned 80 only twelve days before.

Neighbors saw Emma about 2:30 that afternoon when she left the house to go shopping in town. They estimated she returned by 3:15 because it was her habit never to stay away from home longer than 45 minutes.

Dallas County Sheriff Robert DeCamp and Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) agents speculated that robbery was the motive because Emma’s purse was taken.

There was no sign of forced entry, nothing was out of place in the house, no weapon was found, and investigators recovered no unusual fingerprints.

☛ Shy and Quiet Victim ☚

Emma Sophia Lewis, courtesy William Johnson

That Emma would invite someone into her house was unimaginable. She was very cautious and kept her house secured. Even her neighbors and friends had to talk with her through closed, locked doors and she almost never let them come inside.

Emma was so timid and withdrawn that going to social events was traumatic and she usually preferred to stay home.

Occasionally, she accepted a ride with someone in the community to Des Moines. She was so shy that she could not hand them money for gas directly; she asked others to pass it on.

Her nephew William Johnson, who spent part of each summer vacation as a child with Emma and her husband, remembers her as a sweet person, “who never spoke ill of anyone.”

☛ Emma Lewis’s Life ☚

Emma Lewis as a young woman, courtesy William Johnson

Emma Sophia Carlson Lewis was born September 2, 1896 in Monroe County. Her father, Carl “Charley” Carlson, immigrated to the United States from Aggerud, Sweden, in 1881 as part of a group from Karlskoga Parish that settled in southern Iowa. Her mother, Severina “Sina” Dorothy Carlson, was also a Swedish immigrant and had two sons from a previous marriage.

Charley Carlson worked in the coal mines and used his wages to buy land in Nobles County, Minnesota, where the Carlsons lived for a time.

To improve his farm and buy more land, he brought his family back to Hiteman, Iowa, where he could mine coal and save up money. The family added three girls. In September 1900, when Emma was four, Charley was killed in a coal mine slate fall.

photo by Karen Ahn

photo by Karen Ahn

Emma’s mother then married Norwegian immigrant Carl G. Olson, had two more children, and ran a boarding house for coal miners.

Emma had six siblings from her mother’s marriages: Alexander Sanfrid Carlson, Carl Algot Carlson, Sigrid Amelia Carlson Johnson, Selma Theresa Carlson Norberg, Elvira “Vera” Gerda Olson Fisher, and Carl Arthur Olson.

In 1921, Emma married Ivan Paul “Fat” Lewis, a member of the Iowa Welsh coal mining community; they lived in Waukee. The couple was childless, and Ivan passed away in 1963.

Emma’s funeral was held on September 16, 1976 and she was buried in Oakview Cemetery in Albia, Iowa.

Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.



  • ☛ Iowa Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Investigation.
  • ☛ “The Killing of a ‘sweet lady,’” by Gene Erb, Des Moines Tribune, September 21, 1976.
  • ☛ Personal Correspondence, William Johnson, June, 2010.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “Waukee death investigation,” Waterloo Courier, September 15, 1976.
  • ☛ “Woman’s death probed,” Muscatine Journal, September 15, 1976.
  • ☛ “Woman’s death probed,” Waterloo Courier, September 15, 1976.

Comments are closed.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,