At Closing Time: Murder of Officer George W. Mattern 1918

Murder Victim

George W. Mattern
22-year-old Police Officer
Des Moines, Iowa, Police Department
Killed in the Line of Duty
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Avoiding Arrest

Murder Scene and Date

Alley off Second between Walnut & Court
North of Present-day Neal Smith Federal Building
Des Moines, Iowa
Polk County
Shot: August 8, 1917
Died: April 12, 1918


By Nancy Bowers
Written November 2010

location of Des Moines, Iowa

location of Des Moines, Iowa

Late on the night of Tuesday, August 8, 1917, 22-year-old Des Moines Police Officer George W. Mattern, a two-year veteran of the force, was walking his beat in downtown Des Moines. Restaurants and taverns were emptying as customers went home.

Guilo Attillio, owner of the Temp Bar at 316 Walnut Street, was cleaning up and getting ready to close his establishment when a man walked in and asked for a drink. As Attillio turned around to accommodate him, the man showed him a gun and told him to put up his hands.

Officer George Mattern (from the DMPD Policeman’s Ball program, 1924)

Attillio, instead, grabbed a revolver from under the counter and fired at the would-be robber, who quickly fled. The man ran east on Locust Street, turned south in an alley between Second and Third Streets and then went west on Walnut.

Officer Mattern heard the shots and ran up an alley on Second between Walnut and Court, where he encountered the fleeing, armed man.

Mattern got off three shots and the man returned fire, striking Mattern in the abdomen with his last shot. Mattern dropped his gun and collapsed.

Chief C.C. Jackson worked the case and was himself killed on duty in December 1918 (Des Moines Police).

Officer Mattern was taken to Mercy hospital and operated on that night. Doctors were not sure if he would survive; however, by Wednesday morning, he was improved although in serious condition.

Early Wednesday morning, Des Moines Police detectives Jack Brophy and John Peterson arrested 30-year-old Chester Scott of 1517 E. Walnut Street. Although he matched the description of the man Attillio said tried to rob his bar, Scott was not charged.

Lloyd Sutherland, 24, of 1215 Hutton Avenue in Des Moines, was arrested by St. Joseph, Missouri, authorities on Wednesday, August 9 on suspicion in the Mattern shooting.

Sutherland was in the company of 27-year-old Des Moines resident Harry Sorensen of 1004 S.E. Shaw Street. The two men gave conflicting accounts of their activities on the night of Mattern’s shooting.

On Friday, August 11, Sutherland and Sorensen were returned to Des Moines by Chief of Police C.C. Jackson and Chief of Detectives James MacDonald and interrogated by local authorities. Neither was charged.

George Mattern seemed improved and in mid-September was able to travel with his wife and daughters to Carroll, Iowa, to visit her uncle, Robert Gobeli.

In reporting the visit, The Carroll Times wrote:

“Mr. Mattern is on the police force at Des Moines and was the officer that was shot in the abdomen by a desperate character about four weeks ago. Mr. Mattern had a very narrow escape from death and his many friends are glad to see him on his way to complete recovery.”

from the Des Moines News

However, Mattern continued to suffer complications from his injuries; and on Friday, April 12, 1918 — eight months after he was shot — he died at a Des Moines hospital.

On July 14, 1920, “W.E.B” wrote this editorial for “The Referee” column of the Des Moines Daily News:

“To City Council: —

Two years ago, Policeman George Mattern was shot by a bandit while doing his duty . . . .

His wife was left with two children, [now] 6 and 2.

Now, jobless and with two small children to support on her meager pension, Mrs. Mattern is called upon to pay a hospital bill of $150 for the care of her husband before he died.

Policeman Mattern was employed by the city of Des Moines to protect the lives and property of citizens here.

He received his fatal wound while performing his duty.

The city should pay all expenses involved in caring for Policeman Mattern from the time he was shot until he died. This includes his hospital bill . . . .

The city should pay this $150 hospital bill at once, thereby relieving Mrs. Mattern of the worry it has caused her.

The city owes that to Policeman George Mattern, his widow and his children.

Policeman Mattern gave his life in performance of his duty. The city should not shirk its duty now.”

The widowed Grace Mattern -- on the right -- became a telephone operator for the Des Moines PD (from Behind the Badge)

The widowed Grace Mattern — on the right — became a telephone operator for the Des Moines PD (from Behind the Badge)

George W. Mattern was born January 26, 1890 in Lee Township of Polk County, the first child of German immigrant Anna Gobeli and William J. Mattern, a native of Ohio. He had two siblings: Carl Joseph Mattern and Marie Mattern Christiansen.

George Mattern, who worked as a drug clerk before becoming a policeman, married Grace Demosf. The couple had two daughters — Helen was five and Marcella was not quite one when their father died.

Grace never remarried and at the time of the 1940 U.S. Census was living in Des Moines with her daughter Helen and son-in-law Wilbert Dennis. She worked as a telephone operator for the Des Moines Police Department from January 1, 1921 to August 4, 1943.

In the Line of Duty

from Officer Down Memorial Page

from Officer Down Memorial Page

George Mattern is one of 184 Iowa peace officers — as of October 2013 — to die in the line of duty and one of 104 killed by gunfire.

Click here to view the article “Iowa Department of Public Safety Peace Officer Memorial Page Remembers Office George Mattern” or click here to view the page in Mattern’s memory on the website Officer Down Memorial Page.


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


  • ☛ “All Roads Lead To Lidderdale Fri.,” Carroll Times, September 13, 1917.
  • ☛ Anthony Garza, Personal Correspondence, June 2014.
  • ☛ “Honor Roll,” Behind the Badge: Stories and Pictures From the DMPD. Des Moines: The Des Moines Police Burial Association, 1999, p. 55.
  • ☛ “Bring Two Men Back For Shooting Officer,” Des Moines Daily News, August 10, 1917.
  • ☛ The Iowa Department of Public Safety Peace Officer Memorial Page Remembers Officer George Mattern.
  • ☛ The Officer Down Memorial Page.
  • ☛ “Policeman Is Shot by Thief: George Mattern Victim of Thug’s Bullet,” Des Moines News, August 8, 1917.
  • ☛ “The Referee,” Des Moines News, July 14, 1920.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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