69-year-old Wayside Store Owner
Cause of Death: Bludgeoned and Stabbed
Murder Scene and Date
Near Parnell, Iowa
June 26, 1929
By Nancy Bowers
From just after the turn of the century — and for 25 years — George Hardy ran a store in Fillmore Township at a crossroads five miles southwest of Parnell in Iowa County.
Written May 2011
Hardy never married and made his home in the store. Living alone and being frugal made him a wealthy man.
Some in the community said he often had large amounts of money in the store because he saved each day’s receipts until the end of the week, when he deposited it all in the bank. Others said he was afraid of banks and hoarded his money on the premises.
Although friendly and obliging with his customers, Hardy was considered a loner or recluse by some, and a miser by others.
☛ The Robbery-Murder ☚On the morning of Wednesday, June 26, 1929, a customer arrived and found 69-year-old Hardy dead inside his ransacked store.
Hardy was struck on the head three times and stabbed six times. Near his body were two blood-stained knives and an iron bar.
Also lying nearby were four pocketbooks emptied of their contents; his pants pockets were turned inside out. The only visible money was some change scattered on the floor, although investigators later found over $9,000 hidden about the store.
Time of death was estimated before 10:00 p.m., the time Hardy usually closed up. Neighbors across the road, however, said they saw no one enter the store between 7:00 and 9:00 that night.
Locals Bert Claypool and Michael Callan acted as night guards over Hardy’s store in the week that followed the robbery-murder.
Then the Hardy estate administrator, R.G. Litzenberg, sold off the store’s merchandise through private sales.
☛ Investigation ☚
Hardy’s body was examined by pathologists at State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa).
During the autopsy, the knife wounds were found to be too deep to be caused by the short-bladed pocketknives found at the scene.
Furniture store owner and County Coroner Richard B. McWiggins convened a three-man jury to hear the results of the autopsy and to determine the cause of Hardy’s death. They ruled the murder was committed “by person or persons unknown.”
Iowa County Sheriff Milo F. Cafferty and County Attorney Ed VonHoene headed up the murder investigation. The two traveled to Chicago during the last week of July to pursue tips.
Their investigation was plagued by wild, unfounded rumors that swirled about the community saying that one suspect was arrested and another died, and that both suffered injuries in the struggle with Hardy.
Estate administrator R.G. Litzenberg was given authority by the County Court to hire a private detective to work the case.
☛ Earlier Attempt on Hardy’s Life? ☚
Area residents reported that a week before the robbery-murder they saw in the neighborhood a man named Claude N. Ballenger, who worked out of Des Moines as a “detective” and bill collector.
Ballenger was known to local residents because in 1928 George Hardy hired him to investigate after someone fired a shot at him in the store. Ballenger and Hardy became friendly.
It’s not certain why Ballenger appeared in the area before the robbery-murder, but he assisted investigators by providing a list of Hardy’s friends and “enemies” he compiled during his earlier investigation.
The bullet from that first attempt was still embedded in the wall of Hardy’s store at the time of the murder.
☛ $800 Reward Is Offered ☚
In the late summer, Iowa Governor John Hamill offered a $300 reward for information in the murder; the estate of George Hardy put up another $500.
☛ Targeted Victims? ☚
During a two-week period in the summer of 1929, three other Iowa recluses were attacked:
- ☛ On June 30, 69-year-old Samuel Holland was beaten and robbed in his home on the outskirts of Manly in Worth County, but he survived.
- ☛ Winfield Scott Rouse, 79, of Indian Village Township near Montour in Tama County was robbed and beaten; he died on July 2. Click here to read about Winfield Scott Rouse’s unsolved murder.
- ☛ George G. Shackell, 69, of Glenwood in Mills County was beaten on the head with a baseball bat and died in an Omaha hospital on July 3. Click here to read about the unsolved murder of George G. Shackell.
☛ Suspect Revealed or Grudge Carried Out? ☚
In early September of 1933 — four years after the Hardy murder — a Fort Madison Penitentiary convict named Hubert Ayres came forward to accuse Iowa City resident Melville E. Augustine of the Hardy robbery-murder.
A grand jury indicted Augustine and he was arrested on September 14, 1933. Augustine was so adamant about his innocence and wrought up by his arrest that he became nearly suicidal in his jail cell.
In late October 1933, Judge Harold D. Evans dismissed the charges against Augustine after Ayres recanted his assertion.
It was learned that Ayres was convicted of robbery and sentenced to 30 years on the testimony of Augustine, and Ayres made the accusation concerning George Hardy’s murder to seek revenge.
☛ George Hardy’s Life ☚
George Hardy was born in Iowa on May 23, 1860 to German immigrants Anna Catherine Sweinfort and Jacob Hardy. He had three brothers — John Henry, Peter, and George Hardy — as well as three sisters: May E. Hardy Good, Elizabeth Hardy, and Rachel Hardy.
Although one U.S. Census states that he was divorced, there is no indication of a wife’s name. His mother — known as Catherine — lived with him until her death.
George Hardy is buried in the Piersol North English Cemetery, also known as the Berry Cemetery, in Iowa County.
On July 4, 1929, the Williamsburg Journal-Tribune ran this statement lamenting the loss of George Hardy and describing his funeral:
“Much has been said in the paper in regard to the horrible murder of George Hardy last Tuesday night but no words can express the personal feelings of every man, woman and child when we learned of the death of our old friend. It was an everyday occurrence to speak of going over to George’s for something and we who have lived close to him for years will miss him more than we can tell. An unusually large crowd attended the funeral Friday and the many beautiful flowers, the sermon by Rev. Railsback and the music all paid a tribute to one who will be missed among us.”
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “Attacks on Four Ia. [sic] Recluses Are Still Unsolved,” Ames Daily Tribune and Evening Times, July 10, 1929.
- ☛ “Country Merchant Is Found Dead,” Pella Chronicle, July 4, 1929.
- ☛ “Hardy Murder Yet Unsolved,” Williamsburg Journal-Tribune, July 4, 1929.
- ☛ “Iowan Freed of Murder Charges,” Waterloo Courier, October 29, 1933.
- ☛ “Jury Probes Death of Glenwood Recluse,” Waterloo Evening Courier, July 10, 1929.
- ☛ “M.E. Augustine Indicted Thurs.,” Williamsburg Journal-Tribune, September 21, 1933.
- ☛ “May Post Reward For Hardy Killer,” Oxford Leader, August 1, 1929.
- ☛ “Parnell,” Williamsburg Journal-Tribune, July 4, 1929.
- ☛ “Parnell,” Williamsburg Journal-Tribune, July 11, 1929.
- ☛ “Parnell Murder Mystery Still Unsolved,” Oxford Leader, July 4, 1929.
- ☛ “Probe Fourth Recluse Attack,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, July 10, 1929.
- ☛ Reward Advertisement, Williamsburg Journal-Tribune, August 8, 1929.
- ☛ “Rural Iowa Store Keeper Murdered,” Oelwein Daily Register, June 26, 1929.
- ☛ “Rural Merchant Slain By Bandits,” Davenport Democrat and Leader,” June 26, 1929.
- ☛ “Think Revenge Murder Motive,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, June 27, 1929.
- ☛ U.S. Census.