William D. Mullikin
Hotel Owner, Cattleman
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Personal Assassination
Murder Scene and Date
Lee County, Iowa
February 5, 1902
By Nancy Bowers
Written May 2011
On Tuesday evening, February 25, 1902, prosperous farmers William and Mary Mullikin were winding down the day inside their home near Montrose six miles north of Keokuk in Lee County.
Their daughter Nellie was upstairs in bed, but not yet asleep. To keep warm against the winter cold, William sat by the economy stove in the dining room, his back to a window about four feet away. Across the room, Mary read a newspaper, looking up occasionally to share items with her husband.
Suddenly Mary heard a sound, one she later had difficulty describing. The creaking of a chair was the closest she could come. It was nothing that immediately distressed her and William sat motionless, seemingly undisturbed by it.
When his head fell forward and a bright spot of blood appeared on his clothes and spread, Mary knew something horrible had happened.
Nellie, too, heard the sound and rushed downstairs to her father.Terrified, Mary ran 40 rods to the Lee County Poor Farm and found Superintendent Fred Korschgen. Korschgen, who was later praised for his “splendid service in the emergency,” used the Poor Farm’s telephone to notify Dr. John H. Coulter of Summitville and then ran to the Mullikin home with Mary.
Back at home, Mary collapsed and was barely able to tell her story. Nellie tried to be strong for both of them.
William Mullikin was dead from a bullet shot through the window; all Dr. Coulter could do was tend to and calm Mary and Nellie.
It appeared Mullikin was assassinated or, as the Cedar Rapids Republican wrote, “Shot down like a dog,” perhaps by someone standing on the front porch.
Days later, Mary remembered William left the dining room and came back in only a few minutes before he was shot.
☛ Clues Are Sparse ☚
Neighbors gathered immediately at the home and looked unsuccessfully for clues. The bullet hole in the window was clean, the glass not broken or shattered.
Two of Mullikin’s sons tracked a few shoe prints from the rear of the home to the North railroad tracks. However, the ground was hard and it was impossible to know when the tracks were made.
Keokuk Police reported to the crime scene and lamented the lack of bloodhounds which they felt could have hunted down the shooter.
After midnight, Dr. Coulter performed an autopsy. He found that a .32 caliber bullet struck Mullikin at the base of the brain, traveled to an eye socket, and then rebounded into the brain. Coulter told newspapers:
“Death must have come like a flash of lightning.”
William’s and Mary’s son Clarence immediately offered a $500 reward.
☛ Theories and Rumors ☚
Everyone agreed it was a horrible, unexpected act against a man who had no enemies. There was absolutely no one in the area who bore William Mullikin any ill will.
William Mullikin was wealthy. He owned 640 acres of land in Lee County and many properties in Keokuk, including a prominent hotel. He also was well-known in neighboring Missouri, where he conducted livestock business.
He reportedly often came into Keokuk in the evenings with as much as $1,000 in his pockets. He had been robbed several times but was always described by authorities as “being cheerful” about those incidents.
As with all sensational events in small communities, rumors and gossip ran rampant.
Some said that Mullikin killed a man “in the west” years before and was murdered by that man’s friend. Others said that years before a man on his way to Fort Madison Penitentiary gave his money to Mullikin for safekeeping. When released, he could not get back the money and so took revenge.
An alternative theory held that the shooting was accidentally done by someone firing a rifle at a distance from the house.
☛ William Mullikin’s Life ☚
William Mullikin was born July 5, 1844 in Indiana to Kentucky natives Nancy Taylor and Thomas C. Mullikin. The Mullikin family moved to Denmark, Iowa, in 1845 and then on to Montrose in 1846.
On September 29, 1864, William married Mary Elizabeth Jones in Montrose. The couple had 12 children: Charles C., Clara, Oria Marie, Okia, Laura, William, Wilkinson, Ida, Bruce G., Nellie, Bell, and Grover C. Mullikin.
Mullikin’s well-attended funeral was held on February 28. He was buried in Hickory Grove Cemetery in Jackson Township alongside his parents and his children who died as infants.
Although his tombstone bears the date 1903, newspaper accounts verify the year of death as 1902.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “Farmer Is Shot Down Like A Dog,” Cedar Rapids Republican, February 27, 1902.
- ☛ The History of Lee County Iowa.
- ☛ “Keokuk Farmer Assassinated,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, February 26, 1902.
- ☛ “Keokuk Man Killed Who Let Himself Be Robbed Most Cheerfully,” Cedar Rapids Republican, February 26, 1902.
- ☛ “New Theory In Murder Case,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, March 4, 1902.
- ☛ “No Clue To Murderer,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, March 1, 1902.
- ☛ Pocahontas County Sun, February 27, 1902.
- ☛ “Shot While Sitting At Window,” Davenport Daily Leader, February 26, 1902.
- ☛ U.S. Census.