Below the Melan Arch Bridge: Baby John Doe 1898

Murder Victim

Baby John Doe
Newborn Infant
Cause of Death: Bludgeoned
Motive: Infanticide

Murder Scene and Date

Des Moines River
Sixth Avenue Melan Arch Bridge
Des Moines, Iowa
Polk County
April 22, 1898


By Nancy Bowers
Written June 2013

Postcard view of  the 6th Avenue Bridge over the Des Moines River

Postcard view of the Sixth Avenue
Melan Arch Bridge over the Des Moines River.

On Friday, April 22, 1898, 26-year-old Des Moines pharmacist William A. Graham left his home at 1548 Sixth Avenue to open his drugstore and postal substation at the corner of Sixth and State.

As he crossed the Sixth Avenue Melan Arch Bridge about 9:30 a.m. in his horse-drawn buggy, Graham looked down into the Des Moines River and saw what he believed was a baby floating in the water about six to eight feet from the shore.

Graham stopped his horse, ran down the bank, and pulled from the water the body of an unclothed baby boy. He quickly telephoned Des Moines Police.

from the Des Moines Daily News

from the Des Moines Daily News

Polk County Coroner Rollin Valentine Ankeny reported to the scene and directed that the baby’s body be taken to Shank Brothers undertaking parlor at 517 Mulberry.

Coroner Ankeny appointed newspaper reporter Warren Clossen, physician Dr. H.W. Seager, and deliveryman William Tomlin to serve on a jury, which he convened for an inquest in the late morning of Saturday, April 23.

Ankeny reported to the jury that bruises on the right side of the baby’s head were from blows sustained before death and that he had been in the water about six to eight hours before being discovered by William Graham.

The coroner’s jury ruled the death a murder committed by an unknown person or persons.

Without witnesses and tips, Des Moines Police were not able to identify the dead infant nor to determine who killed him nor to pinpoint where he was placed in the river.

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



  • ☛ “City Briefs,” Des Moines Daily News, April 23, 1898.
  • Des Moines and Polk County, Iowa, City Directory, 1898.
  • ☛ Fredericksburg News, April 28, 1898.
  • ☛ “Murdered A Babe,” Humeston New Era, April 27, 1898.
  • ☛ “Murdered A Babe,” Pocahontas County Sun, April 28, 1898.
  • ☛ “Murdered Baby,” Des Moines Daily News, April 22, 1898.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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