“Butcher, Baker”: Murder of Otto H. Samp 1916

Murder Victim

Otto H. Samp
37-year-old Baker
Resident of Newton, Iowa
Cause of Death: Stabbed
Motive: Robbery

Murder Scene and Date

618 E. 2nd Street
Des Moines, Iowa
Polk County
October 1, 1916


By Nancy Bowers
Written January 2011

location of Des Moines, Iowa

location of Des Moines, Iowa

In 1916, Otto Samp worked as a baker in Newton, Iowa. On Saturday, September 20, 1916, he and two co-workers took the train into Des Moines. Samp parted company with his friends at Union Station.

At 7:00 a.m., Sunday morning, October 1, Warren R. Jackson, who lived with George and Lucille “Lulu” Able at 618 E. 2nd Street, reported there was a bleeding man in the back yard.

By the time Des Moines Police arrived, the man — identified as Otto Samp — had bled to death from 26 stab wounds. One newspaper said his body was “slashed into ribbons.”

The ground around the body was torn up and blood-soaked, indicating a desperate struggle. Because it was known Samp was unarmed, it appeared he defended himself bare-handed.

from the Des Moines News

Samp’s body was taken to a funeral home, where Polk County Coroner Claude Koons held an inquest.

Although George and Lucille Able slept in a bedroom a few feet away from the murder, they made sworn statements saying they heard nothing. Under questioning, the Ables and Warren Jackson — all of whom were black — gave conflicting accounts.

Inside the house, police detectives found Jackson’s razor-edged knife, two bloody handkerchiefs, and a bloodstained shirt with a laundry mark bearing the name “Warren Jackson” on the neckband.

The three residents, as well as five other people, were arrested. The next day, all but Warren Jackson and George and Lucille Able were released from custody.

Warren Jackson waived preliminary hearing and was remanded to jail without bond. The Ables’ hearing was held Wednesday, October 4.

According to the Des Moines Daily News, Warren Jackson was put through “severe” grilling, but never wavered from his story: he admitted the bloody clothing was his but said the stains “resulted from a fight he had with another negro [sic] last week.”

Chief of Detectives James MacDonald worked the Samp case (photo IAGenWeb Polk County).

Polk County Attorney George Wilson consulted with Des Moines Chief of Detectives James MacDonald to decide if charges would be pressed.

Preliminary hearings on the murder charges for the three suspects were held Monday, October 9.

George Able, and Lucille Able were not charged with murder. In late November of 1916, the grand jury refused to indict Warren Jackson.

The December 10, 1922 edition of Des Moines Capital included Samp’s murder in a list of the city’s unsolved homicides. No one was brought to justice in the homicide.

☛ Otto Samp’s Life ☚

Otto H. Samp was born in Germany in September 1879 to Augusta and Carl Samp. His family immigrated to the United States in mid-December 1883; in Des Moines, they lived at 1018 W. 14th Street and 1018 13th Street. Otto had one sister, Teina, and two brothers, Carl Rudolph and August.

From about 1905 till 1915, Otto Samp lived in Ottumwa and worked at the Lowenberg Brothers Bakery.


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



  • ☛ “8 Taken For Man’s Murder,” Oelwein Daily Register, October 2, 1916.
  • ☛ “Baker’s Body Found Slashed To Pieces,” Cedar Rapids Republican, October 3, 1916.
  • ☛ Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948, National Archives.
  • ☛ “County To Aid In Samp Case,” Des Moines Daily News, October 3, 1916.
  • ☛ “Hold Three On Murder Charge,” Des Moines Daily News, October 4, 1916.
  • ☛ “Negroes Held For Otto Samp Murder,” Muscatine Journal, October 4, 1916.
  • ☛ “Newton Baker Murdered, Hold Three in Jail,” Des Moines Daily News, October 2, 1916.
  • ☛ “Seek Motive For Killing of Banker [sic],” Muscatine Journal, October 2, 1916.
  • ☛ “Three Negroes Held For Murder Of Baker,” Waterloo Evening Courier, October 2, 1916.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “W.R. Jackson Not Indicted,” Des Moines Daily News, November 28, 1916.

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