Nels Petersen Louvring
51-year-old Service Station Operator
Automobile Junk Yard Owner
Murder Scene and Date
315 Water Street
July 29, 1933
Cause of Death: Gunshot
By Nancy Bowers
For decades, Saturday was a special day in the life of small Iowa towns. It was “butter and egg day,” when people from the country brought in produce to sell and then purchased supplies. Vehicles were parked along main streets, and sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians long after dark.
Written February 2012
In 1933, Saturdays in Fayette, Iowa, were the biggest day of the week, to the delight of local merchants like 51-year-old Danish immigrant Nels Louvring. He owned a service station at the corner of Water and Main streets in combination with an auto junk yard and used parts business.
On the last weekend in July of 1933, Nels and his wife Amy were entertaining out-of-town company. Amy’s daughter from her first marriage, Irene Brimmer Guyer, and her husband Harvey and son Charles were visiting.The Guyer family and Amy Louvring spent most of Saturday night at Nels’s filling station, visiting and watching the crowds on Main Street. They left about 10:30 for the Louvring residence at 315 Water Street in the Westfield district on the west side of Fayette.
About 11:00 p.m., downtown activity had subsided and Nels Louvring put his cash receipts in a cigar box he always used. He closed up the filling station and started for home, only a quarter-of-a mile due west on Water Street.
Several other business owners closing up about that time saw Louvring driving west; he was alone.
Not long afterwards, Amy Louvring heard Nels’s car stop in the driveway and heard the back door slam. Then there was no other sound.
When Amy went to investigate, she found Nels collapsed over the threshold of the kitchen door. He still clutched his cigar box, but paper money and coins — $365 in total — were scattered over the floor.
Louvring’s car, as usual, was parked in the garage.
☛ Authorities Investigate ☚
Amy Louvring and the Guyers quickly called Fayette County Sheriff Henry J. Nehring.
Nehring summoned to the scene local physician Dr. F.L. Baker and Fayette County Coroner Dr. W.E. Walsh.
Dr. Walsh ruled that Nels Louvring died of a gunshot wound to the chest. A single bullet entered the body on the left side a little above the waist and exited on the right side near the shoulder.
Levi Van Sickle, who lived across the street, told Sheriff Nehring he heard one gunshot about 11:00.
Nehring quickly gathered a posse of 50 men to form what he termed a “drag net” to pull in possible suspects.
No one, including Amy Louvring and the Guyers, heard any car but Nels’s, so it was assumed the shooter fled on foot.
Sheriff Nehring was certain that the trail of the shooter could be picked up by bloodhounds. After several thwarted attempts to obtain them from nearby jurisdictions, Nehring called the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which dispatched bloodhounds and state agents — including former Fayette County Sheriff A.A. Robertson — to Fayette.
Agent Robertson arrived at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday and worked the crime scene all day.
The dogs picked up a scent behind the Louvring home and followed it for a mile-and-a-half along the nearby Volga River before the trail went cold. The posse was called in on Monday when no suspects were found.
Although the killer of Nels Louvring was not located, the Sheriff found an illegal still at the home of local resident Bill Alley, who was arrested.
☛ Who Killed Nels Louvring? ☚
Fayette citizens gossiped incessantly about the murder. The Sumner Gazette wrote:
“Ever since the news of the murder gained wide circulation there has been a maze of stories, theories and conjectures all flying thick and fast.”
Some speculations were based on widespread knowledge that Louvring had a deep distrust of banks and often carried large amounts of money. That would make the motive robbery, although a botched one, as none of his money was missing.
Although initial theories were that Louvring was accosted between his business and his home and shot during an unsuccessful robbery, he was too badly wounded to drive a car a-quarter-of-a mile, park it in the garage, and walk into the house before dying.
Sheriff Nehring believed Louvring was ambushed as he got out of his vehicle, a view borne out when a shell was found on the garage floor. And then a .38 caliber bullet from an automatic weapon was discovered in the wooden door, where it lodged after passing through Louvring’s body.
The location of the bullet and the path it took through the victim’s body indicated Louvring was shot by someone crouching near the garage in wait for him.
☛ Vendetta? ☚
There were also rumors that the shooting was personal. During the previous winter, John Dolan and his 20-year-old son Paul Dolan had started a fist fight with Nels Louvring at a local café. In April of 1933, a grand jury indicted the Dolans on a charge of assaulting Louvring with intent to do great bodily harm.
Suspicion particularly fell on Paul Dolan and the idea that he sought revenge or wanted to silence Louvring, who would be the principal witness at trial.
Paul Dolan, however, established that he was visiting friends in Maynard and then went to Oelwein, where witnesses put him until 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, long after Louvring’s shooting.
The Waterloo Courier wrote about Paul Dolan:
“Those who know him say he has a quick and violent temper but is not the cold brooding type and . . . not of the temperament to lie in wait to murder as did the killer.”
Ultimately, there were no answers. The person who shot Nels Louvring — whether in a botched robbery or a successful settling of a score — has never been brought to justice.
☛ Citizens Agitated by Two Murders ☚
Fayette County citizens were unsettled not only by the Louvring murder, but also because it was the second one of the year.
On January 4, 1933, 77-year-old wealthy farmer Ashley Downing was found murdered in his home in Fayette County’s Fremont Township. Both men had been shot during what might have been robberies.
Local residents wanted answers and to feel secure in their own homes. They pushed hard on Sheriff Henry J. Nehring and other authorities to solve both homicides.
However, no one was charged and convicted in either the Downing or the Louvring murders. Click here to read about the unsolved murder of Ashley Downing.
☛ Nels Louvring’s Life ☚Nels Petersen Louvring was born in Denmark on June 17, 1882. When he was a small child, his mother died. In 1896, when he was 14, his father brought him to America and left him with an uncle. Over the next few years, he learned the tiling business, an important skill necessary to drain Iowa wetlands for agricultural production.
One obituary said he then “went to sea” and at the age of 19 was taken into the Danish army. After that, he returned to America and joined his father in Wisconsin and became an American citizen in 1904.
Louvring lived in Cedar Falls and Oelwein before settling in Fayette County. In the 1910 census, he lived in Jefferson Township and boarded at the Charles and Katherine Smith home while working as a tiler.
Not long after that, Nels moved to Fayette where he met and married widow Amy Elna Bailey Brimmer. They had no children of their own, but Nels regarded Amy’s three as his own.
Louvring became interested in cars, which led to a business of buying used cars and selling parts. When he registered for the WWI draft, he was designated a self-employed “junk dealer.”
He added the filling station later, but listed his primary occupation in the U.S. Census 1930 as “automobile wrecker.”
Funeral services for Nels P. Louvring were held on August 2 at the Fayette Methodist Episcopal Church and were officiated by Rev. Virgil Welch of the Upper Iowa University faculty and by Dr. Cluley C. Hall of Maynard. He was buried in Grandview Cemetery in Fayette County.
Louvring was survived by his wife Amy and his stepchildren Irene Brimmer Guyer and Orville Brimmer, as well as grandchildren.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “35 Accused in Fayette Court,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, September 13, 1933.
- ☛ “Adjourn Nels Louvring Inquest Till Today,” Monticello Express, August 10, 1933.
- ☛ “Coroner Opens Probe Over Murder of Nels Louvering [sic],” Sumner Gazette, August 10, 1933.
- ☛ “Fayette Businessman Murdered Saturday,” Monticello Express, August 3, 1933.
- ☛ “Fayette Merchant Slain,” Waterloo Sunday Courier, July 30, 1933.
- ☛ “Fayette Murder Remains Puzzle; Suspect Jailed,” Waterloo Daily Courier, July 31, 1933.
- ☛ “Fayette News,” Oelwein Daily Register, August 3, 1933.
- ☛ “Louvering [sic] Probe Still in Session,” Waterloo Daily Courier, August 17, 1933.
- ☛ Poul Erik L. Pedersen, Louvring Family Member, Personal Correspondence, May 2012.
- ☛ U.S. Census.