Coal Mine Plunge: Suspicious Death of Robert Lee Ruby 1936


Robert Lee Ruby
54-year-old Farmer and Coal Miner
Cause of Death: Pushed From a Height
Motive: Unknown

Death Scene and Date

Bidwell Coal Mine
Polk Township
Wapello County, Iowa
January 11, 1936


By Nancy Bowers
Written August 2011

location of Ottumwa, Iowa

Polk Township in Wapello
County is south of Ottumwa, Iowa

In August of 2011, I exchanged a series of personal emails with Linda Sharlene Jones, whose great-grandfather Robert Lee Ruby died in a suspicious coal mine fall. Linda kindly scanned and emailed to me the remarkable family photos that accompany this article.

Robert Lee Ruby

Robert Lee Ruby

In 1936, Robert Lee Ruby was a farmer in Cass Township of Wapello County who supplemented his income as a coal miner.

About noon on Saturday, January 11, 1936, 54-year-old Ruby died while working in the Bidwell Coal Mine on the Henry Oswald farm south of Christiansburg — now a ghost town — in Section 27 of Wapello County’s Polk Township.

Ruby plunged 87 feet to the bottom of the mineshaft, breaking nearly every bone in his body.

Wapello County Coroner John Drake speculated that Ruby was returning an empty cart to the cage to be lowered to the bottom of the mine and fell because the horse that hoisted the cage moved forward, exposing the shaft.

Drake, however, did not know exactly what happened and did not hold an inquest. There was no other investigation into Ruby’s death.

☛ How Did Robert Ruby Die? ☚

"Robert Ruby Falls 87 Feet To Death in Mine" (from the Ottumwa Courier)

“Robert Ruby Falls 87 Feet To Death in Mine”(from the Ottumwa Courier)

Years later, a great-granddaughter found a newspaper clipping from the Ottumwa Courier about Robert Ruby’s death among her deceased mother’s belongings.

Her eye fell on one particular sentence:

“Just how the accident occurred, Coroner Drake said, could not be determined since there were no witnesses.”

clipping supplied by Linda

clipping supplied by Linda Jones

Curious, she asked relatives about Robert Ruby’s death. Her father told her:

“If I am not mistaken, they think he was pushed and did not fall.”

An aunt said:

“They think he was murdered but no one ever knew why.”

With only one vague sentence from a long-ago newspaper clipping and fading family memories to go on, Robert Ruby’s great-granddaughter has sought answers to her ancestor’s death.

☛ Robert Ruby’s Life ☚

Maxine, Myra, Mercedes, Fern Ruby and Catherine Ruby (Odair).

The Ruby daughters.

Robert Lee Ruby was born July 7, 1882 near Ollie, Iowa, to Phoebe Ann Elvira Keasling and Charles Edward Ruby.

Robert Ruby's sons

Robert Ruby’s sons.

He had 13 siblings: Caroline Ruby Weeks, Jacob W. Ruby, Elora Ruby, Jefferson Ruby, Mary M. Ruby, Jackson Ruby, Alfred Ruby, May Ruby Lemon, Jane Ruby, Nettie Ruby Cook, Inella Ruby, Genetta Ruby, and Barney Ruby.

On January 17, 1905, Robert married Myra Ellen Lock, the daughter of Roda A. Hux and William A. Lock.

Robert and Myra had seven children: Lota Winefred Ruby, William Mettie Ruby, Katharine Elvira Ruby Cougar, Cleo Kermit Ruby, Maxine Delores Ruby, Edna Mercedes Ruby Sammons, Bessie Fern Ruby Davis.

Myra Lock Ruby died of liver cancer in 1926, ten years before Robert’s death.

☛ Robert Ruby Laid to Rest ☚

Robert Ruby's headstone in Ottuma Cemetery

Robert Ruby’s headstone
in Ottumwa’s Memoral Lawn Cemetery

Robert Ruby’s funeral was held at the Christiansburg Church with the Rev. Orville A. Dillon officiating.

He was buried in Memorial Lawn Cemetery in Ottumwa beneath a stone engraved with the word “Father.”

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


  • ☛ Gravestone of Robert Lee Ruby, Courtesy Linda Jones.
  • ☛ Personal Correspondence, Linda Jones, August 2011.
  • ☛ “Robert Ruby Falls 87 Feet To Death in Mine,” Ottumwa Courier, July 13, 1936.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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