32-year-old Night Watchman
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Murder Scene and Date
Iowa Fiber Box Company
February 18, 1928
By Nancy Bowers
Written December 2011
When day watchman Walter Bryant arrived at Keokuk’s Iowa Fiber Box Company on Sunday morning, February 19, 1928, he could not find Earl Paris, the night watchman he was relieving.
He thought Paris was hiding from him as a joke but then realized the fire in the furnace had gone out and that Paris was nowhere in the building.
Coffee was warming on the stove and Paris’s lunch — which he usually ate at midnight — was untouched.
Searching outside, Bryant found Earl Paris lying face-up in the mud under a lumber wagon about forty feet from the doorway of the plant’s boiler room. He was dead.
☛ Authorities Arrive ☚
Bryan notified Keokuk’s Police Department, and Officer Henry J. Faber responded to the scene.
Faber summoned Justice of the Peace and Acting Coroner Frank W. Oertel who, although blind from birth, had a thriving law practice and served two terms in the Iowa Legislature. Oertel’s mother served as his “eyes” when he performed his duties.
Three dollars and what investigators called “an old fashioned pistol” were missing from Paris’s body, although what was described as a “cheap watch” was left behind.
Near the building was a sack of coal with a tag from a local feed store. In addition, three charcoal tablets lay on the ground. Investigators believed the killer mistook papers the tablets had been wrapped in for money and discarded them when he discovered they were not bills.
No murder weapon was found at the scene.
☛ Autopsy and Inquest ☚
Paris’s body was taken to the Cunningham Funeral Parlor at 1328 Concert Street. There, Dr. Frank B. Dorsey, Jr. and Dr. Johannes Anderson performed an autopsy which found a bullet entered the right side of Paris’s chest and pierced the ascending aorta, causing instant death.
The bullet’s path indicated the shooter was taller than the victim, and a three-inch powder burn showed that the gun was fired at close range.
He was likely shot sometime before midnight, making the date of death February 18.
Earl Paris was strong, well-built, and known to be a good wrestler; so he was probably taken by surprise.
Acting Coroner Oertel empaneled a jury of Rollin L. Sherwood, Dr. Pasco E. Hanes, and Henry Van Essling to hear inquest testimony on February 21, 1928.
A sister of the victim told the coroner’s jury that Paris found a man he had “judged to be a Negro” in the factory’s boiler room a week before. When the man said he was just trying to “get warm,” Paris told him they didn’t allow non-workers in the factory and forced him off the premises.
Earl Paris’s wife Rosie told the jury that her husband left home with four dollars.
Keokuk Police motorcycle officer Virgil Coovert said that Saturday night Paris had paid him a dollar for a “personal transaction” between them. Coovert later returned the money to Paris’s widow.
The coroner’s jury issued a verdict of “death from a deadly weapon in the hands of a person unknown.”
☛ Investigation ☚
The Paris murder was investigated by Lee County Sheriff Robert H. Hart, Deputy Sheriff Paul A. Reinig, Keokuk Police Chief J.B. Parks, Deputy Sheriff Fred Weisemann of Fort Madison, and Lee County Attorney Daniel J. McNamara.
Deputy Sheriff H.E. Coles brought two bloodhounds to the scene to search. Five separate times, the dogs ran from the box company to Bloody Run Creek, where a hole in the ice looked like someone had plunged through.
The dogs, following a trail along Bloody Run Creek, always ended up at the John and Melissa Hammond home near the Tenth Street Bridge. Living with the Hammonds was H. W. Lewis — described by newspapers only as a “Negro” who had recently been released from jail.
Lee County Attorney Daniel McNamara questioned Lewis, who said he delivered coal for a local dealer. His alibi for the night of the Paris murder was solid, and Lewis was released.
Iowa Governor John Hammill issued a reward of $250 for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the homicide of Earl Paris.
☛ Family Secrets ☚
In personal correspondence with the author, a relative shared that the older members of the family never discussed the murder with the younger generation.
However, she was told about rumors of after-hours gambling at the factory, done mostly to break the boredom of the long nights; the family believed that might have been related to the murder.
☛ The Life of Earl Paris ☚
Cecil Earl Paris was born August 5, 1896 in Vest Township of Scotland County, Missouri, to Laura Elmora “Elvira” McDaniel and George Washington Paris.
He had 14 siblings, two — Jesse William Paris and Della Mae Paris McDaniel — through his father’s first marriage to Maria J. Bush, as well as Bessie Lola Paris Conch, Bertha Pernini Paris Hatfield, Mary Alice Paris, Ada June Paris Kellum, Amanda Elizabeth Paris McKinney, Dessie Myrtle Paris Burnett, Enos Oral Paris, George Frank Paris, Laverne Paris, Leona Mable Paris Lowery and his twin Nona Pearl Paris Elschlager.
Earl Paris lived his whole adult life in Appanoose and Lee counties. On September 17, 1917 in Moulton, Iowa, Earl Paris married Rosetta “Rosie” McKenna.
In addition to his wife Rosie, five young children survived him: Jake Paris, 12; Cecil Paul Paris, 10; Oscar Vernon Paris, 9; Vallie Elmore Paris (Iwanicki), 5; and George H. Paris, 2. Daughter Silvia Mae Paris died at birth on Valentine’s Day of 1922, and Elsie Pauline Paris passed away in 1925 when she was one.
Because the family’s breadwinner was gone, the Paris children were split up and sent to live with relatives. Some lost touch with the others as they grew up.
Earl Paris and his wife are buried in Scotland County, Missouri. His funeral was held at the historic Campground church near Downing, Missouri, on February 21 and he was buried in Campground Cemetery.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ Ames Daily Tribune and Times, February 22, 1928.
- ☛ Ames Daily Tribune and Times, February 29, 1928.
- ☛ “Hammill Issues Reward,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, April 1, 1928.
- ☛ “Negro Suspected Of Keokuk Killing,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, February 20, 1928.
- ☛ “Officers Seek Assailant,” Daily Gate City, February 20, 1928.
- ☛ “Persons Arrested Are Able to Furnish Alibis in Keokuk Slaying,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, February 21, 1928.
- ☛ Tapati McDaniels, Personal Correspondence, December 2011.
- ☛ “To Quiz Negro on Watchman’s Death,” Waterloo Evening Courier, February 21, 1928.