Death of the Photographer’s Daughter: Murder of Clara Gray 1898

Murder Victim

Clara N. Kelley Gray
22-year-old Farm Wife
Cause of Death: Undetermined
Motive: Unknown

Murder Scene and Date

East Nishnabotna River Bank
Six miles south of Red Oak, Iowa
Montgomery County
February 28, 1898


By Nancy Bowers
Written December 2011

location of Red Oak, Iowa

location of Red Oak, Iowa

In early March of 1898, a young man was walking along the South Branch Railroad tracks next to the East Nishnabotna River.

About six miles south of Red Oak in Montgomery County, he spotted a bundle of women’s clothing near the rails.

While looking around for more items, he saw a woman’s body lying at the bottom of a six-foot bank adjacent to the tracks. She was so close to the river that one foot rested on the ice.

He reported his findings to Montgomery County authorities.

☛ Who Was the Woman by the River? ☚

from the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette

Locals remembered the woman — based on descriptions of her appearance and clothing — from the Red Oak train station on Monday, February 28.

The dead woman was identified as 22-year-old Clara N. Gray, wife of Alfred Taylor Gray, a farmer living near Farragut in Fremont County — almost 35 miles south of where she was found. Her father, Edward R. Kelley, was a Farragut photographer, painter, and paperhanger.

Investigators searching the railroad tracks between Red Oak and the location of the body found another bundle of clothing one mile north of the first one.

They also found tracks of a man’s shoes in the snow leading down the bank to Clara Gray’s body. The person who made them walked backwards in the same prints up to the rails again.

An autopsy revealed no bruising or other violent injuries. Clara Gray’s internal organs were sent to a laboratory for poison testing, particularly strychnine. No results were released, although one newspaper made the claim that morphine was found in her stomach.

☛ How Did Clara Gray Die? ☚

The coroner’s inquest investigated two theories about Clara Gray’s death.

One speculation was that she “became insane” and started walking from Red Oak to Farragut, dying of either poison or exposure along the way.

Foul play, however, was not ruled out and was strongly suspected because Clara’s belongings and her body were found along railroad tracks. It was possible she was pushed from a moving train and tumbled down the steep embankment.

The final ruling was “death from unknown causes.” However, murder was strongly suspected.

☛ Clara N. Gray’s Life ☚

Clara N. Gray was born in Illinois in 1876, the daughter of Mary E. and Edward R. Kelley. She had two sisters, Margrett [sic] E. Kelley and Emma J. Kelley.

She married Alfred Taylor Gray, the son of Mary Ellen Childers and James Gray. The couple lived near Farragut and had no children.

Alfred Gray married again within the year to a woman named Rose Elizabeth and they had 9 children. They eventually moved to Monona County, where he died in 1963.

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



  • ☛ “Dead Body Identified,” Postville Graphic, March 17, 1898.
  • ☛ “Dead Woman Identified,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, March 3, 1898.
  • ☛ “Interesting Iowa Items,” Eldora Enterprise, March 11, 1898.
  • ☛ “The News in Iowa,” Humeston New Era, March 9, 1898.
  • ☛ “Too Short,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, March 4, 1898.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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