Christmas Day Death on Mud Creek: Murder of Henry Stephens 1876

Murder Victim

Henry Stephens
66-year-old Farmer
1810-1876
Cause of Death: Pushed From a Height
Motive: Robbery

Murder Scene and Date

Railroad Bridge Over Mud Creek
One Mile East of Vinton, Iowa
Benton County
Christmas Day, 1876

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By Nancy Bowers
Written April 2012

location of Vinton, Iowa

location of Vinton, Iowa

On Christmas Day of 1876, Henry Stephens, a farmer in Taylor Township of Benton County, set out for nearby Vinton to sell horses, including the one he rode.

Afterwards — following the railroad tracks as he usually did — he started walking the six miles home. But Stephens never made it.

When his family went looking for Henry Stephens, they discovered him dead under the railroad bridge over Mud Creek, a stream that flows into the Cedar River.

The 66-year-old man fell 20 feet from the bridge, hitting his face and head on sharp rocks as he tumbled down, and died immediately.

from the Iowa State Reporter

Although authorities could not determine if the death was accidental or a homicide, the Stephens family believed it was murder and that Henry had been pushed to his death because his pocketbook — which should have contained between $40 and $60 dollars from the horse sale — was empty.

Had someone who knew Stephens would be returning alone from Vinton, money on his person from the horse sales, waited on the bridge — perhaps greeting him with a Christmas Day hello — and then demanded his money and shoved him off?

No one was ever brought to justice in the homicide and the case went cold, remembered only in genealogy and history by John Stephens’s family.

☛ Henry Stephens’s Life

photo by Colette Harrison

photo by Colette Harrison

Henry Stephens was born December 2, 1810 in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, to Mary and John Nicholas Stephens. He had 11 siblings: Mary Ann, Elizabeth, Susan, Peter, Margaret, Rachel, Hannah, Rebecca, Catharine, Nicolas R., and Eliza Stephens.

In Pennsylvania about 1840, Stephens married Margaret McDowell. By 1860, the couple had moved their family to Taylor Township in Benton County, Iowa.

Henry and Margaret had three sons — W. Harrison Stephens, James Stephens, and Joseph H. Stephens — as well as two daughters, Rebecca Stephens and Mary Jane Stephens Moore. Margaret preceded Henry in death only nine months earlier.

Henry Stephens is buried in Prairie United Brethren Cemetery in Benton County. On his tombstone are the words:

“Gone but not forgotten.”

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

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References

  • ☛ “Benton County,” Iowa State Reporter: Waterloo, January 3, 1877.
  • ☛ Dahrl E. Moore, Query to Benton County IAGenWeb Project, December 18, 2002.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ Vinton Eagle, December 27, 1876.

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