Samuel R. “Sam” Anderson
28-year-old Saloon Porter
Shoeshine Stand Proprietor
Cause of Death: Stabbed and Slashed
Murder Scene and Date
502 Brady Street
September 10, 1901
By Nancy Bowers
Before the violent events of September 10, 1901, 28-year-old Davenport resident Samuel R. “Sam” Anderson was known as a steady, hard-working member of the city’s African-American community.
The Kentucky native arrived in Davenport from Indiana about 1899 and worked as a porter and bus driver for the St. James Hotel before taking a similar job in the Merchants’ Saloon at 502 Brady Street. He ran a shoeshine stand out front and earned extra money by serving at local banquets.
The Davenport Daily Republican reported he was a “small, good-looking Negro” and the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette called him “a quiet young fellow.”
After his wife Sarah returned by herself to Indiana, Sam Anderson slept in a coal shed behind the Merchants’ Saloon, owned and operated by Chris and Miles Brubaker.
☛ Signs of Trouble? ☚
About 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 10, 1901, Anderson came in the saloon’s back door and said he felt sick — an acquaintance later said he had been “ailing” for several days since waiting tables at a Masonic banquet.
Anderson’s clothes were disarrayed and he appeared panicked and worried. He said he believed someone with a club was chasing him in order to take his job and claimed rocks were thrown at him through the windows while he slept. However, the coal shed was windowless.
Others saw that he was in an agitated state and one customer looked at Miles Brubaker and pointed to his head to suggest mental problems.
Sam Anderson seemed so fearful that Brubaker furnished a few drinks to calm him and said he could sleep in the hallway at the back of the saloon.
When Brubaker closed up to go home at 2:15 a.m., Anderson was asleep with his head on a table.
☛ Horror in the Hallway ☚
At 6:00 a.m. the next morning, Chris Brubaker unlocked the saloon’s door to start the day’s business. He went around back to the coal shed to call Anderson. When he couldn’t locate him, Brubaker opened an unlocked door leading to the hallway at the back of the saloon.
There Brubaker discovered a terrible sight. Sam Anderson was lying dead face down on the blood-soaked carpet.
Brubaker notified authorities, and Davenport Policeman William Ramm reported to the scene.
When Anderson’s body was turned over, Officer Ramm saw that the throat was deeply slashed ear to ear; the jugular veins and windpipe were severed. The victim’s undershirt, vest, and trousers had been pulled back, and two substantial cuts from the navel downwards were visible. Around those deep wounds were several shallow, lateral ones.
One account reported that Anderson’s small, dull pocketknife — identified by the former owner who traded it to him — was lying open near the body. However, another account said the knife was found in the trash after the saloon was swept out.
Officer Ramm ordered Anderson’s body transported to Boies Undertaking, where all day hundreds of morbidly curious people filed by to gawk at the dead man and his terrible wounds.
☛ Inquest and Verdict ☚
On first examining the body, Scott County Coroner Dr. Fredrick Lambach declared that the number and nature of Anderson’s wounds precluded suicide.
Coroner Lambach called an inquest to meet at 5:30 that afternoon at the funeral parlor. He appointed James Seaman, Ben Coats, and W.A. Cooper to serve on the jury.
Those testifying were Anderson’s employers Chris and Miles Brubaker; those who saw him acting oddly in the saloon; General Huston, who traded the pocketknife to Sam Anderson; policeman William Ramm; and acquaintances of the victim.
The key witness, however, was Dr. F.E. Rudolph, who performed the post mortem and who pronounced the victim’s wounds self-inflicted.
Because of Dr. Rudolph’s testimony and despite Dr. Lambach’s initial declaration that the death was definitely a homicide, the jury ruled it suicide.
That meant they believed that Sam Anderson inflicted two horrendous abdominal wounds on himself — first pulling aside his clothing so the knife would go in more easily — and then slit his own throat with a deep, uniform ear-to-ear cut.
Anderson’s faculties were impaired, the jury ruled, by alcohol-induced delirium tremens.
Many were skeptical of the verdict, particularly the African-American community. The Davenport Daily Republican reported:
“Directly in opposition to the opinions of nine-tenths of the colored population of Davenport, the coroner’s jury that sat upon the case of Sam Anderson decided that he came to his death by his own hand. . . .The colored people think he was murdered. But their opinion is based upon the theory that a colored man never commits suicide, while the verdict of the coroner’s jury is founded upon evidence too strong to be mistaken or misjudged.”
Those African-Americans who did accept the verdict of suicide, according to the Daily Republican, thought the death “was a case of too much drink, a literal case of fits.”
☛ Incorrect Verdict? ☚
There were obvious problems with the ruling of suicide. Primary among them was that the four-inch neck wound was of a consistent depth across the throat. It would’ve been difficult for Anderson to sever the left carotid artery and then continue to cut in a smooth and even way and sever the right one, particularly given the shortness of the pocketknife’s blade.
In addition, Anderson’s right hand was clean, but the left was covered in blood. This caused some to speculate that an attacker with a long, sharp blade approached him and Anderson pulled out his pocketknife to defend himself. The assailant slashed him in the abdomen and then seized him about the shoulders from behind to cut his throat. Anderson grasped at the attacker’s knife with the left hand — which became bloody — while trying to wield the pocketknife with his right, which stayed clean.
The Daily Republican seemed skeptical as well of the verdict, writing:
“No man ever made a more strenuous suicide than Sam Anderson and that is why the coroner and physicians were at first puzzled at the sight. It was hard to believe that such injuries as Anderson sustained could have been self-inflicted, and especially with a small pocket knife.”
☛ Further Investigation ☚
Police detectives received a tip that on Monday night another black man was seen chasing Sam Anderson in the area of Fifth and Brady streets where the Merchants’ Saloon was located.
The witness saw a blade in the hand of the would-be assailant which, according to the Davenport Daily Republican, “glistened brilliantly in the light of the open arc direct current street lamps hung in the vicinity.” The story could not be verified by authorities, however.
Nor could a motive be uncovered. The Daily Republican wrote:
“His colored friends testified that according to the best of their belief he had no enemies, and was quite popular among the members of his race.”
Sam’s brother, M.B. Anderson of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, described as looking “quite prosperous,” arrived in Davenport to collect on a small life insurance policy through the Colored Men’s Investment Company. Together with the company’s agent, A.D. Corbin, he tried to reconstruct his dead brother’s last days.
In Sam Anderson’s grimy coal shed sleeping quarters, the brother found two books — Physiology and Hygiene and American Boys Who Became Famous.
Please note: Use of information from this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “The Anderson Mystery,” Davenport Daily Republican, September 13, 1901, p. 7.
- ☛ “Around A Big State,” Cedar Falls Semi-Weekly Gazette, September 20, 1901, p. 2.
- ☛ “A Murder at Davenport,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, September 11, 1901, p. 7.
- ☛ “Murder Or Suicide,” Davenport Weekly Leader, September 13, 1901, p. 4.
- ☛ U.S. Census.
- ☛ “With A Pocket Knife,” Davenport Daily Republican, September 11, 1901, p. 7.