George Ruggles Griswold
41-year-old Iowa Agent
State Mutual Life Assurance Company
Cause of Death: Undetermined
Motive: Business Quarrel
Murder Scene and Date
Conjunction of Des Moines & Raccoon rivers
Des Moines, Iowa
September 13, 1905
By Nancy Bowers
Written August 2010/December 2012
In 1905, Des Moines businessman George R. Griswold outwardly lived a well-ordered and prosperous life.
He had a good job as the Iowa agent for State Mutual Life Assurance Company, kept an office in the Observatory Building — Des Moines’s first “skyscraper” — and lived comfortably with his wife Lulu and four daughters at 3407 Ingersoll Avenue.
But in reality, he was playing a dangerous game of financial fraud to enable a personal life that newspapers later termed a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde existence.”
And his final fate was left unsettled amid accounts of assumed identities and bizarre accusations of body switching.
☛ The Last Day ☚
On Tuesday, September 12, 1905, Griswold told his wife he was spending that night downtown in order to take the 2:55 a.m. Wednesday train to Omaha out of the Rock Island Depot.
During that day, Lulu Griswold assumed George was working at his office. It was later revealed, however, that Griswold spent the day in quite a different location pursuing something that would have been unimaginable to Lulu.
Just after 11:00 p.m. that night, he arrived at Munger’s European Hotel on West Fourth Street near the train depot, signing the registry “Griswold, City.” When the clerk escorted him to room 20, Griswold requested a 2:00 a.m. wake-up knock so he could catch his early train.
No one remembered seeing Griswold leave Munger’s — whose motto was “A Safe Place To Sleep” — and when he did not return home from what his wife believed was a routine business trip, Lulu Griswold reported him missing.
☛ Caught in a Net ☚
About 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 16, Garfield Gray of 461 SE First Street discovered that one of his trot lines at the conjunction of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers had pulled loose.
As he drew in the cord, Gray saw that a body — floating on the surface of the river 200 feet from shore — had snagged on the line and broken it. Gray hauled the body onto the bank and sat with it until someone returned with police officers.
The dead person was a man, bloated beyond recognition. His hands were tied tightly behind his back with a yard of twine and his pockets were slashed and turned inside out.
Des Moines Police knew that George Griswold was missing; using clothing, a ring, and items in the trouser pockets, they declared the body his. Unaccounted for, however, were Griswold’s watch and hat, a red leather pocketbook containing $60, and his valise.
Griswold’s body was taken to Patrick’s Undertaking and kept in a casket for over a week during a lengthy postmortem process.
Polk County Coroner James W. Beck’s autopsy ruled out natural death from stroke or heart disease; it also revealed no water in the lungs, which insured Griswold was dead when he went into the river. No knife or gunshot wounds were found on the body, and the only sign of mishap was a slight bruise over the eye that suggested a head injury.
After testing the dead man’s stomach and other organs, Iowa State Chemist Professor Charles N. Kinney also ruled out poisoning as a cause of death.
With the identification confirmed, Griswold’s family held a memorial service at their Ingersoll Avenue home and were ready to send the body to Omaha for burial when conflicts arose.
State Mutual Life Assurance Company came to take charge of Griswold’s business affairs, and Lulu Griswold’s brother George Cremer arrived from Chicago to assist the family with personal matters. The two factions warred over the contents of the dead man’s desk.
As the insurance company probed into Griswold’s accounts, they found that $1,573.51 could not be accounted for.
But also at stake was life insurance money — between $15,000 and $20,000 — from Griswold’s policies with both State Mutual Life Assurance and Modern Brotherhood of America.
The insurance companies balked at paying, first by claiming the body was not Griswold’s and second by asserting that if it was his body he had killed himself, making the life insurance policies void.
☛ Who Was the Man in the River? ☚
To quell speculations about the victim’s identity, Polk County Attorney Jesse A. Miller requested that the casket be opened and a final, definitive identification be made.
After what was described by a local newspaper as three hours of “wrangling” at the funeral home on September 25, the casket lid was opened at 9:00 p.m. On hand to peer inside were Des Moines Police Detectives, several physicians, and three newspaper reporters.
Dr. Frederick W. Knott, who kept an office in the Equitable Building and was the last dentist George Griswold saw while alive, examined the dead man’s teeth and determined they matched his patient’s.
The body was then officially declared that of George Griswold and sent to Omaha for burial.
On October 4 — after a full week of testimony before a three-man jury — Coroner James W. Beck designated Griswold’s death a homicide.
On the surface, the death looked like an opportunistic murder in which a thief or thieves accosted the well-dressed Griswold between Munger’s and the Rock Island Depot in the dark early hours. They tied his hands behind his back, struck him on the head, slit his pockets to take his wallet, rifled his suitcase for clothes and belongings, and threw his body into the Des Moines River, where it might never have been found if not for snagging on the fishing line.
☛ Murder or Suicide? ☚
Despite the coroner’s jury verdict and the fact that Griswold’s hands were bound behind his back, Des Moines Police Chief of Detectives Eli Hardin and the insurance companies insisted the death was suicide.
The strongest argument for suicide was a recently uncovered check kiting scheme carried out by Griswold. He made payable to himself three notes totaling $4,000 held by Des Moines financial institutions and sent them to the Rockford State Bank in Rockford, Iowa, where cashier A. T. Mitchell later identified them as forgeries.
This revelation of fraud was embarrassing for Griswold and promised financial and personal ruin. Moreover, the argument went, he would have been further humiliated by revelations of embezzlement from his employer.
Those who believed Griswold was murdered, however, pointed to the fraud and embezzlement as motives for murder, speculating that business associates involved in or affected by his shady financial dealings might have silenced Griswold.
In addition, rumors circulated that financial instruments worth over $25,000 and a parcel of “mysterious papers” incriminating to others were missing from Griswold’s body.
☛ Similar Death? ☚
The case for murder was strengthened by similarities between Griswold’s death and that of 34-year-old Peosta resident Frank Callahan, whose body was found in the Des Moines River near Levy on September 24, 1906 eight days after Griswold’s body was discovered.
Both Callahan and Griswold were last seen near the Rock Island Depot in Des Moines, were struck on the head, had their pockets slashed with a knife, and were thrown into the Des Moines River.
Click here to read an article about the unsolved murder of Frank Callahan.
☛ Secret Dual Life ☚
In early December — two months after the coroner’s ruling of homicide — an amazing story broke in local newspapers: George Griswold had led a dual life.
The public and proper George Griswold maintained the Ingersoll Avenue home, saw his wife Lulu and four daughters every day, and managed his insurance office.
But privately and quietly at 212 Ridge Avenue just a half mile to the southeast of his family home, he was known as Arthur Stockman — listed as an insurance agent in the 1905 Des Moines City Directory.
At this house, Griswold spent part of each day with his mistress, 23-year-old piano teacher Grace Stockman — later described by the Des Moines Daily News as “tall and willowy and of a handsome type” — and her 25-year-old dressmaker sister Josie.
Griswold fully furnished the Ridge Avenue house and paid all the living expenses for the Stockman sisters, who told neighbors he was their brother Arthur.
George Griswold’s dual life had been going on for well over a year before he was murdered.
By chance in 1904, Griswold met Grace Stockman — a New York native raised in Sioux City — on a train during a business trip to Chicago, where she was studying music. He told her he was single, and the two exchanged letters. When he visited her, Grace introduced Griswold to her Chicago friends as a bachelor.
By the late summer of 1904, the relationship was becoming serious; and Griswold invited Grace to Des Moines to enjoy the Iowa State Fair.
Promising that she could find many eager music pupils in the city, Griswold persuaded Grace to move to Des Moines. The two became engaged, although she later claimed that her music teaching and his “business entanglements” insured that neither was quite ready for marriage yet.
On a buggy ride one day through the city, Griswold confessed he was married. Shocked and disappointed, Grace broke off the relationship and returned home. Grace later told the Des Moines Daily News:
“Then I went back to Chicago and when I got off at the suburban station George was there to meet me. How he got there I do not know but he urged every power that he had over me until I in my love for him, consented to come back to him. He reasoned me out of my purpose to ever see him again and I came back with him.
We took a little house and by maneuvering at times when other people in the neighborhood were not at home we managed to be together as much as possible.”
☛ Double Identity Revealed ☚
Griswold so successfully kept his second existence a secret from his family and business colleagues that it did not come to light even during the intense examination of his life by both police and the insurance company he worked for. The secret was eventually revealed for two reasons.
First, neighbors on Ridge Avenue began to talk among themselves when they realized that a published photo of the dead George Griswold bore a striking resemblance to Arthur Stockman, who coincidentally had stopped showing up at his home around the time Griswold disappeared.
Second, in early December a distraught Grace Stockman wanted to tell her story because she believed Griswold had set aside life insurance money for her.
Grace had not come forward earlier she said because her attorney William Stone Ayres — later Chief Counsel at Bankers Life and a Polk County District Judge — advised that revealing her secret life with Griswold would not help solve his death and would only bring her public scrutiny and scorn.
☛ The Kept Woman ☚
To reveal the particulars of her relationship with Griswold, Grace Stockman made herself available to newspaper reporters in a dramatic press conference.
She opened a locket around her neck that contained his photo. And while fingering an engagement ring she said Griswold gave her, she recounted to the reporters how much George Griswold loved her and how he promised to get a divorce and marry her by Christmas of 1905.
The Waterloo Courier wrote of her demeanor:
“Miss Stockman broke down completely. The shock was almost more than the girl could bear. Weeping and nervous from the strain, she confessed in full the history of her life with Griswold, telling of a love which could not be denied because of ever seemingly insurmountable obstacles, of promises mutually given of a future time and wedded life when the promised divorce should be secured, of happy hours in the little home on Ridge Street when the deception was being practiced almost without fear of detection, and of the final desertion and death which has made her life a torment.”
Grace said that besides her lawyer and sister, the only other person who knew of her relationship with Griswold was Dr. Chester Arthur Ayres, a young physician with an office in the Citizen’s National Bank Building and the brother of Grace’s attorney William Stone Ayres.
Grace said she learned during the summer of 1905 she was pregnant and Griswold promised to stand by her. He told her he would divorce his wife Lulu so they could marry at Christmas and begin a life together in the new year with their child.
In early September, Grace said she had “a sudden illness” that required hospitalization and that Dr. Ayres was brought in to attend her at a Des Moines hospital, where she was admitted under the name “Miss Preston.”
One newspaper reported Grace underwent “a delicate operation.” Whether her hospitalization was due to miscarriage or abortion, the pregnancy did not continue.
Grace said that Griswold spent nearly the entire day before he disappeared with her, staying at the hospital by her side until 9:30 p.m. and leaving only when a nurse insisted he go because visiting hours had ended.
When she was dismissed from the hospital, Grace read of Griswold’s death in a local newspaper article. She insisted to reporters that George Griswold did not kill himself.
☛ Stockman Family Speaks Out ☚
The shocking story soon spread from Des Moines to Grace’s and Josie’s family in Sioux City. The Waterloo Times-Tribune wrote that the parents — Josephine and Simeon U. Stockman — were heartbroken and in disbelief. The newspaper described the Stockmans as “devout Methodists” who lived in “a pretty home.” Simeon was once the treasurer of the local trades assembly and, according to the newspaper, was in 1905 “receiving a big salary as department head in a department store.” Another newspaper termed him a “floorwalker.”
Grace, it was noted, “bore a good name . . . and was popular as a music teacher.”
Simeon Stockman told the newspaper:
“We have had frequent letters from the girls and only a few days ago they wrote that they were well and happy and would be home to spend Christmas. I knew nothing of this terrible story until this moment and cannot believe it.
Both daughters were home to attend the wedding of their sister August 24 last, and Grace was well then. I can’t believe she was in a delicate condition that would require the visit to the hospital which the newspaper accounts allege.
We urged them to spend Thanksgiving with us, and they thanked us, but said they could not spare the time. Still they gave no account of trouble that [the newspaper articles] attributed to them. And now they will surely be here Christmas, but still say nothing of the Griswold affair.
When Grace saw her sister so happy at the marriage in August she said she too had a sweetheart in Des Moines, a prominent business man, and that they would likewise be married some of these days. I never heard of Griswold before. Grace was never in Chicago, and it was impossible that she met Griswold there.
She wrote me some time ago a most pathetic letter saying her sweetheart had been killed and urging me to come to Des Moines to see her. I replied that it was her place to come to me, and I would gladly offer her consolation. She said no more about her life.”
☛ Suicide Revisited ☚
According to the Waterloo Courier, Grace Stockman’s disclosures reinforced the beliefs of those who deemed Griswold’s death a suicide:
“The worries incident to [Grace Stockman’s] illness, the strain of the secret which he had carried in his bosom for many months and the financial difficulties in which he was involved at the time and which threatened to divulge his secret, all these united to form a motive for suicide more definite than any which was discovered after his death.”
Perhaps most importantly, however, Grace Stockman’s revelations also provided a motive for Griswold’s embezzlement from his employer, as well as his check kiting schemes, as he grew ever more desperate for money to support his two households.
☛ Switched Body? ☚
From shortly after the time of George Griswold’s death, the insurance companies that held a combined four policies on him claimed something was amiss in the matter.
If he was really dead, they maintained, then he killed himself because of his financial and personal problems and they owed his survivors nothing.
But more importantly, the companies believed he was alive and well, that the body pulled from the water was far more decomposed than it could have become in the few days he was missing, and the person buried by the Griswold family in Omaha was an unknown man.
In addition to using their own investigators, the insurance companies hired Pinkerton Detectives to prove Griswold was still alive; they also welcomed and reimbursed information from others.
In late June of 1906, the insurance companies appeared to possess the “evidence” they sought when two men claiming to personally know Griswold came forward.
Carl Kauffman, a traveling salesman out of Toledo, Ohio, who once owned a Des Moines implement business, claimed he saw George Griswold on June 2, 1906 in Oklahoma City, where he was selling insurance under a new name.
In reporting this story, the Atlantic Daily Democrat noted:
“Other evidence has been secured which points to the fact that Griswold was seen in Marshalltown June 12, but when recognized dashed through the railroad yards. Pinkerton men working on the case place credence in the stories and claim a substitution of a dead body by Griswold and others interested in the insurance man’s disappearance.”
An even more shocking story was related by Omaha resident Ulysses S. Grant Kuhn, a Regent Shoe Manufacturing Company traveling salesman. His account was reported by the Waterloo Semi-Weekly Courier:
“George Griswold was always a good friend of mine, but I see no reason to shield him now, for if he is alive they will get him sooner or later.
While I never saw letters Griswold has written, Steve Essex of Des Moines, a personal friend of both Griswold and myself, has told me several times of receiving letters from George Griswold since the time of his alleged death and I have every reason to believe that he was telling the truth, as he had no reason to be deceiving me.
When the report was first out two months ago that Griswold was alive and well, mutual friends told me it was so and that he had gone to the morgue in Chicago where he had bought a body which would easily be taken for him and after throwing it in the river, disappeared.
He had often told me his family affairs were not as pleasant as most people thought and that he expected to go out of Des Moines as soon as possible. He was badly in debt and had forged several papers which were liable to make him trouble and had a woman scrape besides.
People in Omaha identified the body when it was brought here for burial, but I don’t see how they could be certain in the identification, as the body had been in the river for so long a time that it was badly decomposed and was surely beyond recognition.
The Des Moines people have been after me several times to find out what I knew, but I have remained quiet until this time. The fates are so clear to me that there is no doubt in my mind that he is now alive.”
Des Moines authorities largely dismissed these accounts and continued to consider George Griswold dead.
☛ Struggles With Insurance Companies ☚
For its part, the insurance company wanted proof that Griswold was indeed dead and, if he was, proof that he had not taken his own life.
State Mutual Life Assurance issued the same demands when refusing to pay the widow $11,000 in life insurance benefits. In addition, they claimed Griswold’s estate owed them $1,573.00, the amount Griswold embezzled from their company and which had been covered by bonds.
To continue her suit, Lulu would have had to travel to State Mutual Life Assurance’s home state of Massachusetts, which she was unwilling or unable to do.
On the advice of her attorneys, in late June of 1907 Lulu Griswold asked Judge W.H. McHenry to dismiss her law suit. In return, she received $2,000 from one of four policies on her husband.
With these actions, the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette pronounced that the “Last Chapter of [this] Sensational Case Is Closed.”
☛ George Griswold’s Life ☚
George Ruggles Griswold was born in March 1865 in Elyria, Ohio, to Avis Verona Ruggles and Ebeson Dwight Griswold. He had six siblings: Luther, Harry, Roscious, Augusta, Robert, and Rollin.
On September 7, 1887, he married Lulu Belle Cremer and the couple had four daughters: Hortense Griswold Tobin, Ruth V. Griswold Fonseca, Helen Griswold Miles, and Marion G. Griswold Hyde.
For a number of years, Griswold was an insurance agent based in Omaha, Nebraska, before moving to Des Moines.
☛ Left Behind ☚
As with all murders, there was not just a single victim in the George Griswold case. The murderous act was like the proverbial pebble thrown into a pond — ripples of grief and questioning went ever outward, touching family members left behind and affecting them for generations.
In March of 2016, I was contacted by George Griswold’s 92-year-old granddaughter Jane Hyde Hodges of St. Louis, Missouri. Jane is the child of George’s and Lulu Belle’s daughter Marion Griswold Hyde.
Before reading my article, Jane knew few particulars concerning her grandfather’s homicide, only that he was murdered and was involved in an illicit affair. Her grandmother Lulu Belle Griswold lived with Jane’s family, but neither she nor Jane’s mother ever spoke of the family tragedy.
Jane Hodges has recorded her memories of the Griswold family and what happened to it after the murder: how Lulu Belle went on with life, although bitter and forever changed; how the family avoided the subject of the murder; and how it fell to Jane’s aunts to provide her details — they recalled, for example, riding in a buggy through downtown Des Moines while newsboys shouted, “Read all about the Griswold Case.”
To read Jane’s fascinating essay — “My Grandparents’ Story” — click here.
☛ Grace Stockman Moves On ☚
After revealing her relationship with George Griswold, Grace Stockman returned to Sioux City to live with her parents Josephine and Simeon.
Grace’s life moved on quickly, despite the suspicious death of the man she loved and risked so much for and by whom she had gotten pregnant.
On January 26, 1906 — four months after George Griswold’s death — Grace Stockman married 26-year-old Noah James Eastman in Omaha, Nebraska.
The couple planned to marry in Sioux City; but when a minister came to the Stockman home to perform the ceremony, Grace’s father forbid it because it would bring unwanted publicity onto the family. Grace Stockman and Noah Eastman then traveled to Omaha for the wedding.
Word of the nuptials leaked out anyway and newspapers tracked down and interviewed Grace, who insisted she had been “tricked” by promise of money from Griswold’s estate into earlier revealing her relationship with the dead man.
The groom Noah Eastman — son of David Eastman, President of the Wisconsin Lumber Company in Madison and himself the Manager of the Wisowa Lumber Company in Collins, Iowa — was said to be “wealthy” and “prominent.” He told reporters he forgave Grace her transgressions because she was “led astray” by Griswold through false promises.
Eastman — for whom this was a second marriage — said he knew Grace Stockman for some time, but neither she nor he would reveal publicly whether they were romantically involved during the period she was being kept by George Griswold in Des Moines.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ Ackley Phonograph, September 23, 1905.
- ☛ “Another Body Is Found In River,” Anita Republican, September 27, 1905.
- ☛ “Body Is That Of Griswold,” Waterloo Daily Courier, September 25, 1905.
- ☛ “Body Is Thrown In the River,” Adams County Free Press, September 23, 1905.
- ☛ “Claim Griswold Notes Forgeries,” Anita Republican, October 4, 1905.
- ☛ “Claim Griswold Still Lives,” Atlantic Daily Democrat, June 26, 1906.
- ☛ “Claim To Have Seen Geo. Griswold,” Humboldt Independent, June 28, 1906.
- ☛ “Dual Life Brings Downfall,” Muscatine Journal, December 9, 1905.
- ☛ “Eastman Wanted; Wisconsin Town,” Des Moines Daily News, June 15, 1909.
- ☛ “Echo Of Griswold Case,” Waterloo Semi-Weekly Courier, December 14, 1906.
- ☛ “Exhume Body,” Oskaloosa Daily Herald, September 23, 1905.
- ☛ “Find Motive For Suicide,” Waterloo Daily Courier, December 9, 1905.
- ☛ “Forged Notes Are Found,” Waterloo Times Tribune, October 5, 1905.
- ☛ “The Griswold Case,” Waterloo Semi-Weekly Courier, June 29, 1906.
- ☛ “George Griswold Was Murdered, Says Jury,” Titonka Topic, October 5, 1905.
- ☛ “Griswold Alive And Well,” Ireton Weekly Ledger, March 23, 1906.
- ☛ “The Hawkeye State,” Cedar Falls Gazette, September 29, 1905.
- ☛ “Heart-breaking Discovery,” Emmetsburg Democrat, December 20, 1905.
- ☛ Jane Hodges, Personal Correspondence, March 2016.
- ☛ “Last Policy Has Been Paid,” Pocahontas County Sun, June 27, 1907.
- ☛ “Love Survived Confession In Griswold Case,” Des Moines Daily News, January 29, 1906.
- ☛ “Motive For Griswold Suicide Is Found,” Pocahontas County Sun, December 14, 1905.
- ☛ “Mrs. Griswold Dismisses Suit,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, June 24, 1907.
- ☛ “Murder To Rob,” Muscatine Journal, September 16, 1905.
- ☛ “Say Griswold Still Lives,” Waterloo Daily Courier, April 25, 1906.
- ☛ “Status of Griswold Murder Mystery,” Marion Sentinel, September 28, 1905.
- ☛ “Status of Griswold Murder Mystery,” Pocahontas County Sun, September 28, 1905.
- ☛ “Still Probing Griswold Murder,” Cedar Rapids Republican, September 22, 1905.
- ☛ “Strange Sequel,” Waterloo Times Tribune, December 16, 1905.
- ☛ U.S. Census.
- ☛ “‘What Ails’ Des Moines,” Waterloo Times Tribune, September 26, 1905.
- ☛ “Why Griswold Suicided,” Waterloo Daily Reporter, December 9, 1905.