Elgin Watch Case #138033: Murder of John Doe 1910

Murder Victim

John Doe 1910
“Young Man”
Occupation Unknown
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Unknown

Murder Scene and Date

Charles J. Murray farm
South Fork Township
Delaware County, Iowa
Last Seen Labor Day, September 5, 1910
Body Found Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1910


By Nancy Bowers
Written August 2011

location of Monticello, Iowa, in Delaware County

location of Monticello, Iowa,
in Delaware County

On Thursday, November 24, 1910 — Thanksgiving Day — a horrible discovery was made in a thicket along the highway on the Charles J. Murray farm in South Fork Township three miles southeast of Hopkinton near Monticello, Iowa.

Lying there was the decomposed body of a young man. His flesh had been eaten by wild animals, with only a small portion of his right leg left intact after the ravages.

Although no weapon was found near the body, a .22 caliber bullet was discovered in the man’s right temple.

The man was sturdily-dressed with a soft brown felt hat, a black and gray striped suit of durable material, and good shoes. But, there was no identification to reveal his name.

☛ Earthly Possessions ☚

An Elgin watch similar to this one was found on John Doe’s body (Museum Victoria photo).

In the dead man’s pockets were 15 dollars and these items, which investigators hoped someone would recognize:

  • ☛ A large jack knife
  • ☛ A blank notebook
  • ☛ A prayer book
  • ☛ Several handkerchiefs
  • ☛ Two medals — one marked “Whitcomb”
  • ☛ An open-face Elgin watch in a silver case numbered 138033 and a movement numbered 1024613
  • ☛ A watch chain charm

☛ Meal and a Prayer ☚

When these possessions were made public, a Miss Gearhart of Hopkinton came forward to say a man wearing those clothes stopped at her house and asked for something to eat. It was on Labor Day — Monday, September 5 —  the same day as the Woodman of the World annual picnic in Hopkinton.

While he ate, the man talked with Miss Gearhart. Although he did not tell her his name or place of residence, he said he was walking to Dubuque to visit a nephew and was married but had no children.

As he left her home, Miss Gearhart gave him the prayer book which was found in his pocket.

☛ Death Ruled Murder ☚

from the Cedar Rapids Gazette

Because the man’s money and watch were not stolen, there was speculation he killed himself.

However, local authorities said death would have been instantaneous and no weapon was found near his body, which was dragged into the thicket and hidden.

Coroner L.J. Bowman empaneled local citizens J.C. Parott, John Murray, and J. Smith. After viewing the body, the coroner’s jury declared the unknown man was murdered.

John Doe was buried without a name and no one was ever charged with his murder.


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



  • ☛ “May Identify Dead Stranger,” Waterloo Evening Courier, November 24, 1910.
  • ☛ “Monticello Mystery Remains Unsolved,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, November 25, 1910.

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