Explosion in the Night: Murder of William L. Meadows 1961

Murder Victim

William Lawrence Meadows
36-year-old Farmer
Plainfield Town Marshal
WWII Veteran
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Avoiding Arrest

Murder Scene and Date

Hartmann Packing Plant
Plainfield, Iowa
Bremer County
January 24, 1961


By Nancy Bowers
Written September 2011

location of Plainfield, Iowa

It was bitterly cold in the early hours of Tuesday, January 24, 1961 and nothing seemed to be stirring in the small town of Plainfield in Bremer County.

In her residence above the drugstore she and her husband operated, Mrs. Ernest Buckman had just fallen asleep after staying up late to read. At 2:30 a.m., she was startled awake by a loud noise; thinking their store was being broken in to, she woke her husband. When they looked outside, they saw two men walking around inside the Hartman Packing Plant across the street.

Plainfield Town Marshal William Meadows

Mrs. Buckman telephoned Theodore Hartman — who owned the packing plant with his brother Robert and son Kenneth — and Plainfield Town Marshal William “Bill” Meadows, the only law enforcement officer for the town.

When his phone rang, Marshal Meadows was asleep at the farm 11 miles northwest of Plainfield where he lived with his aunt, Edna Voss. As he pulled on his clothes, he called out to her, “I’ll be back!”

On the drive into Plainfield, Meadows radioed Waverly Police for backup and they dispatched two patrol cars.

The Hartmann Packing Plant
(from the Waterloo Courier).

When Meadows arrived at the packing plant, he got out of his car carrying a sawed-off shotgun. His pistol was attached to his belt.

As Meadows entered the building through the burglarized front door, a shot rang out. The Marshal fell dead, shot through the heart with a high powered .30-30 caliber deer rifle.

At that moment, co-owners Ted and Kenneth “Kenny” Hartmann arrived and parked behind the plant with their ignition running. The intense cold made the headlights dim; then as they brightened, Kenny saw a short, stocky man run out of the building and duck behind a gas tank.

The man demanded to know who Kenny Hartmann was and yelled:

“You better get around to the front of the building . . . or you’ll be shot, too.”

Just then a bullet shattered a glass door north of the office and whizzed past Hartmann’s head, barely missing him and tearing through his open car door on the side nearest the plant.

Ted Hartmann at the damaged plant door
(from the Waterloo Courier).

From behind the car where he hid, Hartmann saw two men fleeing the plant — headed north behind the Roach Farms, Inc. building, shooting as they ran. Mrs. Buckman said she heard four to five rapidly fired shots followed by a pause and then two more.

Marshalltown Police Officer Clarence Wickham arrived at the scene and found William Meadows lying dead on his back three feet inside the front door. His shotgun was on the floor beside his head and his pistol was still in his holster.

Wickham called Bremer County Sheriff Harley Ehlert to take over the scene. Meanwhile, Waverly police officer Ernest Brant set up a road block for cars going east on Highway 188. Iowa Highway Patrol officers in the area were notified to be on the lookout for unusual automobiles or passengers. However, no suspicious cars were found by either agency.

The Day After ☚

The burglars left behind their tools
(from the Waterloo Daily Courier).

In the light of day, curious and saddened residents stood outside the plant, talked about the crime, and inspected the broken door and shot-out windows. They saw that a bullet ricocheted across the street and crashed through the Post Office window exactly at the “P” in Plainfield.

Inside, investigators — assisted by State Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents — combed the packing plant for clues among the visible bullet holes and glass windows shattered across the width of the area. The bullets from the building and those dug out of Hartmann’s car door came not only from the deer rifle but also from a .38 caliber revolver. Behind the plant were footprints.

Left behind during their escape were the safe crackers’ burglary tools — carried into the plant in a large knapsack — and two gas masks they had to protect themselves from fumes generated by the nitroglycerin and putty they set off with a blasting cap. According to one newspaper, the explosives had been carefully hauled in “a chamois-skin bag like used for carrying liquor.”

The outer door of the 40-inch tall safe flew four feet across the room in the explosion that wakened Mrs. Buckman. The burglars were preparing to blast open the inner cash compartment when Marshal Meadows interrupted them.

Gas masks brought by the burglars
(from the Waterloo Daily Courier).

Their extensive tools and explosives would have been worthless in any account, however, because the safe contained only company records such as insurance policies that needed a fire-proof container; all the money was taken to a bank earlier.

Hartmann was quoted by the Ames Tribune as saying the burglars picked the wrong night:

“‘There never is any money in the safe on Sunday. We’re closed on Saturday and they wouldn’t have found one red cent in the safe.'”

Sheriff Harley Ehlert said Kenneth Hartmann and the Buckmans could provide no more than a general description of the shooters — that one man was 5′ 9″ and stocky and the other slender and that both wore work clothes.

Ehlert stated that someone entered the plant through the back door about a month prior to the safe-cracking but took only bacon from a refrigerator in what looked like an amateur job.

Law enforcement officials were convinced, however, that the burglary which ended with Meadows’s death was committed by “professionals.” Sheriff Ehlert termed them “tough customers.”

☛ Fondly Remembered, Difficult to Replace ☚

Sheriff Harley Ehlert inspects the blown safe
(from the Waterloo Daily Courier),

Williams Meadows served in WWII and the Korean Conflict. And he collected antique guns and handcuffs, so it was a natural fit for him to become the part-time Plainfield Town Marshal when he moved from Seattle, Washington, to Bremer County in 1949 to operate a farm that belonged to his aunt’s grandfather.

Meadows served as Marshal mostly at night — although he patrolled during school dismissal times and at softball games, too. The part-time job paid hourly wages, averaging about $200 to $250 a month. He furnished his own uniform, paid for a car shortwave radio, and took pictures with his own camera to use in investigations. He was on a receiving list for a new car when he was shot.

Mayor Edwin Waltemate said the job was almost a “hobby” for Meadows, but work he took seriously and performed with fairness and firmness.

Mayor Waltemate acknowledged it would be difficult to replace him:

“The town misses its marshal, it will miss him more as time goes on.”

Waltemate was a personal friend of the Marshal — the two liked to visit and good naturedly “argue” about politics. The Mayor had coffee with Meadows on the evening of the murder.

Meadows enjoyed working with the community’s youth. He often talked to school classes about his job, performed card and rope tricks he had taught himself, and was the Scout Master for a local troop. During the recent winter outing at Camp Ingawanis near Waverly, he brought a chain saw so the scouts wouldn’t have to chop their firewood as they usually did.

He also enjoyed doing welding for his friends and neighbors.

A memorial fund was started for Meadows; businessmen and school children alike contributed to it. And a $500 reward was offered by Iowa Governor Norman Erbe.

☛ The Life of William Meadows ☚

photo by Louis

William Lawrence Meadows was born October 3, 1924 in Clearlake, Washington, to Jeanne Elizabeth Pringle and Dr. Lawrence Harland Meadows, a Seattle physician with a general practice.

During WWII, Meadows was a Staff Sergeant in the 776 Bomb Squadron of the Army Air Forces during the Italian campaign and then served again during the Korean Conflict.

After working in Seattle for a time, he moved to Iowa in 1949 to work a farm belonging to his aunt’s grandfather in Bremer County, Iowa. He served as Plainfield Night Marshal for five years.

Meadows was not married. At the time of his death, he lived with his aunt, Edna Voss.

His funeral was held in the Plainfield Methodist Church. Three Iowa State Highway Patrol officers and three Waverly, Iowa, Policemen served as pallbearers. He was buried in Waverly’s Harlington Cemetery.

He was survived by his parents and his sister Jeanne Elizabeth Meadows Carlson — all in Seattle. But there was someone else as well. The Waterloo Daily Courier wrote:

“Another survivor was Meadows’ [sic] German shepherd dog “Inde.” The animal was looking around the farm home Monday for a master who would never return. The aunt watched the dog pace around the house. ‘He’s going to miss him,’ she said.”

☛ In the Line of Duty ☚

Plainfield Police Patch
(Officer Down Memorial Page)

William L. Meadows is one of 184 Iowa peace officers — as of September 2013 — to die in the line of duty and one of 104 killed by gunfire.

Click here to see the memorial notation dedicated to William Meadows on the Officer Down Memorial Page or click here to read “The Iowa Department of Public Safety Peace Officer Memorial Page Remembers . . . William Lawrence Meadows.”

The Medal of Merit for Valor Award was presented to William Meadows’s family by the National Peace Officers of America Association.


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



  • ☛ “Burglar Kills Iowa Officer,” Ames Daily Tribune, January 23, 1961.
  • ☛ “Family of marshal honored,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, February 16, 1961.
  • ☛ Iowa Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Investigation.
  • ☛ “Marshal at Plainfield surprises thugs, slain,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, January 23, 1961.
  • ☛ “Night Marshal at Plainfield Is Killed,” Estherville Daily News, January 23, 1961.
  • ☛ “Night Marshal Shot To Death,” Muscatine Journal, January 23, 1961.
  • ☛ “Night Marshal Slain: Shot Down By Robbers At Plainfield,” Oelwein Daily Register, January 23, 1961.
  • Officer Down Memorial Page, William Meadows
  • ☛ “Plainfield Marshal is Killed Thwarting Safe-crackers,” Waterloo Daily Courier, January 23, 1961.
  • ☛ “Question Omaha Suspect In Killing at Plainfield,” Waterloo Daily Courier, January 27, 1961.
  • ☛ “Questioned in Shooting of Town Marshal,” Estherville Daily News, January 27, 1961.
  • ☛ “Shot Victim Considered Plainfield Job a Hobby,” Waterloo Daily Courier, January 26, 1961.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “YEGGS Slay Iowa Officer,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, January 23, 1961.

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