Family Annihilation: Murders of James, Earl, and Mary Hardy 1910

Murder Victims

James Hardy
63-year-old Farmer

Earl Hardy
29-year-old Farmhand

Mary Emery Hardy
57-year-old Farm Wife

Murder Scene and Date

Hardy Farm
Van Cleve, Iowa
Marshall County
June 5, 1910
Cause of Deaths: Bludgeoned
Motive: Obtaining an Inheritance


By Nancy Bowers
Written December 2010

L to R: Raymond, Earl, Mary, and James Hardy

It was one of the most atrocious and heartless crimes in the history of Iowa.

On June 5, 1910, nearly the entire James Hardy family was obliterated — two elderly parents and a handicapped son were viciously beaten to death in their home.

The Hardys lived on a rented farm four-and-a-half miles south of Van Cleve — now a ghost town — in Marshall County after relocating there in 1901 from Mound Prairie Township of Jasper County.

James, the 63-year-old father, and his wife Mary, 57, shared a tidy, two-story frame house with their sons.

Van Cleve was about 10 miles SE of Melbourne, Iowa

Van Cleve, now a ghost town, was
about 5 miles SE of Melbourne, Iowa

Earl Hardy, 29, was physically disabled but could do some light farm work. His 19-year-old brother Herbert Raymond — known as Raymond or Ray and described by neighbors as “strong and rugged” — did most of the chores.

The family got along well and distributed the farm work among themselves as best they could. Neighbors respected and admired the Hardys and sympathized with their difficult financial circumstances.

☛ An Outsider Changes Everything ☚

In 1909, the Hardys hired Mabel A. Starnes, 23, and her younger brother Chester, 11, to help out with house and farm chores. They were two of the seven children belonging to neighbors Aaron Shepherd Starnes and his wife Lydia Margaret McMahon Starnes, who lived on a Jasper County farm two and a half miles to the south.

Mabel Starnes and Raymond Hardy were soon keeping company and Mabel became pregnant. The two planned to marry on Wednesday, June 8, 1910.

Mabel moved back to her parents’ farm to prepare for a wedding in Newton.

☛ Horrible Slaughter ☚

On Sunday evening, June 5, Raymond visited Mabel and her family. He and the Starnes family said he arrived there about 8:30 p.m. and left around midnight.

Raymond said when he got back to the Hardy home he entered the house by the west porch. He went through the parlor and into the dining room and struck a match.

The flame illuminated his mother, her lower body resting on the floor and her head slumped onto the couch. Blood trickled from massive head wounds, soaking the couch and pooling on the floor.

An “X” marks where 29-year-old Earl’s body was found in the kitchen (Des Moines Daily News).

When he lit a lantern, Raymond saw the room was splattered with blood. In terror, he backed into the attached kitchen shed on the north side of the house.

There, he said, his brother Earl lay dead on the floor; nearby were milk buckets Earl was carrying into the house from the barn. Earl’s head, too, was battered; blood spotted the walls and floor.

Raymond said he rushed to the family’s telephone and gave out “the general ring,” which went to every patron on the party line as an emergency call.

Charles W. Preston, who lived two miles southwest, arrived at the Hardy farm first; he later estimated the time between 1:00 and 1:30 a.m.

Other neighbors assembled. A party of men exploring the farm found James Hardy’s body in the barn, where he was bludgeoned while feeding his calves.

The couch where Mary died was placed in the west yard, indicated by an “X” (Des Moines Daily News)

At 2:00 a.m., Raymond called Sheriff Nicholson in Marshalltown — 14 miles to the north — and Nicholson arrived at 4:00 a.m. with Deputy C.B. Nuson.

The bloody couch where Mary Hardy died was carried out into the west side yard.

The three bodies were wrapped in white shrouds and placed on “death cots” side-by-side in the parlor, where hundreds of neighbors and others filed by to look at them, “spell-bound by the shock” and filled with “horror and doubt,” according to the Des Moines Daily News.

☛ Who Would Want to Kill the Hardys? ☚

No one understood who would want to harm the Hardys, who were well-liked, kind people.

Each victim was stuck violently on the right side of the head from behind with a gas pipe kept in the cow stable of the barn.

Sheriff Nicholson believed the killer carried the pipe from its usual place into the house to bludgeon Mary Hardy in the dining room. Then he waited in the kitchen for Earl Hardy to come in with his milk pails and struck him. James Hardy was last, killed as he fed calves in the basement of the barn, where the murder weapon was left.

The Hardys’ bodies (Des Moines Daily News)

The murderer seemed familiar with the farm and its buildings, the location of the gas pipe, and the family’s habits.

Because neither Earl nor James had lanterns with them, investigators believed the murders happened before sunset at 8:45.

Authorities speculated the murders were well-planned and not “sudden passion.”

They also ruled out robbery, as the family was in “straightened circumstances” and small amounts of money were found on both James and Earl.

☛ Findings Suggest the Unthinkable ☚

Sheriff Nicholson and his deputies examined the scene and searched the farm.

Hidden on the property, lawmen found Raymond’s overalls and gray hat, both covered with blood. He also had stashed a watch in the barn.

In the house was a note — easily determined a forgery — purportedly signed by James and Earl Hardy and giving Raymond $1,000.

Then Raymond Hardy volunteered a strange detail: he said there was a saddled and bridled horse in the barn when he got home. It was equipped for flight because he and his father were planning to pursue a horse thief they believed was going to strike their farm that night. No one else saw the horse.

That statement, the bloody clothing, and the forged note pointed to Raymond Hardy’s guilt in the murders.

☛ Raymond Hardy is Arrested ☚

Justice Hollenbacher of Melbourne, the Acting Marshall County Coroner, issued a warrant and Sheriff Nicholson placed Raymond Hardy under arrest mid-morning on Monday, June 6. He was taken to the County Jail in Marshalltown.

The first night, Raymond Hardy ate supper in his cell and then quickly went to sleep on his bunk.

☛ Raymond Hardy’s Motive? ☚

County Attorney Joseph H. Egermayer and others who felt Raymond was guilty speculated he killed his family for financial reasons. Because of his upcoming marriage to Mabel Starnes, they believed, he needed a place for himself and his new wife to live.

Although the Hardy farm was rented, Raymond would inherit the livestock, machinery, and personal property and could continue to live there if he paid rent.

Explanations for Almost Everything

from the Atlantic Evening News

Under questioning, Raymond was composed and showed no emotion except grief for his dead family. He never wavered from his account of the murder night, aside from small details.

Raymond admitted he had little money for setting up housekeeping and no prospects for his married life but insisted he did not kill his family.

And he had explanations for everything suspicious. He said he got blood on his overalls and shoes when he and Earl killed chickens the week before.

As for his bloody gray hat, he said he wore it Sunday when he called on his fiancée, Mabel Starnes. Raymond first stated that when he came into the room where his mother lay dead, he hung the hat on the south wall.

When authorities could find no hook there, Raymond said he hung it above the couch where his mother was lying and it probably fell onto the floor into her blood. He offered no explanation for why the hat was hidden elsewhere on the farm.

Raymond admitted forging his brother’s and father’s names on the $1,000 note but insisted he had “done it for fun.”

As for the story about the horse ready for flight, County Attorney Egermayer and Sheriff Nicholson said the saddle Raymond claimed was on the horse was found in the barn, unused and covered with dust.

On Wednesday, June 8 — the day that Raymond Hardy and Mabel Starnes were to be married — a funeral was held for the Hardy family at their home. Three separate hearses then carried their bodies to Colfax for burial.

Deputies accompanied Raymond to the funeral and then took him back to the Marshall County Jail.

That night, Raymond tried to kill himself by striking his head against the cell wall, but succeeding only in breaking his nose and bruising his face.

☛ Alternative Theory Emerges ☚

Raymond Hardy

Neighbors watched Raymond grow from a small boy; all said he was quiet, unassuming, and had no bad habits. It was difficult for them to believe he could kill his entire family.

The community wanted and needed another explanation for the crime.

Then a story emerged from Luray, a town in southern Marshall County. Passengers on a train bound for Marshalltown on the morning after the murder said that two men — strangers to all on the train — boarded at Melbourne, the nearest station to Van Cleve, where the murders occurred. Neither man spoke to anyone else.

One man had blood on his clothing that other passengers noted and discussed, but no one was suspicious because the Hardy murders were not yet known about. The two men did not leave the train at Marshalltown, but continued north.

Because of this story and the fact that no one in the community believed Raymond capable of murdering his family, he was released from jail.

☛ Raymond Hardy Lives Under Suspicion ☚

The Des Moines Daily News reported that Mabel Starnes had a “heavy heart [and was] burdened with great sorrow” but never wavered from the belief that her intended was innocent. Her parents, too, stood by Raymond and claimed he was at their farm when the victims were murdered.

Hardy house, 2010 (photo by Joyce Bollhoefer)

Raymond went to live on the Starnes place. Crops were planted on the Hardy farm before the murders, so Raymond and Mabel’s brother tended them. The house where the Hardys were murdered stood empty.

In early August, Raymond filed an application for guardianship so he could have permission to marry. The court named L.J. Nason of Van Cleve as guardian, and Nason granted the request. Raymond and Mabel married later that month in Laurel, Iowa.

In mid-September, a Grand Jury convened in Marshalltown but returned no indictments in the murders, stating, according to the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette:

“There was not enough evidence in hand to warrant the expense of an investigation.”

☛ Life Goes on For Raymond Hardy ☚

Otis Herbert Brady was born to Raymond and Mabel on October 11, 1910, five months after the murders of his grandparents and uncle.

Their daughter Hazel M. Hardy followed in 1913. After Myrtle I. Hardy was born on April 3, 1915, the family moved to Minnesota. Mabel’s family followed them there from Iowa.

Hardy plot in Colfax Highland/Oak Hill Cemetery (photo Neal Bowers)

When Raymond registered for the WWI draft, he was farming in Johnsonville Township near Lacon in Redwood County, Minnesota. He requested an exemption from the military to care for his wife, three children, and farm.

The Hardys’ son Orville P. Hardy was born in Minnesota in 1923.

Between 1923 and 1930, the Hardy family moved to Flint, Michigan; by 1930, Raymond’s mother-in-law Lydia Margaret Starnes was living with them.

Mabel Starnes Hardy passed away in 1951 in Flint, Michigan; and on May 24, 1969, Raymond Hardy died there at the age of 78.

Raymond Hardy’s long life ended far from the murder site in Marshall County, Iowa, and the three graves in Colfax of James, Mary, and Earl Hardy, his slaughtered family.

Lives of the Victims

James Hardy was born in Pennsylvania on October 28, 1846.

Mary was born June 18, 1852 in Ohio to Elizabeth Standuf and Joseph Emery. She had four siblings: Elmira, Thomas, Melissa, and William.

Earl Hardy was born in June 1880, Jasper County, Iowa.

The three were buried side-by-side in the Colfax Cemetery. A large, fine stone marks the plot, with individual headstones for each.

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



  • ☛ “Accused Son At Last Rites For Slain Relatives,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, June 9, 1910.
  • ☛ “Accused Youth Tries To Kill Self In Jail,” Des Moines Daily News, June 8, 1910.
  • ☛ “Did Young Hardy Murder 3 To Get Home For Bride,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, June 8, 1910.
  • ☛ “Had Blood On Coat After Hardy Murder,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, June 13, 1910.
  • ☛ “Hardy Family Murdered,” Iowa State Register and Farmer, June 15, 1910.
  • ☛ “Hardy Murder Case Baffles Efforts of All Investigators,” Des Moines Daily News, June 7, 1910.
  • ☛ “Hardy Murder Not Probed,” Marion Sentinel, September 15, 1910.
  • ☛ “Hardy Murder Unsolved,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, September 12, 1910.
  • ☛ Joyce Bollhoefer, Personal Correspondence, March 2012.
  • ☛ “Lad Accused of Murdering Almost Entire Hardy Family; Gruesome Scenes of Marshall Co. Crime,” Des Moines Daily News, June 9, 1910.
  • ☛ “New Developments In Hardy Murder Case,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, June 8, 1910.
  • ☛ “Raymond Hardy Will Marry,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, August 4, 1910.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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