Cause of Death: Gunshot
Recovery Scene and Date
Last Seen August 24, 1947
Found November 9, 1947
4 Miles West of Boone, Iowa
By Nancy Bowers
Written August 2011
After WWII, Yugoslavian John Zauhar worked in the American Northwest to make money to support family members in his war-torn native country.
In late summer of 1947, he took $3,700 he earned as a lumberjack near Bend, Oregon, and set off on the first leg of his journey back to Yugoslavia, traveling cross-country by rail.
On August 23, 1947 — while on a train in central Iowa — Zauhar began acting oddly. He took out his large roll of cash and gave bills away to strangers.
When the train pulled into Boone, rail officials had local police remove the 49-year-old Zauhar. It wasn’t so much that he was creating a disturbance as that he was not acting in his own best interests.
Police took him to jail — although they didn’t arrest him — and placed his money in a safe. Zauhar stayed there overnight.
The next morning, John Zauhar was allowed to leave the jail by himself to eat breakfast. He never returned for his money, and efforts to locate him failed.
☛ Three Months Later: Body Found ☚
On Sunday November 9, 1947, a train crew spotted a man’s body by the tracks in the right-of-way four miles west of Boone and notified authorities. The decomposed body had no identification.
A hole in the skull looked like a gunshot wound, so Boone Police Chief Lawrence Paulsen ordered an x-ray to confirm the presence of a bullet.
Des Moines pathologist Dr. Julius Shaw Weingart performed an autopsy and told the coroner’s jury it was physically impossible for the dead man to have inflicted the wound on himself.
On January 2, 1948, Boone County Coroner Garland Hancock — who later became Mayor of Boone — announced the unknown man died by:
“felonious means at the hands of an unknown person or persons and at an unknown time.”
Although city and county authorities said they were examining the possibility the murder victim was John Zauhar, the coroner did not publicly draw a connection between the two men.
The unidentified murder victim was buried in Mineral Ridge Cemetery north of Boone.
My own personal attempts to locate the grave of John Zauhar by walking the entire Mineral Ridge Cemetery have not been successful. It’s likely he was buried in an unmarked grave known to the sexton of the time but forgotten over time.
☛ Was the Murdered Man John Zauhar? ☚
The burial of the unknown man might have been the end of the matter.
However, Mrs. John Zauhar and her three sons in Yugoslavia never stopped wondering what happened to the husband and father they had not heard from him since 1947.
Mrs. Zauhar asked sources in the United States to investigate her husband’s disappearance. They reported back to her that John Zauhar was removed from the train in Boone, Iowa, on August 23, 1947 and then disappeared. These sources also uncovered for her the news reports about the unknown murder victim found in November 1947.
In November 1949, the Yugoslav Consulate Office in Chicago announced that Consul-General V.M. Vukmirovich had received power of attorney from Mrs. Zauhar to determine if the man found dead near Boone was, in fact, her husband.
The Croatian Fraternal Union, an insurance company located in Pennsylvania, was also anxious to exhume the body of the unknown man before paying a death benefit to Mrs. Zauhar.
☛ Questions Remain ☚
Media accounts of the times do not complete the story, leaving unanswered questions.
Who murdered the man found by the railroad tracks? Was the body exhumed? Was the body identified as John Zauhar’s? Did the insurance company pay benefits to Zauhar’s widow? What happened to the money in the police safe?
Whoever the man was — and it’s likely he was John Zauhar — he was a homicide victim and his killer has never been charged and convicted.
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 Try To Identify Man Dead Since ’47,” Mt. Pleasant News, November 8, 1949.
- ☛ “Murder Verdict Is Returned at Boone,” Carroll Times-Herald, January 2, 1948.
- ☛ “Seek Identity of Decomposed Body,” Council Bluffs Nonpareil, November 10, 1947.