Gun Battle in the Night: Murder of Virgil Untied 1931

Murder Victim

Virgil P. Untied
33-year-old Night Marshal
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Escaping Arrest

Murder Scene and Date

E.J. Shaw Grocery
Minburn, Iowa
Dallas County
Shot: July 23, 1931
End of Watch: July 27, 1931


By Nancy Bowers
Written April 2015

location of Minburn, Iowa

location of Minburn, Iowa

In the hours just before dawn on Thursday, July 23, 1931, the streets of tiny Minburn were deserted.

The still quiet allowed telephone operator Lena Hagenstein to hear noises in the Gottschalk Grocery next door to where she lived.

Virgil Untied

Virgil Untied

Lena didn’t know that dangerous safecrackers were at work — armed men who had already robbed two other Minburn businesses — but she knew something wasn’t right.

So she telephoned Minburn Night Marshal Virgil Untied and he said he’d be there quickly. After recruiting Lena’s brother William Hagenstein to assist, Untied then called his own brother Jasper for backup.

By the time the three arrived at the Gottschalk store, the robbers had relocated to the E.J. Shaw grocery near the railroad depot.

☛ Gun Battle ☚

from the Ames Daily Tribune Times

from the Ames Daily Tribune Times

As the other two concealed themselves at the depot — weapons drawn — Virgil Untied crossed the railroad tracks and approached the Shaw Grocery. Suddenly, the quiet was shattered by a volley of shots from the building; Jasper Untied and William Hagenstein returned fire.

The Fairfield Daily Ledger wrote of the chaotic scene:

“At least a dozen shots were fired in the street battle that ensued and Virgil Untied fell to the ground with shotgun slugs scattered over the upper part of his body.”

Following a lull in the shooting, the three suspects ran from the Shaw Grocery to a parked automobile a block away. The small car, which had Polk County plates, sped southward in the direction of Des Moines.

☛ Law Enforcement Pursuit and Investigation ☚

from the Burlington Gazette

from the Burlington Gazette

Word of the robberies and the gun battle was sent to area law enforcement agencies. Des Moines, Polk County, and Dallas County officers, assisted by posses of volunteers, combed the area for the three armed and dangerous “yeggs,” as safecrackers were known in those days.

When authorities attempted to stop a speeding automobile matching the getaway car between Grimes and Johnston, another gun battle ensued, with the suspects once again eluding capture.

Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) Chief James E. Risden appointed Special Agent Sam Nuzum to assist the area law enforcement agencies involved in the case.

Nuzum learned that four Minburn stores were robbed before the shootout. Tires and inner-tubes were stolen from the Minburn Oil Company, as well as $5 in cash from the Butler garage. The Gottschalk Grocery safe had been cracked and $20 taken. The robbers had also opened the safe at the E.J. Shaw Grocery and gotten away with between $100 and $200 in cash, as well as assorted merchandise.

☛ Officer Down ☚

Muscatine Journal And News Tribune

from the Muscatine
Journal and News Tribune

Virgil Untied, severely wounded, was taken to a hospital in Perry 12 miles to the northwest. There it was discovered that one shot passed through his right eye and lodged in the brain, while two others struck him in the abdomen; a fourth hit his right leg and a fifth his left shoulder. His prognosis was not good.

On July 27, four days after he was shot, Virgil Untied passed away. The Oelwein Daily Register wrote:

“Untied died with his wife and three children at his bedside after making a valiant fight to overcome the wounds made by five shotgun slugs.”

☛ Possible Suspects Eliminated ☚

from the Mason City Globe Gazette

from the Mason City Globe Gazette

On August 3, police engaged in a shootout with three men trying to burglarize a Des Moines pool hall, wounding one. The captured suspects were Ronald Hast, 21; Ralph Smith, 22; and Tom Egan, 30. They were thought to be involved in area safecracking and robbery activities.

Jasper Untied, however, could not identify them as the men who shot his brother Virgil.

☛ Virgil Untied’s Life ☚

Virgil Paul Emanuel Untied was born February 14, 1898 in Frazeysburg, Muskingum, Ohio, to Mary Jane “Molly” Mortimer and Charles Owen “Charley” Untied. He had two brothers, John and Jasper C. Untied.

On October 24, 1917 in Dallas County, Iowa, he married Elsie Christine Sandby. The couple had three children: Mildred, Doris, and Afton.

Untied is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Minburn.

☛ In the Line of duty ☚

from the Officer Down Memorial Page

from the Officer
Down Memorial Page

The Officer’s Down Memorial Page, which honors peace officers killed in the line of duty in the United States, has compiled a sobering list of 191 Iowa public servants who lost their lives while protecting the safety and security of others. This number reflects such deaths as of early 2015 and, sadly, it is likely to increase as the years pass.

Although officers die on duty from many and diverse causes — everything from natural disasters to car and train accidents to heart attacks — as of this writing, 105 Iowa peace officers have died, like Virgil Untied, from gunfire while defending the public.

Click here to view the Officer Down Memorial Page entry for Virgil Untied or here to view the entry in his honor on the Iowa Department of Public Safety Peace Officer Memorial Page Remembers site.

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



  • ☛ “3 Blamed For Untied’s Death,” Fairfield Daily Ledger, August 4, 1931, p. 5.
  • ☛ “Bandit Shoot [sic] Iowa Officer,” Oelwein Daily Register, July 23, 1931, p. 1, 7.
  • ☛ “Bandits Shoot Iowa Marshal: Virgil Untied of Minburn Dying In Perry Hospital,” Atlantic News Telegraph, July 23, 1931, p. 1.
  • ☛ “Iowa Officer Shot By Bandits: Three Men Robe 4 Stores, Repel Armed Citizens,” Mason City Globe Gazette, July 23, 1931, p.1.
  • ☛ “Marshal Dies Of Gun Wound,” Mason City Globe Gazette, July 25, 1931, p. 11.
  • ☛ “Marshal Dies Of Wounds Received In Gun Fight,” Mount Pleasant News, July 27, 1931, p. 4.
  • ☛ “Marshal Shot By Robbers: Trio Escapes After Battle In Iowa Town,” Burlington Gazette, July 23, 1931, p.1.
  • ☛ “Minburn Marshal Is In Serious Condition,” Ames Daily Tribune Times, July 24, 1931, p. 15.
  • ☛ “Minburn Marshal, Shot by 3 Robbers, Not Likely to Live,” Mason City Globe Gazette, July 24, 1931, p. 10.
  • ☛ “Minburn Night Marshal Shot,” Ames Daily Tribune Times, July 23, 1931, p. 11.
  • ☛ “Minburn Officer Dies of Wounds,” Muscatine Journal And News Tribune, July 25, 1931, p.1.
  • ☛ “Minden [sic] Marshal Slightly Improved,” Atlantic News Telegraph, July 24, 1931, p. 1.
  • ☛ “Night Marshall [sic] Bandit Victim: Challenged 3 Robbers Busy In A Grocery,” Fairfield Daily Ledger, July 23, 1931, p. 1.
  • ☛ “Officer Shot by Bandits, Near Death,” Muscatine Journal And News Tribune, July 23, 1931, p. 1.
  • ☛ “Perry Marshal Died of Wounds,” Oelwein Daily Register, July 25, 1931, p. 3.
  • ☛ “Probe Records Of 3 Suspects,” Mason City Globe Gazette, August 4, 1931, p. 1.
  • ☛ “Town Marshal Shot By Yeggs,” Mount Pleasant News, July 24, 1931, p. 4.
  • ☛ “Virgil Untied Is Still Living,” Fairfield Daily Ledger, July 24, 1931, p. 1.
  • ☛ “Would Connect Bandit Trio With Minburn Shooting,” Ames Daily Tribune Times, August 4, 1931, p. 11.
  • ☛ “Wounded Marshal Fails to Improve,” Muscatine Journal And News Tribune, July 24, 1931, p. 1.

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