“He’s Got a Roll”: Murder of Jared Ham 1911

Murder Victim

Jared Ham
56-year-old Retired House Painter and Paper Hanger
Cause of Death: Bludgeoned
Motive: Robbery

Murder Scene and Date

Indian Lookout, Iowa River
Near Iowa City, Iowa
Johnson County
September 24, 1911


By Nancy Bowers
Written August 2010

location of Iowa City, Iowa

location of Iowa City, Iowa

On Sunday, September 24, 1911, the body of missing 56-year-old Iowa City resident Jared Ham was found floating in the Iowa River close to Indian Lookout near the line between West Lucas and Liberty townships.

Ham had a gash on his forehead, his skull was fractured, and all his valuables except a small amount of money and his watch were missing, including $2,000 in bank notes he was carrying.

The hands on his watch had stopped at 2:00.

☛ Inquest Testimony ☚

At first, police believed the wealthy retired merchant committed suicide. However, a coroner’s jury heard testimony that convinced them Ham was murdered.

from the Waterloo Evening Courier

Johnson County Coroner Charles K. Hurd convened an inquest to hear testimony from local citizens. Also present was former Johnson County Attorney William J. McDonald, who represented the widow Ella Ham’s interests in receiving life insurance money.

George Fairall, Henry Bouquet, Alice and Taylor Maynard, Clarence Smith, Ed Maule, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Morris, Frank Brooks, Garfield Paulus, Ira Curtis, William K. Thompson, and Norwood Bothell testified, in addition to three neighbors of the Hams.

Thompson testified that on September 23, he saw a man he believed was Jared Ham taking “slow, small steps, in a leisurely fashion” heading east towards the Iowa River near George Fairall’s shack. He could not speculate what happened next and didn’t shed much light on the case when he could not even describe what Jared Ham look liked.

Paulus and Bothell said they saw Jared Ham at the Shrader Drug Store corner on Saturday evening, September 23. Bouquet testified he saw him about 1:00 a.m. the next morning on the lower bridge across the Iowa River in Iowa City.

Ira Curtis, a local contractor, was believed to be the last man who talked with the victim; he testified Ham was acting “insane” when he encountered him walking along the river on September 23 near the McCollister place two miles south of Iowa City.

A few witnesses testified, according to the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, that Ham’s “life had been a peaceful one, free from quarrels and other difficulties.”

However, the Iowa City Press wrote about domestic friction between Jared and Ella Ham:

“The sensational testimony of the night, revealed that Mr. Ham was angry and violent in an outburst of tempestuous passion on the day of his disappearance and that his wife was fortunate enough to avoid injury in an attack about noon of the Day, just before she saw her husband for the last time, alive.”

Mrs. E.B. Wanek, her daughter Emma Wanek, and Maria Lithgow all testified that on September 23 there was a large domestic disturbance during the midday meal in the Ham house and that Jared Ham threw a platter with meat on it at his wife. It narrowly missed and crashed through the kitchen window, scattering glass.

The three women were reluctant to add to the tragedy for the family by giving this testimony but had been subpoenaed to do so.

from the Iowa City Daily Press

Mrs. Wanek said she only saw Ella and Jared Ham interacting on the porch from time to time but she believed they had about the same number of quarrels or “jars” as most married couples did.

Wanek also said that Jared Ham’s step-daughter-in-law, Dolly Mae Morse, told her she was in the Ham house the day before the victim disappeared and saw him come down the stairs with a large amount of money and jokingly said, “He’s got a roll: let’s hold him up!” and that Jared Ham joked back, “Well, if you do, you’ll make a good haul, as I’ve got about $400 here.”

Investigators believed that story may have fueled a rumor that the victim was carrying a large amount of money when he died.

Mrs. Wanek said Ella Ham told her she and Jared argued the day he disappeared because he had forged her signature on a bank note. But Ella Ham insisted to the jury the argument was about a three-dollar grocery bill that her husband felt was too high.

☛ Inquest Verdict ☚

On October 6, 1911, the coroner’s jury — consisting of John Sueppel, Frank Strub, and Charles Anderson — ruled that Jared Ham died from being struck on the head and put into the river. The motive was believed to be robbery.

Without saying how they believed he was related to the Ham murder, authorities announced they were looking for Harry Mougovin, who left Iowa City without a trace on the day of the murder.

☛ Jared Ham’s Life ☚

Jared Ham was born in 1855 in Iowa City to Mary A. Douglass and Daniel E. Ham, Pennsylvania natives who migrated west to become pioneer settlers of the town. Daniel Ham was the city’s first gunsmith and firearms dealer. He owned a shop which he advertised as being on “Dubuque Street Under the Sign of the Gun.” He also traded in furs, pelts, and skins.

Jared Ham had six siblings — brothers Daniel, Jacob, Edward, and Williams as well as sisters Ella and Annie L. Ham. On November 25, 1880, he married Mary M. Eister. His second wife, Ella Parrott Morse, had a son Clyde from a previous marriage.

Ham worked as a painter and paper hanger and belonged to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, who held a memorial service for him in December 1911.

He was buried in Iowa City’s Oakland Cemetery, home to the famous 1912 “Black Angel” monument, which is the subject of many legends and myths and a stopping point on Iowa Ghost Tours. However, there is no marker on his grave.

In a strange parallel event, Jared Ham’s brother Edward disappeared in early 1890 from Chicago; his body was found seven months later in Lake Michigan, where he had drowned.

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



  • ☛ “Body Found in River,” Nashua Reporter, October 12, 1911.
  • ☛ “Death Mystery Unsolved,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, September 30, 1911.
  • ☛ “Foul Murder Jury Verdict,” Iowa City Daily Press, October 7, 1911.
  • ☛ “Hunt Mysterious Man,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, October 5, 1911.
  • ☛ “Iowa State News,” Des Moines National Democrat, October 5, 1911.
  • ☛ “Iowa State News,” National Democrat, October 5, 1911.
  • ☛ “Jared Ham May Have Been Slain,” Waterloo Evening Courier, October 2, 1911.
  • ☛ “Missing Man’s Body Is Found In River,” Muscatine Journal, September 29, 1911.
  • ☛ “News of the State,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, March 4, 1889.
  • ☛ “Personal and General,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, July 12, 1890.
  • ☛ “Slight Is Clue To Jared Ham,” Iowa City Daily Press, September 27, 1911.
  • ☛ “Suspicions of Foul Play Are Confirmed,” Muscatine Journal, September 29, 1911.

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