In the Head and Heart: Murder of John Doe 1917

Murder Victim

John Doe 1917
Occupation Unknown
ca. 1867 – 1917
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Unknown

Murder Scene and Date

Tool House, Union Depot
Sheldon, Iowa
O’Brien County
April 17, 1917


By Nancy Bowers
Written August 2011

location of Sheldon, Iowa

location of Sheldon, Iowa

On Saturday morning, April 21, 1917, a Milwaukee Road foreman searching for rail spikes entered the tool house at the Union Depot in Sheldon.

Inside, he found a dead man sitting in a chair.

The man — who was about 50-years-old and carried no identification — had been dead three or four days.

The victim had two bullet wounds: one just above the heart and the other in his right temple.

An unknown man was found murdered at the Union Depot in Sheldon in April 1917 (photo Mid-Continent Railroad Museum Archives)

Local authorities ruled the death a homicide, saying it would’ve been impossible for the man to have inflicted the wounds on himself.

A woman living near the depot reported hearing two revolver shots on the night of Tuesday, April 17, which established the date and time for the murder.

Statewide newspapers carried only brief stories about the homicide, and interest soon waned. The murdered man was never identified and no one was charged in the crime.

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



  • ☛ “Dead Man Found At Sheldon,” Emmetsburg Democrat, April 25, 1917.
  • ☛ Mitford Mail, May 3, 1917.
  • ☛ Palo Alto Tribune May 2, 1917.
  • ☛ Sheldon Mail, April 25, 1917, transcribed by “S.F.” for Iowa Old Press, April 2007.
  • ☛ “Pick Up News Notes,” Spirit Lake Beacon, May 3, 1917.

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