Knockout Drugs: Murder of Harry Salisbury 1904

Murder Victim

Harry Heaton Salisbury
32-year-old Pottery Factory Employee
Cause of Death: Poisoned and Pushed From a Height
Motive: Robbery

Murder Scene and Date

Red Oak Creek
Red Oak, Iowa
Montgomery County
August 5, 1904


By Nancy Bowers
Written July 2011

location of Red Oak, Iowa

location of Red Oak, Iowa

In 1904, 32-year-old Harry Salisbury lived at 101 W. First Avenue in Red Oak and worked at the pottery company on West Coolbaugh Street.

On the night of Thursday August 4, he went to work as usual and was last seen at 2:00 the following morning at the end of the shift.

When Salisbury failed to come home for breakfast, his worried wife Lillian instigated a search.

Harry Heaton Salisbury

About 2:00 p.m., Salisbury’s body was found lying below a footbridge across shallow Red Oak Creek, which meanders through town. He was lying in a small amount of water, although his mouth was not submerged.

Salisbury’s watch and money were missing.

At first, it was believed Salisbury took ill while crossing the bridge and fell in Red Oak Creek and drowned. However, from the beginning rumors persisted that foul play was involved. Several newspapers — without putting the quote into context — stated that a local woman heard a voice during the night say:

“I fixed him and he won’t bother me no more.”

Salisbury belonged to the Knights of Maccabees, a fraternal order which offered legal reserve insurance that paid benefits to families of deceased members.

The group was particularly concerned about the cause of Salisbury’s death because he held a $1,000 policy with them. Just before the funeral was to begin in the Salisbury home, the Maccabees demanded an autopsy.

Salisbury’s funeral continued and his body was taken to the cemetery and lowered into the grave. As soon as family and friends left, the body was brought up and autopsied; vital organs were removed and sent to Des Moines.

☛ Limited Investigation ☚

Dr. Charles N. Kinney

The autopsy found no bruises on the body and no water in the lungs; the only signs of trauma were two scratches on Salisbury’s head.

Salisbury’s stomach was examined by State Chemist and Drake University Professor Dr. Charles Noyes Kinney. Kinney’s report — which was not issued until the following October — reported the presence of morphine and other poisons. Kinney tallied the exact amount of each substance, hoping that would lead to the person who sold or gave the drugs to Salisbury.

Montgomery County Coroner F.S. Thomas, based on the findings, concluded that Salisbury was given “knockout drops” so he could be robbed.

☛ Too Much Secrecy? ☚

The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors offered a $200 reward for information about the murder of Harry Salisbury.

from the Atlantic Daily Democrat

But the case seemed to go nowhere, and some thought the local Sheriff wasn’t looking very hard for the guilty party.

The Red Oak Sun reported on the secrecy attached to the investigation and connected the murder to two other unsolved deaths:

“The methods now being made [sic] to locate the guilty parties, and the progress already made are facts that the ones in authority will not divulge.

The opinion is growing . . . that the same parties are responsible for three mysterious deaths that have occurred in the city during the past two years, viz; that of the Jew who was found dead beneath a brush pile south of the railroad yards two years ago, the man who was found under the viaduct near the depot last spring, and the late Harry Salisbury. If there is any likelihood of any such deeds being the work of one man or set of men, there should be a reward of no less than two or three thousand dollars for the offenders dead or alive.”

☛ Tribute From Fellow Firefighters ☚

Harry Salisbury (courtesy Salisbury descendants)

Harry Salisbury was a well-respected volunteer fireman with the Harris Hook and Ladder Fire Brigade, which issued this proclamation:

“Whereas Death has claimed a member of the Red Oak Fire Department in the person of Harry Salisbury, who for more than ten years has been an active and efficient worker for the protection and welfare of our city

Therefore be it resolved . . . That the Department extends to Mrs. Salisbury, his widow, and his little son: its sincere sympathy in this their hour of grief, caused by the death of husband and father, who by his faithfulness to every duty imposed on him, and by his courteous treatment of his fellows, won the respect and good will of all.”

Harry often played his fiddle at Fire Department social activities. And a photo of Salisbury in his fireman’s uniform hung in the old Red Oak Fire Station as late as 1951. Its whereabouts now are unknown.

☛ Family Lore ☚

Since 1904, Salisbury’s family has speculated on the motives and suspects in the unsolved murder.

One relative told others many years ago that on the morning he was murdered Harry played poker with his payday earnings at the end of the night-shift. After winning the pot, he set out for home and was accosted by a robber.

One version had him being struck by a hammer, although autopsy information that was made public mentions no such injuries.

Another relative remembered that Lillian Salisbury asked her to deliver a note to local physician Dr. O.S. Reilly, who performed Harry Salisbury’s autopsy. She opened the note along the way and saw it said:

“I know who killed Harry and you do, too. When are you going to tell?”

Some heard that Dr. Reilly knew who killed Harry Salisbury but would not reveal the name until all parties involved were dead. It’s assumed Reilly died before the guilty party did.

The spot near where Salisbury’s body was found became a junk yard owned by a family member.

☛ Harry H. Salisbury’s Life ☚

Harry Salisbury’s tombstone
(courtesy Salisbury descendants)

Harry Heaton Salisbury was born August 14, 1871 in Kirkwood, Warren County, Illinois, to Luella Johnson and Byron Francis Salisbury. He had two brothers — George Theodore Salisbury and David Russell Salisbury — as well as two sisters, Francis Maud Salisbury Saddler Snyder and Kathryn L. Salisbury Chain.

When Harry was young, the Salisbury family moved from Illinois to Lewis in Clay County, Nebraska. By 1885, they had settled in Red Oak.

Harry Salisbury married Lillian Mae Forshey in Red Oak on February 11, 1892. They had two sons, Frederick Salisbury — who died at the age of 3 in 1895 — and Harry Dale Salisbury, who was born in 1896.

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



  • ☛ “Boy Was Murdered,” The Democrat, October 19, 1904.
  • ☛ “Death Due To Poisoning,” Semi-Weekly Reporter, October 14, 1904.
  • ☛ Charles Noyes Kinney photograph, Drake University Yearbook, 1906.
  • ☛ “Funeral Is Stopped,” Ireton Weekly Ledger, September 2, 1904.
  • ☛ “Harry Salisbury Was Poisoned,” Des Moines Capital, October 11, 1904.
  • ☛ “He Was Poisoned,” Palo Alto Reporter, October 13, 1904.
  • ☛ “He Was Poisoned,” Pocahontas County Sun, October 13, 1904.
  • ☛ “May Have Been Drugged,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, October 11, 1904.
  • ☛ “May Have Been Murdered,” Cedar Falls Gazette, October 21, 1904.
  • ☛ “May Solve Mystery; Poison In Stomach,” Tri-City Star, October 11, 1904.
  • ☛ “May Solve Mystery: Salisbury, Red Oak Young Man, May Have Been Poisoned — Further Investigation,” Atlantic Daily Democrat, October 11, 1904.
  • ☛ Melissa Hillstrom, Personal Correspondence, July 2011.
  • ☛ “Murder Mystery Solved,” Iowa Postal Card, October 27, 1904.
  • ☛ “Murder Mystery Solved,” Rake Register, October 21, 1904.
  • ☛ Red Oak Sun.
  • ☛ Roxann Wilson Brannan, Personal Correspondence, July 2011.
  • ☛ Salisbury family memories,
  • ☛ Sharon Dorrell Dodrer, Personal Correspondence, July 2011.
  • ☛ “State Items Of Interest,” Cedar Falls Gazette, September 6, 1904.
  • ☛ “State Items Of Interest,” Morning Sun News-Herald, September 1, 1904.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “Was Salisbury Murdered?” Cedar Rapids Weekly Gazette, August 17, 1904.

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