Last Day of Work: Murder of Floyd Alloway: 1937

Murder Victim

Floyd Melvin Alloway
36-year-old Bootlegger
Newly Hired WPA Worker
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Bootlegging Intrigue

Murder Scene and Date

1505 Vermont Street
Des Moines, Iowa
Polk County
December 18, 1937


By Nancy Bowers
Written June 2011

location of Des Moines, Iowa

location of Des Moines, Iowa

Floyd Alloway rarely held a job. So when the 36-year-old  man was hired by the Works Progress Administration in December 1937 to work on a sewage disposal plant project in Des Moines, he was happy to have employment.

Unfortunately, his first day of work was his last.

That night — Saturday, December 18 — Alloway answered a knock at the back door of 1505 Vermont Street, where he lived with 55-year-old Estella Hall. A shot rang out and he called for Hall, who said by the time she got to him he was dead. She claimed she did not see who fired the shot.

Estella Hall summoned her neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Riley Thornton, who notified Des Moines Police. The Thorntons heard the gunfire but said they saw no one.

☛ Bullet Through the Watch Chain ☚

Detective Jack Brophy (photo Des Moines Police)

The bullet severed Alloway’s watch chain; three links of it were imbedded in the nose of the slug when it was removed from the body.

During the autopsy, Polk County Coroner A.E. Shaw recovered a .38 caliber bullet that entered Alloway’s abdomen and then traveled downward through his body, lodging near the base of the spine.

Shaw, noting the odd path of the bullet, speculated that Alloway was bending over to identify the person knocking on the door, which was a foot above the level of the back porch.

☛ Wife or Mother? ☚

from the Daily Hawk-Eye Gazette

At first, Estella Hall told Des Moines Police she was Alloway’s foster mother, even going so far as to claim that when he was shot, he called out, “Oh, Ma.”

However, Alloway was 36-years-old and his own mother was still living. Hall finally admitted to investigators that she had lived with Alloway for five years as his common law wife, even though she was 55 and had a son two years older than Alloway.

Police arrested Hall and held her for questioning; officers accompanied her to Alloway’s funeral on December 21. She was released when nothing was found to connect her to the shooting.

After interrogating Hall, Chief of Detectives Jack Brophy told reporters:

“I think she knows more about this than she has told us so far.”

☛ Related to Booze? ☚

from the Carroll Daily Herald

Alloway’s Fellow WPA workers were also questioned without results.

Police uncovered evidence that Alloway operated a small bootlegging business, selling alcohol in the river bottom section of Des Moines where he lived.

Officers found two one-gallon cans smelling strongly of alcohol on the porch. Estella Hall claimed Alloway found them at the city dump and planned to sell them to an Ames serum company.

Police speculated the shooting was connected to the bootlegging operation.

☛ Floyd Alloway’s Life ☚

Floyd Melvin Alloway was born in 1901 in Jasper County, Iowa, to Lucy A. Woody and William Alloway. He had two brothers — Leonard and Leo Alloway — and six sisters: Nelly Alloway Painter, Lucy Alloway Enyart, Iva Alloway Heavilin Christy, Edna Alloway Swackhamer, Alina Alloway, and Vera E. Alloway.

He spent most of his life in Jasper County and then lived with his brother Leonard on a farm near Redrock in Marion County before moving to Des Moines.

Floyd Alloway is buried in Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines. During the years since his death, his stone has been vandalized or damaged, and only the base remains.


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



  • ☛ “Common Law Wife Held For Murder,” Oelwein Daily Register, December 21, 1937.
  • ☛ “Des Moines Man Called To Door And Shot Dead,” Burlington Daily Hawk-Eye Gazette, December 20, 1937.
  • ☛ “Find No Motive In A Murder,” Oelwein Daily Register, December 30, 1937.
  • ☛ Pella Chronicle, December 30, 1937.
  • ☛ “Seeking Motive For Slaying of WPA Laborer,” Carroll Daily Herald, December 20, 1937.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “The Week In Iowa,” Carroll Daily Herald, December 27, 1937.
  • ☛ “Woman Held In Shooting,” Burlington Daily Hawk-Eye Gazette, December 21, 1937.

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