Leave Town or Die: Murder of Richard Huggins 1914

Murder Victim

Richard William Huggins
49-year-old Florist
Sherwood Greenhouse
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Romantic Entanglement

Murder Scene and Date

600 blk Conger Street
Waterloo, Iowa
Black Hawk County
October 3, 1914


By Nancy Bowers
Written March 2012

location of Waterloo, Iowa

location of Waterloo, Iowa

In 1914, 49-year-old Waterloo resident Richard William “Rich” Huggins worked at the Sherwood Greenhouse at 550 Conger Street.

The massive operation — 50,000 feet under glass — was owned by Richard’s former brother-in-law Charles Sherwood. The business produced and sold plants, cut flowers, and seeds at the Conger Street location and through a downtown florist shop on East Fourth Street.

In his native England, Richard Huggins was a gardener; so it was a good fit for him.

For about a year, Huggins — a divorced father of four — had lived in the Sherwood home next door to the greenhouse, rooming and taking his meals there with other employees.

☛ Day of the Murder ☚

Richard Huggins

On Saturday, October 3, 1914, Richard Huggins worked all morning in the greenhouse.

His midday activities are uncertain because of conflicting reports by those who claimed to see him. Some of his fellow employees said Huggins finished eating lunch at 12:35 and a Sherwood family member said he was back working by 1:15 p.m.

However, Cedar Valley Line driver James Furbush later said Huggins was on his streetcar when it left downtown Waterloo at 12:55 that afternoon.

Furbush said that during the trip towards Conger Street, Huggins showed him a registered letter — unsigned, but written in a feminine hand. It contained an ominous message:

“Leave town or we will get you tonight.”

Furbush believed Huggins had just retrieved the letter and was so shocked and concerned that he needed to share it.

Everyone agreed that Huggins worked the rest of the afternoon at the Sherwood Greenhouse and had supper as usual.

☛ Quiet Night Becomes Horrific ☚

One of the Waterloo theaters Huggins frequented with friends (courtesy photo Iowa State Historical Society).

Alfred Flanders also lived in the Sherwood home. In the evenings, Flanders and Huggins rode the streetcar into the Waterloo business district and attended a motion picture or live theater.

After the afternoon’s work ended on October 3, Huggins and Alfred Flanders set out as usual for an evening of entertainment.

At the Palace Theater, Robert Warwick was starring in the movie “Man of the Hour,” preceded by the 16th installment of the serial “The Million Dollar Mystery.”

The raucous act “The Three Keatons” — featuring Buster Keaton and his parents Joe and Myra — was at the top of a Vaudeville bill at the Majestic Theater.

And a dramatic play was in its last night at the Waterloo Theater.

Huggins was too preoccupied that night even to enjoy “The Three Keatons” at a local theater (courtesy Vaudeville Urban Legends).

But nothing seemed to suit Huggins that night, and Flanders sensed his friend was preoccupied and wanted to be alone. So Flanders was not surprised when Huggins decided to go home.

Before he left downtown, Huggins bought cigars and candy at the American Confectionery Store next to the streetcar waiting station and then got change for a five dollar bill at the downtown Sherwood Greenhouse on East Fourth.

At 9:30 p.m., Flanders and Huggins bade each other goodnight.

Flanders went to the Crystal Theater with another friend and Huggins boarded a Cedar Valley Line streetcar to go home.

About 10:35 p.m., Huggins got off the streetcar and started walking towards the Sherwood home and greenhouse in the 500 block of Conger Street.

It was a clear, still night.

Mrs. James Stahley at 600 Conger Street had gone to bed in an upstairs room but was not yet asleep. Against the silence of the neighborhood, she heard a woman running past the house, skirts rustling loudly as she moved. Then Mrs. Stahley heard gunshots.

At that same time, a tall woman — weighing about 145 and wearing “a tango-colored skirt” — was seen picking something up from the sidewalk along Conger Street, putting it in her purse, and walking away quickly.

Suddenly, the entire neighborhood came awake with alarm. Gunshots had been heard, and there was a man lying in the street.

Waterloo Police Capt. Herman T. Wagner lived nearby; he and his wife Nellie had just returned from a night in downtown Waterloo. The Wagners rushed to the scene as panic spread through the area.

In the confusion, those who gathered around the man in the street initially thought he was ill or intoxicated.

When they looked closer, however, they saw he was shot.

☛ Police Respond ☚

A few minutes after the gunfire, a medium-built, well-dressed man with a black mustache ran into the streetcar office on Broadway and told a dispatcher someone had been shot on Conger Street.

The dispatcher was new on the job and did not recognize the man, but he called the Waterloo Police.

Richard Huggins and Alfred Flanders lived at 550 Conger Street (Google Street View).

Within 10 minutes of being phoned by the streetcar dispatcher, Detective John McSweeney, officers John H. Collins and Melvin Turney, and patrolmen Edward L. Douglas and Thomas Malcolm were on the scene.

The officers gathered around the man to see if he was saying anything, but he had lost so much blood he could only weakly gasp for breath. A few minutes after the officers arrived, he died.

While other policemen spread out looking for clues and the shooter, Patrolman Edward Douglas went into the Sherwood home to use the telephone.

There he found Alfred Flanders — the man who spent the early part of the evening with Huggins.

When Flanders heard a man had been shot half-a-block away, he dropped the newspaper he was reading and ran outside with the officer. As Douglas shone his light on the man lying in the street, Flanders cried out:

“Oh my God, it’s Rich.”

Flanders’s shock and agitation made Detective McSweeney suspicious and he placed the distraught man under arrest and took him to the police station, where he was held under armed guard.

Flanders was released after he established that he went to the Crystal Theater with Dudley Murphy and rode the streetcar home with two friends and their wives.

☛ Dissecting the Murder ☚

During an autopsy, Coroner Edward F. Kistner retrieved two .32 caliber bullets from the body. He determined that Huggins was shot twice in the left side. One bullet entered the center of the abdomen, went through the liver, and lodged just under the skin on the right side. The other entered just above the hip and angled downward.

The murder was sensational news throughout the city. The Waterloo Courier described the ghoulish reaction of some citizens:

“All day yesterday friends and morbidly inclined people called at the morgue to view the body.”

☛ Investigation ☚

Rose Huggins — the former wife of the victim — came to the Police Station to say she would financially support efforts to find Richard Huggins’s killer.

Waterloo Police Chief Edwin A. Leighton placed Captain Herman T. Wagoner and Detectives John McSweeney and Tom J. Morris on the case full time.

Because Huggins’s watch and $15.32 were found in his pockets, investigators eliminated robbery as the motive. Police speculated the shooter either followed Huggins or accidentally encountered him.

The clue investigators were most eager to follow was the threatening letter that Huggins allegedly received.

Huggins rode a Cedar Valley Line streetcar like this one several times on the day of the murder.

Cedar Valley Line streetcar driver James Furbush stuck to his account that Huggins was on his car when it left the station at 12:55 on Saturday afternoon and that during the trip Huggins showed him a registered letter containing a death threat. The Post Office, however, had no record of a registered letter for Huggins.

Also, there was a timeline problem among the witnesses. Alfred Flanders said Huggins left the lunch table at 12:35 p.m. on the afternoon of the murder; others who ate with him said he did not receive a letter at the house. One of the Sherwood family remembered Huggins returned to work by 1:15 p.m.

Also, Flanders believed Huggins would have shown the letter to him, a friend who lived in the same house, rather than to a streetcar driver whom he’d known briefly.

Police could not track down the man who told the Broadway streetcar dispatcher about the shooting.

☛ Cherchez la Femme! ☚

from the Oelwein Register

Waterloo Police were convinced that a woman was involved in the murder, even if she did not pull the trigger.

William Speicher, 19, of 718 Conger Street and 13-year-old M.C. Balenesifer of 426 Cherry Street told police they were a block away when the shots were fired and saw a man running from the scene. Later, they admitted they were uncertain what they’d seen.

The two teenagers were the only witnesses who reported a man near the murder site, so investigators focused on finding a women.

But who was she — one of several Huggins corresponded with? The Waterloo Evening Courier wrote:

“[The] deceased, in life, had apparently been a man who did not often seek the society of women, but several letters from different ones were in his trunk.”

Police were certain Huggins had a lady friend at the time of the murder and even obtained a physical description of her. However, none of his friends or family knew who she was and investigators were unable to track her down.

Eventually, all leads ran out and the murder of Richard Huggins went cold. Waterloo Police declared the Huggins murder one of the most mysterious and complicated cases in the department’s history.

☛ The Life of Richard Huggins ☚

Richard E. Huggins was born in Gateforth, Yorkshire, England, to Elizabeth Norton and Martin Huggins. His shopkeeper father was also a gardener and brought his son Richard into the profession. Richard was listed as “a gardener” in the 1881 English census.

Richard’s sister Mary Jane Huggins married Charles Sherwood in 1881; they relocated to Waterloo, Iowa, where Charles worked at a greenhouse and then opened one of his own.

Huggins followed his sister and brother-in-law to Waterloo. On September 14, 1891, he became a naturalized American citizen.

Shadow of Odd Fellows symbol on Huggins’s gravestone (photo by Chuck).

About 1895, Richard Huggins married Rose Etta Woods and they had four children: George H. Huggins, Amos W. Huggins, Charles A. Huggins, and Grace Ethyl Huggins Conrad.

For 18 years, Huggins was a mechanic and foreman for the Illinois Central Railroad in Waterloo and then briefly transferred to their Chicago headquarters. He also worked in the Great Western Railway shops at Oelwein and then “went west” for a short time. He had worked at the Sherwood Greenhouse for about a year before his death.

Huggins and his brother-in-law Charles Sherwood socialized with other local English expatriates at the Britannia Chapter of the Sons of St. George, a fraternal organization to which only male English immigrants and their descendants could belong, although members were required to be loyal to America.

The society, which later became the St. George Fraternal Insurance Society, provided benefits for illnesses and funeral expenses.

Four days after the murder, the Waterloo Evening Courier ran this tribute among the classified ads:

“Resolutions adopted by Britannia Lodge No. 528 Order Sons of St. George at regular meeting Held October 6, 1914:

Whereas. It has pleased Almighty God to remove from our midst Brother Richard W. Huggins, it is but just tribute to his memory to say that in his death we mourn for one who was in every way worthy of our respect and regard, and our sympathy is extended to his relatives; further

Resolved. That a copy of this resolution be spread upon the minutes and a copy transmitted to Brother C. Sherwood and wife and published in the official paper of our order.

James Leonard, President
Guy Edwards, Secretary”

Huggins was also a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge, which placed a marker at his grave in Elmwood Cemetery.

Note: Some newspapers incorrectly gave the victim’s name as Richard E. Huggins instead of Richard William Huggins.

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



  • ☛ “Believe Slayer of R.E. [sic] Huggins Will Be Caught,” Waterloo Evening Courier, October 5, 1914.
  • History of Black Hawk County, Iowa, and its people, John C. Hartman, Supervising Editor, 1915.
  • ☛ “In Memoriam,” Waterloo Evening Courier, October 7, 1914.
  • ☛ “Key To Mystery Held By Woman,” Waterloo Evening Courier, October 6, 1914.
  • ☛ “No Clue In Waterloo Mystery,” West Bend Journal, October 22, 1914.
  • ☛ “No Nearer Arrest In Murder Mystery,” Waterloo Evening Courier, October 10, 1914.
  • ☛ “Police Seek Slayer Of Richard Huggins,” Oelwein Register, October 7, 1914.
  • ☛ “Seek Author of Letter,” LeMars Semi-Weekly Sentinel, October 13, 1914.
  • ☛ Travalanche blog.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “Vaudeville Urban Legends,” Urbanlegendsrevealed.com.

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