Old Soldiers Home Resident
83-year-old Civil War Veteran
Cause of Death: Bludgeoned
Murder Scene and Date
4 Miles North
November 7, 1924
By Nancy Bowers
Michael “Mike” Featherstone traveled far and experienced much as a young man.
Written May 2011
He was born in Ireland in 1841 and came to the United States in 1860. Soon afterwards, he joined the Union Army, serving as a Private in Company A 18th Missouri Infantry Regiment and then in Company A 43rd Wisconsin Infantry.
Featherstone’s life after the Civil War was uneventfully spent in Mason City. In 1910, he boarded in the Alice and Charles Niver home on E. State Street and told the U.S. Census taker he was a widower, but there is no record of a marriage.
Perhaps he had always dreamed of love and the perfect woman and may even have thought before his death that he had found her.
☛ The Veteran Vanishes ☚
It’s not certain when Mike Featherstone moved to the Marshalltown Old Soldiers Home — now the Iowa Veterans Home; but by the 1920 Census, he lived and worked there as a milkman.
He was last seen Tuesday, November 4, 1924, when a man and woman came to the Home and invited him to go for a ride. Mike Featherstone never came back.
☛ Body In a Willow Grove ☚On Friday, November 7, 1924, 83-year-old Featherstone’s body was found in a willow grove on a farm four miles north of Marshalltown.
He died from blows to the head with a heavy instrument — perhaps a wrench or hammer — wielded so fiercely that it cut slits in the Army blankets he was wrapped in.
Although a watch and coins were in his pockets, his pocketbook nearby was empty. Scattered around his body were unusual items: curtains from an automobile, an oil can, two hats, an overcoat, a luggage carrier, and a pillow.
Close by were automobile tracks left when a car drove into the grove and then pulled away from the willows.
☛ Love Affair or Lonely Hearts Scam? ☚
Featherstone’s pockets contained three other significant objects: written communications from someone named “Dora.”
A postcard, postmarked Aurora, Illinois, read:
“Dora will arrive OK tonight. Be sure and come to the city park at 10 p.m. Monday.”
A letter, also postmarked Aurora, stated that the author was delayed by an auto accident and was waiting to collect damages.
It began, “Mr. Mike Featherstone, my dear sweetheart” and closed with this plea:
“Forgive me this time and we will be together forever. I hope you have mother’s ring. We can buy a little place and live like two doves.”
Another postcard, mailed in Marshalltown, told Featherstone:
“I must disappoint you again. When I got home there was a message to come to Leavenworth on business. I will never disappoint you again.”
Who was Dora? Was she a woman who truly loved Michael Featherstone and wished to share the waning years of his life?
Or was she a Lonely Hearts predator who isolated a lonely old man and plied him with storybook tales of living together “like two doves” in order to take his pension and what possessions he had?
☛ Determined Investigator ☚Iowa Governor Nathan Edward “Nate” Kendall offered a $500 reward for information leading to a conviction in the case; Marshall County offered another $500.
The lure of $1,000 spurred 51-year-old James W. Cooper to solve the crime. Cooper, a former State Commander of the Spanish War Veterans, was also a resident of the Old Soldiers’ Home.The Waterloo Evening Courier termed Cooper an “amateur detective hero” who earlier showed his detective skills by finding relatives of a Spanish War veteran whose body was discovered in Marshalltown.
Long after the Marshall County Sheriff, Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation Agents, and other law enforcement gave up, Cooper doggedly worked the Featherstone case.
☛ Suspects Arrested ☚
James Cooper focused on 36-year-old former Marshalltown resident and automobile painter Carl E. Carlson, who Cooper believed was in town visiting his parents Charles and Anna Carlson at the time Featherstone disappeared.
Cooper claimed he saw Carlson and a woman driving from the grounds of the Old Soldiers’ Home on the morning of November 4, the day Michael Featherstone disappeared.
Cooper also discovered evidence he believed showed Carlson left Marshalltown shortly after the murder but before Featherstone’s body was found.Before showing up in Marshalltown, Carl Carlson lived in Aurora, Illinois, the location where two communications from “Dora” were postmarked.
In early March 1925, James Cooper and Marshall County Attorney Roy L. Pell tracked Carlson to Minneapolis and found him at the apartment of a woman who said she was Edna Carpenter of Ladysmith, Wisconsin, a false identity.
Marshall County Bailiff R.G. Goodale brought to Minneapolis warrants for the pair’s arrest on first degree murder and then transported Carlson and Carpenter back to Marshalltown.
Edna Carpenter claimed she and Carlson were married in Wisconsin about July 4, 1924 and were in Marshalltown to visit his relatives only twice: shortly after their marriage in the summer of 1924 and at Christmas of the same year.
A Marshall County grand jury heard testimony against Carlson and Edna Carpenter, in part presented by James Cooper, who asserted that Edna Carpenter’s handwriting resembled that on the letters and postcards signed by “Dora.”Relatives of Carlson, however, claimed he was in Shade Hill, South Dakota, at the time of the murder. And Carl Carlson produced telegrams from Shade Hill to show he and Edna Carpenter were there the day Featherstone disappeared, as well as before and after that day.
The grand jury refused to return an indictment against the pair, saying the evidence was insufficient. The jury didn’t see any similarity between the writing in Dora’s communications to Featherstone and that of either Carl Carlson or Edna Carpenter.
Carlson and Carpenter admitted they applied for a marriage license, but it was not granted because she could not prove divorce from her first husband; she claimed she received a divorce decree at Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, in 1921.
☛ No Answers to the Mystery ☚
Carl Carlson and Edna Carpenter — promising his family they would marry upon their return to Minneapolis — quickly left Marshalltown.
No one else was charged with the murder of Michael Featherstone and the aged man, duped by someone promising love, has never received justice.
Because he had no known relatives at the time of his death, Featherstone may have been a prime target for the Lonely Hearts schemes of those who killed him.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “Charge Two With Murder,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 13, 1925.
- ☛ “Cops Can’t Solve Murder Mystery At Marshalltown,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 10, 1924.
- ☛ “Couple Held On Murder Charge Are Dismissed,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, March 19, 1925.
- ☛ “Hold Couple For A Murder,” Sioux City Journal, March 13, 1925.
- ☛ “Jail Marshalltown Man and Woman for Veteran’s Death,” Waterloo Evening Courier, March 12, 1925.
- ☛List of ex Sailors, Soldiers, and Marines Living in Iowa, State of Missouri, 1886.
- ☛ “Marshalltown Murder Arrests,” Oelwein Daily Register, March 13, 1925.
- ☛ Monticello Express, December 4, 1924.
- ☛ “The Mysterious Murder of Michael Featherstone,” Des Moines Register, September 27, 1970.
- ☛ “Pair Accused Of Vet’s Murder Is Given Liberty,” Sioux City Journal, March 19, 1925.
- ☛ “Pair Arrested for Veterans’ [sic] Murder at Marshalltown, Freed,” Waterloo Evening Courier, March 18, 1925.
- ☛ “Pair Arrested In Minneapolis For Murdering Iowan,” Waterloo Evening Courier, March 13, 1925.
- ☛ U.S. Census.