Lumberyard Tramps: Murder of Officer Jacob Neibert 1896

Murder Victim

Jacob O. Neibert
53-year-old Night Policeman
Muscatine Police Department
Civil War Veteran, Iowa 35th Infantry
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Avoiding Arrest

Murder Scene and Date

Hershey Lumber Company
1001 Hershey Avenue
Muscatine, Iowa
Muscatine County
End of Watch: June 13, 1896


By Nancy Bowers
Written March 2013

from the  Carroll Sentinel

from the Carroll Sentinel

The Officer’s Down Memorial Page, which honors peace officers killed in the line of duty in the United States, has compiled a sobering list of 184 Iowa public servants who lost their lives while protecting the safety and security of others. This number reflects such deaths as of late 2013 and, sadly, it is likely to increase as the years pass.

Although officers die on duty from many and diverse causes — everything from natural disasters to car and train accidents to heart attacks — as of this writing, 104 Iowa peace officers have died from gunfire while defending the public.

Most often, the suspects in these cases are arrested and punished or they are killed by return fire or die at their own hands. However, some are never apprehended and brought to justice.

One such slain Iowa officer whose killer was never caught was Muscatine Night Policeman Jacob O. Neibert. In law enforcement parlance, Neibert’s End of Watch was June 13, 1896.

☛ Deadly Tramps at the Lumber Yard ☚

location of Muscatine, Iowa

location of Muscatine, Iowa

At 53, Neibert was the oldest patrolman on the Muscatine Police Department roster, which included five other officers — Newton Cooper, George Kuhn, Barney Binhoff, William Purcell, and Gill Campbell — all under the command of Marshal William F. Eichhoff, Marshal W. P. Frazier, and Deputy Marshal and future Chief James W. McElravy.

In the early hours of Saturday, June 13, 1896, Officer Neibert was patrolling Muscatine streets close to the Mississippi River when he spotted two tramps near the Hershey Lumber Company at 1001 Hershey Avenue — a street in the historic district of the city which at present is Highway 61 and then becomes West Mississippi Drive/Highway 92 as it curves to the northwest near the river.

The lumber company was familiar ground for Neibert, who once worked there and who resided with his wife Henrietta only a few blocks away at 1156 Hershey Avenue.

It probably seemed to Neibert that it would be a routine arrest for vagrancy when he approached the two men. But things quickly went wrong.

The Hersey Lumber Company, where Jacob Neibert was fatally shot (Musser Public Library)

The Hersey Lumber Company, where Jacob Neibert was fatally shot (courtesy Musser Public Library).

After a struggle, the two overpowered Neibert and one fired a shot which struck him in the abdomen. As they fled, Neibert shot back at the men.

Help arrived quickly, even though Neibert was at the time about a mile southwest of the Police Department located in the County Jail Building on the corner of 4th and Walnut.

Because Neibert was mortally wounded and died about ten minutes after being found by responding officers, he was too weak to provide an extended account of the incident and could say only that his assailants were hobos.

Investigators discovered a blood trail leading from the scene — which indicated that Neibert’s shots had wounded one of the men — and followed it a mile before it disappeared. Muscatine County Sheriff H.E. Wiley and his Deputy Frank Harris headed up a posse to thoroughly search the area but could not locate the suspects.

Three bloodhounds were brought in from Trenton, Missouri, to follow the trail; but it had gone too cold by the time they arrived.

Investigators assumed that the fleeing suspects, one with a bullet wound, jumped onto a train passing on nearby tracks along the Mississippi.

That theory was confirmed when authorities learned that not long after the shooting a rail conductor named Kile forced a tramp bleeding from head and hand wounds off an express freight train at Fruitland, Iowa, 10 miles southwest of Muscatine.

☛ Possible Suspect Caught in Kansas City ☚

Muscatine Mayro, Dr. Edward B. Fulliam ( )

Muscatine Mayor, Dr. Edward B. Fulliam ( )

Then came word that Alonzo Meyers — who matched the description of one suspect — had been arrested in Kansas City.

So convinced were Muscatine authorities that Meyers was the person they sought, that on July 13 Mayor Edward B. Fulliam, Sr. – a prominent local doctor and President of the Muscatine Board of Health — accompanied City Marshal W.P. Frazier to Kansas City to bring Meyers back to face local witnesses.

In Muscatine, Alonzo Meyers was presented to Henry Nicholaus and George Hartman, as well as Neibert’s widow who, according to the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, all claimed “to know the supposed murderer.”

from the Burlington Hawk Eye

from the Burlington Hawk Eye

As no reason was reported for how the three knew the killer, it seems especially odd that Henrietta Neibert would have seen any suspects, given the hour of the night and the fact that her husband patrolled alone.

However it was that the three came to observe the suspects, they could not identify Alonzo Meyers as one of them. When no one else came forward to say they had seen Meyers in Muscatine, he was released from custody.

☛ Another Suspect Detained in Illinois ☚

from the Davenport Daily Leader

from the Davenport Daily Leader

On June 17, the Muscatine Police Department received notice from Monmouth, Illinois, authorities that a man arrested there was sporting a bandaged hand and fit the description of one of the Neibert suspects.

Mayor Fulliam and Marshal Frazier again boarded a train, this time to Davenport, and then traveled on to Monmouth where they took the suspect into custody. In returning to Muscatine, the party switched trains at Davenport.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader described what happened at the train depot:

“The [suspect] denied ever having been in Muscatine in his life and assumed a total ignorance of the murder [but] he was very nervous and as he saw the crowd gather at the depot to take a look at him his eyes nearly popped out of his head he was so greatly excited.”

postcard view of Davenport train station

Postcard view of the Davenport train station
where the public viewed the Neibert suspect.

Those onlookers could see that the man had one cut on his forehead and another down the side of his face, in addition to a wounded hand.

To explain how the suspect in the Muscatine murder arrived only three days afterwards in Monmouth, Illinois — 60 miles to the southeast — an elaborate theory was spun out and reported by the Davenport Daily Leader:

“It is thought that [the suspect] crossed over to an island in the [Mississippi] River after being put off of the train at Fruitland and floated down the river on some sort of a craft as far as Keithsburg where he made across country to Monmouth.”

That suspect, too, was questioned and released.

With two failed attempts to find the guilty parties, hope for resolving the murder of Jacob Neibert diminished, and the Burlington Hawk-Eye reported on July 16:

“The officers are beginning to lose heart in the matter, as all their efforts to find the right man seem to be of no avail.”

☛ A Screed Against Tramps ☚

With the news of dimming hopes in locating the men who killed Neibert, the Editor of the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette brought his wrath to bear on the criminal subclass of roaming, law-breaking tramps and demanded that the one who killed Jacob Neibert “be shot or hung without benefit of the clergy or protection of the law.”

Summary punishment, however, the Gazette Editor admitted would not happen, even if the suspects could be captured.

What followed was a diatribe by the Editor against tramps that seems amazingly contemporary in the ongoing debate about how criminals are regarded and treated:

“Women will send him bouquets in jail and some attorney will be found who for $25, more or less, cash in hand will do his utmost to set the ravening beast again at liberty among defenseless people. Nine chances in ten the tramp would not be convicted of murder in the first degree, and if, under the tenth chance, he was so convicted the chance would again be nine to one that he would be pardoned or have his sentence commuted.

Asinine legislatures do nothing to abate the menace. They are too busy with some political scheme and too much afraid of losing the vote of someone, who from ignorance or sympathy espouses the cause of the tramp.

People who perchance mean well feed the tramps, make their lives enjoyable from their point of consideration, and cause the breed to multiply. And the fraternity does multiply, burns, steals, outrages or murders as suits their straits, and still the lawmakers do nothing and misguided people with more heart than judgment go on feeding them, while deserving poor, perhaps next door, have scant supplies or means of life. All tramps are not alike, but there are so many vicious among them that the whole fraternity must be suppressed.”

☛ Life of Jacob Neibert ☚

Jacob O. Neibert was born in Emmetsburg, Bayern, Germany, to Barbara and John Neibert, Sr. He had three brothers: William, John, Jr., and George Neibert. The Neibert family immigrated to the United States before George’s birth in Muscatine in 1859.

Jacob Neibert served his adopted country during the Civil War in the 35th Iowa Volunteer Infantry.

His first wife, Catherine, died about 1875. On May 25, 1876, he married Henrietta Stahl, whose family owned an entire block on Hershey Avenue in Muscatine.

The couple made their home in the house where Henrietta was born. They had no children of their own, although they raised a foster child, William Bloom. In 1902, the widowed Henrietta Neibert married Henry Hartman; she passed away in 1911.

Neibert worked as a laborer, a railroad hand, and an employee of the Hershey Lumber Company before joining the Muscatine Police Department. His brother George Neibert was also a public servant, a fireman for the Muscatine Fire Department who eventually became Chief.

In the Line of Duty

Muscatine Police Patch (Officer Down Memorial Page)

Muscatine Police Patch
(from Officer Down Memorial Page)

Click here to view the article “Iowa Department of Public Safety Peace Officer Memorial Page Remembers Officer Jacob Neibert” or click here to view the page in Neibert’s memory on the website Officer Down Memorial Page.

These memorials to Jacob Neibert’s death in the public service are contemporary reflections of how his murder was regarded at the time it was committed.

Reinforcing the public’s indignity about the case, the Muscatine Journal wrote that it was “a startling crime, the assassination of an official of the law in the faithful discharge of duty” and explained how the crime had widespread effects far beyond the one horrible act:

“When a faithful guardian of the homes and lives of peaceable citizens is struck down as was Jacob Neibert, every citizen should feel as though he himself had been menaced. Officer Neibert represented this municipality and in a certain sense the commonwealth of Iowa also. A deadly blow aimed at him was aimed at the authority of the city and at the sovereignty of the state.”


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



  • ☛ “Died On Duty,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, June 13, 1896.
  • ☛ “Found the Muscatine Murderer,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, July 14, 1896.
  • ☛ “Got The Wrong Man,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, July 16, 1896.
  • ☛ “Got The Wrong Man,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, July 16, 1896.
  • ☛ Henrietta Stahl Neibert Hartman Obituary, Muscatine Journal, January 4, 1911.
  • History of Muscatine County, Iowa from the earliest settlements to the present time. Irving B. Richman, Supervising Editor. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1911.
  • ☛ Iowa Department of Public Safety Peace Officer Memorial Page Remembers Officer Jacob Neibert.
  • ☛ “Iowa Items,” Waterloo Courier, July 1, 1896.
  • ☛ “Is He The Man?” Davenport Daily Leader, June 18, 1896.
  • Muscatine City Directory, 1895-96, compiled by Charles I. Barker. Muscatine: Journal Company, 1895.
  • ☛ Officer Down Memorial Page.
  • Portrait and Biographical Album, Muscatine County, Iowa, 1889.
  • ☛ “A Startling Crime,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, June 16, 1896.
  • ☛ “State Items,” Waterloo Daily Courier, July 15, 1896.
  • ☛ “Tramps Murder An Iowa Officer,” Carroll Sentinel, June 15, 1896.
  • ☛ “Tramps Murder An Iowa Officer,” Marion Pilot, June 18, 1896.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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