Murder Behind the Meat Market: David P. Sutton 1893

Murder Victim

David P. Sutton, Jr.
43-year-old Farmer
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Drunken Quarrel

Murder Scene and Date

Barn, East Side of Town
Ottumwa, Iowa
Wapello County
February 15, 1893


By Nancy Bowers
Written August 2011

location of Ottumwa, Iowa

location of Ottumwa, Iowa

On the frigid night after Valentines Day in 1893, David P. “Dave” Sutton, Jr., 43, was found near death in a barn behind a meat market on the east side of Ottumwa.

At first, it appeared Sutton was struck on the head; when doctors cleaned away the blood, however, they found pistol wounds.

Sutton died at noon the next day without regaining consciousness.

Although some speculated Sutton took his own life, a coroner’s jury ruled his death was murder.

Courtesy photo City of Ottumwa

Sutton had recently quarreled with 34-year-old William Skaggs, who was arrested on suspicion of the murder but then released.

Some in the Ottumwa community saw strong similarities between David Sutton’s murder and that three months later on May 23, 1893 of James Chamberlain, who was fatally attacked on the Wabash Railroad trestle over the Des Moines River in the old Richmond section of the city.

No one was charged with either the Sutton or Chamberlain murder. To read about the unsolved 1893 murder of James Chamberlain, click here.

☛ David P. Sutton’s Life ☚

from the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette

David Perry Sutton, Jr. was born in 1850 in Jessamine, Kentucky, to Isabella Reynolds and David Perry Sutton, Sr. He had five siblings: Richard Perry “Dick” Sutton, Martha Sutton Andrew, George H. Sutton, Mary J. Sutton Smith, and Margaret Sutton Slocum.

Sutton’s father passed away the year he was born; his mother married John Coley and there were two stepbrothers — Benjamin Coley and John W. Coley.

After his stepfather died in the 1854 cholera epidemic, Sutton’s mother moved to Lexington, Kentucky, to raise and educate her children. In 1856, however, she also passed away.

Some of his siblings were sent to an orphans’ home. David and his older brother Richard went to live with an uncle in Evanston, Indiana.

Dick Sutton, well-known brother of murder victim David P. Sutton (

By the time they were teenagers, the two oldest Sutton brothers were supporting themselves and moved farther west.

David settled in Shelbyville, Illinois, where he served as City Marshall. On December 28, 1871, he married Martha E. Phelps.

At the time of his death, Sutton was farming in Mahaska County, Iowa, and was mostly known as the brother of Ottumwa resident Richard “Dick” Sutton: restaurateur; proprietor of the 50-room Dick’s Hotel; owner of the Turner Opera House; vaudevillian; and — as newspapers of the time liked to call him — all-around “showman.”

David Sutton’s place of burial is unknown.

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



  • ☛ “Bullet Wounds in His Head,” Oxford Mirror, February 24, 1893.
  • ☛ “He Was Murdered,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, June 8, 1893.
  • ☛ “Iowa News In Brief,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, February 17, 1893.
  • ☛ Mary Ellen Lanigan, Personal Correspondence, August 2010.
  • ☛ “The Murder of Dave Sutton,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, February 18, 1893.
  • ☛ “The Murder of Dave Sutton,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, February 17, 1893.
  • ☛ “Richard B. Sutton,” Portrait and Biographical Album of Wapello County Iowa, p. 352.
  • ☛ “Shelbyville,” Decatur Daily Review, February 25, 1893.
  • ☛ U.S. Census

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