Evelyn Marie Lee
Irving Grammar School
Cause of Death: Strangled
Motive: Sexual Psychopathy
Murder Scene and Date
Four Mile Creek near Youngstown
Des Moines, Iowa
May 10, 1930
By Nancy Bowers
Written October 2011
Evelyn Marie Lee had experienced challenges in her 9 years, but she was always loved and well-cared for.
In 1925, when she was five, her parents divorced and both remarried. After that, she lived in Sioux City with her mother Grace and stepfather, William Bollier, along with two younger brothers and a stepsister.
Then in December of 1929, Evelyn’s mother Grace died at the age of 26; maternal grandmother Phoebe Holder moved in with her stepson-in-law and the four small children at 723 Wall Street.
In early 1930, Evelyn’s father brought his children to Des Moines to live with him and his second wife, Edith.
Her father Tobias “Toby” Lee was a stone man for the railroad and the family lived at 3319 East Thornton Avenue on the south side of the city in Lee Township.
Evelyn attended Irving School, where she was well liked by teachers and fellow students in her fourth grade class.
She was a darling little girl, with dark-brown, bobbed hair framing her face.
☛ Little Girl Lost ☚
Saturday, May 10 was a day off from school. Evelyn got permission to walk to the house of her friend Lillian Young, who lived just over two miles north at 705 E. Edison Street. Lillian’s parents, Orville E. and Myrtle Young, had five children and there was always fun to be had there.
Evelyn promised to be home for supper. She wore a red dress, a green plaid lumber jacket, and black slipper-type shoes.
She left the Youngs’ house at 5:00 p.m., as she promised, but never made it home.
By 7:00 p.m., Tobias and Edith Lee were frantic, especially after a call to the Young home brought the news that Evelyn left there two hours before. The Lees informed authorities.
Des Moines Police — led by Chief Henry Alber — Polk County Sheriff Deputies, and Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents began searching for the little girl; Fort Des Moines soldiers pitched in, as well.
As word spread of Evelyn’s disappearance, tips came in. Two young women — Beulah and Mary Ann Hutchings, both nieces of Chief Alber — said they were near the southern outskirts of the city Saturday evening and saw a little girl in a Ford Roadster with two men; the girl tried to wave to them, but one of the men yanked her arms down.
Garage mechanic L.J. Strayer reported seeing Evelyn, whom he knew from working in the neighborhood, walking along SE 6th Street about 6:00 p.m. on Saturday evening.
Moving slowly next to the curb, Slayer said, was a Model T Ford roadster with a delivery box on the back.
He heard the driver say, “C’mon, I’ll take you home,” but Evelyn shook her head no. Slowly, the girl and the car moved out of Slayer’s view.
Lee neighbor L.J. Smith also saw a dark and shiny Ford roadster with a delivery box and a driver trying to entice Evelyn into the car.
Family friends and relatives searched all night Saturday and all day Sunday for Evelyn.
On Sunday morning, this sad plea appeared in Des Moines newspaper want ads:
“Lost — 9 year old girl. Evelyn Marie, brown hair and brown eyes. Red dress. No stockings. Last seen on S.E. 6th Street Sat. afternoon. Call police headquarters.”
☛ Death Among the Flowers ☚
When cold gives way to early spring, Iowa wildflowers — White Dog Tooth Violet, False Rue Anemone, Blood Root, Yellow Sorel, Columbine, and Blue Bells — carpet the random shady areas left standing among the tilled fields.
The flowers draw Iowans — hungry for color and beauty after the stark winter — to pick or admire them.
On Monday, May 12, local garden worker Joseph Wessell and his 4-year-old son Harold set out to explore a wooded thicket near Four Mile Creek, which runs east and then south of Des Moines. They planned to gather violets.
The area was near Youngstown, once a thriving coal mining community and now a ghost town. No road directly led into the glade of trees, so they parked and set out on foot, passing by grazing cattle on their way to the creek.
Then, their bucolic outing to gather flowers abruptly ended.
Near a railroad spur in a web of switch tracks that crossed the area, they spotted the body of a young girl lying at the foot of a large tree near tangled bushes in a hollow by the creek.
Wessel immediately took his son home and notified police. When authorities — including Polk County Coroner William Carpenter — arrived at the scene, they knew immediately that the scratched and bruised body was Evelyn Lee’s.
Marks on her neck showed she was strangled and all signs pointed to sexual assault.
Officers found Evelyn’s footprints near the creek. It appeared she tried to escape, was caught, and then brought back to the place where she was raped and murdered.
Automobile tire prints were discovered in soft earth 23 yards from the spot, likely made by the car that transported Evelyn. Because the main road was half-a-mile away, the car had to travel to the secluded spot on a narrow path across two fields.
Coroner William Carpenter determined the marks on the child’s throat were made by a left-handed person. Sheriff Findley later said that a “cripple” made footprints near the body.
Perhaps sensing it would be a second violation of the little girl, Coroner Carpenter declined to order an autopsy or inquest, saying the cause of death was evident.
☛ Child’s Premonition? ☚
Evelyn still wore her red dress and green plaid lumber jacket and had on her black slippers.
In her coat pocket, Coroner Carpenter found a paper containing words for a spelling test. On another paper, written in Evelyn’s hand, were three words:
The words seemed an omen: Evelyn was killed and left by herself in a marshy meadow, a place where hawks might swoop.
☛ Search for a “Fiend” ☚
Polk County Sheriff Park A. Findley, later Director of the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation, set loose his bloodhounds to follow any trail left by the killers. The dogs, however, quickly lost the scent.
Troops from Fort Des Moines fanned out from the body site in search of clues. Farmers south and east of Des Moines were telephoned to be on the lookout for anyone out of place.
Lacking a description of the abductors, investigators ordered a “round up [of] all suspicious characters in the district,” according to the Charles City Press.
Cars similar to the one seen following Evelyn were also sought, and mug shots of previous sex offenders were pored over and sorted out.
Of the 15 men brought in, most were let go the next day after intense questioning.
On May 13, top area law enforcement officials — Des Moines Police Chief Henry Alber; James Risden, Chief of the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation; Polk County Sheriff Park A. Findley; Des Moines Public Safety Commissioner Roscoe P. Bane; and Polk County Coroner William Carpenter — held a summit to lay their plans for finding the guilty person or persons.
☛ Angry and Obsessed Public ☚The little girl’s kidnapping, “outrage,” and murder sent a wave of anger through the area.
The Charles City Press reported the feelings of angry citizens:
“Over an aroused countryside, grim faced men were on the alert for clues to the slayer.
If he is caught, they promise, it will be ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ And Evelyn Lee’s slaying will be avenged.”
Another newspaper reported:
“Shotguns and rifles were seized by enraged fathers who grouped themselves with police . . . in the hunt.”
The spot where Evelyn was murdered became a macabre attraction for county residents. The Ames Daily Tribune-Times described the “morbidly curious persons” drawn to the scene:
“Altho [sic] the road leading to the Sylvan glade where the little girl closed her eyes for the last time was barred by a gate fastened with a shiny new padlock, the little used highway leading past was crowded with parked cars while entire families, some including babes in arms, climbed under or over the barbed wire fence and trampled the grass and bushes.
Little children, far younger than the nine-year-old girl who died with a maniac’s fingers tightening about her throat, were in the procession.”
The public’s anger spurred rewards: $250 was offered by the Des Moines Register; Iowa Governor John Hammill — at the time in Oelwein — telephoned an order that the state put up $500 to find the murderer-rapists. Eventually, reward money amounted to over $1,000.
☛ What Kind of Man? ☚Surely, the community thought, the person or persons — “fiends in human flesh,” in the words of one investigator — who killed Evelyn had to be escapees or former insane asylum inmates. The word “moron” was used in newspaper articles, suggesting a mentally incapable person.
The public lacked comprehension of and words to describe the type of monster who would so brutally rape and murder a child.
Polk County Attorney Carl Missildine termed the murder, “One of the most fiendish cases in the county’s history” and promised to track down the killer and see him hang.
Still fresh in collective memory were the “thrill killings” of 14-year-old Bobby Franks in Chicago in 1920 by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, as well as the brutal 1927 kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Marian Parker in Los Angeles.
Des Police Chief of Detectives Albert H. Pederson discounted the idea that Evelyn’s murder was similar to those two and insisted the killer was a “mentally unbalanced man.”
☛ Suspects Emerge ☚
At 1:00 p.m. on May 14, warrants were sworn out by Sheriff Findley for the arrest of Des Moines residents Carl McCune, a.k.a, Carl Gardner, and Elmer Gibson. Radio stations in Shenandoah and Des Moines broadcast the warrants.
Two men were detained at Griswold, where they told authorities they were Roy W. Ross and Frank Murphy and lived in East Omaha. Griswold law enforcement phoned Des Moines investigators — knowing that the men were McCune and Gibson — who told them to thoroughly question the two and let them go.
Thirty-five-year-old Elmer Gibson was dark-haired, weighed only 100 pounds, and stuttered slightly, often a clue — many thought then — to mental challenges or retardation. He lived with his parents Elijah and Etta Gibson at 718 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Carl McCune was 34, left-handed, and a “cripple” who walked on the toes of his right foot in a way Sheriff Findley believed could have produced unusual prints near the crime scene.
The men — odd job workers and scavengers — drove a 1926 Ford roadster like the one reported by witnesses; on the back was a box containing cartons and barrels of items the men pulled out of dump sites.
At 5:00 p.m. on May 14, Des Moines Police Detectives surrounded the home of Carl McCune’s mother and stepfather, Ora M. and Edward Gardner, at 322 E. 7th Street. Investigators knew both suspects were inside.
One officer spotted McCune through a window, drew his gun, and told him not to move. Other officers entered the house and arrested the two.
☛ Intense Interrogation ☚
MCune and Gibson were brought in to the police station, questioned, and closely observed. Both gave alibis and, even after hours of grilling, never wavered from their accounts.
Gibson said he and McCune spent part of Saturday, May 10 together and then split up. He then went to a movie and got drunk before being taken home by a friend. McCune told police where he went after leaving Gibson, but that information was not made public. Both men said they met again on Sunday and then left on Monday “on a tour of the state, seeking scavenger work.”
Attempts to disprove the men’s alibis were unsuccessful. Witnesses who saw men in a Ford Roadster offer Evelyn a ride were brought in to look at McCune and Gibson. Key witness L.J. Strayer could not positively identify them.
Police at that point confessed to media that their case against the two was weak and that they were continuing to search for other possible suspects.
No formal charges were filed against McCune and Gibson, pending a verdict by the grand jury which was being assembled.
☛ New Investigative Tool Employed ☚
In 1930, criminalist Leonard Keeler worked in the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory at Chicago’s Northwestern University and was considered the inventor of the “lie detector machine.” Keeler was brought by airplane to Des Moines to test McCune and Gibson as an unofficial investigator.
Polk County Attorney Carl D. Missildine approved the tests and awaited their results before presenting information to the grand jury.
After 10 more hours of questioning on May 18, the two men — sitting in a room together — were strapped one at a time to the lie detector. Keeler was assisted by Dr. John A. Larson of the Psychopathic Department at the state hospital in Iowa City.
Keeler’s machine showed the men were deceptive about something. Gibson then confessed they had not told the truth about a drinking party; when he said this, the detector showed he was telling the truth.
McCune stuck with his story, even though Gibson pleaded with him to tell the truth, saying:
“You might as well. It caught me in a lie and it will do the same to you. It won’t hurt you to tell them where you were.”
McCune remained silent. Neither man could be forced into confessing to Evelyn’s murder.
At arraignment on May 19 before Municipal Judge Ralph Powers, McCune and Gibson — looking strained and tired from the ordeal and accompanied by their mothers — pleaded not guilty to the murder of Evelyn Lee.
They were ordered held in the Polk County Jail without bond. May 27 was set for a preliminary hearing before the grand jury.
On May 21, police held a “showup,” a term then for a lineup. Five witnesses who said they saw Evelyn with two men on the south side of Des Moines on the day she disappeared identified McCune and Gibson.
Ed Gibson, brother of Elmer Gibson, was detained for questioning in his brother’s whereabouts on the night of the murder.
The police also ordered Pearl Schultz, housekeeper for McCune’s mother Ora Gardner, held as a material witness until the grand jury could meet.
After another hearing on May 27 before Judge Powers, the evidence was ordered to go forward.
On June 9, Carl McCune was indicted by the Polk County grand jury on charges of first degree murder. No indictment was returned again Elmer Gibson; County Attorney Carl Missildine said it was determined he was not involved in the death of Evelyn Lee.
Gibson’s honesty, after lying at first, concerning his whereabouts on the night of the murder — verified by the lie detector — helped him escape the fate of his friend.
The next day, Carl McCune pleaded not guilty to the charges before District Judge Lester Thompson and returned to jail without bail to wait for trial in the September court term.
☛ Trial ☚
The trial began in mid-September, with Polk County Attorney Carl Missildine prosecuting and Des Moines attorney Raymond Elsmere Hanke defending McCune.
Alice Gibbs told the court she was positive McCune drove past her house near the crime scene with a little girl sitting beside him.
Slides were shown said to contain hairs found on McCune and on the victim. Professor Earl C. Galloway of Des Moines College of Pharmacy testified to the similarity of the hairs.
The defense subpoenaed 51 witnesses, most of them to back up McCune’s alibi.
☛ Verdict ☚
On October 8, 1930, without much fanfare by the media or response by the public, Carl McCune was found not guilty of the charges. The jury deliberated only three hours before returning its verdict.
Costs for the trial were estimated to be more than $3,000, making it one of the most expensive in Polk County up to that time.
Yet, after all the investigation and legal battles, no one was found accountable for the murder of Evelyn Lee.
☛ Evelyn Lee’s Life ☚
Evelyn Marie Lee was born in South Dakota in 1921 to Grace Jane Dewey and Tobias Creen “Toby” Lee.
She spent her early years in Sioux City, first with her parents and then with her mother and stepfather, William Bollier. She had two brothers, Robert E. Lee and Luverne B. Lee, as well as a stepsister, Elizabeth “Betty” Bollier.
After her mother’s death in December 1929, Evelyn lived with her stepfather and her maternal grandmother, Phoebe Polley Dewey Holder, before moving with her brothers to Des Moines to reside with their father and stepmother, Tobias and Edith Lee.
She attended Irving School in Des Moines.
Evelyn’s funeral was held on May 15 and she was buried in Glendale Cemetery.
Please note: Use of information from this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “2 Are Charged With Murder of D. Moines Girl,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, May 20, 1930.
- ☛ “2 More Held In Des Moines Case,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, May 16, 1930.
- ☛ “Carl M’Cune Enters Plea Of Not Guilty,” Charles City Press, June 10, 1930.
- ☛ “Carl M’Cune Is Indicted,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, June 9, 1930.
- ☛ “Caught By The Lie Detector; Alters Story,” Charles City Press, May 19, 1930.
- ☛ “Child Murder Is Center Of Polk County Interest,” Atlantic News Telegraph, September 16, 1930.
- ☛ “Entire State Combed For Murderer-Fiend,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, May 14, 1930.
- ☛ “Fiendish Killers Of Small Capital Girl Are Known,” Atlantic News Telegraph, May 14, 1930.
- ☛ “Find The Body Of Kidnapped Iowa Girl,” Charles City Press, May 12, 1930.
- ☛ “Four More Identify 2 Des Moines Suspects,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, May 27, 1930.
- ☛ “Grandmother Heartbroken,” Sioux City Journal, September 13, 1930.
- ☛ “Hearing Date For Pair Set,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, May 20, 1930.
- ☛ “Identified By Five As Men Seen With Girl,” Charles City Press, May 21, 1930.
- ☛ “Great Manhunt Fails To Find Girl’s Slayer,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, May 13, 1930.
- ☛ “Kidnapped Capital Girl Found Slain Near Youngstown,” Atlantic News Telegraph, May 12, 1930.
- ☛ “Lie Detector Reveals Untruths But Fails to Secure Confession,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, May 19, 1930.
- ☛“Lie Detector Shows Untruth,” Oelwein Daily Register, May 19, 1930.
- ☛ “Lie Detector To Be Used On Iowa Suspects,” Charles City News, May 17, 1930.
- ☛ “Lie Detector To Be Used On Lee Murder Suspects,” Atlantic News Telegraph, May 17, 1930.
- ☛ “Lie Detector Will Be Used,” Oelwein Daily Tribune, May 17, 1930.
- ☛ “M’Cune And Gibson Plead Not Guilty To Murder Charges,” Atlantic News Telegraph, May 20, 1930.
- ☛ “M’Cune Found ‘Not Guilty,’” Mason City Globe-Gazette, October 8, 1930.
- ☛ “M’Cune Indicted For Slaying Girl,” Atlantic News Telegraph, June 9, 1930.
- ☛ “McCune, Gibson Hearing Is Due in Des Moines,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, May 27, 1930.
- ☛ “No Identification Of Lee Girl Murder,” Oelwein Daily Register, May 22, 1930.
- ☛ “Officers Hunt For Killer Of Child Aged 9,” Sioux City Journal, May 13, 1930.
- ☛ “Police Question 2 Men in Des Moines Slaying,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, May 15, 1930.
- ☛ “Proof of Alibi Sought by McCune Defense in Slaying of Evelyn Lee,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, October 4, 1930.
- ☛ “Refuses to Dismiss Case Against McCune,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, October 2, 1930.
- ☛ “Release Most Of Men Taken; Still Hunting,” Charles City Press, May 13, 1930.
- ☛ “State Rests In M’Cune Trial,” Charles City Press, October 2, 1930.
- ☛ “Terrible Crime In Des Moines,” Palo Alto Tribune, May 14, 1930.
- ☛ “Two Held In Girl’s Murder At Des Moines,” Oelwein Daily Register, May 15, 1930.
- ☛ “Two Suspects Being Grilled,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, May 15, 1930.
- ☛ U.S. Census.
- ☛ “View Points And Observations,” Sumner Gazette, May 33, 1930.
- ☛ “Will Be Arraigned,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, May 27, 1930.
- ☛ “Witness in Murder Trial Positive She Saw Child in Auto,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, September 27, 1930.