Cause of Death: Unknown, Body Not Found
Murder Scene and Date
Jasper County, Iowa
By Nancy Bowers
Written September 2011
In the early days of Iowa statehood, a man historical accounts record only as being named “Mr. Knisely” lived in Washington Township of Jasper County, just over the Polk County line.
The closest large settlement in the area was Colfax, several miles to the northeast. Knisely’s cabin was located near Indian Creek, which flows into the South Skunk River.
At the time of his murder, he was said to be a German; but the surname is usually Swiss and can be spelled Nisley, Neesley, Kneesley, and Nisely.
Mr. Knisely lived alone and kept to himself.
Then in the summer of 1848, he disappeared.
☛ Questions About Knisely Lead to Lynch Mob ☚
Other township residents speculated amongst themselves about what happened to the missing Knisely and questioned each other.
When asked what they knew, two brothers named Hamlin — who lived near Knisely’s cabin — were evasive. One source called them “insolent” and said they told others to mind their own business.
The Hamlins had a poor reputation, so most folks assumed they robbed and murdered Knisely and got rid of the evidence.
The South Skunk River was dragged for a body, without results.
A lynch mob formed not long afterwards. The Hamlins were hung up by their thumbs and then, for a time, by their necks. They finally confessed to murdering Knisely, but could not tell where they hid his body.
While the suspects pled for mercy, some in the crowd spoke up for the rule of law — although many were inclined to finish the lynching.
Calmer heads prevailed and the Hamlin brothers were turned over to law enforcement, who charged them with murder.
Because the Fort Des Moines jail was not considered substantial enough to hold the brothers, they were placed in the one in Oskaloosa.
☛ Mysterious Witness From Missouri ☚
The Hamlin brothers hired as their lawyer Enoch Worthen “Old Enoch” Eastman, who served as Iowa Lieutenant Governor from 1864 to 1866 and then became a State Senator.
During the Hamlins’ trial, a man suddenly appeared and testified that Knisely was his brother and had passed through Missouri to visit him on the way to California and was, as far as he knew, alive and well.
After this surprise testimony by the mysteriously-appearing Missourian, the Hamlin brothers were released. Another man thought to be an accomplice to the murder was released after providing an alibi during his preliminary hearing.
☛ Was the Lynch Mob Right? ☚
Most people in Jasper and Polk counties — especially those who made up the lynching party — always believed the Hamlins had gotten away with murder. The story lives on in history books about the area and the debate has never ended about the Hamlins’ guilt or innocence.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “A Bloody Murder and Manhunt,” The History of Polk County Iowa, Union Historical Company, 1880.
- ☛ “The Hamlins,” Chapter XXII, Annals of Polk County, Iowa and City of Des Moines by Will Porter. Des Moines: George A. Miller Printing Company, 1898.
- ☛ History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century, B.F. Gue, Volume IV, 1903.