Walter L. Baldwin
49-year-old U.S. Postal Employee
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Murder Scene and Date
Mail Route: Union Station to Post Office
Council Bluffs, Iowa
July 16, 1921
By Nancy Bowers
Written May 2011
In 1921, 49-year-old U.S. Mail Clerk Walter Baldwin was an important man in the day-to-day functioning of Council Bluffs. He drove the mail truck between Union Pacific Station and the Post Office.
His job made him essential to businesses, professions, and private citizens who — like everyone in that time — depended nearly entirely on mail to communicate.
Baldwin boarded with his common-law wife of 13 years Mary Heisel (known as “Mrs. Baldwin”) and Mary’s 18-year-old daughter Elizabeth at the home of the Loran family at 1613 Sixth Avenue in Council Bluffs.
☛ Ambushed ☚
Early on the morning of July 16, 1921, Walter Baldwin left Union Station with a load of mail for the Post Office. Beside him sat an unknown young woman — it was not uncommon for mail carriers to provide rides.
Along the route to the Post Office, Walter Baldwin was ambushed by three young men, whom he held off with what newspapers termed an “automatic pistol” until help came. By then, the young woman passenger had disappeared.
The Waterloo Evening Courier reported:
“Postoffice [sic] officials said Baldwin’s heroic resistance saved registered mail valued at many thousands of dollars.”
☛ Investigation ☚
Because Baldwin was a Federal employee, his murder came under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Government. Postal Inspector Claude H. Glenn was in charge of the agents working the case, and Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation Agents assisted.
The Federal Government offered a $5,000 reward for information in the slaying.
Al Boudle of Tate, Nebraska, and W.M. Boudle of Skidmore, Missouri — described by newspapers as “rich uncles of Walter Baldwin” — learned of their nephew’s murder through newspaper stories.
The two men traveled to Council Bluffs to confer with Postal Inspector Glenn. Afterwards, W.M. Boudle told the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette that he was convinced:
“That his nephew was the victim of a foul plot and that the evidence thus far obtained had not all been made public and . . . was confident the guilty person or persons would be located.”
The Boudle brothers said they would “pay well” for the arrest and conviction of the killer.
When it was learned there was a $3,000 Etna Insurance policy on Baldwin, Mary Heisel Baldwin came under suspicion; rumors circulated that it was taken out just weeks before the murder. However, Mary was able to prove that payments were made on the policy in January and May.
Mary told reporters:
“Why should I want to have a man killed who had been good to me? He took me in thirteen years ago and made a home for me.”
Her theory was that Baldwin’s murder was revenge for what she termed his “quick temper.”
On July 21, a grand jury eliminated Mary Heisel Baldwin as a suspect and returned an open verdict.
☛ Squabble over the Body ☚
Baldwin’s uncles tried to claim Baldwin for burial. However, Mary Heisel Baldwin believed that as his common law wife she should have authority over his body and financial affairs.
The Boudle brothers ultimately relented and let Mary have Baldwin’s body, saying they would instead devote their attention and resources to finding the killer.
☛ Mysterious Clue ☚In February of 1922, Council Bluffs Police Captain Daniel Shaffer received an anonymous letter with a return address of the New Bell Hotel in Odebolt, Iowa, reading:
“Captain Shaffer: The girl who sat in the seat with Baldwin, the mail man [sic] who was shot dead, is back here. She is stopping in Omaha. I don’t know where. She can tell you the man who killed him. I know what I am talking about. Her first name is Hazel S —– or R —–. She wants to tell you, but is afraid of the man. That’s why she can’t come back here. —–J —–L.L.”
Because it was known that a young woman was riding with Baldwin when he was murdered, the letter was assumed to be an authentic clue, although results of its investigation were not released to the public.
☛ Walter Baldwin’s Life ☚Walter L. Baldwin was born August 24, 1871 in Iowa to Martha L. and George S. Baldwin. He had three brothers — Henry, Alfonzo, and Ira Carroll Baldwin — and one sister, Mattie Emma Baldwin Ellis.
He lived as the husband of Mary Heisel for 13 years.
In January 1923, Iowa Industrial Commissioner A.B. Funk ruled that Mary was entitled to compensation from the Etna Insurance Company, which earlier contested her claim on the grounds that she had no legal standing.
Walter Baldwin is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ Adams County Union-Republican, January 31, 1923.
- ☛ “Baldwin’s Uncle Offers Reward For Murderer,” Moville Mail, July 21, 1921.
- ☛ Dennis E. Thompson, Department of English Des Moines Area Community College-Boone and Retired U.S. Postal Carrier, Personal Correspondence, June 2011.
- ☛ “Dispute Over Body Of Murdered Man,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, July 19, 1921.
- ☛ “Driver of Truck in Fight to Protect Mail,” Waterloo Evening Courier, July 15, 1921.
- ☛ “Hawkeye State News,” Sun Herald, March 9, 1922.
- ☛ “See Murder Clue in Mysterious Note,” Waterloo Evening Courier, February 24, 1922.
- ☛ United States Postal Service Press Release, October 26, 2009.
- ☛ U.S. Census.
- ☛ “W. Boudle Not To Claim Body Of Slain Nephew,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, July 20, 1921.
- ☛ “Wife Is Exonerated In Killing Of Husband,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, July 21, 1921.