Never Three Without Four? Murder of George Shackell 1929

Murder Victim

George Garlick Shackell
67-year-old Florist and Truck Gardener
Cause of death: Bludgeoned
Motive: Robbery

Murder Scene and Date

Glenwood, Iowa
Mills County
July 3, 1929


By Nancy Bowers
Written June 2011

location of Glenwood, Iowa

location of Glenwood, Iowa

On Wednesday, July 3, 1929, 67-year-old truck farmer and florist George G. Shackell was found semi-conscious on the floor in a small house on the edge of Glenwood, where he lived alone.

He was severely bruised about the head and had been lying helpless for approximately 48 hours.

Before he died at a Council Bluffs hospital of pneumonia, Shackell told authorities he was beaten with a baseball bat.

from the Muscatine Journal and News-Tribune

A coroner’s jury directed Shackell’s brain to be examined at the Medical College of the State University of Iowa in Iowa City. Doctors there concluded Shackell had a cerebral hemorrhage and the death was ruled “natural.”

Not everyone agreed with that verdict and rumors continued to circulate in the community, kept alive by those who believed an attack and a brain hemorrhage were not mutually exclusive.

Shackell’s death was reported across the state as a murder and the manner of assault seemed similar to recent attacks.

☛ Part of a Pattern? ☚

United Press story, Ames Daily Tribune and Evening Times

During a two-week period in the summer of 1929, three other Iowa recluses were attacked:

    • ☛ George Hardy, 68, a rural storekeeper near Parnell in Iowa County, who lived alone and distrusted banks, was robbed and slain on June 26. Click here to read about the unsolved murder of George Hardy.

☛ On June 30, Samuel Holland was beaten and robbed in his home on the outskirts of Manly in Worth County, but he survived.

☛ Winfield Scott Rouse, 79, of Indian Village Township near Montour in Tama County was robbed and beaten; he died on July 2. Click here to read about the unsolved murder of Winfield Scott Rouse.

☛ George G. Shackell’s Life ☚

George Shackell is buried in Glenwood Cemetery (courtesy Iowa Gravestone Photo Project).

It’s always a pleasure to receive communications from readers of Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases that allow me to more fully round out the details of a victim’s life.

In late June of 2013, I was contacted by Andrew Shackell of London, who is a native of Bath, England, and an avid researcher of his family’s history, which lacked information on an individual named George Garlick Shackell.

Andrew located this website and contacted me. Through Andrew’s excellent genealogical researching, he established that Iowa victim George Shackell is that family member missing from his family tree.

What follows is a sketch of Shackell’s life based on Andrew’s research, as well as my own.

Third generation gardener George Garlick Shackell was born in Bath, England, on August 12, 1861, the fourth child of greengrocer, nurseryman, and florist Robert Shackell and his second wife Mary Elizabeth Garlick. George had 13 siblings and half-siblings, although few survived to adulthood.

After Shackell’s father died in 1880, George and his sister Mary Charlotte helped their mother carry on the family floristry business in Bath.

In 1889 at the age of 29, George immigrated to the United States.

Andrew Shackell speculates:

“Because nothing is known of George between 1881 and the year of his departure, his reasons for undertaking such a move are uncertain and we can only speculate at this time. However, as with many other younger migrants of the era the pull of the unknown and the lure of riches elsewhere must surely have played their part in his decision.”

James Shackell, George’s older half-brother, had come to the United States in 1861 and worked as a florist in Queens, New York. Likely, George felt comfortable trying his luck in a new country because he had family established there already.

George eventually made his way to western Iowa, where he continued growing and selling flowers. Andrew Shackell believes that George was drawn to Iowa because his sister-in-law’s family had settled there.

In 1915, George Shackell was a florist in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and lived at 20 S. 29th Street. By 1920, Shackell had relocated to Plattville Township in Mills County and was listed as a truck farmer in the U.S. Census. By 1925, he was in Emerson; advertisements he placed in newspapers indicate he operated out of Pacific Junction as well.

Shackell never married and news headlines around the state termed him a “recluse.” The Atlantic News Telegraph remembered him as a “florist and nature lover.”

He is buried in the Glenwood Cemetery under a large and imposing stone which carries the incorrect date of birth 1860.

☛ The Motive? ☚

Andrew Shackell has uncovered another detail which may well establish the motive in George Shackell’s murder.

When his sister Mary Charlotte Shackell died in 1925, George inherited £2,000 from her estate — roughly $12,500, which was then an incredibly large sum of money.

The lives and activities of those in small communities like Glenwood is often public knowledge and such a great deal of money would be bound to attract the attention of a robber.

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



  • ☛ Andrew Shackell, Personal Correspondence, June-July, 2013.
  • ☛ “Attacks on Four Ia. [sic] Recluses Are Still Unsolved,” Ames Daily Tribune and Evening Times, July 10, 1929.
  • ☛ “Death Was Natural,” Atlantic News Telegraph, July 18, 1929.
  • ☛ Glenwood Opinion, Thursday, October 17, 1918.
  • ☛ “Glenwood Recluse Fourth Victim of Unknown Assailant,” Muscatine Journal and News-Tribune, July 10, 1929.
  • ☛ “Jury Probes Death of Glenwood Recluse,” Waterloo Evening Courier, July 10, 1929.
  • ☛ “Neighborhood News,” Hamburg Reporter, July 25, 1929.
  • ☛ “Probe Fourth Recluse Attack,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, July 10, 1929.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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