Winfield Scott Rouse
75-year-old Subsistence Farmer
Cause of Death: Beaten
Murder Scene and Date
Indian Village Township
July 2, 1929
By Nancy Bowers
Written April 2011
Winfield Scott Rouse was a hermit, an eccentric recluse who lived in a shack on a farm near Montour Lake in Tama County.
It was common lore among locals that around 1870 Scott Rouse — as he was known — fell in love with a girl who spurned him.
After that, he withdrew from the world, boarded and barricaded his house to keep others out, and posted signs on his property that said:
“WOMEN KEEP OUT”
“NO WOMEN OR CHILDREN ALLOWED”
Local lore also said that Rouse had a secret horde of wealth and that, after a local bank failed many years before, he kept all his money in a safe at home, refusing to even walk into a bank.
The singular beauty in his existence — although he may not even have been aware of it — was a large tulip tree on his farm that was cataloged by a local botanist as the lone one in the county.
Rouse’s only friends were Sac and Fox Indians from the Meskwaki Settlement nearby.
☛ Gruesome Discovery ☚
On Tuesday, July 2, 1929, John Winn from the Meskwaki Settlement came to Rouse’s farm to work on fences. When he went into the house for instructions, Winn saw feet sticking out from behind a small kitchen stove. Badly frightened, Winn ran for help.
When other men arrived at the shack, they found Rouse lying behind the stove. He was bound hand and foot with leather thongs, his long white whiskers were stuffed into his mouth as a gag, and he was severely beaten.
After Rouse was taken to a Marshalltown hospital and partially revived by a doctor, he tried to communicate what happened, speaking — according to the Oelwein Daily Register — “in broken sentences, punctuated by long halts when his weakened condition made him stop.”
Rouse said he was hoeing his garden on Saturday, June 29 when three “old men” drove onto his property in a car and then overpowered him. He could see that they were actually young men dressed to appear elderly.
The men took Rouse into the house and tied him up. They gagged and beat him in an effort to learn where his money was and then left the house with his safe.
The safe was found outside the shack, broken open with Rouse’s own ax after the robbers were unable to get it into their automobile.
Rouse died on July 2 of a severe injury on the back of his head and extreme exhaustion from his three-day ordeal.
☛ Investigation ☚
On July 10, local mortician and Coroner Eli J. Miller convened a jury, which returned an open verdict.
Sheriff Emanuel O. Harris and Tama County Attorney Vernon Kepford investigated the robbery-murder, working on the assumptions that greed was the motive and that the killers were familiar with Rouse, his eccentricities, and the tales about stashed wealth.
Rouse was able to describe for investigators the car the men drove. Law enforcement tried to trace parts of the automobile’s windshield, which was shattered when the robbers tried to cram Rouse’s safe into the car, as well as a length of weather stripping that left an impression on the ground.
Any possible fingerprints were washed off the safe and ax by heavy rains during the three days they sat outside.
Harris and Kepford requested that Iowa Governor John Hammill and James E. Risden, Chief of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, issue a reward for information in the slaying.
☛ Vast Hidden Wealth? ☚
It was impossible to determine the amount of money the robbery-murder netted; Rouse could not say how much was in the safe because he had been unable to open it for years.
When a work crew cleaned out Rouse’s shack, they found $15 hidden in the leaves of an account book and $9 in a can stuck in a hole in the wall.
Rouse’s estate, settled in September 1929, was worth $9,675.58; his 106 acres of farm land were valued at $6,712.50, and the rest was made up in money and credits.
☛ Targeted Victims? ☚
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, like Rouse lived alone and distrusted banks, was robbed and slain on June 26. His murder is unsolved. 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.
- ☛ George G. Shackell of Glenwood in Mills County was beaten on the head with a baseball bat and died in an Omaha hospital on July 3. Click here to read about the unsolved murder of George G. Shackell.
☛ Winfield Scott Rouse’s Life ☚
Winfield Scott Rouse was born in September 1853 in Tama County to Ohio native Sarah A. Hudson and New York-born Phillip Rouse, who were farmers. He may have been named for the famous General Winfield Scott who ran for President on the Whig ticket the year before Rouse’s birth.
There were six other children: John C., Phillip H., Rosanna, Mary H., Harrison, and Anderson Rouse.
Scott Rouse was a life-long bachelor; in fact, he instructed the 1925 Census taker to write “bachelor” for his marital status rather than “single.” He retreated into his own world of subsistence farming and seclusion.
Rouse’s body was taken to Harrison Undertaking Parlors, and funeral services were held in Tama on July 10. He was laid to rest in Rouse Cemetery, a small family burying ground near Montour.
When Rouse was murdered, his brother Philip Rouse resided in the Tama County Home. The only other known survivors were several nieces and nephews living in California.
A few weeks after Rouse’s death, a man walked into the Le Grand Reporter and announced he, too, had a Tulip Tree on his property. The local botanist examined it and declared it was indeed a Liriodendron tulipifera. Although it was much smaller, its existence eliminated Rouse’s Tulip Tree as the only one in Tama County.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “Aged Recluse Found Murdered Near Montour,” Oelwein Daily Register, July 3, 1929.
- ☛ “Attacks on Four Ia. [sic] Recluses Are Still Unsolved,” Ames Daily Tribune and Evening Times, July 10, 1929.
- ☛ “Continue To Hunt Slayers,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, July 4, 1929.
- ☛ “Had Large Estate,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, September 28, 1929.
- ☛ “Hidden Cash of Scott Rouse Is Found in House,” Waterloo Evening Courier, August 23, 1929.
- ☛ “Inquest In Tama Hermit’s Murder, Waterloo Evening Courier, July 5, 1929.
- ☛ “Jury Probes Death of Glenwood Recluse,” Waterloo Evening Courier, July 10, 1929.
- ☛ “Rouse Funeral At Tama Today,” Oelwein Daily Register, July 11, 1929.
- ☛ “Rouse Funeral Held at Tama; Jury’s Verdict Open,” Waterloo Evening Courier, July 11, 1929.
- ☛ “Rouse Murder May Be Added to Tama County Mystery Crimes,” Waterloo Evening Courier, July 10, 1929.
- ☛ “Search for Slayer of Aged Recluse Still in Progress,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, August 24, 1929.
- ☛ “Slain Recluse Had Estate of $9,675,” Waterloo Evening Courier, September 27, 1929.
- ☛ “Slaying of Rouse Remains Mystery: Inquest Saturday,” Muscatine Journal and News Tribune, July 5, 1929.
- ☛ “State Reward for Slayer of Rouse Asked by Tama Co.,” Waterloo Evening Courier, July 11, 1929.
- ☛ “Tama Recluse Is Yegg Victim,” Ames Daily Tribune and Evening Times, July 3, 1929.
- ☛ “Trio That Killed Tama Miser Had Planned Crime,” Waterloo Evening Courier, July 4, 1929.
- ☛ “Tulip Tree in Le Grand,” Le Grand Reporter, July 26, 1929.
- ☛ U.S. Census.