“That Old —“: Murder of John Rohrer 1893

Murder Victim

John William Rohrer
58 year-old Chief Engineer
Sioux City Water Works
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Robbery

Murder Scene and Date

West 4th Street Bridge
Sioux City, Iowa
Woodbury County
October 3, 1893


By Nancy Bowers
Written July 2014

location of Sioux City, Iowa

location of Sioux City, Iowa

On the evening of October 2, 1893, 58-year-old John Rohrer played cards with friends in downtown Sioux City. About 8:30 p.m., he left the game and began walking along the dark streets towards his home at 608 West 5th.

At 9:00, passers-by found Rohrer lying on the West 4th Street Bridge. He had been assaulted, robbed, and shot in the side. So fiercely had Rohrer defended himself that his walking cane was broken into pieces. Along with his watch, an unknown amount of money was missing.

The Waterloo Semi-Weekly Courier described Rohrer’s dying moments:

“He was carried to the police station and there surrounded by the officers and scores of people, he was aroused by his [wife Amanda’s] endearing words and was able to whisper hoarsely: ‘That old —’ but his lips could not form the name he would speak and he soon was dead.”

from the Mills County Tribune

from the Mills County Tribune

Rohrer lived four hours — into the early hours of October 3 — without identifying who robbed and shot him. Sioux City Police believed it was two men.

The Le Mars Semi-Weekly Sentinel echoed the sentiments of many Sioux City residents who felt the town was unsafe:

“The city council are blamed by many for cutting down the police force and not properly lighting the city and lay this murder at their feet.”

☛ The Usual Suspects ☚

A $500 reward was offered for information leading to the capture of the unknown assailants.

Sioux City Police cast a wide net in Woodbury County and in northeast Nebraska, arresting and questioning the “usual suspects.” There was no shortage of criminals — thieves, gamblers, and general ne’er-do-wells — in the area.

Among those detained and questioned were former prize-fighter Jack Keefer and his associate Kid Hoyle — the latter described by the Burlington Hawk-Eye as a “well-known tough.”

During a deathbed confession, a woman named Jessie Williams named three men she said killed and robbed Rohrer: William Leach, John King, and William Gamb. When tracked down, all three had alibis.

from the Waterloo Daily Courier

from the Waterloo Daily Courier

In early January of 1894, St. Paul, Minnesota, authorities arrested two men for the crime: John Casey, a.k.a. “John Ryan,” and John Murphy, a.k.a. “John Moran.”

Sioux City Chief of Police Harvey Hawman brought John Casey back from St. Paul. The Burlington Hawk-Eye described the suspect for its readers:

“In appearance Casey is a tall, sparely built man, with a drooping black mustache, tinged with gray. He is over thirty years old, and when arrested he was dressed in a rough black suit and coarse flannel shirt. His home, he claims, is in Pittsburgh, Pa.”

When questioned by a newspaper reporter, Casey refused to say anything other than that he knew nothing about the murder of John Rohrer. He told Chief Hawman he was in Cherokee, Iowa, the night of the homicide, but allegedly confessed to another officer that he was, indeed, in Sioux City. No case could be made against him and charges were dropped.

On January 2, 1900, the Waterloo Semi-Weekly Courier listed the John Rohrer homicide as one of Sioux City’s “dark murder mysteries.”

☛ John Rohrer’s Life ☚

John William Rohrer was born June 10, 1835 in Maryland to Christiana Adams and Daniel Ellis Rohrer. In contemporary newspaper accounts, he was referred to as “an old resident” and “an old pioneer” of Sioux City. At the time of his death, he was Chief Engineer at the city’s Water Works; previous to that, he owned a blacksmith shop. He is buried in Floyd 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.



  • ☛ “Around The State,” Pocahontas County Sun, October 5, 1893.
  • ☛ “Arrested For Murder,” Waterloo Daily Courier, January 2, 1894, p. 2.
  • ☛ “Dark Murder Mysteries,” Waterloo Semi-Weekly Courier, January 12, 1900, p. 4.
  • ☛ “Iowa News In Brief,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, December 25, 1893, p. 4.
  • ☛ “Later News,” Monticello Express, October 5, 1893, p. 2.
  • ☛ “Murdered and Robbed,” Mills County Tribune, October 5, 1893.
  • ☛ “Northwestern News,” Le Mars Semi-Weekly Sentinel, October 5, 1893.
  • ☛ “Not The Murderers At All,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, December 25, 1893, p. 3.
  • ☛ “Resisted and Was Shot,” Chariton Patriot, October 4, 1893, p. 2.
  • ☛ “Ryan Brought Back,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, January 4, 1894, p. 1.
  • Sioux City Directory 1893, p. 269.
  • ☛ “Supposed Murderer Captured,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, October 8, 1893 p. 2.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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