Poison in the Whiskey: Murder of Leonard DeLong 1904

Murder Victim

Leonard L. DeLong
52-year-old Farmer
Cause of Death: Poison
Motive: Obtaining an Inheritance

Murder Scene and Date

Washington Township
Near Osceola, Iowa
Clarke County
September 9, 1904


By Nancy Bowers
Written July 2011

location of Osceola in Clarke County, Iowa

location of Osceola in Clarke County, Iowa

When wealthy Clarke County farmer Leonard L. DeLong died suddenly the day after his 52nd birthday in 1904, family and neighbors in Washington Township assumed he had a heart attack.

His funeral was held, and he was buried in an Osceola cemetery not far from his home.

However, DeLong’s sons Homer and Leroy had lingering suspicions about the death. They found it odd that their strong and robust father died 30 minutes after consuming a whiskey with quinine water.

And — significantly — he recently made out a new will.

☛ Secret Exhumation and Aftermath ☚

from the Cedar Rapids Gazette

from the Cedar Rapids Gazette

The DeLong brothers obtained a court order to secretly exhume their father’s body at the end of December 1904, almost four months after his death.

DeLong’s vital organs were sent to the lab of Des Moines Professor Sherman Riley Macy, an expert in poisons. Macy found strychnine.

On January 14, 1905, Professor Macy accompanied the DeLong brothers to the office of Iowa Governor Albert B. Cummins, who listened carefully to the facts. After the meeting, Governor Cummins issued a $200 reward for information leading to the person who laced Leonard DeLong’s whiskey with strychnine.

The Governor’s public proclamation was the first time Clarke County citizens learned Leonard DeLong’s death was not from natural causes.

☛ Investigation ☚

Professor Sherman Macy

The Clarke County Sheriff Jacob S. Banker, and a Mr. Scott, County Attorney, gathered evidence for a prosecution, focusing on those closest to DeLong.

They settled on son-in-law Clark Williams, the 32-year-old husband of Leonard DeLong’s daughter Sylvia Mae. Williams was present at the DeLong farm the night of the poisoning, but left so quickly after the whiskey was drunk that he was back at his own farm before the victim died.

His motive? To obtain an inheritance through DeLong’s new will.

In November 1905 — well over a year after DeLong’s death — an Osceola grand jury indicted Clark Williams for murder. His bond was set at $15,000; attorneys arranged an agreement reducing that amount to $10,000. The murder trial was set to take place in February 1906 in Osceola.

Judge Hiram K. Evans

Newspapers, however, reported that Williams was sick with appendicitis-like symptoms and was too ill to stand trial if he did not improve. After he recovered, Williams — whose name was incorrectly reported as “Williamson” in some early news accounts — was put on trial in May.

On May 7, 1906, Judge Hiram K. Evans dismissed the case against Williams, saying the evidence presented at trial was not as strong as that presented to the grand jury and was insufficient to convict.

The community was shocked by this sudden and unexpected turn of events.

Clark Williams and Sylvia Mae DeLong divorced before 1930, and she married Jacob Steven Hart. Williams died in Des Moines on August 6, 1947 at the age of 74 and is buried in the same cemetery as Leonard DeLong, the man he was once accused of poisoning.

☛ Leonard L. DeLong’s Life ☚

Leonard L. DeLong was born September 8, 1852 in Tuscarawas, Ohio, to Hannah Engles and Ephraim DeLong, Sr. He had three brothers — Fenton DeLong, Jasper N. DeLong, and Ephraim DeLong, Jr. — and six sisters: Almira Jane DeLong Kelley, Margaret A. DeLong, May E. DeLong, Hannah Ellen DeLong Coker, Nancy Sarah DeLong Forney, and Ruth A. DeLong.

Iowa Gravestone Photo Project

The DeLong family left Ohio and settled in Iowa in the mid-1850s.

In 1873, Leonard married Frances Izora Foreman and they had five children: Homer Clidell DeLong, Sylvia Mae DeLong Williams Hart, Ellen DeLong, Lydia May DeLong Hulsey, Leroy DeLong, and Nellie Grace DeLong Jenks.

Leonard DeLong is buried with his wife Frances in Osceola’s Maple Hill Cemetery. On DeLong’s name on his tombstone are engraved the words:

“Asleep In Jesus”
“Gone But Not Forgotten.”


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



  • ☛ “200 Dollars For Murderer,” Waterloo Times-Tribune, January 24, 1905.
  • ☛ “Acquitted of Murder Charge,” Milford Mail, May 17, 1906.
  • ☛ “Believe Father Was Slain,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, January 20, 1905.
  • ☛ “Clark Williams Very Ill,” Sioux County Herald, January 31, 1906.
  • ☛ Hiram K. Evans photo, www.legis.iowa.gov.
  • ☛ “Iowa State News,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, January 17, 1905.
  • ☛ “Neighborhood News,” Adams County Free Press, January 18, 1905.
  • ☛ “The News in Iowa,” Titonka Topic, November 23, 1905.
  • ☛ “Sherman R. Macy photo, Biographies and Portraits of the Progressive Men of Iowa, Conaway & Shaw, 1899.
  • ☛ “Son-In-Law Is Held,” Sioux Valley News, November 23, 1905.
  • ☛ “State News In Brief,” Semi-Weekly Reporter, February 2, 1906.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “Williamson [sic] Indicted for Murder,” Malvern Leader, November 23, 1905.

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