“Riding the Blinds”: Murder of Elmer Dudrey 1896

Murder Victim

Willis Elmer Dudrey
22-year-old Farmhand
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Drunken Quarrel

Murder Scene and Date

Train Station
Webster City, Iowa
Hamilton County
June 7, 1896


By Nancy Bowers
Written June 2011

location of Webster City, Iowa

location of Webster City, Iowa

“Riding the blinds” was a popular way for tramps to travel the American rails in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Situated right behind the tinderbox, the “blind” car had one door — not accessible through the train itself — that faced towards the engine. A small space on the outside provided a foothold and protection from the wind.

It was dangerous and illegal to “ride the blinds,” but it was free transportation and commonly done.

Railroad police checked the blind cars at each stop to make sure no one was stealing a ride. Knowing this, the blind-riders jumped off just before the train arrived at a station.

☛ Dead Blind-Rider ☚

Photo by Popular Mechanics

Train No. 2 eastbound on the Illinois Central pulled into the Webster City train station about midnight on Monday, June 7, 1896. Officer Butler, as he always did, checked the blind baggage car behind the engine for tramps.

That night he saw a man sitting against the door of the car and jumped up to shoo him off. When he touched the man, he saw he was dead — although still warm to the touch.

Butler summoned assistance and the limp body was carried onto the platform; the Hamilton County Sheriff and Coroner were notified.

The man had been pistol-whipped on the cheek and temple and had a bullet hole in his sternum.

An autopsy showed the bullet entered the sternum and glanced inward and downward through the heart. The killer stood over and above the victim as he shot him.

☛ Victim Identified ☚

Elmer Dudrey was found dead
at the Webster City train station.

Shortly afterwards, a young man named G.W. Adcock appeared at the depot looking for his 22-year-old friend Elmer Dudrey. The two had been working on a farm near Storm Lake and were “beating it” home to Macon, Illinois, with their wages, stealing train rides to conserve money.

Adcock said that as the Illinois Central train pulled into Cargo Junction near Fort Dodge a number of tramps jumped from the platform onto the train. Close to Duncombe, Adcock heard a shot. As they neared Webster City, Adcock jumped off and waited for Elmer Dudrey to follow him; but his friend never appeared.

Adcock was first held on suspicion in the crime, but a man named Hewling from Webster City corroborated Adcock’s story, He said a tramp held a revolver to his head when he tried to stand up and told him, “Sit down or I’ll shoot you.”

In another account, Hewling said:

“I heard men quarreling back of me, and during the quarrel heard the shot. One of the tramps pointed a revolver at me and told me to sit down. I did so.”

Adcock and Hewling were both cleared of any involvement in the murder by the coroner’s jury. The tramps by that time had scattered and the guilty party — described as “drunk and quarrelsome” — could not be found, even though a posse was formed to search.

☛ W. Elmer Dudrey’s Life ☚

from the Daily Review

Willis Elmer Dudrey — always called “Elmer” — was born February 27, 1874 in Macon County, Illinois, to Emma Funk and Abraham B. Dudrey. He had four sisters — Ida Luretta Dudrey, Eva Lena Dudrey Mathias, Ollie Leona Dudrey, and Daisy Lenora Dudrey — and three brothers: James Ruport, Edward Ellsworth, and Normal Hubert Dudrey.

The Dudrey family was plagued with tragedy. Normal Dudrey died in 1881 at the age of 4, and in 1882 James passed away at 4 months. A few months after James’s death, Elmer’s father Abraham died at the age of 34 and his 35-year-old mother Emma died a year later, followed by his 10-year-old brother Edward not long afterwards.

In 1894, Elmer married Mary English in Macon. The couple had a two-year-old son, and Elmer worked hard to support his young family.

Mary Dudrey sent a telegram to Webster City claiming her husband’s body. Elmer’s sister Eva Mathias received word from Iowa that Elmer’s body would be shipped immediately.

The Daily Review reported:

“The body will likely arrive this morning, and if possible will be taken to the home of Fred Mathias on Bradford Street, where funeral services will be held at 10 o’clock. If the body must be interred at once it will be taken to Mt. Gilead direct from the train.”

In a separate article, the Review noted:

“W.E. Dudrey, or Elmer as he was usually called, was well known in Decatur [Illinois]. He was a brother of Mrs. Fred Mathias and was a young man of pleasing address and well liked by all who knew him.”

The Oelwein Reporter called Dudrey “an industrious and sober man.”

Elmer Dudrey was buried close to his parents in the Mount Gilead Cemetery near Decatur in Macon 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.



  • ☛ “Brevities,” Oelwein Register, June 18, 1896.
  • ☛ “Condensed Iowa,” Daily Iowa Capital, June 11, 1896.
  • ☛ “Dudrey’s Body,” Daily Review, June 11, 1896.
  • ☛ “Killed By Tramps,” Rock Valley Register, June 12, 1896.
  • ☛ “The News at Macon,” Decatur City Weekly Republican, August 10, 1896.
  • ☛ “The News In Iowa,” Perry Bulletin, June 18, 1896.
  • Popular Mechanics, January, 1911.
  • ☛ “Shot Through The Heart,” Daily Review, June 13, 1896.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ Webster City Tribune, June 12, 1896.
  • ☛ Webster City Tribune, October 31, 1912.

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