23-year-old African-American Barber
Cause of Death: Sandbagged
Motive: Romantic Entanglement
Murder Scene and Date
Northern Edge of City Limits
September 16, 1898
By Nancy Bowers
Written April 2013
On Saturday, September 17, 1898, the body of 23-year-old African-American barber George B. Carter was found lying in a ditch near the Long residence at the north edge of Newton, Iowa.
Suspicious marks indicating violence covered Carter’s body; he had died late on the night of September 16 or during the early morning hours of September 17.
A postmortem ruled the cause of death was a crushed skull and that George Carter had been struck with a sandbag.
The Iowa State Bystander speculated that a woman was “connected to the case” — implying a love triangle — or could even be the killer. The newspaper also suggested that the murder was related to the period in Carter’s life when he barbered in Des Moines.
☛ Dramatic Funeral Interruption ☚
George Carter’s widowed 49-year-old mother Dorcas L. Carter, who worked as a domestic, scheduled her son’s funeral for Sunday, September 18. She asked his friends and acquaintances to serve as pallbearers.
During the solemn ceremony, authorities burst in and arrested pallbearer John Lemme, described by the Adams County Free Press as one of Carter’s “closest friends.”
The dramatic action ruined the dignity of the funeral and caused John Lemme’s own mother to collapse into hysteria.
The arrest warrant was sworn out solely on the circumstantial fact that Lemme was one of the last people seen with Carter and was served during the emotional funeral in hopes that Lemme would be overcome by guilt and confess on the spot.
However, few in Newton believed that John Lemme was capable of killing his friend.
☛ Coroner’s Jury Debacle ☚On Monday, September 19, Jasper County Coroner Hayden Reynolds convened a jury to hear evidence. While John Lemme was questioned, his mother cried and protested. The jury had no luck in making any charges stick, and Lemme did not confess.
The Des Moines Daily News wrote:
The coroner’s jury ultimately was unable to identify a suspect in the Carter murder and the case was unsolved.
“The coroner’s jury in the George Carter inquest came nearer hanging themselves by ropes of sand gathered up by the curious than anybody [else] for the crime.
The party arrested is a bright young colored boy, claiming Indian blood, and of fairly good reputation.
The detectives excused themselves for making that sensational arrest at the funeral on Sunday on the ground that they expected to gain evidence thereby in the way of confession amidst the excitement that would fasten the guilt where it belongs. They got no confession, but came near having another funeral with the body of the arrested boy’s mother for the subject.
The arrested boy was brought before the coroner’s jury on Monday and after thorough examination was discharged, and the inquest was adjourned for one week.”
The Iowa State Bystander indignantly wrote of the unsolved murder and its implications for other citizens:
“A woman or man that would commit such a crime — when apprehended and brought before the courts should have the severest penalty of the law pronounced upon her or him as the case might be: for there is no excuse that will justify such an act. If such cold-hearted villains escape justice it will be unsafe for people to step from their doors.”
☛ Laid to Rest ☚
George Carter was buried in the Newton Union Cemetery. When his mother Dorcas passed away in 1904, she was buried next to him and they share a tombstone.
Please note: Use of information from this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “Brief State Happenings,” Rolfe Reveille, October 6, 1898.
- ☛ “Case Broke Down,” Des Moines Daily News, September 20, 1898.
- ☛ “George Carter Was Murdered,” Iowa State Bystander, September 23, 1898.
- ☛ “Newton’s Murder Mystery,” Iowa State Bystander, September 23, 1898.
- ☛ “Our Iowa Letter,” Adams County Free Press, September 29, 1898.
- ☛ Past and Present of Jasper County, Iowa, Volume 1. General James B. Weaver, Editor-in-Chief. Indianapolis: B.F. Bowen & Co., 1912.
- ☛ “The State of Iowa,” Cedar Falls Semi-Weekly Gazette, October 4, 1898.
- ☛ “The State of Iowa,” Rolfe Reveille, October 6, 1898.