Staged Scene: Murder of Charles Shamblen 1936

Murder Victim

Charles O. Shamblen
50-year-old Service Station Owner
Cause of Death: Faked Railroad Accident
Motive: Robbery

Murder Scene and Date

West of Burlington Depot
Malvern, Iowa
Mills County
December 12, 1936


By Nancy Bowers
Written August 2011

location of Malvern, Iowa

location of Malvern, Iowa

About 10:00 on the morning of Sunday, December 12, 1936, a Burlington Railroad freight train headed west out of Malvern through the snow-covered landscape.

Not far from the depot, the crew saw a body lying along the tracks and wired back to Malvern Station Agent William A. Caldwell, who in turn called Mills County Coroner Frank Raynor, a local funeral director.

When Raynor arrived at the scene, he found a man’s body on the tracks with the head completely severed by train wheels.

Charles and May Shamblen
(photo courtesy Roy Shamblen)

As Coroner, Raynor knew death by train is not uncommon near railroad tracks. Victims are killed when they fail to get out of the way, fall from moving cars, or intentionally step into the path of a train.

None of these scenarios seemed to fit.

Also, Raynor spotted something suspicious: north of the rails in the snow, he saw tracks of two men walking a few feet apart to and from the body. The prints led to car tracks where an automobile drove off the highway near the depot.

Raynor called Mills County Sheriff William S. DeMoss, who began an investigation.

from the Malvern Leader

The victim was identified as 50-year-old Charles Shamblen, a well-known Malvern resident who until recently operated the town’s Standard Oil Station.

Family and friends told Sheriff DeMoss that Shamblen had $90 in his possession on Saturday. Only a few coins were in his pockets when his body was found.

Coroner Raynor classified the death as foul play because there was no disturbance in the snow, as there would have been if Shamblen were hit by a train. He concluded that Shamblen was knocked unconscious, robbed, and placed on the tracks so the death looked like an accident or suicide.

☛ Possible Suspects ☚

Charles Shamblen, a widower, sold his service station to Lester Spencer two weeks before his death and told friends he was moving to Oregon and that two men were riding with him.

Sheriff DeMoss investigated the presence of two strangers in Malvern, one a former convict recently released from a Nebraska prison. The men were not seen after Shamblen’s body was discovered.

☛ Charles Shamblen’s Life ☚

Charles Shamblen is buried with his parents in the Malvern Cemetery (photo by Dennis Bell)

Charles “Charlie” O. Shamblen was born September 30, 1886 at Tabor to Anna Eliza Merrill and Thomas Jefferson Shamblen. He had six brothers — Roy William Shamblen, John Frederick Shamblen, Earl Leon Shamblen, Merrill Jesse Shamblen, Harry W. Shamblen, and Lester L. Shamblen — as well as four sisters: Etta Pearl Shamblen Hummel, Nellie Jeanette Shamblen Peterson, Velma Iona Shamblen Funder, and Anna Elisa Shamblen Gailord.

In 1910, he married May E. Moss Francis, who had four children from her previous marriage to Frank D. Francis: Chester Simion Francis, Cleva G. Francis Juelke, LaVerne Francis, and Ila Francis. Charlie regarded them as his own.

May passed away in October of 1924, and Charlie did not remarry.

After farming for a number of years in Deer Creek Township, he operated the Standard Oil Station in Malvern.

On December 17, Charlie Shamblen’s funeral was officiated by Methodist minister Rev. C.A. Calkins at the Mansfield Funeral Home and he was buried in the Malvern Cemetery beside his parents.


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



  • ☛ “Believed Robbed And Murdered,” Oelwein Daily Register, December 14, 1936.
  • ☛ “Charles Shamblen Met Tragic Death Here Early Sunday,” Malvern Leader, December 17, 1936.
  • ☛ “Funeral Rites for Victim of Tragedy,” Malvern Leader, December 24, 1936.
  • ☛ Glenwood Opinion-Tribune, December 21, 1936.
  • ☛ Melissa Hillstrom, Personal Correspondence, July 2011.
  • ☛ Roy Shamblen, Personal Correspondence, September 2011.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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