42-year-old Bachelor Farmer
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Concealing Criminal Activity
Murder Scene and Date
Buena Vista County
Shot October 11, 1880
Died October 13, 1880
By Nancy Bowers
Written February 2014
In 1880, 42-year-old Irish-born John Ford lived alone on a farm in Washington Township eleven-and-a-half miles north of Storm Lake in Buena Vista County, Iowa.
On Friday, October 8, Ford came home from town to find someone rifling his house. Although he reported the burglary, he did not reveal the name of the thief to authorities, who were fairly certain Ford knew the man’s identity.
About 11:00 p.m. on Monday, October 11, John Ford again returned to his farm after a trip into town and was in the process of stabling his wagon team in the barn.
While he worked with the horses, someone standing outside the barn fired a gun through a space between the planks in the wall. A bullet struck Ford in the left breast, hit his ribs, and then traveled downward to his stomach, where it lodged.
Panicked and in pain, Ford began running for help to a nearby farm. He was fired on again, this time from behind. Exhausted but still conscious when he arrived at the neighbors’ place, he gave an account of what happened to him.
Ford lingered in critical condition for three days before dying on the night of Wednesday, October 13.
☛ A Suspect is Isolated ☚
Circumstantial evidence — including footprints around the barn and tracks leading to and from the farm — pointed to Ford’s neighbor Abe Shreve as the person who ambushed the victim.
According to the Palo Alto Reporter, the motive for the slaying was thought to be either robbery or the intention to silence Ford from testifying against Shreve concerning the attempted burglary three days before.
The Reporter also speculated that “jealousy” might have been involved — whether over a woman or over John Ford’s success on his wealthy farm — was not specified.
Buena Vista County authorities arrested local man Abe Shreve, and he was placed on trial for the murder of John Ford.
The trial ended in a hung jury which was unable to decide guilt or innocence because evidence against Shreve was so circumstantial.
Afterwards, Shreve was re-arrested to stand trial again. His defense attorneys successfully petitioned for a change of venue to Sac County, Iowa, because they believed the local jury pool would be prejudiced against their client.
The Sac County jury which heard the evidence acquitted Abe Shreve of the murder of John Ford, saying that the details presented at trial were too circumstantial to find him guilty.
☛ A Justice of Sorts ☚
But the judicial system was not done with Shreve; he was arrested for theft and sentenced to 18 months in prison. After his release on those charges, he was arrested for stealing in Sac County.
Then, Shreve was caught in the act of rustling 100 head of cattle on the Alvin W. and Calvin W. Garberson farm in Elk Township of Emmett County, Iowa. However, before he could be brought to trial on the offense, Shreve escaped with a stolen team of horses and a wagon.
Years afterwards, time and chance caught up with Abe Shreve when he was caught stealing cattle in the Black Hills of South Dakota. A local “Vigilance Committee” lynched him without a trail.
Shreve took to his grave any secrets or information he may have had about the murder of John Ford.
Please note: Use of information from this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “Goings-On In Iowa,” Waterloo Courier, November 3, 1880.
- ☛ “Iowa News,” Atlantic Telegraph, October 27, 1880.
- ☛ Palo Alto Reporter, October 23, 1880.
- ☛ Past and Present of Buena Vista County, Iowa, by C.W. Wegerslev and Thomas Walpole, Chicago: S.J. Publishing Co., 1909. p. 98.
- ☛ U.S. Census.