Cause of Death: Gunshot
Murder Scene and Date
300 Pearl Street
Sioux City, Iowa
December 12, 1930
By Nancy Bowers
In the Depression years of the late 1920s and early 1930s, a plague of robberies and holdups — some involving shootings — descended on northwest Iowa.
Written March 2011
Dozens of mercantile stores were robbed of cigarettes and cash, banks were forced to hand over money, and filling stations were stripped of their cash register receipts.
It was an epidemic. No commercial business — rural or urban — seemed safe. Times were tough and people were desperate.
And Sioux City experienced its share of the robberies.
☛ The Murder ☚Russian immigrant Louis Friedman operated a grocery at the corner of Third and Pearl in Sioux City that had catered to regional farmers since 1915. He worked hard, and the business was successful.
On Friday, December 12, 1930, Friedman, then 37, opened his store as usual and it seemed a normal day. He tended the counter while his 22-year-old employee Elmer Beatty worked in a back room.
Next to Friedman’s grocery and connected to it by an open stairway was the Farmers Supply Company, staffed by Manager Arthur Samson and his employee Goldie Levins.
Around 8:00 a.m., regular customer Rufus Davis came in for supplies; while he paid his bill, he and Louis Friedman talked casually at the counter, unaware that the store had been targeted by thieves.
At 8:20, two men with revolvers entered the grocery. One trained his gun on Davis and backed him into a corner.
The other approached Friedman and said:
“Stick ‘em up, Louie, we know you’ve got it.”
Rufus Davis said neither man wore a mask and Friedman seemed to recognize the one who threatened him.
Friedman refused to give up any money; he grabbed the robber and a struggle began.
The two grappled for control of the gun. Canned goods were knocked onto the floor and flour sacks fell over and broke open as the men wrestled violently against display cases and shelves.
Elmer Beatty at the back of the grocery and Goldie Levins and Arthur Samson next door at the Farmers Supply heard the loud crash. Beatty hurried toward the sound; Levins and Samson rushed to the two stores’ shared stairway.
Goldie Levins saw the two men struggling among the overturned canned goods and the robber striking Friedman with something that “looked like an iron bar” (that weapon was later determined to be a blackjack). Levins ran back inside the Farmers Supply to phone police.
When Friedman and the robber stood up, Friedman was shoved up against a showcase. With his gun forced into the groceryman’s abdomen, the robber pulled the trigger twice. Meanwhile, the other bandit continued to hold a gun on Davis.
The shooter started for the front door. Although gravely wounded, Friedman held on to him. Near the entrance, the men knocked over a box of apples; Friedman lost his grip on the robber and fell.When Goldie Levins heard the shots and ran back to the stairway, she saw Friedman on the floor; the bandits had already fled.
Beatty was on the telephone to police when the shots were fired; as he reentered the front section of the store, the robbers were escaping.
Rufus Davis followed the men and saw them jump into a blue Chevrolet coach parked across the street with a third man at the wheel.
The car, which Davis and pedestrians on the street thought had a South Dakota license plate with what looked like the number 50-2333, drove north on Pearl to Fifth Street and then turned west and went out of sight.
Louis Friedman was dead and the robbers came away from the store with no money or merchandise.
When police arrived, the witnesses described the robbers as well-dressed and wearing dark blue overcoats, white scarves, and felt hats. One man had wavy, black hair; he was 6 feet-tall and slender and appeared to be about 30. The other man was shorter — 5-feet-7 — and weighed about 140 pounds.
Descriptions of the men and their car were broadcast throughout the area over radio station KSCJ, the electronic “arm” of the Sioux City Journal.
Coroner Dr. J.H. Robbins found two bullets lodged in Friedman’s abdomen and a wound on his forehead caused by a ring on the shooter’s hand.
In the murdered man’s clothing, Robbins found $138 in cash and $2,000 in notes payable to Friedman.
Friedman always carried at least $100 on his person and recently withdrew $6,000 from the bank. The robbers may have known this, likely making them someone Friedman knew.
☛ Investigation ☚
Sioux City Police spread a dragnet Friday night which pulled in nearly 20 men; victims of recent holdups appeared on Saturday morning at the Police Station to look at lineups. None of the men was arrested.
Rufus Davis pored over hundreds of photos in the Sioux City Police Department’s “Rogue’s Gallery,” but could not find the man he saw shoot Friedman.
The South Dakota license plate that witnesses thought they saw was traced to Edwin Cox, a Canton, South Dakota, trucker. Cox was arrested, along with his brother and uncle, Louis Lubien — a Sioux City resident who lived only four blocks from Friedman’s store.
Edwin Cox voluntarily came to Sioux City for a lineup; witnesses said Cox was not one of the robbers.
In addition, Fox drove an Erskine, not a Chevrolet, and was seen buying gas in Canton — almost 80 miles away — during the time of the robbery-murder.
☛ Suspect is Singled Out ☚
After many months of investigation, a suspect emerged. On Friday, March 27, 1931, the Woodbury County grand jury returned an indictment against 28 year-old Mike Kelly for the Friedman murder.
Sioux City Police knew Mike Kelly well. In 1929, he was arrested as an accomplice in the brazen daylight August 18 robbery of the Roberts Dairy, in which by-stander Eugene Noonan was wounded by gun fire as the robbers escaped.
Later, shooting victim Eugene Noonan saw Kelly walking on a Sioux City street and recognized him as one of the Roberts Dairy robbers.
Police were not surprised by Kelly’s alleged involvement in the dairy robbery. However, the revelation of the shooter sent a shockwave through the community.
It was Mike Kelly’s roommate at the Sioux Hotel, 40-year-old minister and radio personality Rex Frolkey, a Nebraska native who was a popular star athlete and student at Westmar College in nearby Le Mars during the 1920s. Everyone around Sioux City regarded Frolkey as a celebrity and recognized him on sight.
After his identity and his part in the Roberts Dairy robbery were released, the public was on the lookout for Frolkey.
On September 30, 1928, Rex Frolkey realized he was being followed by a local father and son seeking the reward money offered for his arrest.
Frolkey drove to a nearby farm, gave all his money to the farmer there — saying “They are after me . . . I’ve done something dreadful” — and went into the barn and shot himself. He died later at a Sioux City hospital.
Frolkey was leading a double life: by day he was an Evangelical minister who preached, married, and buried; by night, he was a gambler and womanizer who robbed banks, stores, and other businesses to feed his gambling and drug addictions.
☛ Baseball-Player-Turned Robber ☚
Mike Kelly, too, was well known around Sioux City. He was a former pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies and a minor leaguer of some note in the area.
Kelly, a 6-foot-1 and 178 pound right-hander, was acquired by the Phillies organization in 1925 and brought along through the minors. However, he was plagued with “wild” throwing and released after pitching four games in the Big Leagues.
Kelly moved to Sioux City in 1928 and pitched independent ball for a team in Minot, North Dakota, and for other teams in Nebraska and northwest Iowa.
In March 1931, Mike Kelly was arrested for the murder of Louis Freedman and held without bail until his trial in May.
☛ Legal Case ☚
The murder indictment was only one of three issued against Kelly. The other two were for the holdup of the Roberts Dairy and assault with intent to commit murder in the shooting of by-stander Eugene Noonon.
The murder trial was held first.
Witnesses of the Friedman murder identified Kelly as the shooter. However, the defense questioned their certainty and the “reliability” of one witness who had only a first-grade education.
Kelly had no alibi and said he had no recollection of where he was at the time of the murder. Friends came forward and testified he was at a pool hall with them. With this assistance, Kelly was able to “remember” where he was.
The “alibi” and the alleged uncertain witness testimony were a successful defense. After deliberating six hours, the jury found Mike Kelly not guilty of murdering Louis Friedman. The charges related to the Roberts Dairy robbery seemed to evaporate with the murder acquittal.
When he left jail after three month’s incarceration, Kelly said he was confident all along of being found not guilty but was “getting nervous” toward the end of the trial. When asked what he would do next, Kelly said he was going to find a job playing baseball, preferably with a team “out of state.”
Mike Kelly died in November 1981 in Modesto, California, at the age of 79.
☛Friedman Case Goes Cold ☚
With the failure to convict Kelly, the Louis Friedman murder investigation stalled out and the case went cold.
Rex Frolkey committed suicide before the Friedman murder and could not have been involved.
However, Mike Kelly may have been involved not only in the Friedman murder but in the numerous holdups in the area, including the one at Roberts Dairy.
☛ Louis Friedman’s Life ☚
Louis Friedman was born in Russia in 1893 and in 1914 immigrated to the United States.
Census records list his father as John Friedman. Louis had an older brother, Gail Friedman, who ran a grocery store in La Mars before moving to Monona.
In the early 20th century, American Jewish leaders worried that the settling of most Jewish immigrants in the Lower East Side of Manhattan was creating poor living conditions and the very sort of “ghettoizing” that forced them to leave their native countries.
The leaders formed The Galveston Movement, which urged Jews to arrive at the port of Galveston, Texas, rather than Ellis Island, and then migrate north and west from there.
Louis Friedman and his brother were two of the more than 10,000 Jews over the course of about seven years to enter the United States this way.
Friedman migrated directly to Sioux City and immediately began his new and productive life. In 1915, he opened his grocery store at 300 Pearl Street. During WWI, he served in the American Army and belonged to the American Legion.
Friedman married Ida Victor, the New York-born daughter of Russian immigrant Jacob “Jake” Victor and his Romanian wife, Mollie Ornstein.
The Friedmans lived at 910 Twenty-First Street in Sioux City and had three children: Harold Robert, 7; Wallace, 5; and Sonia, 3.
Funeral services were held at Westcott’s Funeral Home and Louis Friedman was buried in Mount Carmel Cemetery.
In January 1931, Friedman’s insurance company paid his family $20,000 in life insurance benefits on a policy that Friedman took out only months before his death and on which he made only one payment.
When he bought the policy, Friedman was reluctant to take out the double indemnity clause, but his family was paid $10,000 more because he did.
Please note: Use of information from this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “Ball Player Is Indicted,” Le Mars Semi-Weekly Sentinel, March 31, 1931.
- ☛ “Bandits Kill A Grocer At Sioux City,” Charles City Press, December 13, 1930.
- ☛ “Bankers Hand Over Reward,” Le Mars Semi-Weekly Sentinel, October 18, 1929.
- ☛ “Bricks and Mortar and More,” Westmar Alumni and Friends Association Newsletter, Vol. 11, Issue 3, page 2 (August 2009).
- ☛ “Evades Hand Of The Law,” Le Mars Semi-Weekly Sentinel, October 4, 1929.
- ☛ “Find No Trace Of Murderers,” Sioux City Journal, December 17, 1930.
- ☛ “Former Ball Player Indicted for Murder,” Muscatine Journal and News-Tribune, March 27, 1931.
- ☛ “Four Suspects Are Released,” Sioux City Journal, August 20, 1930.
- ☛ “Kelly Is Acquitted,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, May 21, 1931.
- ☛ “Last Rites For Fallen Citizen,” Le Mars Semi-Weekly Sentinel, October 4, 1929.
- ☛ “Mike Kelly Found,” Bill Carle, American Baseball Research Biographical Research Committee, January/February 2006 Report.
- ☛ “Minister Leads ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ Life,” Cedar Rapids Tribune, January 10, 1930.
- ☛ “Recover Bandit’s Uniform,” Alton Democrat, October 18, 1929.
- ☛ “‘Safe!’ Rules Kelley’s [sic] Jury,” Le Mars Globe-Post, May 21, 1931.
- ☛ “Sioux City Grocer Shot To Death In Hold-Up by Two Armed Men,” Carroll Daily Herald, December 12, 1930.
- ☛ “Slain Man’s Estate boosted $10,000 by Insurance Agent’s Persistence,” Sioux City Journal, January 15, 1931.
- ☛“Stranger Than Fiction,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, October 17, 1929.
- ☛ “Three Men Held at Canton, S.D., in Connection With Bold Holdup Attempt Here Which Resulted in Slaying of Louis Friedman; Others Arrested,” Sioux City Journal, December 13, 1930.
- ☛ Three Quarters [sic] of a Century of Progress: 1848-1923 — A Brief Pictorial and Commercial History of Sioux City, Iowa, 1923.
- ☛ “Two Are Indicted On Murder Charge,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, March 22, 1931.
- ☛ U.S. Census.
- ☛ “Victim Stages Valiant Fight,” Le Mars Semi-Weekly Sentinel, December 16, 1930.
- ☛ West of Hester Street (documentary), Allen Mondell and Cynthia Salzman Mondell (writers, producers and directors), 1983.