Summer Night in the Park: Murder of J.H. Peck 1931

Murder Victim

J.H. Peck
46-year-old Salesman
Farm Lighting Company
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Robbery

Murder Scene and Date

Van Vechten Park
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Linn County
July 17, 1931


By Nancy Bowers
Written March 2010

location of Cedar Rapids, Iowa

location of Cedar Rapids, Iowa

It was a hot mid-summer night and traveling salesmen J.H. Peck, 46, and E.J. Boland of Iowa City were cooling off in Van Vechten Park on the east side of the Cedar River between present-day McCarthy Road SE and Otis Road SE.

They were accompanied by companions Rose Zoller, 34, of Cedar Rapids and Hazel McAnulty. Both men had driven cars, but the couples were standing on either side of Boland’s vehicle, chatting and drinking.

At 12:30 a.m., a man 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 140 pounds approached the four with a gun. He wore a dark suit, plaid mackintosh, and a cap. He first robbed Boland and Hazel McAnulty, taking 40 dollars, a wristwatch, a fountain pen and a diamond ring.

Then he turned on Peck and Rose Zoller, demanding what they had. Determined to resist, Peck struck the robber on the head with a bottle; and, as the glass shattered, the gunman fired. Peck fell dead with a bullet in his heart and Rose Zoller was wounded in the abdomen.

The robber shot out the tires on the Boland vehicle and fled. In the confusion, the other two victims did not see if he was on foot or in a car.

Boland drove the critically injured Rose Zoller to a hospital in Peck’s car while Hazel McAnulty sat in the disabled vehicle with Peck. Boland returned in 20 minutes and took Peck to the hospital as well.

from the Muscatine Journal and News-Tribune

Cedar Rapids Police were not aware of the crime until 4:00 a.m. — almost four hours after it happened. In addition to the witnesses not being forthcoming about what happened, policemen who usually patrolled Van Vechten Park were out of the city helping Linn County Sheriff Joe Petrus lay an ambush for bootleggers west of Marion, Iowa.

After an emergency operation, Rose Zoller was in critical condition. For several days, it was not known if she would survive.

Linn County Coroner R.A. Vorphal heard testimony on Monday, July 20 from Boland and Hazel McAnulty, who told essentially the same story.

However, Hazel McAnulty said two unusual things: that before his death she knew Peck as “Hank Jensen” and that she sat in the car with Peck for 20 minutes not knowing he was dead. The next day, testimony was taken from Rose Zoller at Mercy Hospital, where she was recovering from her injuries.

Coroner Vorphal’s verdict was that J.H. Peck was shot and killed by an unknown assailant during a holdup.

BCI Director James Risden (courtesy Iowa DPS).

James Risden, Chief of the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation, conducted an investigation for the state with the assistance of State Agent Dell McElroy.

Law enforcement believed the bandit was the same person who committed two other robberies in Cedar Rapids that night. A man matching his description was seen late on the evening of July 20 between Maxwell and Huxley in Story County, Iowa, but was not apprehended.

Because Cedar Rapids Police were helping Linn County Sheriff Joe Petrus chase bootleggers during the robbery-murder and, therefore, were not available for several hours, policies were quickly changed. The case had significant impact on the activities of the city’s police officers for the remaining years of Prohibition.

The July 18, 1931 Cedar Rapids Gazette wrote about the changes in procedure:

“Police squadrons will not have to accompany Sheriff Joe Petrus in the future when he and his deputies prepare an ambuscade for rum runners or raid a beer joint, regardless of his requests for assistance.”

J.H. Peck was a salesman for a farm lighting company located in Iowa City. One newspaper said he was a Davenport resident. However, it was reported that his body was taken by relatives to Marengo, Iowa, for funeral services and burial.

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



  • ☛ “Cedar Rapids,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, July 29, 1931.
  • ☛ “Confirms Story of Rapids Killing,” Muscatine Journal and News-Tribune, July 24, 1931.
  • ☛ “Coroner Investigates Cedar Rapids, Murder,” Ames Daily Tribune and Times, July 22, 1931.
  • ☛ “Davenport Man Slain by Bandit,” Muscatine Journal and News-Tribune, July 17, 1931.
  • ☛ “Girl Victim of Gunman May Recover,” Muscatine Journal and News-Tribune, July 18, 1931.
  • ☛ “Iowa Cityan [sic] Slain by Bandit at Cedar Rapids,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, July 17, 1931.
  • ☛ “Linn’s Baffling Murders,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 28, 1963.
  • ☛ “Man Killed, Girl Wounded in Cedar Rapids Hold-up,” Carroll Daily Herald, July 17, 1931.
  • ☛ “No date has been named,” Cedar Rapids Tribune, July 24, 1931.
  • ☛ “Police Keep Up Hunt for Bandit Who Shot Pair at Cedar Rapids,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, July 20, 1931.
  • ☛ “Woman Shot By Bandit May Die,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, July 21, 1931.

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