William E. “Bill” Kniffin
52-year-old Baggage Hauler
Illinois Central Railroad Station
Cause of Death: Bludgeoned
Murder Scene and Date
Carman Barn, Cedar Street
Injured on August 2, 1917
Died on August 4, 1917
By Nancy Bowers
William E. “Bill” Kniffin was well known to anyone who passed through the Illinois Central Depot in Cherokee. And in 1917, that was nearly everybody in town and from all the nearby communities.
An eccentric bachelor, Bill Kniffin made his living delivering baggage to and from the depot with his horse-drawn wagon.
For as long as anyone could remember, his call of “baggage to all parts of the city” was a familiar sound near the tracks.
Although he lived at 313 NW 9th Street with his sister and her husband — Angeline and Henry Franklin “Frank” Welker — he kept his horse and wagon at the Carman barn on Cedar Street north of Jane and Hubert Hitchcock’s rooming house, which was closer to the depot.
Kniffin’s dray business was very successful. In 1914, when the average U.S. income was a little over $600, he reported earning $900.
☛ Assault Results in Murder ☚
While walking east from the Roundhouse about noon on Thursday, August 2, 1917, Mark W. Howard — a 29-year-old mechanic for the Illinois Central Railroad — found Bill Kniffin unconscious under a tree near the Carman barn. Kniffin was bleeding profusely from a skull fracture and scalp laceration.
Howard immediately summoned the Town Marshal and Cherokee County Sheriff William F. Huber.
Bill Kniffin was transported to Sioux Valley Hospital, where he died at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 4, 1917 at the age of 52.
☛ Investigation ☚
Kniffin’s body was taken to the Appleyard Chapel, where Coroner Dr. L.A. Westcott convened a jury composed of W.I. Nelson, John S. Lowry, and Charles A. Banister.
Kniffin was last seen just before midnight on Wednesday, August 1 by a Night Policeman named Nash. He was headed up 4th street past the First National Bank.
At some point between there and two blocks away — where he was found — someone waylaid him and struck him on the head. Robbery looked like the clear motive, as Kniffin was known to carry large amounts of money.
Critically wounded, Kniffin climbed into the haymow of the Carman barn and slept through the night. On Thursday morning, he left the barn and collapsed near the tree where he was found.
Because he never regained consciousness, Kniffin was unable to tell authorities who struck him or how much money was taken.
The coroner’s jury ruled Kniffin was killed by a “blow on the head by a blunt instrument in the hands of an unknown person or persons.”
☛ Outside Help and a Possible Suspect ☚
During the last week in August, Theodore W. Passwater, one of Iowa Governor William Lloyd Harding’s Special Agents, traveled to Cherokee to help with the investigation.
Suspicion fell on 51-year-old handyman George M. Huntley of 108 E. Locust Street. Huntley was questioned after the attack, but his accounts were contradicted by the testimony of others.
Law enforcement came to believe that Kniffin was not struck during a robbery but during a personal quarrel with Huntley.
Realizing he was the focus of the investigation, Huntley quickly left town with his horse and buggy, headed towards Pipestone, Minnesota.
Sheriff Huber issued a warrant for Huntley, who was arrested in Primghar by O’Brien County Sheriff Henry W. Geister.
Huntley, strongly protesting his innocence, was brought back to Cherokee and held in the County Jail.
During the second week of September, a grand jury heard the case against George Huntley and found it entirely circumstantial and insufficient to indict him.
No one was ever charged and convicted of the murder of William E. Kniffin.
☛ William Kniffin’s Life ☚
William Ellsworth “Bill” Kniffin was born in Ulster County, New York, on April 23, 1865 to Martha Bradstreet and James Kniffin. He had one brother — Charles Henry Kniffin — and four sisters: Angeline Kniffin Welker, Christina Kniffin Staples, Mary Adelaide “Addie” Kniffin Trude, and Martha Dollie Kniffin Trude.
The Kniffin family moved west about 1874, with most of the siblings settling in Iowa or Nebraska.
Bill Kniffin never married and resided in Cherokee with his sister Angeline and her husband Frank Welker. Kniffin is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Cherokee with family members. Above his name on the stone is inscribed “Brother.”
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “Accused of Cherokee Murder,” Emmetsburg Democrat, September 12, 1917.
- ☛ “Cherokee Man Dies From Thug’s Blow,” Aurelia Sentinel, August 9, 1917.
- ☛ “Cherokee Man Is Murdered,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, August 9, 1912.
- ☛ “Cherokee Man Slain By Robbers,” Emmetsburg Democrat. September 15, 1917.
- ☛ “Cherokee Man Slain By Robbers,” Renwick Times, August 23, 1917.
- ☛ “County Seat News,” Aurelia Sentinel, September 13, 1917.
- ☛ “Iowa News,” Bode Bugle, August 17, 1917.
- ☛ “Held In Kniffin Case,” Titonka Topic, September 13, 1917.
- ☛ “Local And Personal,” Keota Eagle, August 20, 1917.
- ☛ “Rumor of Developments In Kniffin Murder Case,” Ackley World Journal, September 6, 1917.
- ☛ “Rumor Of Developments In Kniffin Murder Case,” Moville Mail, September 6, 1917.
- ☛ “Suspect Arrest,” Oxford Mirror, September 13, 1917.
- ☛ U.S. Census.