The One-Armed Man: Murder of William A. Hunt 1893

Murder Victim

William Asbury Hunt
Des Moines’s First Police Chief
63-year-old Civil War Veteran
Cause of Death: Bludgeoned, Pushed From a Height
Motive: Robbery

Murder Scene and Date

Alley, 600 block of Locust Street
Des Moines, Iowa
Polk County
September 27, 1893


By Nancy Bowers
Written May 2011

location of Des Moines, Iowa

location of Des Moines, Iowa

On the morning of Wednesday, September 27, 1893, a clerk from the Lederer-Strauss wholesale “fancy goods” store at 513-515 Locust glanced into an outside stairwell located in an alley running between Locust and Walnut streets.

At the concrete bottom of the steps was a crumpled body. Des Moines Police were quickly summoned and found a man with one arm. He was doubled up and appeared to have fallen directly onto his head, breaking his neck.

Crime scene area 20 years later.

Just below the ear was a mark where the dead man was struck with a blunt instrument. He died 8-10 hours earlier.

Investigators immediately recognized the man as 63-year-old former Des Moines policeman William Asbury Hunt, who lived at West 12th and Mulberry streets.

Polk County Coroner
Isaac W. Griffith

Polk County Coroner Isaac W. Griffith convened a jury of Charles Minges, Frank Nelson, and W.H Pitcher, which ruled Hunt died of foul play. Because Hunt was known to be carrying his Civil War pension money, the motive was declared to be robbery.

Speculation was that the night before while Hunt walked on the south side of Locust Street between 6th and 7th streets, someone forced him into the alley, took his money, and pushed him over the stairs to his death.

The Cedar Rapids Weekly Gazette wrote of the victim:

“‘Bill’ Hunt was an old soldier and had a great many friends. He used to drink a good deal, but for the last year he has been leading a sober life.”

☛ Service and Adventure ☚

from the Rolfe Reveille

Although a native of Maryland, William Hunt was living in Des Moines by 1856 and working as a blacksmith.

On August 8, 1861, he enlisted as a Corporal in Company E of the Iowa 4th Infantry.

In fighting at Missionary Ridge during the last battle for Chattanooga on November 25, 1863, Hunt was wounded in the right arm. Other soldiers tending him were attacked by Confederate troops and forced to flee. Hunt was given a bottle of whiskey for his pain and left buried in a pile of leaves.

When the Union Army retook the ground within a few days, his comrades removed the leaves, expecting to find Hunt’s body. Not only was Hunt still alive, he demanded another bottle of whiskey.

His right arm was amputated, and Hunt was discharged from the Army on May 15, 1864.

Hunt came home to Des Moines and, despite his handicap, returned to blacksmithing and then became a policeman. By 1869, according to the Iowa Historical Society, Hunt was Des Moines Police Chief — the city’s first.

☛ William A. Hunt’s Life ☚

William Asbury Hunt was born May 2, 1830 in Calvert, Maryland, to Rebecca Ann Brinkley and William Lacey Hunt.

photo by Melody Kirk

The family was large, with 11 other children — brothers Cornelius, John Thomas, Zachias Wilson, James Dennis, Isaac Calvin, and Aritas Lacy Hunt, as well as sisters Charlotte Ann Hunt Priddy, Mary Jane Hunt Powell, Caroline Elizabeth Hunt Higgins, Anna Eliza Hunt Carrier, and Lintha Hunt.

On March 11, 1855 in Des Moines, William Hunt married Ohio native Eliza Jane Pursley. They had four sons — Hugh, Franklin William, George, and Albert P. Hunt — as well as three daughters: Emma E. and Nellie Hunt and Martha Hunt Denison.

William Asbury Hunt is buried in Des Moines’s Woodland Cemetery with family members and close to his brother Zachias, who was also a Civil War Veteran.

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



  • 1866/67 Des Moines City Directory.
  • ☛ “Around the State,” Pella Weekly Herald, October 6, 1893.
  • ☛ “Family’s Civil War heritage preserved with new marker,” Tom Alex, Des Moines Register (undated, from the scrapbook of Melody Kirk).
  • ☛ “First police chief is being disputed,” Tom Alex, Des Moines Register (undated, from the scrapbook of Melody Kirk).
  • ☛ “The Hawkeye State,” Adams County Union, October 12, 1893.
  • ☛ “The Hawkeye State,” Sioux County Herald, October 11, 1893.
  • ☛ “His Neck Was Broken,” Rolfe Reveille, October 5, 1893.
  • ☛ “History of a Week,” Le Mars Semi-Weekly Sentinel, October 5, 1893.
  • The History of Polk County, Iowa, Union Historical Company, Birdsall, Williams & Co., 1880
  • ☛ “Looks Like Foul Play,” Cedar Rapids Weekly Gazette, October 5, 1893.
  • The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, 1861-65, 1870.
  • ☛ Melody Kirk, Personal Correspondence, May 2011.
  • ☛ “Merely Mentioned,” Le Mars Semi-Weekly Sentinel, October 2, 1893.
  • ☛ “The News Condensed: Domestic,” Brush Creek News, October 12, 1893.
  • ☛ “The One Armed Policeman,” Melody Kirk,
  • ☛ “Record of the Week,” Worth County Index, October 12, 1893.
  • ☛ Roster & Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of Rebellion.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles,
  • ☛ U.S. Union Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865,

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