The Poison Strawberry: Murder of Lelia Long 1896

Murder Victim

Lelia I. “Lee” Long
15 year-old Farm Girl
Cause of Death: Poison
Motive: Possible Abusive Family Relationship

Murder Scene and Date

Long Farm
Lee Township
Franklin County
Near Hampton, Iowa
June 21, 1896


By Nancy Bowers
Written February 2015

location of Hampton, Iowa

location of Hampton, Iowa

In 1896, 15-year-old Lelia I. “Lee” Long lived with her father Jeremiah C. Long and stepmother Anna Dodd Long on an 80-acre farm in Lee Township of Franklin County between Hampton and Iowa Falls.

Her biological mother Ida resided in Illinois, having been divorced in 1886 from Jeremiah, who married Anna a year later and then purchased the farm.

Lelia was unusual. Although she responded politely to questions, she talked very little because of a speech impediment. Despite her age, she had never menstruated and still occasionally wet the bed. She was known also to eat weeds, although some thought that was a manifestation of being underfed.

She hadn’t attended school since she was 11 because her stepmother thought male pupils there were too rowdy. Lelia was instructed at home out of schoolbooks belonging to Anna, a former teacher; however, no visitors ever heard the girl recite or saw her study.

In other ways, the courteous and quiet Lelia seemed normal. She kept mementos in a scrapbook Jeremiah brought her from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and cherished a Bible in which she marked texts each Sunday after church.

She also was accomplished at crocheting and other “fancy work” and quilted skillfully. She harbored plans of attending Ellsworth College in Iowa Falls and hoped to become a dressmaker or schoolteacher.

House work and gardening were expected of the girl and, according to some relatives and neighbors, severe scolding and even physical punishment followed poor work, accidents, or mishaps around the home. Some contended Leila was badly mistreated and had to survive on leftovers and literal crusts of bread.

☛ Poison is Brought to the Long Farm ☚

In the early summer of 1896, the Long farm was infested with gophers. Jeremiah purchased a bottle of strychnine from Iowa Falls druggist John L. Swartz on June 13. On June 16 and 17 and 20, he and Anna soaked corn in the poison and he put it in a pail inside a barrel for the pests to consume.

Aware of the dangers of strychnine, Jeremiah stashed the bottle as high up in the barn rafters as he could reach to make certain no one came in contact with the poison.

☛ Stormy Day ☚

Sunday, June 21, 1896 was hot and humid, the sort of close summer day that often ends in severe weather.

That morning, the Long family heard Rev. Nathaniel Pye preach at the Iowa Falls Methodist Episcopal Church.

Back home after the midday meal, Anna Long felt unwell from the heat; so she and Jeremiah rested while Lelia read her Bible in the kitchen.

When she arose at 5:00 p.m., Anna took a tin cup to the garden to pick strawberries and then told Lelia to bring a bowl to hull them into. The girl then hauled cobs inside to start a cooking fire.

About suppertime, a thunderstorm approached the farm. Jeremiah and Lelia wanted to see it move in, but the sky was blocked by a grove of trees. Lelia went first to get a look. When her father stepped out, he heard what he later described as a “cry of agony.”

He ran towards the sound and found Lelia lying on the ground. As Jeremiah picked her up and carried her into the house, she told him she’d become dizzy and fallen.

☛ Agony and Death ☚

When Jeremiah placed Lelia on the west bedroom bed, she vomited blood onto the pillow. Her heart raced and she was flushed and fearful. Jeremiah and Anna applied hot cloths soaked in camphor and massaged the girl’s stiffening limbs.

Anna Long instructed her husband to grasp Lelia’s hands in order to preserve her strength and she ran to find the hired man George to go for help. She later claimed a buggy passed by on the road but was out of sight before she could flag it down and another had an elder female passenger that she did not want to alarm.

Inside, Jeremiah Long fanned his daughter; she momentarily revived, but then sank back into unconsciousness. For nearly 30 minutes, Lelia’s body convulsed in spasms until a final, powerful seizure ended her life.

Later that night, Jeremiah Long remembered the strychnine and went to the barn on Monday morning to destroy it. He found the bottle on the ground and assumed the colts kicked it down from the girder where he placed it.

Long smashed the bottle against a pile of rocks about 10 feet from the barn near a hedge of willows. Pieces of glass and the cork were recovered days later as evidence.

About 8:00 p.m., Long family physician M.W. Hill arrived at the farm from Iowa Falls. As he tied up his horse in the yard, Anna Long rushed out to say he was too late.

Anna talked rapidly and almost incoherently about what might have happened to Lelia. She wondered if the vomited blood and the girl’s intensely red face might indicate a brain hemorrhage or if her lack of menstrual periods might have led to death.

When Dr. Hill entered the bedroom where the dead girl lay, he realized he saw her at church only that morning. Now, her eyes were blank and staring and her jaw was dropped. Blood spotted her face; her limbs were rigid.

☛ Delayed Burial ☚

Union Cemetery, photo by Shawn

Union Cemetery, photo by Shawn

Dr. Hill later said he was suspicious about the girl’s death because her symptoms suggested poisoning, so he tried to slow down the burial process to allow an inquest.

First, Hill suggested embalming the body; but Anna resisted, saying they intended to bury Lelia in Iowa Falls’s Union Cemetery at 11:00 a.m. the next morning. Hill contended that was too early and that 2:30 p.m. would be better.

The next day, Dr. Hill met and stopped the funeral procession a block-and-a-half from the cemetery entrance and got into the Longs’ carriage. He explained that because Lelia’s death was sudden and “pestilent” and in light of the fear some had of mistakenly burying a person alive, it would be best to temporarily place the girl in the cemetery’s vault.

Jeremiah Long insisted his daughter was dead and that “putrefaction” had begun, but he was persuaded by friends that it would be best to place the body in the vault and told undertaker C.F. Wilbur, “Put it there.” Later he claimed he did so to “satisfy public opinion.”

☛ Autopsy and Analysis ☚

from the Sioux City Journal

from the Sioux City Journal

Dr. Hill also insisted on a post-mortem exam.

That evening under the cover of growing darkness, Dr. Orian Desmond LaGrange performed an autopsy, assisted by undertaker Wilbur and Dr. William M. Morton, all three of Iowa Falls.

The doctors found no injuries to Lelia’s body nor any disease; her brain, lungs, and heart appeared normal. However, the stomach was congested and bloated with gas.

Dr. LaGrange removed Lelia’s stomach — tying off both ends — and put it in a two-quart fruit jar. He gave it to C.F. Wilbur, who took it to his undertaking establishment. Wilbur wrapped the jar into a package, and placed it in a 12 x 12 pine box, which he sealed on two sides with brown wax and bound with twine. The box was nailed shut and shipped the next day by rail to E.W. Rockford, professor of Chemistry and Toxicology at the State University in Iowa City.

When Professor Rockford finished his examination — during which he found strychnine — he returned the 11-pound box and its contents to Hampton express railroad agent Sanford Parker with instructions to deliver it to the local medical offices of Drs. Hutchins and Haecker.

Inside the box, Lewis E. Haecker and his partner J.H. Hutchins found the sealed two-quart fruit jar that contained Lelia’s stomach.

They closely analyzed the stomach contents, identifying potato, onion, currants and multiple currant seeds, and a strawberry with a hull.

The strawberry was well-preserved. On close examination, Haecker could see a slash in the berry that was filled with crystals.

He made a solution of the crystals and injected it into three frogs and then injected the stomach contents into two other frogs. All five died.

Hutchins and Haecker performed other tests that determined the substance in the strawberry was strychnine.

☛ Rumors Swirl ☚

Rumors were rampant in the community that Lelia was poisoned; no one believed she took her own life. Tales also circulated that she was illegitimate.

The Cedar Falls Semi-Weekly Gazette cautioned:

“Numerous stories are in circulation, but they lack foundation and are the outgrowth, for the most part, of idle gossip. There seems to be a supposition, however, that the girl died from the effects of poison but whether it was self-administered or not is the question that it is hoped the inquest may answer. Many are of the opinion that this matter will never be fully cleared up, as most of the evidence must of necessity be of circumstantial character and have an indirect bearing on the case. As the case has attracted much attention in that section, the result of the inquest is awaited with a good deal of interest.”

☛ Coroner’s Inquest ☚

In mid-July, Coroner F.S. Waud and County Attorney Howard Liggett convened a jury at Iowa Falls consisting of S.P. Smith; E.W. Strother; and S.C. Platt, Editor of the Iowa Falls Sentinel.

The jury’s deliberations were held in secret and all involved were sworn to silence, which increased the widespread speculation and rumors circulating in the community.

The coroner’s jury met for five days and nights, during which time the body was exhumed for another post-mortem.

from the Ackley World

from the Ackley World

Then the Algona Upper Des Moines newspaper reported the jury’s shocking verdict:

“The coroner’s inquest over the body of Lelia I. Long, the daughter of a prominent farmer living north of Iowa Falls, and whose death resulted suddenly and mysteriously Sunday, June 21, resulted in a verdict that the girl came to her death by strychnine poisoning, administered in a single strawberry, both the poison and agent being found in an undigested state in the stomach. The jury was unable to determine by whom the poison was administered.”

The coroner’s jury referred the case to the grand jury.

A Franklin County grand jury heard testimony and studied the death at length and then on February 10, 1897 indicted Jeremiah and Anna Long for Lelia’s murder. Their trial was to begin in April — nearly a year after the girl died.

☛ The Trial ☚

Franklin County Attorney Howard Liggett and lawyer Edward Andrews prosecuted the case. The defense, which planned to advance the theory of suicide, consisted of the Taylor & Evans firm of Hampton and F.M. Williams of Iowa Falls.

Franklin County Courthouse

Franklin County Courthouse

The trial began on April 13 in Hampton with Judge Weaver presiding. The Franklin County Courthouse was packed for the sessions; even standing room was at a premium.

On April 14, a jury was empaneled consisting of Ira Dean of Chapin, Charles Anderson of Geneva, J.J. Crawford of Sheffield, Patrick Tenny of West Fork, John Carroll of Geneva, L.H. Raymond of Hampton, Nim Fryslie of Oakland, B.B. Maurice of Oakland, N. Northey of Hampton, William Borcherding of Marion, J.W. Bangs of Hampton, and J.M. Kalenburger of Osceloa.

And then the testimony began. The prosecution went first.

☛ Case Against the Longs ☚

Walter S. Haines, a professor for 21 years at Chicago’s Rush Medical College, where he had examined hundreds of stomachs for poison, testified he was sent Lelia’s stomach to analyze and found strychnine.

The prosecution then called numerous witnesses — acquaintances, relatives, and neighbors — to establish that Lelia was badly mistreated at home and that her father and stepmother were uncaring and cruel.

Rev. Nathaniel Pye, minister of the Longs’ church at Iowa Falls, testified he saw Lelia on Sunday and then preached her funeral the next day. He swore that during the service Jeremiah cried intensely, but Anna Long did not. In fact, Pye said she smiled.

Pye claimed he offered to let Anna Long stay at his home during the inquest but, according to the Alden Times’s account of the proceedings, “she refused and cried out that she was not a decent woman.” Anna also confessed to having spoken “sharp words” to Lelia on Sunday afternoon before her death.

Walter Haines of the University of Chicago found strychnine in Lelia's stomach.

Walter Haines of the Rush Medical College found strychnine in Lelia’s stomach.

Testifying next was Minnie Humphrey, a teacher who boarded with the Longs for four months in 1889, when Lelia was about 9. She stated that the girl was always obedient and hard-working but the Longs scolded her and never showed affection. In fact to the contrary, Humphrey saw Jeremiah Long push and shove the girl and heard her being brutally whipped.

Anna also made fun of Lelia’s voracious eating, which Humphrey attributed to not getting enough nourishment. She was not allowed the same food as others at home and brought little to school. The teacher shared food because she thought Lelia was going hungry.

Humphrey heard Anna Long say that when Lelia was 14 she would be rid of her because she’d have to leave home and make her own living. Anna was also bitter because she would receive only one-third of Jeremiah’s property at his death while Lelia stood to inherit two-thirds.

Anna Long’s sister Emma Dodd Palmer said she saw Lelia struck on the head with a stick two weeks before her death for letting the fire go out. A few years before, Anna pushed Lelia because she could not find some sewing; the girl fell and hit her head.

Louise Heuer testified that while she helped prepare Lelia’s body for burial a very nervous Anna warned her not to tell another neighbor passing by that Lelia was dead because she didn’t want a crowd at the funeral. Heuer also recounted Anna’s various theories about the death — that a blood vessel might have burst or that Lelia ate a poisonous weed.

from the Milford Mail

from the Milford Mail

A Mrs. Burton accused Anna Long of laughing at the grave and while shaking hands with the minister. She said Anna told her she got so mad at Lelia that she thought she hated her and recounted how Leila ran away to a neighboring house to avoid a whipping for spilling cough syrup.

Frank Nolton, husband of Anna Long’s sister Jessie, told of hearing a knock one night in 1888 and finding Lelia, who would not reveal why she was there but admitted she had not eaten supper. Next morning, he and his wife could see red marks and welts on the girl, but she would not say who struck her. Nolton took the 7-year-old child home and implored Jeremiah Long not to whip her for running away.

Luella Babcock of Alden testified of meeting the Longs in 1887 when she made Anna’s wedding dress. She was last at the Long place for nine days during April before Lelia’s death. She found the girl to be obedient but she was often reprimanded and fed scraps from previous meals.

According to the Alden Times, Babcock testified that she once remarked to Anna Long:

“‘Shouldn’t think you would feel so toward the only child in the house. Should think you would be lonesome without her, but Mrs. L. said she wouldn’t be lonesome, that she didn’t want her and never had wanted her.’”

Sisters Nellie and Lena Boddy were Anna Long’s students when she taught school. They testified that Long was “snappy” to Leila, that the girl could do nothing to please her stepmother, that she was kept inside alone at noon hours and recesses, and that her lunch pail contained less food than Anna’s.

Close neighbor Carrie Maybaum testified that “Mrs. Long told her she put wet clothes in Lelia’s mouth and made her chew them to break up the habit of wetting [her] clothes.”

Carrie’s husband Phillip Maybaum saw Lelia being taken home by her father after running away; the girl cried and said her stepmother would “strike and whip her when her father was away, but she dared not talk much about it.”

The prosecution rested on April 19. Then it was the defense’s turn.

☛ In Defense of the Longs ☚

The Longs’ defense attorneys had an equally long parade of witnesses prepared to swear that Lelia was not mistreated or neglected.

Nettie Stewart, 16, denied that Lelia was kept in at school but willingly stayed in the schoolhouse to create needle work and study. She described staying with Lelia two months over the Christmas holidays of 1895 and reported the home was decorated with a tree and full of lightheartedness. Lelia, she said, was taught to play the organ and perform fancy work and was never ill-treated by either parent. That last statement countered the prosecution’s claim that Lelia was told by her stepmother she was too stupid to learn the organ.

A procession of neighbors who spent time in the Long home, as well as tradesmen who performed work at the farm — Minnie Ford, Libbie Stewart, Angus Stewart (a bail bondsman for the Longs), Lydia Leslie, Joseph Burns, and David Canham — all testified they saw no mistreatment and thought the girl was dressed well and fed sufficiently.

Long Lucretia Dodd testified on behalf of her sister Anna Long.

Lucretia Dodd testified on behalf of her sister Anna Long.

Annie Bailey stated she saw Leila given an apple which she took home to share with her stepmother as a gesture of affection. Annie Haydock said she talked with Lelia about her real mother and the girl said she did not want to see her again as the mother she had was good enough.

Collie Leslie, William Haydock, and Matilda Munger testified that Anna Long told her Lelia had a speech impediment and that was the reason she didn’t talk much and might have seemed downcast. They described Lelia’s beautiful crochet and patch work done under Anna’s direction.

Semira and Alonzo Cogswell saw no harsh treatment, and Lucretia George said the Longs never went anywhere without Lelia.

Anna Long’s brother Franklin Elias “Frank” Dodd, said he knew Lelia for 10 years and was often at the Longs, where he observed no trouble. His wife Lucretia Dodd said Leila had better clothing than the average country child and received praise for things she did. Lucretia admitted, however, she had never seen Lelia working on her lessons.

When cross-examined, one witness admitted being in the Long home only once; another had total recall of the past but knew nothing about the last weeks of Lelia’s life.

George Munger, an acquaintance of 25 years, swore to Jeremiah Long’s good character.

☛ Jeremiah Long’s Defense ☚

After the procession of witnesses finished, Jeremiah Long testified in his own defense. He said there was no life insurance on Lelia and she owned no property.

He said he did not hear his wife ask Lelia if she took anything that would make her sick; he did not show the doctor where she vomited or tell him of the poison.

Long denied he whipped Lelia in the yard so forcefully she screamed and said he was unaware of Anna’s punishing Lelia for running away from home.

He never heard his wife say, “Mr. Long does not like crusts, so I make Lelia eat them so there is no waste.” He denied that Lelia was not fed properly and said that on the day she died, Anna had called her back to the table to eat a piece of pie after the midday meal.

The Alden Times wrote of Jeremiah’s poignant testimony:

“[The] witness showed emotion at several places during his testimony and made a favorable impression on jury and audience.”

☛ Anna Long’s Defense ☚

Anna Long was next called to testify on her own behalf.

She recounted picking strawberries the day of the death and asking Lelia to bring a bowl for them.

She described seeing her husband carrying Lelia into the house and how they worked frantically to revive and save the girl. She testified about what happened as the convulsions reached their peak:

“She looked up to me with her eyes bright and then died.”

She explained that Lelia was kept home from school for her own safety; she maintained that she taught the girl reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, and grammar out of schoolbooks.

She, too, became emotional and shed tears when shown Lelia’s World’s Fair scrapbook, her copybook, and her Bible. She noted that Lelia had not marked any passage as read on the Sunday she died, which was unusual.

All accusations of food deprival were denied; in fact, Anna claimed she often coaxed Lelia to eat, even desserts. Their dinners were brought to school in the same pail, she maintained, and it was up to Lelia to eat what she wanted. If there were leftovers or scraps on her plate at home, Lelia had put them there herself Anna insisted.

Lelia ran away to the Nolton farm, Anna said, because grease had been spilled on the kitchen floor, even though she was told she would not be punished if she confessed to doing it. Anna admitted disciplining the girl for leaving overnight.

She denied striking Lelia when the fire went out and insisted she only reprimanded her. As for other verbal abuse, she claimed she “sputtered a good deal but did very little scolding.” She denied having said she hated the girl.

Anna Long acknowledged she had punished Lelia in the past but hadn’t for the past four years. She said that although she had whipped the girl approximately 50 times, she never inflicted injury.

She admitted accidentally tripping Lelia once, causing her to fall and hit her head.

As for forcing Lelia to chew on wet clothes, Anna Long insisted she told the neighbors she had threatened to do that if Lelia didn’t stop wetting her clothes but had never actually done it.

☛ Verdict ☚

photo by Iaed

The year of death is incorrect on Lelia’s tombstone (photo by Iaed)

On Friday, April 23, the prosecution announced that all evidence was in, and the court adjourned till 8:45 on Saturday morning. The case was then submitted to the jury.

The jurors deliberated for 24 hours before returning a verdict on Sunday morning, April 25: Jeremiah C. Long and Anna Dodd Long were found not guilty of the murder of Lelia I. Long, their daughter and stepdaughter, respectively.

Only three people had access to the poison and the strawberries — the defendants and the victim. The jury’s verdict, if correct, would make the death a suicide, a possibility all but eliminated by the findings of the earlier coroner’s jury.

The mystery lingered, leaving the community with suspicions and theories. The Buffalo Center Tribune urged anyone with even the slightest amount of information to come forward, saying:

“For justice, all places a temple, all seasons summer.”


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



  • ☛ “All Over The State,” Cedar Falls Semi-Weekly Gazette, July 24, 1896, p. 2.
  • ☛ “Condensed Iowa,” Daily Iowa Capital, July 15, 1896, p. 6.
  • ☛ “Condensed Iowa,” Daily Iowa Capital, July 21, 1896, p. 6.
  • ☛ “Lelia I. Long,” Alden Times, April 16, 1897, p. 11.
  • ☛ “Lelia Long Case,” Alden Times, April 23, 1897, p. 3, 11.
  • ☛ “Lelia Long’s Case,” Cedar Falls Semi-Weekly Gazette, July 21, 1896, p. 2.
  • ☛ “Lelia Long Murdered,” Algona Upper Des Moines, July 22, 1896.
  • ☛ “Lelia Long Murdered,” Anita Republican, July 22, 1896, pp. 2, 6.
  • ☛ “Lelia Long Murdered,” Dubuque Herald, July 19, 1896, p. 1.
  • ☛ “Lelia Long Was Murdered,” Ackley World, July 24, 1896, p. 7.
  • ☛ “Lelia Long Was Murdered,” Pomeroy Herald, July 23, 1896, p. 2.
  • ☛ “Miscellaneous Notes,” Buffalo Center Tribune, July 24, 1896, p. 8.
  • ☛ “Of Interest in Iowa,” Renwick Times, July 24, 1896, p. 2.
  • ☛ “State Items,” Waterloo Daily Courier, July 21, 1896, p. 4.
  • ☛ “State Items,” Waterloo Courier, July 22, 1896, p. 4.
  • ☛ “To Dig up the Body: Authorities to Investigate the Death of a Hardin County Girl,” Sioux City Journal, July 9, 1896.
  • ☛ “They Treated Her Shabbily,” Milford Mail, April 29, 1897, p. 6.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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