The Secret Diary: Murder of Fred Hollingsworth 1933

Murder Victim

Frederick Milton “Fred” Hollingsworth
38-year-old Chemistry Department Employee
Iowa State College
Service Station Owner
WWI Infantry Instructor
1895-1933
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Love Triangle

Murder Scene and Date

Lincoln Highway
N. Grant School intersection
4 miles east of Ames, Iowa
Story County
June 13, 1933

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By Nancy Bowers
Written July 2009

Fred Hollingsworth (courtesy Nevada Journal)

Fred Hollingsworth
(courtesy Nevada Journal)

In the late 1920s, WWI veteran Fred Hollingsworth and his wife Hazel lived with their two sons at 101 South Franklin Avenue on the far west edge of Ames, Iowa.

Fred worked in the Chemistry Department storeroom at Iowa State College, which is now Iowa State University.

In addition, Hollingsworth was Adjutant of Story County Post No. 3209 Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was so intricately involved in the Post’s activities that a stylized portrait based on a photograph from his days in uniform hung in the Post Headquarters.

Fred and Hazel had a wide circle of friends among the local veteran community and enjoyed card parties and social gatherings.

Next door to the Hollingsworths lived the Oelson family: 29-year-old Cecil E. Oelson (also spelled “Olson”), his wife Hazel, and their three small children.

Cecil Oelson was a US Army Private attached to the ROTC Unit at Iowa State College. He worked in the horse stables and was often required to sleep in his campus bunk at night.

The Hollingsworth and Oelson families — both wives named Hazel — first got along well, although as time passed things between them became complicated.

A relationship of some sort developed between Hazel Hollingsworth and Cecil Oelson, and the two men argued about it.

And both families were plagued with problems during the last year of Fred Hollingsworth’s life.

☛ Problems for the Oelsons ☚

location of Ames, Iowa

location of Ames, Iowa

In August of 1932, Cecil Oelson signed a complaint against a 21-year-old man who followed Hazel Oelson home from a dance and forced his way into the home. The man pled guilty and served 30 days in the County Jail.

A few months later in January 1933, Hazel Oelson left her husband, taking the children and moving to Des Moines to live with her mother.

The Oelsons’ divorce became final in May of 1933, about a month before Hollingsworth’s murder. She did not claim infidelity on Cecil’s part with their neighbor Hazel Hollingsworth, just that Cecil had a “bad temper.”

Cecil Oelson visited his ex-wife and children. Because he had no car, sometimes Fred Hollingsworth drove him to Des Moines.

Problems for the Hollingsworths

In April of 1933 — two months before the murder, Hazel Hollingsworth was crossing the 13th Street Bridge over Sqauw Creek when a tire on the family car blew out. She skidded across the road and struck the railing; Hazel was severely cut and bruised and had to be extricated by passersby.

In late May of 1933 — less than a month before his murder — Fred Hollingsworth was sporting a fractured left arm, which he claimed he broke while cranking his car. He could still drive, however, even with the cast on his arm.

At the time of his murder, Hollingsworth was in the process of increasing the worth on a small life insurance policy. However, he had not taken the required medical physical, so the new policy was not in effect.

☛ Murder by Ambush

On the evening of Monday, June 12, 1933, Hollingsworth headed out to a VFW meeting in Nevada, about 10 miles east of Ames. He usually gave a ride to another Ames veteran, but that night he went alone.

Hollingsworth parked in front of the Story County Courthouse on 6th Street and crossed to the Story Hotel where the group was meeting.

Story Hotel in Nevada, the last place Fred Hollingsworth was seen alive.

Afterwards, the veterans gathered outside the hotel in the mild June night and talked until about ten minutes after ten. The nearly full moon illuminated them as they stood by the curb.

Then Hollingsworth walked across 6th Street and got into his car. He maneuvered to go north and then turned west onto Lincoln Avenue and headed back towards Ames. At the Nevada city limits, the street became the Lincoln Highway.

Hollingsworth had the driver’s side window down to let in a breeze.

A gravel road — today 580th Avenue — crossed Lincoln Highway about four miles east of the 1933 Ames city limits. At the corner of the intersection stood the brick, two-story North Grant School, today a privately owned apartment building.

As Fred Hollingsworth approached the school, a car overtook him from the east and someone inside fired a shotgun at him. The blast shattered the window behind Hollingsworth’s head and damaged its casing. Glass scattered along the highway.

Fred Hollingsworth was ambushed and shot just after he passed the North Grant School. Note Lincoln Highway sign on the telephone pole (courtesy photo Ames Historical Society).

Hollingsworth sped up and tried to evade the car. But it forced him onto the side of the road just west of the North Grant School intersection. The pursuing car stopped, too, and someone got out and approached the left side of Hollingsworth’s vehicle with the shotgun.

It would’ve been difficult for Hollingsworth to quickly open the door because of the cast on his broken left arm. However, either he or the assailant released the door so that it opened slightly but Hollingsworth didn’t get out of the driver’s seat.

The assailant stood by the car, aimed the double-barreled shotgun directly at Hollingsworth’s face, and fired both barrels through the open window.

The blast tore between Hollingsworth’s eyes and down into the right jaw. His nose was completely destroyed, one eye was nothing but a hole, and the other eye was badly mangled. His body slumped backwards in the seat, face towards the passenger side.

The assailant fled without stealing anything from the body or the car, making the act a murderous ambush and not a robbery.

About 10:30 p.m., a man driving by the car noticed the door ajar and the left wheels jutting onto the road pavement.

Another man came forward the next day and claimed he saw Hollingsworth forced over by a car about 11:45 p.m. but said he drove on because he feared for his own safety.

☛ By Morning’s Light ☚

At 4:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, a bus driver stopped at the Sheldon Munn Hotel terminal in Ames and reported a car with a man asleep inside partially parked on the pavement at the North Grant School crossing. He warned other drivers going that way to be cautious.

A half hour later, a dairy employee driving into Ames stopped to investigate the vehicle. When he found Fred Hollingsworth slumped in the front seat with a bloody, mangled face and saw the gunshot damages to the car, he quickly drove into Ames and hailed a city policeman.

It was a little after five when Ames Police arrived at the scene. The dawn had not yet broken fully, but they could see Hollingsworth was shot where he sat and noted the shattered glass about two hundred feet eastward.

Citizens viewed Hollingsworth's bloody car in front of the Police station (Ames Historical Society)

Citizens viewed Hollingsworth’s bloody car in front of the Police station (Ames Historical Society)

Hollingsworth’s car was taken into Ames and parked in front of the Ames Police Station at City Hall on the corner of Fifth Street and Kellogg Avenue.

It stayed there until after noon. Hundreds of citizens milled around the vehicle, gawking and speculating.

Hazel Hollingsworth, who waited through the night for her husband’s return, began placing worried phone calls to friends about 5:30 Tuesday morning. After the body was discovered, Hazel was brought to the Police Station and told of her husband’s death. She said she could not imagine who would want to kill him.

Hazel was overcome with grief and placed in the care of friends and family.

☛ Grand and Solemn Funeral ☚

Hollingsworth’s body was taken to Adams Funeral Home at Fifth Street and Douglas Avenue, a block east of the Police Station, where Story County Coroner D. G. “Guy” Mills examined it and scheduled an inquest for 9:00 a.m. the next morning.

Hollingsworth’s body lay in state in at Adams until the funeral at 2:00 p.m.Thursday, June 15. The chapel was packed and mourners stood on the porch and lawn.

Hollingsworth’s VFW Post conducted military rites, and their procession to the Ames Cemetery was one of the longest anyone could remember.

☛ Secret Diary Leads to Arrest ☚

Adams Funeral Home
(courtesy Ames Historical Society)

In Fred Hollingsworth’s pocket, the police found a blood-soaked diary in which he recorded angry and jealous suspicions about his wife and their neighbor Cecil Oelson. He wrote that Oelson was a danger to him and that if anything happened to him Oelson would be to blame.

About three hours after the body was found and brought into Ames, Cecil Oelson was arrested and held for a preliminary hearing.

Afterwards, Story County Sheriff John R. Hattery kept Oelson isolated in a special jail cell on the second floor of the Courthouse in Nevada.

Cecil Oelson was held in isolation on the second floor of the Story County Courthouse.

On June 16, Story County Attorney Jeffrey Hougen charged Oelson with “deliberate, felonious, and pre-meditated” murder to which he pleaded not guilty.

Oelson admitted to a “friendly” relationship with Hazel Hollingsworth and acknowledged he and Fred engaged in “wordy battles” and even physical encounters about it, but he never wavered from his claim of innocence.

Hazel Oelson steadfastly proclaimed her ex-husband’s innocence and pledged to stand behind him in every way, saying she had no knowledge of an extramarital affair.

The murder investigation was conducted by County Attorney Jeffrey Hougen, Special Prosecutor Carl Smeden, Story County Sheriff John R. Hattery, Ames Police Chief William J. Cure, and two investigators from the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation — C.A. Landon and Frank Brady.

☛ Hearing and a Pair of Bloomers ☚

Cecil Oelson was held in a special cell in the Story County Courthouse.

At noon on June 19, a grand jury convened at the Story County Courthouse to hear evidence and testimony.

Cecil Oelson’s attorneys produced a pair of women’s “bloomers” they said were provided by a farmer who found them close to the crime scene four days after the murder.

The prosecution told the Ames Times-Tribune that the underwear carried “little weight” in the case because they were no doubt tossed into the weeds along Lincoln Highway after the area was searched by investigators.

The grand jury adjourned after four days without either returning an indictment or freeing Oelson.

In the meantime, Cecil Oelson was held in jail, still isolated from other prisoners. By then, he was being represented by an attorney hired by his former mother-in-law.

☛ Midnight Exhumation ☚

On Friday, June 30, under great security and darkness of night, Sheriff Hattery had Fred Hollingsworth dug up from his grave in the Ames Municipal Cemetery.

A second autopsy was conducted at Adams Funeral Home, specifically to probe for pieces of buck shot to determine the bore of the gun that was used. Afterwards, the body was stealthily returned to the cemetery and reburied.

The public was not informed of these activities until the next afternoon.

☛ Public Sentiment Turns ☚

A month after the murder, Cecil Oelson was still being held because he could not post $20,000 bond.

As the weeks went by, public sentiment turned in favor of Oelson because nothing linking him directly to the crime had been made public. Solitary confinement and rumored use of the “third degree” in interrogations seemed excessive to the community.

Also, it was firmly established that Oelson was in his bunk on the Iowa State College campus as early as 10:40 the night of the murder.

☛ Suspect Goes Free, Case Grows Cold for Lack of “Clews”

Barns where Oelson worked and slept (courtesy Iowa State University).

The grand jury was reconvened in early July and heard six full days of testimony; again, it did not indict Cecil Oelson.

On July 13, County Attorney Jeffrey Hougen asked for a dismissal of the charges and for Oelson’s release.

After the release of Cecil Oelson, no one came forward with clues or leads, even though Iowa Governor Clyde L. Herring offered a $100 reward because Fred Hollingsworth was employed by Iowa State College, a state institution.

The authorities claimed they followed every “clew” in investigating the crime but finally admitted they hit a “stone wall.”

☛ Rumors Abound ☚

Cecil Oelson’s release did not put an end to speculation about the murder. Some in Ames felt that even if Oelson himself did not pull the trigger, he knew something about the crime.

Hollingworth’s brother-in-law William Dykes

Many thought there were two assailants, saying it would’ve been impossible for the driver of the other car to fire the first shot at Hollingsworth while the two vehicles were moving. Others believed it could have been done by one person firing from the driver’s seat through an open passenger window.

It seemed odd to many that Hollingsworth was alone in the car because he usually took another passenger to the VFW meetings. And it was wondered just how Fred Hollingsworth’s arm got broken three weeks before his murder.

There was gossip about a 1929 illegal liquor case in which Hollingsworth was involved with his brother-in-law William Hobert “Billie” Dykes, who by 1933 had moved from Ames to Illinois.

The Ames Daily Times-Tribune, wrote that Hollingsworth might have been “tangled up with bootleggers” or been suspected as a “stool pigeon for state or federal prohibition agents.”

Eventually the public’s intense interest in the case faded and it became cold and was forgotten by the citizens of Ames.

☛ Fred Hollingsworth’s Life ☚

Frederick Milton Hollingsworth was born June 7, 1895 in Marshall County, Iowa, to Carrie Mae Moler and Jordan Cyrus Hollingsworth.

Fred Hollingsworth worked in the Chemistry Building on the Iowa State Campus (courtesy photo ISU Library).

He had four siblings: Henrietta Hollingsworth Stowell, Charles Stevens Hollingsworth, Emily Belle Hollingsworth Hudson, and Helen Hollingsworth Mertz.

At the age of 21, Hollingsworth enlisted in Company I, 2nd Infantry of the Iowa National Guard and was sent to the Mexican Border.

He was promoted to Corporal in November 5, 1917 and assigned to the 109th Trench Mortar Battalion. In September 1918 he sailed to France to instruct troops. WWI ended soon after that and Hollingsworth returned to the United States in January 1919 and was honorably discharged.

After the war, Fred Hollingsworth married Hazel Marie Richter. For a time, the couple lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, where Hollingsworth was a laborer in a department store.

By January of 1925, the Hollingsworth were living in Cambridge, Iowa, and were the parents of two sons, Wallace Milton and Marvin Dale.

photo by Nancy Bowers

In the late 1920s, Fred and Hazel and their sons moved to 101 South Franklin Avenue at the corner of Lincoln Way in Ames and he worked in the Chemistry Department at Iowa State College while staying active in VFW activities.

In 1932, the Hollingsworths purchased land at 3413 Lincoln Way just southeast of their home and built a gas station. Today, that property is occupied by a Phillips 66 station which also covers the area where the Hollingsworth home stood.

After a funeral with full military rites, Fred Hollingsworth was buried in the Evergreen Section of the Ames Municipal Cemetery. Buried next to him is his father-in-law, Fred W. Richter, who died in 1939. On the stone is engraved the Veterans of Foreign Wars emblem with the chapter number 2209.

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

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References

  • ☛ “Ames Man Found Slain on Highway,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, June 13, 1933.
  • ☛ “Ames Man Murdered on Highway,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, June 13, 1933.
  • ☛ “Community Extends Deepest Sympathy,” LeGrand Reporter, June 16, 1933.
  • ☛ “Construction in 1932 at $130,617,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, January 7, 1933.
  • ☛ “Coroner’s Jury Reports Murder,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, June 16, 1933.
  • ☛ “Divorced Wife Will Aid Olson [sic],” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, June 17, 1933.
  • ☛ “A Glance at the Past: Aug. 11, 1917,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, August 11, 1937.
  • ☛ “Herring Offers $100 Reward for Capture of Brutal Bandits,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, October 13, 1933.
  • ☛ “Hollingsworth,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, June 14, 1933.
  • ☛ “Hollingsworth Grand Jury to Adjourn Thurs.,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, June 22, 1933.
  • ☛ “Hollingsworth Home Damaged by Fire,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, August 9, 1933.
  • ☛ “Hollingsworth Murder Before Grand Jury Mon.,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, June 19, 1933.
  • ☛ “Hollingsworth Murder Remains Mystery, Baffling Authorities,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, July 3, 1933.
  • ☛ “Hollingsworth Murder Still Unsolved,” Ames Milepost, June 29, 1933.
  • ☛ “Iowa State Employee Found Slain,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, June 14, 1933.
  • ☛ “Murder Suspect Hires Attorney,” Waterloo Daily Courier, June 25, 1933.
  • ☛ “Olson [sic] Charged with Murder,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, June 15, 1933.
  • ☛ “Olson [sic] Charged With Slaying,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, June 15, 1933.
  • ☛ “Olson [sic] Freed From Murder Charge,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, July 14, 1933.
  • ☛ “Soldier Held in Ames Death Case,” Waterloo Daily Courier, June 14, 1933.
  • ☛ United States Census.
  • ☛ “Woman Injured When Car Hits Bridge Rail,” Ames Daily Tribune-Times, April 13, 1933.

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