The Tramp at Breakfast: Murder of Andrew Hart 1896

Murder Victim

Andrew Hart
26-year-old Farmhand
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Robbery

Murder Scene and Date

Myron Woodard Farm
Section 9, Washington Township
Near LaMoille, Iowa
Marshall County
December 13, 1896


By Nancy Bowers
Written September 2013

The Hart farm was miles from the county seat Marshalltown

The Hart farm was 10 miles southwest of Marshalltown

In predawn hours during mid-December on the prairie, the first person up must be determined and tough to leave a warm bed for the still cold of the house.

But 26-year-old Andrew Hart was sturdy, and he was reliably the first to arise on the Hart family’s rented Washington Township farm near LaMoille, Iowa, 10 miles southwest of Marshalltown.

Every morning, Andrew lit the heating and cooking stoves so the rooms would be warm and the kitchen ready to prepare food when the others came down from their second-floor bedrooms.

from the Des Moines Daily News

from the Des Moines Daily News

On Sunday, December 13, 1896, Andrew left the bed where he slept with his older brother Horace and walked down the steps to the parlor to fire the stove there first.

Suddenly, the rest of the still-sleeping family was startled awake by sounds of a struggle on the first floor.

Andrew’s mother Maranda heard someone shout:

“What are you doing here?”

Andrew’s father George tried to pull his clothes on as he ran from the bedroom towards the stairway. As he threw open the parlor door, he could make out his son grappling with a dark form, a man who shouldn’t be in the house.

Just at that moment, a flash illuminated the room and then another. Andrew cried “Oh,” and collapsed onto the floor, shot dead.

Horace, Andrew's brother, sounded the alarm to neighboring farms (

Andrew’s brother Horace sounded the alarm to neighboring farms (

Right behind George were his wife Maranda, son Horace, and daughters Georgie and Fanny.

Seeing he was cornered by the family, the intruder leapt through the parlor front window — shattering the glass, cutting himself, and trailing the sash out across the sill as he fled.

George Hart followed the intruder through the window and chased him across the house yard; but at 61, he was not agile enough to keep up with the man.

While Horace Hart hurried to neighboring farms to raise the alarm, George Hart rushed south to the Marshall County Poor Farm, where he telephoned Marshalltown Police about the break-in and shooting.

☛ Investigation Begins ☚

Sheriff William D. Mills — a former gold prospector, Civil War veteran, and Iowa State Representative and Senator — was tough and quick-acting, He persuaded the Marshall County Board of Supervisors to immediately grant a $500 reward for the capture of Andrew Hart’s killer and sent telegrams to every railroad station within 100 miles for posting in the depots.

It didn’t take long for Marshalltown law enforcement and Sheriff Mills to arrive at the Hart farm.

from the  Des Moines Daily News

from the Des Moines Daily News

They determined Andrew Hart was shot twice in the heart by a .38 caliber revolver.

On the floor of the Harts’ parlor they found a hat and a cravat-like necktie which were torn off the intruder during his struggle with the victim.

The investigators traced a blood trail from the shattered window. It went over a high wooden fence that enclosed the yard; at the top, the  shooter’s mackintosh had been snagged off. From there, the trail led through a small opening in the thick Osage Orange hedge row and disappeared into a field of dense corn rows that had not yet been picked. In the field, 40 yards from the Hart house, the murder weapon was found.

The Waterloo Daily Reporter wrote about the gun:

“The trigger, guard, and barrel were spattered with blood, evidently from the wounded hand of the murderer.”

By then, an informal posse of about 150 armed men — some attracted by the reward and others motivated by friendship for the well-respected Hart family — used bloodhounds to track Andrew Hart’s killer.

As they combed the area, the agitated men vowed to each other they would lynch the killer when he was found.

Word of the tragic shooting spread across central Iowa. Des Moines citizens were particularly touched by the event because everyone knew Andrew Hart’s prominent brother-in-law John Monarch, who owned the Savery Livery. John and Florence Hart Monarch immediately set out for LaMoille on the train.

Des Moines Police Chief of Detectives George McNutt also traveled to Marshall County to offer his skills and experience to the investigation.

☛ A Suspect is Cornered ☚

 Des Moines Daily News

Des Moines Daily News

At noon on Tuesday, December 15, grieving family and friends gathered for Andrew Hart’s funeral.

About that same time, a Chicago Great Western train pulled into LaMoille; its conductor told folks in the depot that a man fitting the description of Hart’s killer was cornered in a barn near Albion 8 miles northeast of LaMoille. The news was carried to the funeral and, as it spread through the mourners, angry men left to ride to Albion.

The suspect, the story said, was lacerated as if by glass and had tried to hide some bloody clothing. In addition, he fit the general description provided by George Hart of his son’s killer.

On December 16, the Waterloo Daily Courier wrote that Marshall County authorities:

“Immediately sent a team to the supposed point of capture to secure the individual. On arrival the report was found to be absolutely untrue and without foundation . . . . The falsity of the report caused a great disappointment in . . . LaMoille.”

There were other sightings, as well. Des Moines hunters Henry Thompson and Grant Parguson reported to Chief of Detectives George McNutt that in the Four Mile area their dogs flushed out of the brush a bruised and cut, fearful-looking man who had bound his wounded hands with strips of cloth torn from his own coat. When asked who he was, he refused to say and then fled.

from the Waterloo Daily Courier

from the Waterloo Daily Courier

The Des Moines Police thought they were onto the trail of the killer when an Indianola farmer told them he picked up a “mysterious stranger” on the way north to Des Moines.

When they reached the Ninth Street Bridge in the city, the man climbed out of the wagon and disappeared. He seemed suspicious because he was “desperate-looking,” the farmer said. His clothes were dirty and stained and his face and hands had deep cuts.

Despite the multiple sightings of possible suspects, the prospects for finding the killer were looking grim, especially given the extent and intensity of the manhunt, which was able to track the blood trail for at least three miles from the Hart home.

The Sheriff’s Office continued searching along the rail lines in the belief that the killer had not yet boarded a train — he had not been spotted on one — but would likely try to do so to escape the area.

As each day passed without a solution, agitation and anger grew in residents who looked with suspicion on everyone, including fellow citizens. The Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette acknowledged the element of gossip in the terrified and angry community:

“The search for the murderer is being conducted with unabated vigor and all manner of wild rumors are being sprung up and run down.”

☛ Tramp at Breakfast ☚

Then came a possible break. Marshall County Deputy Sheriff John Emery Wildman took a report from 52-year-old James Matthews that a tramp had appeared at his place 9 miles south of the Marshall County Poor Farm on Saturday morning — the day before the murder — and asked for breakfast.

A Times Republican article printed the description provided by Matthews and his 41-year-old wife Minnie:

“He was a man of rather more than ordinary size, apparently about five feet, eight or nine inches in height, and would weigh probably in the neighborhood of 170 or 180 pounds. He wore a black mackintosh with a cape on it, a dark, soft hat, a suit of clothes of light-colored gray material, hair of a light brown color and a little long, smooth face and clean shaven, full face and fine teeth. He was a rather rough-looking individual, and it appeared then to Mr. Matthews that he might be a vicious customer if angered.”

Despite their uneasiness, James and Minnie Matthews invited the stranger into their home and let him sit at their table.

Over breakfast, the three made pleasant conversation, exchanging information as people meeting for the first time do. When asked if he worked for the railroad, the tramp said no, that he and his parents, who were Catholic, lived in Omaha, Nebraska. When Mr. Matthews then asked if he knew Tom Foley in that city, the reply was, “‘I know some Foleys there who are engaged in the wholesale liquor business.’”

After eating, the tramp left the Matthews farm, walking north on the road to the Poor Farm.

Law enforcement speculated that the man slept in a barn or straw stack that night before entering the Hart home early the next morning with the purpose of robbery.

When shown the hat and mackintosh left behind by Andrew Hart’s killer, James Matthews positively identified them as belonging to the tramp he and his wife fed but he could not say with certainty that the tramp wore any sort of neck apparel that would match that found at the crime scene.

The description from James and Minnie Matthews gave the authorities more concrete details than the general ones provided by George Hart, who had only seconds to scrutinize the suspect during the terror of seeing his son murdered.

If the tramp who stopped at the Matthews farm was the killer, then — locals felt — that exonerated from suspicion those in the neighborhood who might have killed Hart because of ill will or a grudge.

☛ Suspect Detained at Ottumwa ☚

On Wednesday, December 16, a tramp calling himself Dave Sweeney and wanting a bed for the night appeared at the Ottumwa jail in Wapello County, nearly 100 miles southeast of the Hart murder location.

from the Humeston New Era

from the Humeston New Era

Police were suspicious because Sweeney’s forehead, nose, lips, chin, and hands were covered with partially-scabbed over lacerations and it might have been possible for him to steal rides to Ottumwa on trains headed south from Marshall County.

Sweeney generally matched George Hart’s description of the killer but more specifically was 26, weighed 100 pounds, was dark-haired and blue-eyed and clean-shaven with ears low on his head and wore a dark gray suit, sack coat, light shirt, and “old pointed-toe shoes.”

Marshall County authorities provided information that James and Minnie Matthews gleaned from the conversation with the suspicious tramp who stopped at their farm. Ottumwa authorities asked similar questions to match up answers and felt that generally Sweeney was answering in the same way.

Sweeney denied he was cut when he jumped through a window and maintained his face was scratched and his clothing torn during a scuffle with a fellow tramp who traveled with him on the Rock Island Line from Chicago to Omaha during the previous month before abandoning him. He could not, however, name any towns along the route he traveled.

The Waterloo Daily Courier reported:

“[Sweeney] is a hard-looking customer, and worries when questioned.”


Sheriff William D. Mills

Thursday, December 17, 1896 was Marshall County Sheriff William D. Mills’s 58th birthday and he hoped to celebrate it with the seizure of Andrew Hart’s killer in Ottumwa.

Sheriff Mills left Marshalltown on the 4:15 p.m. train with two newspaper reporters in tow to document the hoped-for arrest. The party stopped at the Gilman depot to pick up James Matthews, the farmer who fed the tramp believed to be the killer.

The four men arrived in Ottumwa at 9:30 p.m. and went directly to Ottumwa Police Chief Van Der Veer’s Office, where Dave Sweeney was waiting.

Almost immediately, Matthews declared Sweeney was not the man who stopped at his farm. Then Matthews wanted to be sure, so he moved closer and engaged Sweeney in conversation.

Matthews left the Chief’s Office with the certainty that Sweeney weighed less than the tramp he fed, that his hair was lighter and his clothes different, and that he did not have the same voice.

It was not the birthday present Sheriff Mills hoped for.

The search for Andrew Hart’s killer persisted in Marshall County, with gossip increasing and — after the exoneration of the Ottumwa tramp — suspicions again falling on neighbor by neighbor, setting off defiance and indignity.

One man was arrested at Blairstown, another at Tama. Both were released.

☛ Shocking Report ☚

Rumors formed and spread so quickly that newspapers were hard-pressed to keep up with them.

On December 23, a community which believed itself impervious to further shock received unbelievable news. Newspapers like the Waterloo Daily Courier reported that George Hart had been arrested for his own son’s murder.

After one day, that false story disappeared as quickly as it appeared.

In late August of 1897, George Hart traveled to Omaha with his Marshalltown attorney W.T. Maxey to bring a suit in Federal Court against the Omaha World Herald for being the source of the fabricated story that he was arrested for his own son’s murder. He asked $10,000 in damages.

The outcome of this suit was not made public. It may have been settled quietly out of court or it may have still been pending when George Hart died at the age of 64 in late June of 1899 from “lock jaw” as the result of a splinter wound in his right hand.

☛ A Long-Sought Suspect ☚

from the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette

from the Cedar Rapids
Evening Gazette

In Early August of 1897 — 9 months after the murder — Marshall County authorities announced the arrest in Colorado of Cloyd Magarell, a Cass County, Iowa, native who had lived around the state, as well as in Colorado.

Daily Iowa Capital wrote of the investigation that led to this arrest:

“[Sheriff] Mills has traveled many miles and has spent considerable time and energy in following the clews that pointed towards Magarell’s guilt. When the news came that the man was under arrest in Colorado the Sheriff was absent in Illinois, but immediately on his return he took the first train for the west.”

It was said that Sheriff Mills had long suspected Magarell of the murder and had asked Colorado authorities to arrest him once before; however, miscommunication and confusion about the surname prevented that.

No news of the arrest was leaked to the press until Magarell was in jail, safe from the locals who all along had threatened to lynch the guilty party.

James Matthews once again was brought in to have a look. He first viewed Cloyd Magarell at night and felt certain he wasn’t the person who ate breakfast in his house on the morning before the murder. When Matthews returned in the full light of day, he declared Magarell was too tall and dark-haired to have been the man.

Marshall County Attorney B.F. Cummings did not believe he had a strong enough case to take to trial, and Cloyd Magarell was released from custody.

A month later, Cloyd Magarell, claiming his feelings and reputation were damaged by the arrest, filed suit against Sheriff William D. Mills and Marshall County for $10,000.

The results of this legal suit were never made public but it is possible that it brought about the defeat of Sheriff Mills in the next election.

☛ Andrew Hart’s Life ☚

photo by

photo by thoran

Andrew Hart was born August 19, 1870 in Linn in Warren County, Iowa, to Indiana natives Maranda Williams & George Washington Hart. He had six siblings: brothers Charles and Horace Hart and sisters Georgie Hart, Fannie Hart, Florence Hart Monarch, and Annie Jane Hart James.

The Hart family lived in Polk County, Iowa, and Pike, Kansas, before putting down roots in Marshall County.

Andrew Hart was buried in the LaMoille Cemetery in a plot where his mother — whom the Des Moines Daily News reported was “nearly crazed over the [murder]” — was buried in 1898 and his father in 1899.

Adams County Free Press wrote of the victim:

“Young Hart was very popular and highly respected in the community.”


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



  • ☛ “Abbreviated Telegrams,” Waterloo Daily Courier, December 23, 1896.
  • ☛ “Bloody Act,” Des Moines Daily News, December 14, 1896.
  • ☛ “Burglar In Hiding,” Des Moines Daily News, December 18, 1896.
  • ☛ “Condensed Iowa,” Daily Iowa Capital, August 2, 1897.
  • ☛ “Condensed Iowa,” Daily Iowa Capital, December 19, 1896.
  • ☛ “Died of Lockjaw,” Rolfe Reveille, July 6, 1899.
  • ☛ “Discover A Clue,” Davenport Daily Republican, December 18, 1896.
  • ☛ “The Hart Murderer Again,” Davenport Daily Leader, December 23, 1896.
  • ☛ “Hart Murderer Caught,” Daily Iowa Capital, December 15, 1896.
  • ☛ “Hart’s Murderer,” Humeston New Era, December 23, 1896.
  • ☛ “The Hawkeye State,” Worth County Index, December 24, 1896.
  • ☛ “He Is Not Identified,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, August 4, 1897.
  • ☛ “Iowa News,” Davenport Weekly Leader, December 29, 1896.
  • ☛ “Is A Probable Murderer,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, August 2, 1897.
  • ☛ “Is He Hart’s Murderer?” Waterloo Daily Courier, December 19, 1896.
  • ☛ Jerry Hoehle, Personal Correspondence, January 2018.
  • ☛ “Killed By A Burglar,” Waterloo Daily Courier, December 15, 1896.
  • ☛ “LaMoille Tragedy,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, December 15, 1896.
  • ☛ “Magarell Will Sue,” Des Moines Daily News, September 3, 1897.
  • ☛ “Marshalltown Murder,” Waterloo Daily Courier, December 17, 1896.
  • ☛ “Murdered By A Thief,” Adams County Free Press, December 24, 1896.
  • ☛ “Murderer At Large,” Waterloo Daily Courier, December 16, 1896.
  • ☛ “Murderer Is Taken,” Des Moines Daily News, December 15, 1896.
  • ☛ “No Evidence To Hold Him,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, August 12, 1897.
  • ☛ “Not Captured,” Waterloo Daily Reporter, December 16, 1896.
  • ☛ “Shot By A Burglar,” Daily Iowa Capital, December 14, 1896.
  • ☛ “Some Odds and Ends,” Pella Advertiser, December 19, 1896.
  • ☛ “Two More Suspects Arrested,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, December 22, 1896.
  • ☛ “State Items,” Waterloo Daily Courier, August 21, 1897.
  • ☛ “The State of Iowa,” Cedar Falls Semi-Weekly Gazette, January 1, 1897.
  • ☛ “They Find A Clue,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, December 17, 1896.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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