The Wabash Trestle: Murder of James Chamberlain 1893

Murder Victim

James Lewis Chamberlain
41-year-old Carpenter and Contractor
Cause of Death: Bludgeoned
Motive: Unknown

Murder Scene and Date

Wabash Railroad Trestle
Ottumwa, Iowa
Wapello County
May 25, 1893


By Nancy Bowers
Written August 2010

location of Ottumwa, Iowa

location of Ottumwa, Iowa

On Thursday, May 25, 1893, James Lewis Chamberlain — a 41-year-old carpenter and contractor who lived on the south side of Ottumwa — was found lying in mud and water underneath the Wabash Railroad trestle over the Des Moines River in the old Richmond section of the city.

While still conscious, Chamberlain told authorities he was struck on the head. He died of his injuries the next day.

from the Cedar Rapids Weekly Gazette

An inquest showed that Chamberlain’s skull was fractured, and a coroner’s jury concluded he was hit on the head with a blunt instrument “in the hands of a person or persons unknown.” The death was declared a murder.

The Cedar Rapids Weekly Gazette reported:

“There is no clue to the murderer that amounts to anything more than a strong suspicion and the affair is shrouded in the deepest mystery.”

☛ Similar Murder? ☚

Old postcard of the
Wabash Trestle (Wapello GenWeb).

Some in the Ottumwa community saw strong similarities between James Chamberlain’s murder and that of David P. Sutton in Ottumwa in February of 1893, three months previous. Neither case was solved.

To read an article about the unsolved 1893 murder of David P. Sutton, Jr. click here.


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



  • ☛ “He Was Murdered,” Cedar Rapids Weekly Gazette, June 8, 1893.
  • History Of Wapello County, Iowa and Representative Citizens, Compiled and Edited by Capt. Samuel B. Evans; Chicago, Illinois: Biographical Publishing Company, 1901.
  • ☛ “Looks Like Murder,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, May 30, 1893.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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