The Widow in the Alley: Murder of Lillian Chapman 1950

Murder Victim

Lillian A. Guthrie Chapman
69-year-old Babysitter
Widow
1880-1950
Cause of Death: Strangled
Motive: Sexual Psychopathy

Murder Scene and Date

518 12th Avenue S.
Clinton, Iowa
Clinton County
Memorial Day
May 30, 1950

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By Nancy Bowers
Written February 2012

When 68-year-old Clinton resident Kathryn “Kate” Sheibley of 518 12th Avenue S. awoke at dawn on Memorial Day 1950 and looked out her rear window, she couldn’t believe what she saw. A dead woman lay in an onion patch between an alley and the rear of her house.

Kate Sheibley telephoned Clinton Police about her horrific discovery, telling them she believed the victim was her neighbor Lillian “Lillie” Chapman, a grandmother and widow of 10 years who lived with her sister Pearl Abraham at 538 12th Avenue S. a few houses away.

Lillian Chapman (Clinton Herald, courtesy David Jindrich)

Police Chief Jens Kair and his officers reported to the scene, accompanied by Coroner L.O. Riggert, County Attorney John Carlsen, Assistant County Attorney John McCarthy, and Fire Chief Harold Nelson. The men found signs of a violent struggle in the alley not far from the dead woman.

Lillian Chapman’s body was badly bruised, her clothes were in disarray, and her own silk scarf was tied tightly around her neck. Close by were her ripped underwear, one shoe, and her purse containing a house key and $.77.

Murder alley (Clinton Herald, courtesy David Jindrich)

Initially, officers believed the diamond ring and wristwatch Lillian always wore were missing and stolen. However after the jewelry was located in her home, robbery was ruled out as a motive.

Close to Lillian’s body, investigators found a 3-foot cherry tree branch with hair on the bark. This was sent to the FBI Lab for examination, although investigators told local reporters they didn’t believe it was the murder weapon. They also collected a board and part of a brick at the scene.
 

 

☛ Police Investigation ☚

Police Chief Jens Kair assigned four officers to work full-time on the investigation: Police captains Herman Thompson and Ted Long, Lt. Edward Clancy, and Detective William Hurlburt.

BCI Director Doc Nebergall sent his best agent to Clinton.

Clinton Mayor Don R. Allison and County Attorney John Carlsen met with police and then requested help from the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Bureau Chief R.B. “Doc” Nebergall responded quickly, sending Special Agent G.J. Strand to Clinton.

Dr. J.K. Stewart’s autopsy revealed that Lillian Chapman died a terrible and brutal death.

She was strangled with her own scarf, and the attacker broke seven ribs when he knelt on her chest to tighten it. Her head, chin, mouth, and nose were severely beaten with a club-like instrument which also fractured her neck and caused internal injuries. She was struck so hard that her upper false teeth broke. In addition, she was sexually assaulted.

Dr. Stewart set the time of death between midnight and 2:00 a.m. on the morning of May 30.

About 12:30 a.m., Mary Fulton of 681 11th Avenue S. heard a woman scream three times, “Oh, my God, don’t.” But Fulton didn’t investigate because she thought the voice came from a passing car.

Lucinda Crider of 1131 Camanche Avenue was awakened by an argument about midnight between a man and woman in the alley — but no scream. She wasn’t particularly concerned because disturbances like that were common in the neighborhood.

The coroner’s jury, under the direction of Clinton County Coroner Dr. L.O. Riggert, ruled Lillian Chapman died of strangulation at the hands of an unknown person.

☛ What Happened between 9:30 and Midnight? ☚

Lillian Chapman’s home (Clinton Herald, courtesy David Jindrich)

No one — including her sister Pearl with whom she lived — could account for Lillian’s leaving home that night.

Pearl, who was also a widow, said Lillian received three phone calls that evening but she did not know from whom. Pearl last saw her sister at 9:30 p.m., when Lillian told her it was time to retire, and did not hear her leave their home.

Although Pearl said Lillian’s bed was neatly made up earlier in the evening, it appeared slept in when police searched the house for clues.

Something or someone compelled Lillian to get dressed and go out. She often babysat, but her family said she did not have a job that night. She might also have been going to shop at nearby stores that stayed open until 10:00 p.m.

Had Lillian responded to a knock on the door — which Pearl, who was partially deaf, could not hear — and been lured out of the house on the pretense of someone needing help or the offer of a babysitting job.

☛ Sex Offenders Rounded Up ☚

location of Clinton, Iowa

location of Clinton, Iowa

Authorities rounded up all known sex offenders and suspicious men in the area.

Eddie Kaltenbach, found sleeping in a nearby railroad boxcar and recently detained in the Clinton Jail for vagrancy, was brought in. Kaltenbach, who said he was on the way home to Forreston, Illinois, and denied any knowledge of the murder, was released when his story proved true.

Fifty men were questioned, including two hitchhikers seen earlier in the neighborhood; no one was arrested and charged.

☛ Settling on a Suspect ☚

Jack O’Day ( Clinton Herald, courtesy David Jindrich)

Through an murky process, Clinton Police settled on a prime suspect: Jack O’Day, a 34-year-old itinerant farm worker with a sixth grade education and no knowledge of the law, including his basic rights.

O’Day had previous minor scrapes with the law — mostly juvenile offenses or drunkenness, with the most serious charge being car theft, for which he served three years. However, he was never accused of any sexual crimes.

When he moved to Clinton, Jack O’Day changed his name to George Raymond Archer, a name used throughout the resultant legal proceedings.

George Archer worked in and around Clinton for a year before the murder and befriended Charles Smith of Clinton and his brother Lafayette, who lived just on the other side of the Mississippi River.

On May 29, 1950, Archer borrowed $6 from Charles and said he was going to follow the harvest west, probably leaving on June 1. As far as the Smiths knew, Archer left Clinton that day.

As Archer traveled, he sent postcards back to the Smiths telling them where he was and what he was doing. In February 1951, the Smith brothers received a postcard from Archer saying he was living in Casper, Wyoming.

☛ Sweating Out the Suspect ☚

Clinton Police learned of the postcard and asked the Casper Police Chief to bring in and question Archer. Casper authorities left a message with Archer’s landlady and he willingly appeared at the Police Station that evening, February 20, 1951.

Ted Long and Ed Clancy, who questioned Archer in Wyoming, are second and third from the right (Courtesy IAGenWeb Clinton County).

Archer was immediately locked in jail, even though there were no charges against him from either Iowa or Wyoming. Not until the next day was he told he was being held for the murder of Lillian Chapman.

He denied that he had killed anyone.

For two days, Casper Police questioned Archer, never advising him of his rights to an attorney or to be charged immediately and arraigned.

Archer agreed to sign an extradition paper to be taken back to Iowa, although he was not even under arrest.

On February 23, Clinton authorities arrived in Casper: Police Capt. Theodore E. “Ted” Long, Acting Clinton County Attorney Walter W. Eggers, and Police Officer Edward Clancy.

Headlines like this appeared in newspapers statewide.

Using a tag team approach, authorities from both jurisdictions questioned Archer. Captain Long and Casper officers Tony Wroblewki and C. J. Carter started about 7:00 p.m. that evening. Eggers spelled them. After Long had rested, he took over again.

This relay questioning continued until after midnight, with Archer receiving no rest from the “sweating.”

The lawmen called Archer a liar and showed him photographs of the body and crime scene and told him in specific detail just how he killed Lillian Chapman.

As he had for three days, Archer maintained his innocence; but that did not stop the badgering and questions.

☛ “Confession” Obtained ☚

Worn out and exhausted, Archer finally said:

“If I tell you I did this, will you let me get some sleep?”

Capt. Ted Long wrote a confession for Archer to sign. It detailed theories Clinton Police had formed about how Lillian Chapman was killed, including that she was struck with a brake shoe key, even though a bloody cherry tree limb was found nearby. The confession also stated that rape was attempted but not completed because the autopsy could not establish sexual assault, although all signs pointed to it.

Archer signed it.

Then that confession was placed on the table and he was asked to write it in his own hand and sign that draft as well.

☛ Crime Scene Details ☚

Even though there were still no formal charges against Archer, he was taken by train back to Clinton on February 25. Late that night, he was brought to the murder scene by Clinton Police and a Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent and asked to point out where he killed Lillian Chapman and how he did it.

By then Archer was familiar with the police theory of the crime from reading the details in his “confession” and from seeing crime scene photos. He told them whatever they asked him to say.

For example, he confessed to seeing or meeting Lillian Chapman in a restaurant about midnight on the night of the crime and said he followed her out. Later, the owner of the café and a waitress on duty said the restaurant closed at 8:00 p. m. and neither he nor Lillian could have been there at midnight.

☛ Guilty As Charged ☚

When he was formally charged, Archer withdrew his confession and pleaded not guilty. Clinton Defense attorney Emmett P. Delaney agreed to defend him.

In early April of 1951, Archer was convicted of second degree murder in the Lillian Chapman homicide. On April 9, he was sentenced to life in prison by District Court Judge Merrill L. Sutton.

Judge Sutton told the court he imposed the life sentence because of the brutal nature of the crime and because he wanted to make Archer an example to others.

He also noted that it was imposed because of Archer’s “character.” Sutton said Archer had not helped to support his son or made any valuable contribution to society and was not likely to over the course of his life.

When the defense pointed out that a physician who murdered someone was not given life, Judge Sutton asserted that the doctor had made valuable contributions before he killed and, therefore, his life outside of prison was of more value than Archer’s.

Delaney immediately gave notice that he would appeal the verdict.

☛ Successful Appeal ☚

The matter was taken to the Iowa Supreme Court, where Emmett Delaney and his son John L. Delaney argued that a confession can be used to convict someone of a crime only if there is other substantiating evidence.

The Delaneys cited legal precedent that if a confession is the only evidence and is obtained through duress, pressure and coercion — as they argued had been the case with George Archer — it is not admissible.

The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with the Delaneys, threw out the confession, and ordered that George Archer be retried for the murder of Lillian Chapman.

With the confession — the only “evidence” in the murder case — unavailable, Clinton County Attorney Kermit Kruse told the District Court he was unable to prosecute and convict Archer.

Archer was ordered released from prison by Merrill L. Sutton, the same judge who sentenced him to life based on his “value” to society

☛ Lillian Chapman’s Life ☚

Lillian Chapman’s stone in Springdale Cemetery (photo Michael Kearney).

No one else was charged with the brutal murder of Lillian Chapman and the case remains cold.

Lillian A. Chapman was born August 7, 1880 in Springhill, Illinois, to Irish immigrant John Guthrie and his wife Elizabeth.

On December 13, 1910 in Clinton, she married railroad employee Lyle Clyde Chapman, and they had a son, Russell Harry Chapman, and a daughter Freda Chapman Gleason. At the time of her death, Lillian had a granddaughter and three great-grandchildren.

Lillian’s funeral was conducted on June 1 at the Snyder Funeral home by Dr. L.D. Havighurst of the Methodist Church, and she was buried in Springdale Cemetery beside her husband.
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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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☛ David Jindrich contributed special research and correspondence to this article. ☚

References

  • ☛ “72-Year-Old Clinton Woman Found Strangled to Death,” Clinton Herald, May 30, 1950.
  • ☛ “Admits Killing Woman,” Carroll Daily Times Herald, February 24, 1951.
  • ☛ “Chapman Murder Rated One of State’s Most Brutal,” Clinton Herald, February 24, 1951.
  • ☛ “Brake Shoe Key Lethal Weapon,” Clinton Herald, February 24, 1951.
  • ☛ “Club May Be Clue In Clinton Killing,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 1, 1950.
  • ☛ “Convicted Murderer Freed When Confession Thrown Out,” Waterloo Daily Courier, July 2, 1953.
  • ☛ “George Archer Gets Life for Clinton Killing,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 9, 1951.
  • ☛ “Investigators Doubtful Cherry Tree Limb Used in Woman’s Death,” Clinton Herald, June 1, 1950.
  • ☛ “May Have Used Limb To Beat Grandmother,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, June 2, 1950.
  • ☛ “No Clues in Memorial Day Slaying of Clinton Woman,” Carroll Daily Times Herald, May 31, 1950.
  • ☛ “O’Day Involved In Petty Crimes,” Clinton Herald, February 14, 1951.
  • ☛ “O’Day’s Confession Solved Chapman Murder Case,” Clinton Herald, February 24, 1951.
  • ☛ “Police Scour Crime Scene for Tangible Clues in Brutal Strangulation Murder of Clinton Woman, 72,” Clinton Herald, May 31, 1950.
  • ☛ “Police Stumped In Clinton Grandmother’s Sex Slaying,” Waterloo Daily Courier, May 31,1950.
  • ☛ “State Bureau to Assist Clinton in Murder Investigation,” Clinton Herald, June 3, 1950.
  • ☛ State v. Archer 58 N. W. 2d 44 (1953) No. 47962. Supreme Court of Iowa. April 8, 1953.
  • ☛ “Time of Murder Set Two Hours After Neighbor Heard Scream,” Clinton Herald, June 7, 1950.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “Quiz Transient in Murder of Clinton Grandmother,” Ames Daily Tribune, May 31, 1950.

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