“Thick Veil of Mystery” On New Year’s Eve: Murder of C.H. Wessell 1891

Murder Victim

Carster Henry “C.H.” Wessel
68-year-old Farmer
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Drunken Quarrel

Murder Scene and Date

Near Post Office
Teeds Grove
Clinton County
January 1, 1891


By Nancy Bowers
Written December 2011

from the Jackson Sentinel

On Wednesday evening, December 31, 1890, 68-year-old Teeds Grove resident Carster Henry “C.H.” Wessel attended a New Year’s Eve party and dance at the Detliff and Christena Petersen home.

During the festivities, Wessel confronted a Petersen son, Frans — who was known as “Frank” — and warned him to stay away from his daughter, saying he was not good enough for her.

The two men argued, and others came to Petersen’s defense.

As midnight arrived, the revelers at the gathering fired off shotguns in celebration.

Although the party “railed,” as a newspaper described it, till almost dawn, everyone in attendance said C.H. Wessel left for home between midnight and 1:00 a.m.

Around that same time, C.H. Wessel’s son August — a local storekeeper and the Teeds Grove Postmaster — heard gunfire. He and his wife Maria assumed it was someone welcoming the New Year.

☛ New Years Day ☚

At 6:00 a.m. on New Year’s Day, Charles Jargo and others trailing home from the Petersen party, found Wessel lying unconscious along the road about 200 feet from the Post Office and about a half-mile away from the Petersen home.

Wessel’s face was bruised, so Jargo and the others assumed he passed out from intoxication and fell against a hedge.

The men took Wessel to a nearby home and summoned medical help. The responding doctor saw immediately that Wessel was shot in the head and that saving him was hopeless. C.H. Wessel died soon afterwards without regaining consciousness.

☛ Coroner’s Investigation ☚

from the Daily Courier

Wessel’s daughter-in-law Maria notified Clinton County Coroner C.W. Meyers of the death.

On January 2, Meyers traveled to Teeds Grove, taking along Court Reporter John Jackson, Clinton County Attorney Joseph H. Flint, and Clinton County Sheriff Joseph E. Moran to hear and record inquest testimony.

During the proceedings, Meyers reported that Wessel had a bruise on his shoulder and three bullet wounds on the right side of his head — one above the ear and two in the temple. The shots, from a .32 caliber revolver, were fired at such close range the skin was burned and blackened.

The coroner’s jury speculated that while walking home Wessel was accosted by someone — perhaps more than one person — he had argued with at the dance.

He was struck on the shoulder with a heavy club and knocked down. While he lay on the ground, a revolver was fired three times into his head at close range.

Witnesses swore that although midnight shots were fired at the Petersen party, no one had a revolver, only shotguns.

The verdict of the coroner’s jury was the standard “killed by person or persons unknown.”

Suspicions ran rampant, especially among Wessel’s fellow Germans in the community who believed Frank Peterson was involved. But there was not enough evidence for a grand jury to indict and the murder remained unsolved.

☛ “Thick Veil of Mystery” ☚

In reporting the death and investigation, the Clinton Daily Herald, wrote:

“A thick veil of mystery hangs over the Village of Teeds Grove on account of the cold blooded murder. . . . What looks the most suspicious is the fact that the utmost stolidity and indifference to the fate of the old man is expressed by those most closely interested.”

☛ Would-be Detective Lands In Jail ☚

A few years later, Clinton resident and self-styled “detective” Joseph “Joe” Cuddy tried to solve the Wessel murder and earn the reward. He claimed that one day he was hiding under the Petersens’ porch and heard Frank Petersen confess to killing Wessel.

A grand jury halted its deliberation on Cuddy’s “evidence,” however, when the story was proved a fabrication.

Not long afterwards, Joe Cuddy was convicted of forgery amounting to thousands of dollars and was sentenced to Anamosa Penitentiary for seven years.

☛ Wessel Murder is Revived ☚

The Wessel homicide gained new life, if only briefly, when prime suspect Frank Petersen was convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl in 1899.

Newspapers once again reported the Wessel murder details, implying that Frank Petersen was not charged with it because his parents were wealthy.

Despite this publicity, no new clues were brought forward to solve the murder.

☛ Carster Henry Wessel’s Life ☚

Tombstone for C.H. Wessel and his wife Caroline (courtesy Iowa Tombstone Photo Project).

Carster Henry “C.H.” Wessel was born in Germany in 1823 and at his death was considered an “old settler” of Elk Grove Township.

He and his German-born wife Caroline had five children: August, Wilhelm, Milina, Bertha, and Minzy.

Wessel was buried in the Teeds Grove Cemetery; his wife Caroline died two years later and a single stone commemorates them both with inscriptions in German.

Please note: The community was known as Teeds Grove from 1873 till 1883, when the post office name was changed to Teeds. In 1893, the name was changed back to Teeds Grove. At the time of the Wessel murder, it was officially known as Teeds, although almost always called Teeds Grove by residents.

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



☛ David Jindrich contributed special research and correspondence to this article. ☚

  • ☛ “A Heinous Crime,” Des Moines Daily News, May 5, 1899.
  • ☛ “A Heinous Crime,” Humeston New Era, May 10, 1899.
  • ☛ “Iowa Condensed Items,” Daily Courier, January 8, 1891.
  • ☛ “Iowa Condensed Items,” Oelwein Register, January 8, 1891.
  • ☛ “Neighbortown [sic] News,” Jackson Sentinel (reprinted from Clinton County Advertiser), January 8, 1891.
  • ☛ “The Teeds Grove Murder,” Clinton Daily Herald, January 3, 1891 (transcribed for Iowa Old Press by K.W., July 2009).
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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