Under the Willows: Murder of John Doe 1904

Murder Victim

John Doe
25-to 28-year-old Male
Occupation Unknown
Cause of Death: Bludgeoned
Motive: Unknown

Murder Scene and Date

Juncture of Milwaukee Road and Rock Island Tracks
Perry, Iowa
Dallas County
August 2, 1904


By Nancy Bowers
Written September 2014

location of Perry, Iowa

location of Perry, Iowa

In 1904, the A.J. Caves family lived in a house on Lucinda Street in Perry, Iowa. Their backyard sloped down to the Rock Island Railroad right-of-way near where the tracks crossed those of the Milwaukee Road, which today is the Raccoon River Valley Trail.

In mid-August, the Caves were out of town for nearly 10 days. When they returned home, they were bothered by a strong, bad smell which permeated the area.

On Saturday, August 20 while they were mowing a clump of tall grass that grew under a grove of Willows bordering the tracks, Mrs. Caves spotted a hidden body. She immediately notified Dallas County Coroner A.L. French.

About 25 feet from where the body was discovered, authorities found a man’s hat and $2.65. Drag marks indicated that the dead man was killed at that spot, although there were no signs of an intense struggle.

Coroner French convened a jury consisting of J.N. Partner, A.M. Harvey, and T.H. White. He told the men there were no distinguishing marks or scars on the man’s body and nothing in his pockets to identify him.

from the Altoona Herald

from the Altoona Herald

The Altoona Herald reported the cause of death as determined by the jury:

“The injuries were entirely about the head. The right side of the skull [was] crushed in, the temple and cheek bones [were] crushed and the right side of the skull [was] cracked. The blow which caused death was evidently delivered with crushing force.”

Residents reported hearing gunshots on the night of Tuesday, August 2. The jury used that date to establish time of death, even though the body bore no bullet wounds.

These details were released about the unknown man in hopes that someone would recognize him:

  • ☛ He was 5 feet, 8 inches tall.
  • ☛ He weighed 145 pounds.
  • ☛ He had dark brown hair.
  • ☛ His teeth were in good condition.
  • ☛ He wore size 7 shoes.
  • ☛ In the lining of his hat was a clipping from the July 27 edition of the Des Moines News.

The body was so decomposed that embalming could not be done to preserve it for identification. The murdered man was buried in an unmarked grave.


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



  • ☛ “Body of Murdered Man Found,” Malvern Leader, August 25, 1904, p. 3.
  • ☛ “Evidence Of Brutal Murder,” Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, August 22, 1904, p. 10.
  • ☛ “Unearth Grim Tragedy,” Altoona Herald, August 25, 1904, p. 1.

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