The Well Digger: Murder of Peter Hendrickson 1895

Murder Victim

Peter Hendrickson
47-Year-Old Well Digger And Stone Mason

Cause of Death: Unknown (Staged Suicide)
Motive: Unknown

Murder Scene and Date

Keokuk and Des Moines Railroad Bridge
Des Moines, Iowa
Polk County
October 5, 1895


By Nancy Bowers
Written August 2017

location of Des Moines, Iowa

At 6:30 a.m. Saturday, October 5, 1895, passersby spotted a man hanging from the middle of the Keokuk-Des Moines railroad bridge — known as the “K.D. Bridge” — in Des Moines.

At first, it appeared the middle-aged man committed suicide. But, things just didn’t look right for that scenario. The body was hanging only a foot below the railroad tracks; to have hung himself, the victim would have had to crawl through a nine-inch-space between the ties. There were no signs of strangulation.

After retrieving and examining the body, Des Moines Police detectives concluded the man was dead before he was hung from the bridge.

from the Humeston New Era

The victim was quickly identified as 47-year-old well digger and stone mason Peter Hendrickson, a Norwegian-born resident of the Slater-Sheldahl area of Story County 25 miles north of Des Moines.

A coroner’s jury met on Monday, October 7 and ruled that Hendrickson was murdered and then hung to conceal the crime.

In addition, it was recommended that a woman described by the Waterloo Daily Courier as “Lucy Brady, colored” be committed for perjury; the Courier wrote that she is “believed to be one of three guilty parties.” Brady and the two others may have been the passersby who discovered Hendrickson’s body and, therefore, became suspects. She was not tried for the murder.

Peter Hendrickson, a bachelor who had no family living in the United States, was well-known in southwestern Story County, which is a Norwegian-American colony.


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



  • ☛ Ames Times, October 10, 1895, p. 1.
  • ☛ “Goings On In Iowa,” Waterloo Daily Courier,” October 7, 1895, p. 4.
  • ☛ “Hanged From A Bridge,” Ames Intelligencer, October 10, 1895, p. 10.
  • ☛ “Iowa News Items,” Pocahontas County Sun, October 10, 1895, p. 10.
  • ☛ “Murdered and Then Hung,” Waterloo Daily Courier, October 11, 1895, p. 1.
  • ☛ “The News In Iowa,” Emmetsburg Democrat, October 16, 1895, p. 7.
  • ☛ “Suicide Or Murder,” Humeston New Era, October 9, 1895, p. 6.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “Was It Murder,” Dubuque Sunday Times, October 6, 1895, p. 1.

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