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Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015

Old murders and Calico Joe

Monday, September 17, 2012

I was disappointed in John Grisham's latest book, Calico Joe. No mystery, it is closer to A Painted House (a fine book) than his other books, but it doesn't approach that. A lot about a baseball phenom, even more about an over-the-hill pitcher and his mistreatment of his family. I found the book as dysfunctional as the man.


In 1889 Le Mars police Night Watchman Samuel Hamilton, age 27, was shot and killed on Main Street. A noisy group of men had just left a club room and were walking south on Main Street. When Hamilton attempted to quiet them, a fight broke out, and one of the men opened fire with a pistol. The policeman was killed instantly. The shooter was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison.


Tuesday, August 21, 1917 was one of the most tragic and unforgettable days in the town's history, the Le Mars Sentinel reported. I'd guess it still ranks there. The body of little Alta Braun, age 13, was found in the alley near the Illinois Central Railroad tracks between Cedar and Howard streets.

"Her clothes and stockings were torn, her corset ripped. Bruises on her arms and legs showed where she was violently held down; efforts to cover her cries had produced black and blue marks.

The girl's own black underskirt, ripped from her body, was knotted around her neck."

The Yankee Robinson Circus was in town and had set up a carnival with a merry-go-round in the Le Mars business district. Alta and her friends planned to ride it. For the occasion, she had something new to wear. That afternoon, her stepmother gave Alta a quarter to buy a pair of white stockings, the ripped ones she was wearing when found.

That evening, Alta Braun rode the merry-go-round with her friends and then bought five cents worth of candy in a small sack at the Vienna Bakery. When found, tied in her handkerchief was a nickel, all she had left from her last day.

The coroner's jury issued a verdict that Alta Marie Braun was strangled by person or persons unknown. She had been raped.

Immediately, suspicion fell on employees of the Yankee Robinson Circus. The local newspapers contended that rough and tough people traveled with the circus. Sheriff Maxwell followed the circus to Cherokee, and then to Correctionville, but discovered no pertinent information.

While the Sheriff was gone, Elmer Pearson reported to Le Mars Mayor McLain that he heard a Negro associated with the circus tell a companion near the merry-go-round that he would "get that girl" before he left town. It was unknown if the remark was made about Alta Braun.

Mayor McLain gave Pearson train fare to Cherokee on the Evening Flyer and told him to find Sheriff Maxwell and tell him what he'd heard. In Cherokee, Pearson located the Negro (Ed Nelson) who made the remark, but the police there refused to arrest him unless requested to by Sheriff Maxwell. Failing to locate Maxwell in Cherokee, Pearson went on to Correctionville but could not find the suspect there.

Alta's father Chris, a Hamm Petry Implement employee, believed the killer was someone local who was familiar with the layout of Le Mars, and with the dark alley, committed the crime.

Local authorities, responding to the outcry of an incensed public, announced they would seek a detective from outside to investigate the murder. The City Council and County Board of Supervisors offered rewards to which local citizens also contributed.

The black man, Ed Nelson, was arrested in Carroll near the end of August and charged for the murder. However, he could not be tied to the crime and was released from custody in September. The case remains a mystery to this day.


The death of former Deputy Sheriff Dick Moritz reminds me of what great baseball teams Remsen St. Marys has had over the years. Dick was a very good catcher and later played for the Night Hawks, the town's semi-pro team.


Post-it notes are 32 years old - good but needing improvement. Like when Heather posts one saying, "Please fix bird feeder." After a few weeks on the mirror, who notices? They need to expand, like 20% a day, to work around here.

Don Paulin, 2carpenterdon@gmail.com, 7557 30th Av, Norwalk, IA 50211 - 515-201-7236

© 2015 Le Mars Daily Sentinel