- Clinton County in Iowa
Clinton in Clinton County
Lillian A. Chapman
Lillian A. “Lillie” Chapman
518 12th Avenue S.
May 30, 1950
Case information compiled by Iowa Cold Cases volunteers
At dawn on Memorial Day 1950, Clinton resident Kate Sheibley of 518 12th Avenue S. spotted from a distance a body lying in an onion patch between her backyard and an alley that ran behind her house.
She immediately recognized the victim as her neighbor, 70-year-old Lillian “Lillie” Chapman, a grandmother and widow of 10 years who lived with her sister Pearl Abraham at 538 12th Avenue S. just several hundred yards away.
Kate Sheibley telephoned Clinton Police about her horrible discovery.
In addition to police officers and Police Chief Jens Kair, also reporting to the crime scene were Coroner L.O. Riggert, County Attorney John Carlsen, Assistant County Attorney John McCarthy, and Fire Chief Harold Nelson.
The investigators found signs of an intense struggle in the alley.
Lillian Chapman was badly bruised, her clothes were in disarray, and her underwear had been torn off and tossed nearby. Tied tightly around her neck was her own silk scarf.
Close by lay one of Lillian’s shoes and her purse containing a house key and $.77.
Initially, it was believed that the diamond ring and wristwatch she always wore were missing, but they were later found in her home. Robbery, therefore, did not seem to be a motive.
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.
Clinton Mayor Don R. Allison and County Attorney John Carlsen met with police and decided to request help from the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Bureau Chief R.B. “Doc” Nebergall responded quickly, sending Special Agent G.J. Strand to Clinton.
An autopsy was performed by Dr. J.K. Stewart, who found 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.
That time corresponded with what Mary Fulton of 681 11th Avenue S. told police. About 12:30 a.m., Fulton heard a woman scream three times, “Oh, my God, don’t”; she did not investigate because she thought the voice came from a passing automobile.
Mrs. Charlie Crider of 1131 Camanche Avenue told investigators she heard an argument lasting several minutes between a male and a female in the alley about midnight, but did not hear a scream. She was not concerned, she said, because there were frequent disturbances like that in the neighborhood.
Dr. Riggert convened a coroner’s jury which ruled that Lillian Chapman died of strangulation at the hands of an unknown person.
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.
Investigators told the local media they did not believe the branch was the weapon used. They also collected a board and part of a brick at the scene.
What Happened between 9:30 and Midnight?
No one — including her sister Pearl with whom she lived — could account for why Lillian left 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 Lillian at 9:30 p.m., when Lillian told her it was time to retire; she did not hear her sister leave.
Lillian’s bed appeared to have been slept in, and Pearl said it was made up earlier in the evening.
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.
Investigators wondered if Lillian responded to a knock on the door — which Pearl, who was partially deaf, could not hear — and was lured out of the house on the pretense of someone needing help or the offer of a babysitting job.
Even more puzzling was where Lillian was between 9:30 and midnight, when the screams were heard.
Sex Offenders Rounded Up
Authorities rounded up all known sex offenders and suspicious men in the area.
Eddie Kaltenbach, found sleeping in a nearby railroad boxcar and who recently served time in the Clinton Jail for vagrancy, was detained. Kaltenbach said he was on the way home to Forreston, Illinois, and denied any knowledge of the murder. He was released when his story proved true.
Fifty men were questioned, including two hitchhikers seen earlier in the neighborhood; yet no one was arrested and charged.
Settling on a Suspect
Through an unclear 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 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.
Archer was immediately locked in jail, even though there were no charges against him from either Iowa or Wyoming. And he was not told until the next day 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.
- Courtesy photo IAGenWeb
- Ted Long and Ed Clancy, who questioned Archer in Wyoming, are second and third from the right.
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.
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 he was rested, Long 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 insisted he confess. They 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.
A “Confession” is 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.
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. 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.
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 — thrown out, 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.”
The Case Goes Cold
No one else was charged with the murder of Lillian Chapman and the case remains cold.
The Life of Lillian Chapman
- Courtesy photo Michael Kearney
- Lillian Chapman’s stone in Springdale Cemetery.
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 with her husband.
Questions and information about the unsolved 1950 homicide of Lillian Chapman should be directed to Iowa Cold Cases through the Contact form.
- “72-Year-Old Clinton Woman Found Strangled to Death,” Clinton Herald, May 30, 1950.
- “Admits Killing Woman,” Carroll Daily Times 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.
- “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.
- “Quiz Transient in Murder of Clinton Grandmother,” Ames Daily Tribune, May 31, 1950.
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