Earl Hamilton

Earl “Big Earl” Hamilton

Earl Riley “Big Earl” Hamilton


Earl Riley “Big Earl” Hamilton
53 YOA
Big Earl’s Goldmine
Des Moines, IA
Polk County
September 29, 1996


Case summary by Aaron Brilbeck and Jody Ewing

Big Earl Hamilton was already considered somewhat legendary before the very thing that brought him fame brought him down with a single bullet to the head.

In 1994, “Big Earl’s Goldmine” — a strip club business on the outskirts of Des Moines in Polk County, Iowa that Hamilton owned and operated — became the county’s first topless and bottomless “juice bar” — a club which serves no alcohol and therefore is beyond the regulation of state liquor authorities.

Big Earl’s Goldmine featured nude dancers, and though the bar could sell nothing stronger than soft drinks, customers were allowed to bring in their own alcohol if they so chose.

The business thrived, but Big Earl’s luck was about to change.

Book cover
Dr. Kevlin’s 2007 book profiles more than 700 strip club related homicides, including that of “Big Earl” Hamilton.

As he closed up at approximately 3 a.m. on Sunday, September 29, 1996, an unknown assailant shot Big Earl, 53, in the head outside the club.

Hamilton was flown to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Officials ruled out robbery as a motive, and speculation had it that Big Earl might have been slain over a dispute that had arisen over his firing of several nude dancers.

Four female exotic dancers from the Milwaukee area were sought by authorities for questioning about a month after Hamilton’s death.

“We just want to question them about their whereabouts and activities,” Polk County sheriff’s detective Dennis Marshall said in an October 22, 1996 telephone interview with the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. Marshall acknowledged the investigation had shifted toward Milwaukee, though no one was ever charged in Hamilton’s slaying.

Three years later, the club – then operated by Hamilton’s son – burned down on March 9, 1999 in what appeared to be an arson fire set for personal reasons by a family acquaintance.

Big Earl's logoCrews from seven cities were called in to fight the early Tuesday morning blaze, which Saylor Township Assistant Fire Chief John Norris said took more than six hours to battle.

“The building is a complete loss,” Norris told the Associated Press on Thursday, March 11, adding that a preliminary investigation showed no signs of suspicious activity.

The case for arson was never proven and the suspect pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary. He was sentenced to probation and ordered to perform “100 hours of community service in fire prevention.”

In April 2007, Dr. T.A. Kevlin – who holds advanced degrees in history and criminology – cited “Big Earl’s” murder in his book “Headless Man In Topless Bar: Studies of 725 cases of strip club related criminal homicides.”

The book’s individual chapters covered the murders of dancers, customers, bouncers, employees and managers, and other organized crime related killings in the strip club business.

Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck reports on the unsolved 1996 murder of “Big Earl” Hamilton. August 5, 2010

About Earl Hamilton
earl-hamilton-gravestoneCourtesy photo Katie Lou, findagrave.com
Earl “Big Earl” Hamilton is buried at the Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines.

Earl Riley Hamilton was born June 15, 1943. His case remains unsolved today, and the family has offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in his case.

Earl was buried at the Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines.

Information Needed

If you have any information you think might help solve this case, please contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at (515) 286-3814.



Copyright © 2024  Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


62 Responses to Earl Hamilton

  1. Malissa L McGregor says:

    Thanks for sharing that touching story sounds close to mine I’m aka Seville

  2. Babydoll says:

    I knew this family years ago, his son Dovey, Big Earl, Earl JR, Andre.
    Dovey helped me survive in 1984-1989,do to my parents kicking me out , being molested, and lots of other factors, not having anywhere to go.
    The best advice they gave me was, you can play a victim all your life, or you can be strong and be a survivor, because life is hard.
    Sugar Bear helped me when Dovey and I had a falling out, and tried to make it right.

    Years later I seen Sugar Bear, he asked me why I left the family, we had a conversation, I explained and he told me no matter what, he’d always thought of me as family, I genuinely feeI the same. I know, Sugar Bear wasn’t the most examplillary person, but him and Dovey did have good advice.
    Another piece of his advice was, if I’m asking you something, I already know the answer, so yours better be right.

    He will live on , through his family and friends.
    He always was hustling, trying to make a dollar, make more than what he grew up with.
    He gave shelter to alot of people, at Hollywood Hookup, his car lots and other business ventures. May his family someday get justice for him.
    He was always proud of his family, not many knew alot about him except those closest, may he rest in peace.


  3. Yuukie says:

    Is/Was it customary for exotic dance places in IA to be BYOB?

  4. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    April, thanks for the additional information on his criminal history. One of the problems in the criminal justice system is that we bounce from legislation that tells judges that if someone is convicted of a certain crime, they get a certain amount of time in prison. Then, we think that the judges should have the freedom, to decide how long a convicted criminal serves. Here in Illinois, many felons were barely serving half their sentence.

    It also depends on the states attorneys, they sometimes will downgrade a charge, if the offender will take a plea. Here, in Illinois the powers to be want stronger gun control. However, many of those arrested for gun possession, get a slap on the wrist. Earlier this year a convicted felon, was running from the Chicago Police for selling drugs. A district commander chased him down. He struggled with the offender, who shot and killed him.

    The politicians wanted to place a ban on selling extended magazines for weapons. Yet they missed the point that he was convicted felon, and could not legally possess a firearm. If he was arrested on a gun charge, he would get a slap on the wrist.

    In New York, they have stricter gun laws, that were passed by an Irish-American elected official back in the 1930’s.

    I hope we can get the family’s attention to the information you have posted on Christopher Drew. Keep me in the loop. I would love to get my hands on a all the arrest reports and criminal history. A good review might develop some investigative leads. They, might even provide names of others involved.

    Someone, mentioned the rumor that he owed people money to people here in Chicago, which might point the finger at the Chicago Mob, or the branch in Milwaukee. It might be something for the Chicago Crime Commission. They have done their homework on the mob and street gangs over the years.

    • Family Member says:

      The family is monitoring the posts Patrick however there is nothing anyone can do with this information. It needs to be provided to the authorities. The authorities who seemingly have zero interest in this case.
      A great use of time might be to better understand why “Dsm Lady” is so interested in knowing about any potential reward so many years later.

      • April Van Horn says:

        I saw that to. I’m not in this for money. I just want justice god the family and safer streets with this guy behind bars!

    • GoCubs08 says:

      Patrick, do you ever post anything that isn’t ex-rectum speculation? Honestly, your posts aren’t needed here. Please go away.

  5. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    April, I found a whole bunch of addresses for Christopher, most of them in Des Moines and West Des Moines. But, came across three addresses in California, two in Riverside and one in Pomona. Also, one address in Betany, Missouri, which is located close to Interstate -35.

    One of the addresses in California, dates to around May 1996. It makes me wonder, if he was hiding out in California, for some reason. I believe his date of birth is July 24, 1975. Maybe, being in California was to create an alibi.

    Also, he filed an appeal to a conviction, that he pled guilty to via some sort of form. He had been arrested for being drunk, and arguing with someone in a trailer park. He suuposedly told someone that “he knew some N word, that carried guns, or something to that effect”.

    It appears he has a problem with alcohol. That could be the trigger for some of his violent acts over the years. I dealt with patients at a VA hospital, who acted up and out due to the influence of alcohol. One of the reasons, I don’t drink, unless walking. It’s easier to cry in my oatmeal, plus it has fiber. LOL!

    April, keep me in the loop, we will figure this out some way. Then, we will have to investigate other cold cases. A modern day Nick & Nora except we investigate online.

    • April says:

      So on Iowa courts online it’s extensive. It’s amazing he’s even had the time to walk the streets to commit these violent acts ranging from assault to domestic abuse to robbery and harassment and the list goes on and on. He has several no contact orders from several women. The list was so long I didn’t have the time to view them all. I am hoping family members see this and take this info to the police. Check him out on Iowa courts online

  6. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    I searched him on one database. They have links to some court records. I did not find anything on him on the database. There was a number of Christopher Drew’s in the court record database, but not him, for some reason.

    It could be that he has a number of alias names.

  7. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    April, I wonder if the authorities ever looked at him for this crime. Also, he would have been about 21 years old at the time of this crime. It would be interesting to run him through the databases and see what he has been arrested for. Was he ever connected to any street gangs of note. Maybe, one connected to my neck of the woods in Chicago.

    I wonder if any of Big Earl’s family is monitoring your postings on Mr. Drew. Then, they could pass it along to the authorities. Keep me in the loop.

  8. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    April, and other interested party’s, Christopher Sean Drew, 43, was booked into Polk County Jail, on October 22, 2018, for Public Intoxication- 3rd offense, and two counts of parole violations. So, he might be a keeping the State of Iowa for awhile.

  9. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    It sounds like something that the Chicago Mob, would want a piece of his profits. They most likely behind on his street tax, or wanted to be silent partners in his business. What,I don’t uunderstand is the arson business. The offender gets community service, what a crock. Some jail time was deserved.

    Alsom has anyone checked Mr, Christopher Drew’s background. He sounds like a possible person of interest. April, you need drop a dime via crime stoppers.

  10. Dsm lady says:

    Is there still a reward for info leading to the arrest of big Earl’s killer?

  11. Nathan Jorden says:

    I Love You All, And I’ ll Feel Your Pain In My Heart Forever! Love You All, Always!

  12. Amy Johnson says:

    Yes, I do. Long dark hair, I believe.

  13. Mike Nutting says:

    I always heard he owed money to some people out of Chicago & they came to collect..

  14. Someone knows something, I remember this story!

  15. Dsm is to small to not know who did it. Some body knows. I remember that day clear as a bell and I’m not even a stripper. Big story back then

  16. Katia Richmond-Williams says:

    I met Big Earl in 1981 when I lived in Des Moines when he had his record shop. He drove that car with those big bug eyed headlights. He was an amazing person and friend. He is very much loved and missed by many. Condolences to his family.

  17. Amy says:

    I knew big earl and his sons, earl jr and dovey ( Melvin) for many years…..big earl got knocked off out of greed. Those of us that were around before it happened know ….
    Sad that his killer is getting coverage

  18. leroy says:

    just visited big earls yesterday, I left it is the biggest hole in the ground I ever seen! Will never go back. The dancer electra is a dumb fuckin bitch.

    • Andrea Olmanson says:

      Leroy, taste your words before you speak them. Feel them before you type them and hit that send button. Shame on you for further shaming a stripper. Do you not know that the vast, vast majority of exotic “dancers” were sexually abused and victimized as children? For shame, writing such a comment. Now go crawl back under that rock from which you came, and don’t come back.

  19. Breanna says:

    As I mentioned once before there isn’t much evidence or at least enough to arise any reasonable suspicion . We are still awaiting an answer and for justice to be served , a reward still remains. Many of our family members are still awaiting a call an email a knock at the door letting us know an arrest has been made and someone came forward. Until then the legacy lives on. May he rest in peace.

  20. Theresa says:

    I assume they started with applications, work schedules and pay stubs, but none of that is mentioned. After the fire I suspect there is no information left.

  21. Breanna says:

    I go see him at the cemetery often, it breaks my heart to know ill never hear from him exactly what happened. My granfather was a man known and missed by many. Sad story that they still haven’t figured out who it was. I have never sat and wondered about something as much as i sit and think about him some days and how our family would be much different if he was alive. We wont be at ease until it’s solved. For many the tension from the tragedy still remains as well as the sensitivity about this certain subject, all it will take is for one person to speak up and say” I know something,” anything….
    May he rest in peace, our beloved grandfather,father,friend and so much more..~

    • April says:

      To whom it may concern…21 yrs ago I briefly dated a man who had dated a stripper from big earls night club. To be honest he wasn’t over her or maybe he was two timing her with me. It did not take very long for me to realize he was a very violent man and he scared me so I cut off the relationship. I was pregnant at the time and he stalked my house and threatened to beat me up while I was pregnant because I refused to continue to see him. His name is Christopher Sean Drew. His best friend Clay and I don’t remember his last name at that time ran into me at the club celebrations and told me to definitely stay away from Chris Drew because he knew he was dangerous. In fact… so dangerous that he was the one who shot and killed Big Earl. In early 1997 Chris asked me and my roommate to hold guns for him and I told him absolutely no way!! Chris was kicked out the nightclub of Earls over Chris getting mad about the attention his girlfriend was getting. I can’t remember if she was fired or stayed to work but either way he was removed from the club that same night. I’m coming out now because it has bothered me for years and I seen he was arrested for public into just today on inmates on the web. I will say I am scared for my life by coming out with this information. Please post your response on how I can personally talk to someone

      • Real Family says:

        I want to say that he was talked to after this incident. Two people involved in this argument were suspects from day one. Did you ever call the investigator?

        • April Van Horn says:

          No. Too scared. It was info that was dumped into my lap that I wanted no part of. I just found this sight many many years later and felt the family needs answers. So many years have passed that dates and last names are hard to recollect but I do know the name of the person I had mentioned prior. I find it interesting that he has been questioned beings I have no ties to this case other than being warned ( for my safety) if Chris Drew’s alleged involvement

  22. Brandy says:

    Justice has not been served for my grandfathers death, and our family will never be able to rest comfortably until we know who did this to our family… Please keep searching For the murderer

  23. mhiyu thomas says:

    This is Mhiyu Thomas and I think me and my family got the short end of the stick when it comes to my father’s assassination. We would like more answers. We feel like the police are not doing their jobs especially when it comes to my father. We ask for justice.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Thanks for writing, Mhiyu, and please accept my condolences on your father’s unsolved murder. I know it doesn’t get much easier over time, especially when there are no answers and there’s been no resolution. Many people — including police officers and other investigators — share your frustration insofar as wanting to allocate more time to cold cases. It isn’t that they don’t care, but rather budget cuts that force already overworked officers to devote what time they do have to new cases coming in every day.

      They may not have the cold case files open on their desk, but they *do* follow up on every lead or tip that comes in. I’ve had other family members state they don’t think police care as much about solving their loved one’s murder due to the victim’s line of work or past arrests or whatever, but based on what we’ve been told, priorities are based not on the victim’s race, social status or line of work, but rather what cases have the best chance of being solved via DNA or other types of evidence.

      You’re already on the right track, Mhiyu; make sure people never forget the case is still open. The years go by much faster for people who read about crimes in the paper than they do for families left behind still waiting for answers and justice. Take care, and thank you again for writing.

    • C says:

      Your father was not assassinated. He was murdered. Let’s not pretend he was a political figure.

      • Real Family says:

        Shot in the back of the head is assignation due to your status in the community. Every article identifies him as a local legend.

  24. Breanna says:

    We would love peace of mind. I am Big Earl’s Granddaughter, I am glad to see this is still posted due to the fact that his spirit does live on within each and every one of his family members. May he rest in paradise, and his strength be within everyone in the ongoing generations of our family.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Breanna, and please accept our condolences on your grandfather’s untimely death. “Big Earl” sounded like a “larger than life” character, and I’m sure your family will still be sharing wonderful memories about him in generations to come. If you (or any other family members) have any favorite stories or photos you’d like included on his page, please feel free to e-mail them to me and I’ll get them posted right away. Thanks again, and all the very best to you and your family.

    • Malissa Mcgregor says:

      Breanna i will keep posting it every so often because yaare like family to me

    • Malissa Mcgregor says:

      Love you so much #facts

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