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Henry Chavis, 55, lived in a four-bedroom farm house on a 300-acre farm near current-day South Duff Avenue and Airport Road outside Ames, Iowa.
He was found dead outside his home on Nov. 8, 1948.
The following case summary information on Henry Chavis was provided by Luke Jennett, whose article “Mid-Iowa unsolved murders,” appeared in the Ames Tribune on Saturday, June 4, 2011.
On Nov. 8, 1948, Henry Chavis, the owner and operator of Ames Canning Company, was shot to death near the rear door steps of his farm home. His body was found at around 7 a.m. by Nellie Alber, his maid, and “Red” Dinamore, a cab driver who had taken her to the Chavis home.
Physicians estimated Chavis had been dead between three and four hours before he was found.
Press reports say Chavis was shot three times. One wound was positioned in such a way on his arm that it seemed as though he had thrown it up to protect himself from his assailant.
A theory was put forward that the shot to his arm spun him around, allowing a second shot to slam into his back. The third shot was thought to have been fired while Chavis was on the ground, entering through his neck and coming out through his head.
Immediately, investigators began pursuing two main possible motivations, including a robbery or a grudge against Chavis. The robbery motive had possibilities.
Chavis was known to carry large sums of money around, and his wallet was gone when he was found. But investigators pointed publicly to Chavis’ $600 diamond ring, which was still on his finger as proof against it, and questioned why the third shot would have been necessary if all the killer was after was Chavis’ cash.
“One official said that the third bullet was fired by someone who had a ‘vicious mad-on’ for Mr. Chavis,” one of the Tribune news articles of the time noted.
Public suspicion began to fall on Chavis’ wife, Gertrude. She told investigators she had been in Marshalltown that day with two other women for a bowling tournament, but had been at home when her husband was gunned down outside their house. She said she had been asleep and hadn’t heard the shots from her room, which was the furthest point in the house from where the shooting occurred.
Further complicating matters was the fact a handgun owned by Chavis had been reported stolen from their home only a few weeks before the murder, and it was nowhere to be found. The handgun was a .32 caliber, the same as the bullets that killed Chavis.
“Officials admitted that they had checked into reports that Mrs. Chavis had lost a large sum of money gambling in Las Vegas, Nevada, but declined to further comment,” one of the new articles notes suggestively.
With Henry Chavis dead, all of his property passed on to Gertrude Chavis. Three weeks after the murder, she offered a $2,500 reward for information on the murder of her husband. But it seemed she wasn’t anxious to keep many reminders of him around, because on Jan. 18, 1949, it was announced she had sold the canning company to a Minnesota group for $100,000. She was the majority stockholder of the company.
The case went nowhere for two years until April 1950 when two 10-year-old children found a rusty handgun embedded in a bank along Squaw Creek. It was determined to be the one reported stolen from the Chavis house, identified by its serial number, and Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation Chief R.W. Nebergall said the gun would undergo ballistics tests to determine if it was the weapon that killed Chavis. However, he said, the results of these tests would not be made public.
Representatives with the Iowa DCI said the details of the Chavis case are on microfilm, and they could not comment on where the case sits today.
Copyright © 2011 – Ames Tribune
If you have any information concerning Henry Chavis’ unsolved murder, please contact the Story County Sheriff’s Office at (515) 382-6566, or the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.