Henry Nurre
The above photo, courtesy W. Safford at findagrave.com, shows (as part of the photo) Henry Nurre’s birth-to-death years as 1914-1890. The correct birth year is 1814, but Iowa Cold Cases has kept the image intact as is customary when using from cited sources.

John Bernard “Henry” Nurre


John Bernard “Henry” Nurre
76 YOA
Sugar Creek, Brown’s Station, Iowa
Clinton County
March 11, 1890

On Tuesday, March 11, 1890, Henry Nurre, 76, and his wife were attacked in their rural Clinton County home near Brown’s Station, Iowa. Mr. Nurre, who suffered a large gash to the back of his head, died that same day.

His third wife, Elizabeth, was found in an unconscious state in the attic above the couple’s kitchen, her head battered with a hammer and nine deep scalp wounds.

Clinton County in Iowa

Clinton County in Iowa

She allegedly regained consciousness several weeks later and lived a while longer, but was never able to provide any details about the killer or killers.

Below, we present the information as reported by the respective newspapers and sources.

The following article, “Murder Most Foul,” appeared in the Maquoketa Excelsior on Saturday, March 15, 1890. Other references follow the article.

“Murder Most Foul”

The Maquoketa Excelsior

Saturday, March 15, 1890

Henry Nurre and wife, prominent and wealthy farmers of Clinton County, living near Brown’s Station, east of Delmar, were murdered in cold blood Tuesday afternoon. We are indebted to P. O. Ward, of Preston, and the Telephone Company for the particulars, so far as they are known, of this awful tragedy.

henry-nurre-gravestoneCourtesy photo Ken Wright, findagrave.com
Henry Nurre is buried in Saint Joseph’s Cemetery in Clinton County, Iowa.

The neighborhood in which Mr. and Mrs. Nurre lived is made up almost exclusively of Catholics, who Wednesday held a thirteen hour meeting. Mr. and Mrs. Nurre, who are strong Catholics, and seldom miss any of the meetings of the church, were not present at this meeting and when they did not appear at the Thursday morning meeting, the Priest and Theo. Hullman, a son-in-law of Mrs. Nurre, became alarmed, and the latter went to the Nurre residence to investigate. Finding what the trouble was, he immediately ran over to the depot and telegraphed to Preston for a physician. A party was made up at Preston upon receipt of the telegram and went to the scene of the tragedy.

Entering the house they found the dead body of Mr. Nurre on the kitchen floor, all dressed and overshoes on. Two caps and two pairs of mittens were on the floor near the body. There was a large gash in the back of his head and another, which the doctor thought severed the jugular vein in his neck.

The party then went in to the sitting room. Here they found a large pool of blood, near a table, where they concluded Mr. Nurre had been sitting writing a letter when attacked. The letter was in answer to one from his son out west, which was received March 10. The answer, which was nearly finished, was dated March 11. From these and other indications the party concluded that murder was committed Tuesday afternoon.

The murderers commenced to wipe up the pool of blood. The cloths used were found, and stains of blood were found on the tea-kettle in the kitchen. It is thought that they dragged the body into the kitchen intending at first to secrete it somewhere and destroy all vestige of their work.

Going up stairs and entering a bedroom they found Mrs. Nurre, lying on the floor, unconscious, but still alive. The back and crown of her head were pounded into a pulp and the skull was broken in two or three places making it impossible for her to recover. These wounds were inflicted with a hammer, which was found. The bedstead was all broken to pieces and the bedding scattered about the room. The floor and walls of this room were all bespattered with blood. The indications were that when Mrs. Nurre entered this room she had barricaded the door. It had been broken open with a poker, with which the murderers first attacked her, before finding the hammer.

Continuing their investigations, the Preston party in another bedroom found Mr. Nurre’s safe. They could not tell whether the murderer’s had succeeded in opening it or not, but it is evident that they tried, for the dial had been broken off. In the same room on the bed was found a little satchel, which Mr. Nurre usually carried his money and papers in when he went to town. Over it had been thrown one of Mrs. Nurre’s skirts and in it was found $1,105 in cash and some papers indicating that Mr. N. intended to go to Preston as soon as he had finished that letter and eaten his dinner, which was partially prepared in the kitchen.

The son-in-law, Mr. Hullman, says that Mr. Nurre was not in the habit of keeping more than from $100 to $150 in the house. He, himself, had paid Mr. Nurre $1,000 Sunday, which accounts for his having so large a sum by him at that time. The murderers, whose object was undoubtedly plunder, evidently failed to find the satchel, although it was so near them all the time they were trying to open the safe.

Mr. Nurre was one of the wealthiest men in this part of the state. He held more real estate mortgages in Jackson County than any other man. His wealth is estimated by those who have had business dealings with him at $250,000. He was for years a member of the Board of Supervisors of Clinton County and was highly esteemed by all who knew him. We hope the murderers may be brought to justice.

This tragedy should serve as a warning to the many people who are in the habit of keeping money in the house. We can hardly pick up a paper without reading of some one of these persons meeting a fate similar to that met with by Mr. and Mrs. Nurre.

Copyright The Maquoketa Excelsior

About Henry Nurre

(from Wolfe’s History of Clinton County, Iowa, Volume 2, page 720, contributed by Ken Wright)

HENRY NURRE, farmer, Sec. 3; P.O. Brown’s Station; he was born in Oldenburg, Germany in 1814; emigrated to America in 1836; arrived in Baltimore in June; went from there to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Pittsburg and Cincinnati; he came to Clinton County, Iowa in 1840 and has been a resident of Waterford Township the greater part of the time since.

He was a member of the County Board of Supervisors five years, and was elected Chairman of the body in 1878; he is Justice of the Peace, which office he has held fourteen consecutive years; he has also held various township and school offices.

Mr. Nurre has been married three times; he married Mary Fehring in 1844 in Cincinnati, Ohio; she died August 24, 1855. Second wife was Anna A. Aldehirt, a native of Germany; she died in 1860. Present wife, Elizabeth Finke; she had three children by a former marriage-John, Mary (now Mrs. Joseph G. Nurre) and Elizabeth.

Mr. Nurre’s children are Joseph G. and Katherine (now Mrs. John Reiff). Mr. Nurre and wife are members of the Catholic Church; he is a Democrat. He owns 440 acres of land, and is one of the first farmers of Waterford Township.

Additional Information about the Nurre Family

(from Clinton County IaGenWeb)

The Nurre Family 
From the St. Joseph’s Church – Sugar Creek – 1855-1890

One of the early settlers in Browns was John Bernard “Henry” Nurre. He was born September 28, 1814, and emigrated from Oldenburg, Germany in 1841. After a 3 month, perilous trip on a sailboat, he landed in America and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. Although educated as a teacher, the pioneer spirit and the desire to own land, had Nurre travel to and settle in Browns, Waterford Township, Clinton County, Iowa. After some time, he journeyed back to Cincinnati to marry Mary Fehring, the daughter of Lucas Fehring from Hanover, Germany, and bring her back to the land he loved. Henry and Mary Nurre had three children, Catherine (Reiff), Stephen and Joseph Gerhard Nurre.

Henry Nurre was a successful landowner, and kept acquiring land from the government for $1.25 per acre. Nurre also owned land in Fairfield Township, Jackson County, which adjoins Waterford Township about 1/2 mile north of Browns. After clearing the timberland, Nurre was able to sell the land for $45.00 an acre. Nurre built a 10-room limestone house, which still stands on property to the north of Old Browns. Later that land was owned by the Boehmer family.

During the summer of 1855, Mary Fehring Nurre, sick with typhoid fever, convinced her husband, Henry, to donate 40 acres of ground to the people of this community, upon which was to be erected a parish church, school and cemetery, which was called St. Joseph’s parish in Sugar Creek, Iowa. Mary, herself, selected the spot at the top of the hill, a short distance south of their home. Unfortunately, the cemetery was not there when Mary died, so Henry transported her body, by ox team and wagon, on a three-day trip, to Galena, IL, to be buried in St. Michael’s cemetery.

Henry Nurre was married three times during his life, yet he was alone much of the time. His second wife, Anna Adelaide Wilmes, lived only three years. Later he married his third wife, Elizabeth Finke, who lived a number of years after his death. Henry Nurre’s second wife is buried at Sugar Creek, and his third wife is buried at Schaller, Iowa.

On March 11, 1890, at the age of 76 years, Henry Nurre was murdered in his house. He was found on the kitchen floor, dressed in his chore clothes. The only marks of violence on his body were finger marks on his throat, evidence of him being choked to death. His wife was also found in an unconscious state, in the attic above the kitchen, with her head battered and nine deep scalp wounds. She regained consciousness several weeks later, but because of her hazy memory of the gruesome tragedy, she could give no clue, whatsoever, to the mystery.

The best detectives in Chicago spent several years on the case, but to this day, the murder still remains a mystery. Henry Nurre is buried in the St. Joseph’s cemetery at Sugar Creek, at the entrance of the graveyard, marked by an imposing monument.

Davenport Democrat – Friday evening, March 14, 1890 states as follows: “Henry Nurre was very eccentric in his habits, and the rigid economy practiced by both himself and his wife verged on penury. It was generally understood that he had a great deal of money in his house at all times, having no confidence in banks, and this is probably what incited the dastardly deed.”

  • Ken Wright, Correspondence to Iowa Cold Cases, June 8, 2012
  • Find a Grave Memorial
  • “Murder Most Foul,” The Maquoketa Excelsior, March 15, 1890
  • Wolfe’s History of Clinton County, Iowa, Volume 2, page 720, USGenWeb Archives, contributed by Ken Wright
  • Clinton County IaGenWeb
  • The Davenport Democrat, Friday, March 14, 1890

17 Responses to Henry Nurre

  1. Maggie says:

    Ken Nurre, I assume you are related. Although it was long before your time, my apologies. It is hard to think of even a stranger in Mr. Nurre’s situation, much less a relative who is loved without even having to know him.
    And then comes the possibly inappropriate question, which if it is, forgive me. But… any theories passed down over time?

  2. Pria Hendricks says:

    You need to fix the dates on the first picture because is says he was born 1914 and died in 1890

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Pria, yes, the “birth” date is incorrect, but the 1914-1890 caption directly beneath Mr. Nurre’s picture is actually “part of the photo.” We have kept the image intact with the same attribution as originally submitted to the Findagrave website by W. Safford (initials “wns”).

      All the referenced articles do provide the correct year of birth, but you’ve made a very good point; most readers probably don’t realize why the caption date doesn’t make sense. I’ve made a separate notation beneath the photo to explain why the 1914 date hasn’t been changed.

      It is one of many interesting historical typos from years gone by. :-)

      • ken nurre says:

        The house that Henry was murdered in is still standing today!

        • Corey says:

          Do you know the address? Would like to drive by it sometime.

        • Tom says:

          Ken are you related to him?

          • Ken Nurre says:

            Yes..he is my g.g.grandfather

            • Tom Reiff says:

              Ken, I assume Joseph was your great grandfather? Was there a son named Stephen as well? The daughter Catherine married John Reiff who was my great grandfather and that would make Henry my g great grandfather as well. This story is published in our Reiff-Nurre family tree book that was written in 1936-1938 . I currently have it being copied and preserved so I can’t get more specific right now. I don’t know if you have done any ancestry online but I may start when I get the book back. Thanks Tom

  3. Barb Saville says:

    There’s always hope – in a journal or diary from that era to be able to clear the case….people recorded lots from back then; maybe even tucked into a house somewhere to be discovered by distant relatives.

  4. I agree with Kimberly Anderson.

  5. It is unfortunate that this case will probably never be solved unless someone (killer or accessory to ) passed down some oral history.

    • Mystery addict says:

      Or a diary.
      Actually it is still solvable. If someone took the time to look at all the county documents, scientifically the answer is there.
      At this point the son in law is the best candidate. The money was in the satchel, if the motive was money or the safe contents, the satchel would have been tended to by a thief…. as would the walls, floorboards, furniture, and so on. Back then banks were not trusted. People preferred coins because they could survive a fire and would hide and store them in the structure of the home. Many people over age 90 still practice this today. The safe would hold the treasure maps to the money, but not the money. That’s what a thief would take, the safe. No mention of forced entry either. Caught the man in mid letter….. yes it is solvable.

    • Ken says:

      There is a very short news paper article that Mrs Nurre did confide in a close friend and neighbor that she and Henry had a argument on monies being sent to his son. Monies Henry collected from ppl he had sold land to, including Mrs Nurres son-in-law.
      Simply put, opportunity, motive and means were all present.

      So, did a fight among Mr & Mrs elevate to the use of fire place tools and hammer? Mrs. (injured) retreats to the room upstairs and locks the door and passes out on bed/floor.
      Mr. also injured, crawls on floor and passes out and finially dies from his injuries.

      Monies not stolen at the time.
      Son-in-law admitted to making pmt of $1000 on loan to Mr. Nurre. And $’s were found on site.
      (Thats about $28,000 in todays value)

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