joseph-payne-1945Courtesy photo Terrie Thompson
Joseph E. Payne — the “last photograph” taken of Payne six months prior to his murder.

Joseph Ernest Payne


Joseph Ernest Payne
Age: 72
15th and Armory
Chariton, Iowa
Lucas County
Crime Date: Saturday, Oct. 13, 1945
Died Wednesday, Oct. 17, 1945


Case Summary compiled by Jody Ewing

During the Great Depression, Joseph Payne happened to be in a Chariton, Iowa, grocery store where a woman and child stood ahead of him in line. The woman had lost her husband, had no job, and needed food to feed her child. She tried to purchase a few basic grocery items.

She didn’t have enough money, the store clerk told her, and would have to put some of the items back.

Payne did not hesitate to act; he not only paid for all the woman’s groceries, but handed her some additional cash — “to be used for her and the child,” he said.

Payne was not a wealthy man, but had never married, had no children of his own, and didn’t drink; he owned his own home at 15th and Armory, where he’d lived alone 40 years, and used what extra money he had to help others.

Lucas County in Iowa
Lucas County in Iowa
Chariton in Lucas CountyChariton in Lucas County

He’d recently retired from his chosen profession — that of a brick maker and brick layer — and his family often bragged about “Uncle Joe” and all he’d accomplished, including the two mausoleums he’d built in the Chariton Cemetery.

Payne’s life came to an abrupt end shortly after the Depression ended. Not surprisingly, his last words conveyed forgiveness for those who took his life.

“Please don’t be too hard on the boys.”

Sometime on Saturday, Oct. 13, 1945, some boys broke in to Payne’s Chariton home. They’d heard a rumor, they said, that he didn’t use banks and kept all his money hidden in his house.

It wasn’t true, Payne told them. He kept his money in the bank.

The boys didn’t believe him. They tied him up and beat him repeatedly in efforts to get him to confess where in the home he’d hidden all his money. They tore the house apart, punching holes in walls looking for any hidden cash.

Somehow, while the boys ransacked the home, the 72-year-old Payne freed himself. He stumbled out of the house and ran. At 9:30 p.m. that Saturday night, Payne arrived at the Cooper Barber Shop, requesting a shave.

According to a Chariton Herald-Patriot article published Thursday, Oct. 18, 1945, the barber noticed evidence of cuts and bruises about Payne’s head and he appeared to be in a dazed condition. The barber stated Payne need assistance in putting on his coat before leaving the barber shop that night.

No one saw Payne again until a call came into the sheriff’s office on 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, 1945. The caller, Paul Wright, cited a man in distress seated on the running board of a truck parked in Dannen elevator shed near the railroad tracks.

The sheriff’s office found Payne’s body, chilled and his clothes quite damp. Assuming the man was simply drunk or in need of medical care, they took him to the county jail where they provided warmth and medical attention.

Around that same time Sunday, officials received a call from L.H. Busselle regarding some clothing he’d found in his yard. Investigating officers identified an overcoat and cap as belonging to Payne, and found a spot in the yard indicating a struggle. About $200 in cash lay scattered about this area.

Several hours later, after unsuccessful attempts to rouse Mr. Payne at the jail, officials feared he had pneumonia and transferred him to the Baker Nursing Home. Nursing home staff said Payne apparently had been out in the weather from 10 p.m. Saturday until the time officers found him Sunday afternoon.

The pneumonia set in, and Payne awoke from his coma only momentarily on Wednesday, Oct. 17. “Please don’t be too hard on the boys,” he said, before passing away around noon without ever naming his attackers.

Waited for justice the rest of their lives

The Chariton Police Department, and — because the body was found by railroad tracks — the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigated the homicide.

According to Payne’s great-great-niece, Terrie Thompson, the FBI paid a visit to Payne’s niece, Doris Caroline Payne McMains, and asked she sign paperwork allowing them to conduct an autopsy. McMains, fearful her uncle’s body would be mutilated, at first refused.

Thompson said the FBI told McMains the autopsy was necessary in order for them to capture the boys and pursue justice in Payne’s murder.

payne-family-gravestoneCourtesy photo Doris Christensen,
The Payne Family monument in the Chariton Cemetery — the same cemetery where Joseph Payne built two mausoleums before his retirement.

McMains agreed to the autopsy, but then years went by and no arrests were ever made. McMains passed away in 1965 without seeing her uncle’s killers held accountable for the crime.

Thompson said her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother never got over Joe’s unsolved murder.

“They believed it would be solved. This was a man who would have given [the boys] the money if they would have asked,” Thompson told Iowa Cold Cases. “He was kind and loving … not a wealthy man or powerful … just a good man I wish I could have met.”

Thompson said she began researching her great-uncle’s case in the 1970s, and spoke with a detective at the Chariton Police Department. The detective, said Thompson, told her she could look into the case but advised against it.

“I talked to some people in town who knew about murder and knew who did it,” Thompson told Iowa Cold Cases in September 2013. “But they were scared and would not give me any names.”

Thompson said she was told the boys had parents in Chariton who were “influential,” and that because Joseph Payne was an old man and a nobody, and because the boys were “young” at the time, that the boys “deserved a life.”

When Thompson’s mother discovered her daughter had been asking questions around town and looking into the murder, she panicked and asked Thompson to stop.

“She was afraid they might come after me if they knew I was getting close or looking into it,” Thompson said. “I stopped [researching the case] because of her.”

All other family members died awaiting answers and justice, said Thompson. She said that being Joe’s only remaining family member left alive has only reinforced her determination to seek out the truth about her “Uncle Joe’s” unsolved murder.

He, too, she said, deserved a life.

About Joseph E. Payne
joseph-payne-gravestoneCourtesy photo Doris Christensen,
Joseph Payne is buried in the Chariton Cemetery in Lucas County.

Joseph Ernest Payne was born Aug. 11, 1873 in Galesburg, Ill., in Knox County to William Payne and Caroline (Rowe) Payne.

In addition to his parents, Joseph Payne was preceded in death by his two sisters, Elizabeth “Lillie” Payne and Harriet “Hattie” Payne Klinger.

Survivors included a niece, Mrs. Doris McMains, of Des Moines, a nephew, John Brown, of Chillicothe, Mo., and their immediate families.

Joseph Payne and his family members are buried in the Chariton Cemetery in Chariton, Lucas County, Iowa.

Information Needed

If you have any information about Joseph Payne’s unsolved murder, please contact the FBI’s Omaha Field Office at (402) 493-8688, email, or contact the Chariton Police Department at (641) 774-5083.



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

18 Responses to Joseph Payne

  1. Laura Winston says:

    A certain Iowa grocery chain moved their corporate headquarters to Chariton in 1945. Did the founders have young sons at that time? No doubt they were influential in Chariton. Just a thought I had.

  2. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    Theresa, the fact that a detective with the police department advised against looking into his murder is disgraceful. I wonder if these boys now a bit older have been paying off the right people to protect their own children’s mistakes.

    Also, I wonder if the detective would feel the sameway if it was someone in his family? It would be nice to file a lawsuit against the police department accusing them of covering up the murder of Joe. It might expose those involved and also expose the corruption in the town. Then it would lead to a wrongful death lawsuit against those involved. Also the town’s residents should be ashamed that they protected those who committed the crime.

    Especially, he did not hesitate to help someone in need. He was a good and decent man. I wonder what the FBI dug up in their investigation.

  3. Theresa says:

    What is so sad is that if these boys were under aged at the time, the law would have been more lenient. Even today, if they admitted their guilt, the law would consider this. It is obvious that they perceive their life as more important than anyone else around them. Will one of them leave a letter of admission after they die, and name the others? Will any one of them try to make restitution for the hurt they have caused, or will they decide that even in memory for their own self, will they continue to deny their complicity to killing a human being?

    • Terrie Thompson says:

      Theresa I can only hope that one of them would leave a letter. But I doubt it. As far as restitution I don’t want their money It was money that I believe got him killed in the first place.

  4. Sandy R says:

    I really despise these situations..where affluent families “fix” things for their rotten children. Taking the life of an innocent, kind man just for “fun” disgusts me to no end. I hope their lives have been horrible..they do not deserve any sort of happiness..I don’t care how heartless that sounds. These “boys” were the heartless ones..and someday they WILL pay.

    • Terrie Thompson says:

      Thank you Sandy for the kind words Uncle Joe would appreciate it very much. I decided a long time ago that if they were not caught and punished in this lifetime they sure are going to pay in the next life. I like you, hope that their lives were horrible. You are not a heartless person. I want to thank you for caring. He truly was a good man.

  5. Theresa says:

    From your words I can see that you are a kind and gentle soul like your Uncle Joe, yet therein lies the rub. Doing what is right in the eye of God should outweigh any fear on earth. The individual you spoke to lacks faith in God, and is guilty of said crime in some manner according to man’s law by aiding and abetting which is: To ACTIVELY, KNOWINGLY, or INTENTIONALLY ASSIST ANOTHER PERSON in the commission or attempted commission of a crime. Also known by law as accomplice: A person who KNOWINGLY AND VOLUNTARILY PARTICIPATES WITH ANOTHER in a criminal activity. Whether the person was present at the commission of the crime, or not, the person has knowledge. After 67 years the gentleman should have grown a pair, rather than seek your understanding and forgiveness on the matter. All you did was give this person a license to some relief from the guilt he feels about the loss of a beautiful soul. For all you know he may have been the perpetrator!
    I will pray that you find guidance on this matter.

  6. Thank you Theresa for the kind words. I could not find anyone who knew Joe that had a bad word to say about him. I tried to find someone in Chariton who did not like him and could not. Everyone I spoke with outside the family said he was a kind and caring man. I am just waiting for one of them to feel guilty enough. And I hope that it becomes so unbearable that they say or do something wrong. Because when they do I will be waiting for them. The gentleman who I spoke with was terrified and I knew it would not be fair to him or his family to try and force him to go to the police. He lived in Chariton grew up their and his family still lived their. I don’t fault him in any way. He even asked me to forgive him for not speaking up. I told him you were young when it happened and you were scared. And then when you got older you had a family to think about. I told him their was nothing to forgive. I did that for Joe. He would not have wanted me to force someone to do something if they were scared or had a family to think about. Family was everything to Joe he took care of his parents and then his sister until they passed. The issue for me is the cold callous way that they killed him. If they wanted money he would have given it to them. He would have just said here you go you need this more than I do. I don’t know how much longer he would have lived if they had not killed him but they chose not to give him that chance. That is what makes me angry and want them punished. But if for some reason I don’t get it here I know that when they die and they have to face God and I personally would not want to be in their shoes.

  7. Theresa says:

    I look at Joe’s face, and he just exudes a kind and gentle soul. I pray for your sake there is a confession even if it is a deathbed confession. It is sickening to know that you talked to someone who KNOWS who perpetrated this horrific act “I spoke with someone who knew the boys and he told me that robbing him was supposed to be fun (12/10/13),” and is too afraid to speak up. Those boys got to live their life as some claimed they deserved, and now they are Joe’s age or older. It is time for them appreciate the years they were afforded, and make restitution for your family and friends suffering.

  8. Another Christmas has come and gone but I am waiting for you boys to mess up. It is only a matter of time before you do something stupid. Did you think I would not respond on this a holy day? Tell me do you believe in God? Or do you believe in Jesus? If you do you know that every time you celebrate Christmas you are nothing but murderers. And if you think God is going to forgive you for this, think again. The Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt not kill”. Did you skip that section of the bible? You guys are so pathetic. Because that particular commandment does not say that if you are young and stupid it is okay to kill an elderly man. I keep asking myself how much longer can you hold out? One of you is going to crack I say which one? If you ask God for forgiveness do you think he will? I think you blew that chance. That is what is so funny. You are now old do you get scared sometimes? I bet you do. Stay scared because as long as you live you will have me watching and waiting. And if you believe in God then you are going to have big problems explaining a murder to him. I would not want to be in your shoes. On this Earth you have me waiting and when you die you have God waiting. I would not want to be in your shoes. But then I have never murdered anybody so unlike you I have a clear soul. So Merry Christmas I am waiting. And just so that you know I am a very patient person. All I need to do is sit and wait.

  9. Theresa says:

    The police negligence made just as much an assumption about Joe as the “boys”. It makes no sense for boys from affluent families to kill a stranger for money. Don’t they usually go after inheritance money?

    • The boys had committed crimes in the past that their parents paid to get the charges dropped, just so you know the police were never paid off usually whatever crime they committed the person who’s property was damaged or stolen the parents would pay so the boys had no real criminal record. Most of what they did were considered petty crimes. I believe that they saw him or from what I understand they knew him because back then Joe knew everybody who lived in Chariton. He may not have known them by name or if he did because of the beating they gave him he was not able to say anything more than don’t be to hard on the boys. I spoke with someone who knew the boys and he told me that robbing him was supposed to be fun. I think they saw him and figured that it would be easy to rob an old man. But when he told them he had no money I think they did not believe him and so they kept beating him. I think that it just got out of hand. But they still committed murder and for that they need to held accountable. And I won’t let this go. As long as I am alive I intend to continue trying to find proof that they committed the crime. I am not as kind hearted as Joe was. I am also not like his sister or his niece or great-niece they suffered. They had no answers and no justice. I watched three generations try to live with a crime that not only Joe suffered but they did to. It took something away from them. I watched this growing up and it was hard to deal with because I could not fix it for them. So as long as I am alive I will continue to search for justice that he deserved along with his family.

  10. Happy Thanksgiving to the boys. Enjoy your day? Just think I am looking over your shoulders and waiting for you to mess up. Because inept and cowardly idiots like you always screw up. I am always around you. I am with you 24 hours a day 7 days a week and 365 days a year. And unlike you I have all the time in the world. As you all go to bed tonight I will be in your nightmares. Because I promise you I will never leave you. I will always be around. So when you leave your homes or go anywhere look around you just might see me. You are a pathetic bunch of creatures.

  11. judykay119Judy livingston says:

    You should go ahead and just throw some names around, they are probably dead but they’ve told their story to someone

    • According to what I have been told they are alive. So I don’t believe they are dead. I hope that they spend what time they have left on this earth looking over their shoulders. I hope they see Uncle Joe’s face and mine. Because I won’t ever let this go.

      • Lorene Hodges says:

        There is a TV show where retired district attorneys and other investigators work to solve cold cases. The name is “Cold Justice”. This sounds like a case they might want to work on.

Comment Policy

We encourage thoughtful discussion here but ask that comments remain civilized and constructive … i.e. without personal attacks or name-calling. Be respectful of others and remember that victims' family members visit these pages, too. If you'd like to provide us with information regarding a suspect or have other sensitive details to relay, please email us directly. Thank you in advance.

Share Your Thoughts