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His young adult life had started out with a few uncertainties, but 22-year-old Melvin James Gallagher was finding his footing and making plans for what he hoped would be a bright future.
He’d been deeply in love with two different women — Gloria and Patricia — and wanted to settle down with a good job and start raising a family. He’d first been engaged to Patricia, but after much soul searching, realized it was Gloria with whom he wanted to spend his life. He and Patricia broke off their engagement, and a short time after they went their separate ways, Patricia discovered she was pregnant with Gallagher’s child.
Melvin and Gloria became engaged, and were to marry the following year on January 10, 1959. Some time during their engagement, Gloria also became pregnant.
In the interim, Gallagher, who’d recently been discharged after serving with the Army, started working at the Clark Super 100 service station located at 210 Falls Ave. in Waterloo. He submitted an application for employment with the Waterloo Police Department, and also applied for entry to a chiropractic school. Now that that Army vet would have a wife and child, there would be expenses and he’d be leaving his mother and step-father’s home to make one of his own with his new family.
He never got the chance to marry his girl. Never got the opportunity to meet his unborn children. Never got the time to fulfill any of his dreams.
He’d been working at the service station just six months when, on a bitterly cold Saturday morning about 5:15 a.m., he was killed by a shotgun blast to the head as he prepared to end his night-shift. On January 3, 1959, exactly one week before his wedding day, he lay dying on a filling station floor behind frost-covered windows — his left hand still in his pocket — as his life and all he’d ever hoped for ebbed away and vanished.
One theory never fully discounted by police was that Gallagher knew his murderer.
Clark Company officials said their employees had been told never to resist hold-up attempts. When talking casually with customers or friends, Gallagher frequently stood with his left hand in his pocket, which led investigators to believe the Army vet had been visiting with someone he knew.
And, although $179 was missing from the station, an undisclosed amount was left behind — either not seen or not wanted by the killer. Money, officials said, may not have been the objective.
On February 19, Patricia gave birth to the couple’s son, Michael.
Later that year, Gloria gave birth to the couple’s twin daughters.
Police steadily followed up on a number of leads; they all dead-ended and led nowhere.
“But that’s all they were,” said Chief Harry Krieg in a January 3, 1960 Waterloo Courier article. “We had plenty of leads, but virtually nothing in the way of real clues.”
Scores of persons were questioned, Krieg said, and several were given lie detector tests, but police never found enough real evidence with which they could work.
Hope briefly emerged when a man wanted on a check charge in Waterloo was found in another state, a shotgun in his vehicle. Several circumstances led officials to believe he may have been connected with the homicide, but the man came up with an airtight alibi for the night of Gallagher’s murder.
A year after Gallagher’s murder, two of his sisters — Mrs. Warren Nissen of Waterloo and Mrs. S.J. De Blasis of Washington, D.C. — offered a $750 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for his death. The reward was to remain in effect for six months.
The sisters said the killing came so violently and unexpectedly that it never seemed real.
“I feel if we could only know who did this thing, it wouldn’t be so hard to sleep at night,” Mrs. De Blasis told the Waterloo Courier on the one-year anniversary of her brother’s murder.
The Washington sister had been vacationing with her husband in the West Indies when the killing took place. Back in Waterloo, Mrs. Nissen spent most of that day trying to contact her sister by telephone to relay the tragic news.
“It was a horrible day,” Mrs. Nissen said in the Courier interview. “Besides this terrible thing happening, the phone kept ringing every few minutes as the operators tried to find my sister.”
The sisters said their brother was the happy-go-lucky type and liked everybody he met, even though he seldom made real close friends.
Gallagher’s sisters and police said they knew that offering the reward was strictly a shot in the dark, but were hopeful that renewed interest in the murder might turn up some small clue not yet known. It was not to be.
Melvin Gallagher was born May 19, 1936, to Mary V. (McGraw) Regan and James F. Gallagher.
Survivors included his fiancée, Gloria, and their unborn twin daughters; an unborn son, Michael; his mother and step-father, Mr. and Mrs. James Regan of 219-1/2 W. 6th Street, Waterloo; and three sisters, Mrs. Warren Nissen of 825 Wisner Drive, Mrs. S.J. (Gertrude) De Blasis of Washington, D.C., and a half-sister, Mrs. Dave Heideman, also residing at 219-1/2 W. 6th St. in Waterloo.
A parish Rosary was held at 8 p.m. the Monday following the murder at the Oppold Funeral Home in Waterloo. Funeral services were held January 6, 1959 at 9 a.m. at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, with burial in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. A Waterloo veterans organization conducted the rites.
On January 2, 2014, Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers announced that they are offering a $1,000 reward for information in Melvin Gallagher’s cold case murder.
Launched in June 2012, Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers’ goal is to help keep Cedar Valley neighborhoods safer. The program allows citizens to report suspicious and criminal behavior while allowing them to remain anonymous. No calls are traced, and if a tip leads to an arrest the caller is eligible for a cash reward.
CV Crime Stoppers believes “someone other than the criminal has information that can help solve a crime,” and works to help the community overcome two major issues in crime reporting: fear of reprisal, and the reluctance to get involved.
Anyone with information about Melvin Gallagher’s unsolved murder is asked to call the Waterloo Police Department at 319-291-4340 ext 3 or Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers, 855-300-TIPS (8477). Tips may also be sent with TipSoft or by texting the word CEDAR plus the information to CRIMES (274637). Message and data rates may apply. Text STOP to opt out at any time. Text HELP for more information. Anyone with information leading to an arrest is eligible for a cash reward.
Anonymous tips may be sent through the Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers Confidential Web Tip Information System.