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On Thursday afternoon, August 26, 1926, Pansy May Turnbull, the 17-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Arizona Turnbull of Diagonal, Iowa, went to the Street Fair in Clearfield, Iowa, accompanied by her sister and Mr. and Mrs. Cleve Bunker. When the other members were ready to return home, Pansy was nowhere to be found and a search was instituted.
Turnbull was found one block east of the Main street business district, “insensible and apparently injured” and in the company of a strange man, according to an August 1926 article published in the Mount Ayr Record-News. Turnbull was taken to a physician but was unable to make any statement, and on the physician’s advice was then taken to her Diagonal home, where she died a few hours later without ever regaining consciousness.
The Record-News reported in its article:
Tragedy of tragedies! The community stands aghast and the community heart is filled with poignant grief. The life of a promising young woman, reared in a christian community, loved by her friends and highly respected by her acquaintances, passes out as the result of—what? Up until noon today the affair is shrouded in mystery and grief-clouds, dark and foreboding, hang low over the community. That a crime most horrible and revolting was responsible for the passing of the young life is thought to be the only solution and officers in Taylor, Ringgold and Union counties, in the discharge of their duties, are exerting every effort to ascertain the facts.
Following the teen’s death, officers were notified, and on Friday, they accompanied Ringgold County Coroner Dr. Samuel Bailey to Diagonal to initiate an inquest.
Turnbull had bruises on her head and body, leading officers to believe the girl had met with violence in addition to being drugged. Turnbull’s stomach was sent to Iowa City for a chemical analysis of its contents.
Police made a number of arrests and several young men were held for questioning, including John Gibbons of Creston, John Beach of Lenox, Terrance [sic] Luton of St. Joseph, Mo., and brothers Hal and John Howard of Creston. All five were held in the Taylor County jail at Creston and charged with murder in a special Taylor county grand jury investigation being conducted in Bedford.
On Saturday, August 28, all five pleaded not guilty before Mayor Nevious, acting justice. Nevious ordered the young men held without bond. The inquest was then continued until the following Monday.
On Wednesday, September 1, 1926, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald reported that “Knockout drops” of chloral hydrate were administered to Turnbull a short time before her death. The announcement was made by Wilbur J. Teeters, dean of the pharmacy college at Iowa City, after completing an analysis of the girl’s viscera. Teeters said he found positive proof of the presence of chloral hydrate.
The week of September 6, 1926, a motion to quash the first degree murder indictment was returned against Hal Howard. Howard’s attorney made the motion to quash on the ground that the grand jury had been illegally drawn.
On Friday, December 3, 1926, Hal Howard’s trial, presided over by Judge Maxwell, ended abruptly when the court declared “the state had failed to directly connect him with the girl’s death,” according to an article published December 5, 1926 in the Telegraph Herald. In addition, the paper reported, “some of the evidence seemed to substantiate the claim of the defense that the girl died from a fractured skull sustained when she jumped from an automobile the boy was driving.” The state contended, the Telegraph Herald said, that Turnbull received the fatal injury while trying to avoid Howard’s advances.
“I am going back home and will keep out of trouble in the future,” the 15-year-old Hal Howard is quoted as saying in the story. Wrote the Telegraph Herald:
Hall [sic] still is scheduled to face a charge of assault and his boy friend, Terrance Luton, of St. Joseph, Mo., still faces a murder charge placed against him simultaneously with Howard’s indictment, but the course of the state has not been determined and these charges may be dismissed on recommendation of the prosecutor.
Howard remained under a $5,000 bond on the assault charge, while Luton remained in jail awaiting future proceedings. Luton’s attorney told the press he would ask for an immediate trial for his client and also seek his dismissal as the result of Howard’s exoneration.
No one was ever convicted in Miss Turnbull’s death.
Pansy May Turnbull was born December 8, 1908, in Gay Township in Taylor County, Iowa, to Arizona and Dora L. (Watson) Turnbull. (* Dora’s maiden name is sometimes shown as Walston.)
In the 1920 United States Census, at which time Pansy was 11 years old, her siblings in the household included brother Harold Watson Turnbull (13), sister Violet Ruth Turnbull (7), and brother Grenville Everette Turnbull (4).
Pansy is buried at the Diagonal Cemetery, Ringgold County, Iowa.