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Town Marshal Virgil Untied was shot five times Thursday, July 23, 1931, by three assailants in Minburn, Iowa, who were looting a local grocery store.
The 33-year-old marshal — married and a father of three daughters — was summoned to the Gootschalk grocery around 3:30 a.m. when the thieves awakened Miss Lena West, a telephone operator, as they tried breaking into the safe.
Untied and two other men located the trio in the Shaw grocery store, but the robbers opened fire as the marshal crossed the railroad tracks. While his companions returned fire, Untied crawled to the station platform where he collapsed, the The Daily Iowan reported on Friday, July 24, 1931.
More than 10 shots were exchanged in the gunfire, with five slugs hitting Untied and one of the bullets piercing his eye and lodging in his brain.
He was transported to Kings Daughters Hospital in Perry, where doctors held little hope for his recovery.
State agents joined the manhunt at the order of J. E. Risden, chief of the State Bureau of Criminal Investigation (now the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation) and watched for traces of the bandit car in the 35-mile territory between Minburn and Des Moines.
A second gun battle took place a short time later between Grimes and Johnson, the Daily Iowan reported on July 24, 1931, when authorities at Grimes attempted to stop a machine resembling that used by the bandits.
A fusillade of shots failed to halt the speeding car or strike its occupants.
Untied died at the Perry hospital four days after the shooting on July 27, 1931.
Dallas County Forest Park Museum curator Pete Malmberg has a keen interest in Iowa murder mysteries — specifically those in Dallas County — and in 2012 began working on cold case exhibits that would combine artifacts and/or oral histories on the victims.
He aims to profile around five cases each year and features a series of lectures during each year’s display. His hopes to create a traveling exhibition to help remind Iowans these cases are still unsolved.
Writer Juli Probasco-Sowers highlighted Malmberg’s exhibit project in an Iowa Living magazine article published March 4, 2015.
Malmberg said that while the current cases are specific to Dallas County — Virgil Untied is one of the cases Malmberg has featured — he’d like to include some of Iowa’s more notorious unsolved murders and disappearances this spring.
Jodi Huisentruit’s June 27, 1995 abduction from her Mason City parking lot is high on his list.
The following is a report published July 11, 2013 in the Dallas County News. More articles and clips are available under “Sources” following this case summary.
By Bill Haglund
Dallas County / Adel News
July 11, 2013
Tragedy struck Minburn on July 23, 1931 when Town Marshal Virgil Untied was shot and killed by three assailants.
Untied, on foot patrol, spotted the three individuals as they attempted to burglarize a grocery store and a shootout ensued. The ensuing gun battle occurred near the depot and Untied was shot. He died four days later on July 27.
The three assailants reportedly made their way to Des Moines, but were never apprehended.
Untied was 33 years old and left a wife and three daughters.
Untied’s murder occurred during a period of lawlessness in America, spurred by the Great Depression. While such outlaws as John Dillinger, “Baby Face” Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly and Bonnie and Clyde drew national attention, it’s believed Untied’s killers were thugs from Iowa.
The series of events began as Untied walked the downtown area of Minburn at about 3 a.m. when he approached a grocery store, located near the city’s old depot.
Unknowingly, he interrupted four armed bandits, who hit four Minburn stores that night. As Untied approached the store he was shot five times. He was taken to Kings Daughters Hospital in Perry where he died, surrounded by his wife and three daughters.
One report of the incident said that citizens were aroused by the gunfire and responded, but were held off by the bandits during a gun battle.
Another report came from a citizen, still living during a Dallas County News story in 2003. He reported that he was “sleeping in the front yard near the shooting” and didn’t awaken during the incident,” even though “one bullet hit the wall of the old Rowe’s Store, next to where I was sleeping,” less than 12 feet away.
Untied’s widow, Elsie, who was born in 1896, died in Minburn in 1987.
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Virgil Paul Untied was born Feb. 14, 1898, in Frazeyburg, Muskingum County, Ohio, to Charles Owen and Mary Jane (Mortimer) Untied.
He married Elsie C. Sundby and the couple had three daughters.
He died July 27, 1931, after being shot in the line of duty four days earlier on July 23.
He is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Minburn in Dallas County.
If you have any information about Virgil Untied’s unsolved murder, please contact the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office (which absorbed the Minburn Police Department) at 515-993-4771.