That April evening, Clabe Wilson, wearing a badge and carrying a shotgun, walked south on Gaines Street. Beattie’s German Shepherd followed him to his job as Stuart, Iowa’s new “nightwatch.”
Clabe’s family watched him go – wife Leora, with twins due the next month, and three small children, ages two to five. Delbert, nearly six, sensed that his mother was worried.
J.K. Myers Killed
They knew the danger Wilson faced because bank robbers had killed the former night watchman, J.K. Myers, a couple of weeks earlier.
Yeggmen, as The Guthrian called them, had stolen a Hudson six from in front of the Orpheum Theater in Des Moines the night of March 29, 1921.
In the middle of the night, the five men ordered breakfast at Stuart’s Princess Cafe, where train crewmen also ate at odd hours. They broke into a shed at the coal chute, stole a pickax, a sledge, and a chisel which they used to break into the Stuart bank.
Mr. Myers, walking through the alley south of the bank at 4:15 a.m., came upon some of the gang and tried to arrest them. Soon all were shooting.
Even though the thugs had cut many nearby phone wires, a woman living over the harness shop had been awakened by the shootings. Her son rang up “central” and soon the town was roused by the fire whistle.
Townsmen took Mr. Myers to the hospital. The robbers didn’t get any cash before they were discovered, but one of three bullets that had hit Mr. Myers severed an artery in his leg. He died at 8:30 that morning.
Stuart men formed a posse and notified surrounding towns of the attempted robbery, also the sheriffs of Guthrie and Polk counties, and the Des Moines police department.
A bullet had pierced the radiator of the getaway car. Racing to Des Moines, the criminals stopped at Jungman’s farm near Earlham for gas, and for water for the radiator.
When the black Hudson sped through Van Meter, several men fired shots at it. The car, with bullet holes in it and blood stains on the seats and floor, was found in Des Moines later that morning in a shed in an alley between Locust and Walnut, west of Ninth.
Stuart Vigilance Committee
Stuart also formed a Vigilance Committee and hired Clabe Wilson as the new nightwatch. Soon a second man was added.
The town provided a .32 caliber revolver, but Clabe didn’t trust it. Instead, he carried a sawed off shotgun with buckshot and a .45 caliber pistol of his own. When he practiced with his guns north of town, he often took young Delbert and Donald with him.
Wilson Twins Born
On May 12, one man was arrested for the murder of Mr. Myers. The next day Wilsons’ twins, Dale and Darlene, were born.
A second suspect was arrested in July. Only the two men were bound over to the grand jury in October, charged with murder in the first degree, and with breaking and entering.
The State asked for the death penalty, but in spite of over three dozen witnesses for the State, after 27 hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted both men.
The judge announced that the two still faced breaking and entering charges. They paid $3000 bond each and rode off in a Cadillac with one man’s wife, mother, and sister. . . and the other’s girlfriend.
Were they ever convicted of breaking and entering?
When young Delbert Wilson watched his father go up the street at night, he worried. But he was also proud of him. . . carrying a gun and wearing a badge.
And all the kids at school knew who his dad was.
Stuart historian Bob Cook sent this 1923 clipping:
This story is also part of Leora’s Early Stories: Guthrie County Roots.