Wednesday, October 31, 2018


The Kossuth County Genealogical Society hosted a program entitled, "Murder, Mayhem and Madness" on October 30th.  Many stories of murder and strange happenings were told.  For those of you who couldn't attend, here is my contribution to the program.  Have a happy Halloween!


On the afternoon of Friday, April 26th, 1935, Gertie Dale stopped by the home of her mother, Anna Jorgenson, for a regular visit.  Anna resided at her home located at 222 West College Street, directly north of the hospital, and Gertie stopped by often just to check on her.  Anna had lived alone in the two-story, well-kept residence since the death of her husband, Anton, several years before.  At the age of 75, Anna was active and independent.  Gertie was aware that Aggie Knapp, a close friend, had stopped by to visit the evening before and was looking forward to hearing all about it from her mother.

The Jorgenson home

She stepped up on the porch and attempted to turn the knob of the front door.  The door was locked which was unusual for this time of day.  Gertie tried the back door and found that locked as well.  Confused and fearful, she asked Don Cook, who managed the grocery story nearby, to help her open a rear door.  Once inside, Mr. Cook found Anna, barely alive, lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of her own blood and vomit.  Blood spatter across the room indicated a terrific struggle.  The house had been ransacked.  The Sheriff, police and doctor were called immediately.

Anna Jorgenson on her death bed

Jorgenson was carried across the street to the hospital for treatment.  She had been brutally beaten, suffering two bone-crushing blows to the head which fractured her skull.  Despite the valiant efforts of medicine at the time, Anna Jorgenson never regained consciousness and died the following Monday.


An arrest was quickly made.  Warren Dale, brother-in-law of Gertie Dale, was taken into custody and booked on a charge of vagrancy to keep him from leaving town.  Officers suspected his involvement in the robbery and murder, but were still gathering evidence. 


Dale had quite a rap sheet.  He had previously served time at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Anamosa for burglary as well as time in the Minnesota State Pen in Stillwater for second degree assault, grand larceny and third degree burglary.  He was no stranger to law enforcement.

Rumor had it that the victim kept a large sum of money in her home, but how much remained a mystery.  It was known that Dale and Mrs. Jorgenson were acquaintances since his brother was married to her daughter and he had performed odd jobs for her.  When questioned, Dale maintained his innocence despite hours of grilling by Sheriff Carl Dahlhauser.  On May 2nd, a Trial Information was filed charging him with the unlawful and felonious murder of Anna Jorgenson.  A murder weapon was never found nor were finger print experts able to provide any evidence. 

A request for a mental examination by L. A. Winkel, court appointed defense attorney, was approved by the court.  Dale was examined by A. Ristine, Superintendent of the Cherokee State Insane Hospital and was found competent to stand trial.   Winkel also argued for a change of venue, but to no avail.  Trial was set to begin June 17th. 

Without any eye witness to the offense, murder weapon or fingerprints, the State planned to prove its case using circumstantial evidence—testimony of others who had witnessed various acts and participated in conversations leading up to the crime.  Maurice C. McMahon was serving as County Attorney and prosecuted the case.


The courtroom was packed to capacity each day of the trial.  Even standing room was at a premium.  Some audience members brought their lunch with them in order to keep their seats over the noon hour, and many ladies worked on their knitting and tatting during breaks.

The testimony of three witnesses – Harry Stoner, Glen McVay and Lottie McVay – would be pivotal in this case.  Those three, along with Dale, had been drinking the afternoon of April 25th and shared supper together at the McVay house.  According to Lottie McVay, during the meal Dale asked Stoner if he knew Mrs. Jorgenson and then stated that he was going to “trap her that night.”  The four drove to the home of Art Penton around 7:30 that evening in an attempt to get a gun to use in committing the robbery.  Glen McVay testified that sometime later he dropped off Dale and Stoner in the driveway of the Kossuth County Hospital about one-half block from the Jorgenson home and watched as they crossed the street toward the house. 

Harry Stoner stated that after McVay left Dale said to him, “There’s some money there (pointing to Mrs. Jorgenson’s house), I’m gonna tap her.” Stoner testified that he told Dale, “I don’t want that kind of money,” and then Dale told him “to go to Hell.  I’ll do the job myself.”  Stoner then claimed that he left and went back to the McVay house, leaving Dale alone.

Each of the men managed to make it back to the McVay house.  First Glen, then Harry about a half hour later, and finally Warren Dale arrived around 11 pm.  Dale begged McVay to give him a ride to Fort Dodge and offered him a $20 bill for his trouble.  The prosecution took this opportunity to point out that Mrs. Jorgenson had stored her savings in $20 bills in a tin box in her home.  McVay refused and so Dale called Art Waltman who picked him up.  After stopping at Matt Selzar’s restaurant on Highway 18, Waltman took Dale to Art Penton’s house where he left him.

The trial lasted for five days.  Through vigorous cross examination, Attorney Winkel discredited each prosecution witness.  Lottie McVay admitted that she had never legally divorced her first husband before marrying Glen and was accused of bigamy and adultery.  Illegal purchase of bootleg liquor and perjury also came into question when Lottie testified as to the drinking done by the four at their home while Glen denied such actions in his testimony.  Lottie McVay, when asked “Isn’t it true that you and your husband and Harry Stoner planned the whole thing?” said yes, causing gasps in the packed courtroom, but then changed her answer under cross-examination.  Dale’s defense as presented by Winkel was that he drank alcohol provided by Stoner and McVay which made him ill and he was used as a dupe to take the blame for the crime.

Lawrence Winkel

At the close of the case, McMahon gave his closing argument followed by an impassioned three and a half hour plea by Mr. Winkel, going over the evidence, piece by piece and step by step, in an effort to show the framing of his client and to anticipate any further comments to come in the response to his closing by J.D. Lowe, specially appointed assistant county attorney. Mr. Lowe’s contention was that if Dale was not guilty, he should have been willing to take the stand and tell the court the true facts.

Before sending the jury to deliberation, Judge Heald read the jury instructions to them.  As a part of the instructions, they were given five forms of verdict.  Guilty of first degree murder with punishment being death by hanging; guilty of first degree murder with life imprisonment; guilty of second degree murder; guilty of manslaughter; or not guilty. 


Once impaneled, the jury took an initial vote—it was 7 to 5 for acquittal.  A final verdict would not be easily reached by jurors almost evenly divided.  After 17 long hours of deliberation, the jury returned a not guilty verdict around 10:15 on Saturday morning.  Judge Heald thanked the jury and told them that he felt they had arrived at the correct conclusion in view of the evidence presented.  Jury members unanimously agreed that witnesses Stoner and the two McVays should all be behind bars.

The Not Guilty Verdict

Dale’s joy at the acquittal was short-lived as he was immediately arrested for larceny of an automobile for which he would receive a sentence of 25 years in prison. 


Within a few days an arrest warrant was issued for Harry Stoner, charging him with murder.  He had conveniently skipped town and was not located until almost two years later when he was picked up in Waterloo for attempting to cash a bad check.  He was brought back to Algona January 13, 1937.  Soon Glen and Lottie McVay were also arrested—he for conspiracy to commit a robbery and she for bigamy.  The three were placed in three separate jails so that they could not collaborate on a story.

Interestingly, L. A. Winkel had just taken office as County Attorney after having been elected to the position the previous fall.  He was determined to see someone answer for the crime.  Stoner was placed in solitary confinement and not allowed to mingle with other prisoners, despite his constant pleas to do so.  After several days of unsuccessful attempts to get him to confess, Glen McVay was brought to Algona and the two were placed in the same cell.  Gaylord D. Shumway, who had been appointed special prosecutor, arranged for the placement of a dictograph in the jail, near the very cell in which the two prisoners were detained.  Wires were strung from the jail into the home of Sheriff Casey Loss.  A group including Winkel, Shumway, Loss and several city police officers took turns monitoring the dictograph.  It didn’t take long before the conversations between the inmates implicated Stoner. 

On Wednesday, January 27th–two weeks after his return to Algona—Stoner signed a confession, entered a plea of guilty to the charge of accessory to murder and was sentenced to life in prison.  He would serve 20 years.  McVay was sentenced to three years in the State Reformatory at Anamosa.  Lottie McVay pled guilty to bigamy.

We will never know who actually killed Anna Jorgenson.  With no sign of forced entry, it makes sense that Anna would only have opened her door that late at night to someone she knew.  There was no evidence that she was acquainted with Harry Stoner, so it would appear that Warren Dale was the initial caller.  I think it is very likely that both Warren Dale and Harry Stoner were present in that house when the assault occurred. 

Site of the Jorgenson property today

One thing we can be sure of is the excruciating pain the whole event must have caused Gertie and Walter Dale, knowing that his brother had a part in her mother’s murder.  The family would not speak of this tragedy again.   Walter and Gertrude stayed in Algona where they raised their three children.  Their daughter, Vivian, would marry Harold Cowan of Algona.  Oldest son, LeRoy, was killed in action in World War II and their youngest son, Dick, would become a well-known entertainer on the Lawrence Welk Show.

Walter and Gertie Dale with their son, Dick

Until next time,

Kossuth County History Buff

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Sunday, October 21, 2018


The 1860 census which was taken in July of that year finds Ambrose Call residing with his sister, Mary Call Blackford, her husband, John, and their young family just outside of Algona.  The Blackfords had followed the Call brothers to the new town in 1855.  It is unknown how long Ambrose actually lived in his log cabin after Asa and Sarah moved into Algona, but at some point he likely tired of his own cooking and solitary existence or perhaps his big sister felt sorry for him and invited him to move in.

A question on the 1860 census form inquired as to whether or not the person was married during the year to which Ambrose had checked yes so it is likely that by July Ambrose was engaged to be wed to Nancy Henderson before the end of the year.  She was the daughter of Hezekiah Henderson who had been an early settler of Algona. 

“Ki” Henderson had built a large log cabin at the site of the current AMU building on Call Street and took in boarders who slept in the spacious loft.  Nancy had been a 12 year old child when she first came to Algona.  After a year or two, her father decided to move again but Nancy did not go with him, choosing instead to go back to Illinois for further education.  She could not forget Algona, however, or the dashing Ambrose Call.  After a year of school, Nancy and her brother traveled back by covered wagon in a harrowing journey.  Although there are no written memories of their courting and engagement, we know that 26 year old Ambrose and 16 year old Nancy were married October 30, 1860, in Oskaloosa, Iowa, in the presence of the Henderson family.


With his engagement came the realization that Ambrose would need a larger home for his wife and future children.  Picking a site for the location was an easy one.  He owned a large tract which stretched from the edge of the new little town all the way to the area now known as A.A. Call State Park where his log cabin had been located.  Ambrose chose the top of the hill located in the area we now know as the corner of Hall and College Streets.  The exact location of the house on this tract is believed to have been in almost the same spot as the mansion built many years later.  Not only did the site overlook the Des Moines River but was within view of the Blackford residence. In times of distress a red blanket was hung from an upstairs window signaling Mary Blackford to come at once.

From A.T. Andreas Illustrated Atlas of Iowa 1875

This new home would be constructed from board lumber straight from the local saw mill.  A drawing of the home was pictured in the “A.T. Andreas Illustrated Atlas of the State of Iowa” published in 1875.  Two stories tall, the main section of the house had a small front porch.  One story wings were added on either side.  It is not known if the wings were part of the original structure or were added later.  In the book “Early Algona,” Florence Call Cowles (the Calls’ oldest child) stated, “Do you know the old-fashioned plant called “hen and chickens?”  Our houses were like that plant—one more pretentious part surrounded by many additions built on here and there as necessity demanded.”


Nancy was an inexperienced but eager-to-learn homemaker.  Mary Blackford took the new Mrs. Call under her wing and taught her many housekeeping skills which were put to good use.  Again in “Early Algona,” Florence described what life was like for the family:  Those were the good old days in the ‘60’s when mother made soft soap in a big kettle in the yard while the children danced around like the three witches of Macbeth.  Father melted and ran bullets in the bullet mould.  Tallow candles, too, were made at home altho almost everyone had one kerosene lamp.  Hominy was boiled with lye, washed and boiled and boiled again.  Parched corn was a treat, occasionally.  The sweet corn sometimes turned out to be partly of the dark blue, almost black, variety, and we called it “squaw corn” and roasted it over the coals.  Mush and milk made a delicious meal in those days of real appetites.

“Instead of the elk meat and venison of the ‘50’s the hired men butchered a hog and salted down part of the meat in a pork barrel. Mother made sausage, oh, so good, and so were the spare-ribs, but how we detested the day when mother “tried out” the lard!  Pies were made of dried apples and the extra crust was made into turnovers for the children. . .Mother did the sewing, for nothing could be bought ready made in those days.  In the evenings she knit the mittens, socks, and stockings.  She baked the bread, for there were no bakeries, and what bread ever tasted like mother’s!”

Children, too, had their chores.  “The children brought in the wood, picked up the chips for kindling, helped wipe dishes, set the table, turning the plates bottom side up, shook the table cloth out of the back door for the chickens, rocked the cradle, for in those days we knew no better than to rock the baby to sleep.”

Speaking of rocking the baby to sleep, one of the prized possessions of the family was a cradle that had been hand crafted by John Heckart.  It had been custom made for the family when they discovered their second child was on the way.   

As told in the poem “Eda’s Cradle” written by Florence Call Cowles, Ambrose and Nan sold a load of firewood and used the money to hire Orange Minkler and his ox team to fell a walnut tree in their timber and haul it to the Heckart home. “Grandpa Heckart” as he was affectionately known by Ambrose’s children, skillfully crafted a cradle from the old walnut tree, with smooth, even rockers, slats, spindles and knobs at each corner.  When second daughter Edith (a/k/a Eda) was born in February of 1864, the cradle was ready to welcome her.  She would snuggle down in the pillows and blankets and drift off to sleep while being gently rocked.


Early in the morning of Tuesday, February 11, 1868, Nancy was busy preparing breakfast for the family.  By that time the cradle had been passed down to their youngest child, Etta.  That morn it was in the busy kitchen with Etta inside it watching her mother.  Around 7 a.m. flames were suddenly discovered on the roof and garret above the kitchen.  A stunned Ambrose began yelling “Fire” with all his might and rushed outside to grab a ladder to use to fight the fire.  Neighbors and townspeople came running with buckets in hand to help. 


In all the excitement, Nancy suddenly remembered Etta in her cradle.  She quickly seized the little girl and as she turned to leave, flaming fragments of the kitchen ceiling crashed down landing right on top of the cradle where Etta had been just an instant before.  At that moment, Lewis Smith burst into the room. Assessing the situation, he quickly hurled the burning blankets from the cradle which he then carried outside and tossed it into a snowdrift.  It was there that Ambrose found the cradle rocking in the winter wind.  While most of the household goods were saved, the house was a total loss.

The Calls received an insurance payment of $860.80 from Hartford Insurance Company to cover the loss they suffered.  They used the funds to rebuild a house very similar to the one they had lost.  The cradle once again had a home.

The final installment of this story will tell the story of the Call Mansion built in 1886.

Until next time,


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Wednesday, October 3, 2018


Many of you will recall the beautiful mansions that Ambrose and Asa Call and their families once called home.  I don’t remember much about Asa’s house which once stood where the Call City Park is located, but I do recollect the Ambrose Call home during its last years of service as the Good Samaritan Home.  As a young girl I accompanied my mother there to see various patients during the late 1960s.  Unfortunately I have no memories about the inside of the house.

This past summer the story of Ambrose Call and his wife, Nancy, was featured in “Voices From the Past” cemetery walk at Riverview Cemetery during Founders’ Day weekend.  I gathered a lot of research about the three homes of the Calls to be used for the preparation of the guides’ scripts.  Having gathered so much more information than we could use for the scripts, it seems only fair to share the research in a post or two.


The very first cabin in Kossuth County was built by Ambrose and his friend, William T. Smith.  During their initial trip to Kossuth County when they staked their first claims, the Call brothers did some strategic planning.  They decided that Ambrose would work on building a cabin in which they could live during the upcoming winter while Asa traveled back to Iowa City to register their claims and to bring back his new bride, Sarah, before bad weather struck.

With the plan in place, the brothers traveled together to Boone, where Ambrose was to procure the equipment and supplies needed for the cabin.  While there, Ambrose met William T. Smith who was fascinated by the stories of Kossuth County told by the Calls.  Ambrose knew that he could not construct a log cabin alone, so he encouraged Mr. Smith to accompany him to his new home and perhaps strike a claim for himself.  Smith agreed.  With Ambrose leading the way, the two traveled to the tract that Ambrose had claimed for his own on July 10, 1854.  Together the two built the cabin. 

The Homes of Ambrose Call, Part
The memorial near the cabin site

According to the speech given by Ambrose Call at the 1904 semi-centennial, the cabin was 14x16 feet in size and the logs, which were notched at the corners, “were as large as two men could raise.”  He goes on, “My cabin had a door made of puncheons hewn from basswood logs, a one sash window 10x12, a chimney made of sticks, and mortar made of yellow clay; the fireplace of boulders and the hearth of dirt.  In those very early days we had no sod houses.  Our cabins were all built of logs, just as our great grandfathers in the green mountain state built them, a little improvement on the cabin in which Abraham Lincoln learned to read his bible.”    


Once the cabin was completed, Mr. Smith quickly grew tired of the isolation and loneliness.  He left the country and never returned.  That left Ambrose the only white man in the whole county.  He was aware that due to the killing of Si-do-min-a-do-tah (Old Two Fingers), the brother of Ink-pa-du-tah, the whole area was unsafe and he also knew that his new cabin was only a short distance from the location where the Sioux had robbed a band of surveyors earlier that same year and driven them out of the county.  Given those facts, it must have taken a special kind of courage to stay there all alone.

Thankfully his solitude was short lived as Asa came back for a week or two in late August to mark claims before returning to Iowa City and the first band of settlers to the area arrived on August 27, 1854.  On November 4th, Asa arrived with Sarah, and she made the rough cabin a real home.  Florence Call Cowles described her as “young, enthusiastic, adaptable, and resourceful.”


Sarah Heckart Call herself shared the following memory about the cabin:  “It was made of poles, a stick chimney and a little clap board door about four feet high. When we first came it had no windows nor door, but we soon fixed it comfortably.  I often think of that little cabin with its great fire place and if I should travel the world over I could find no place where I could enjoy myself better than I did there.  While we lived in Iowa City we had always boarded at the hotel, so in that little cabin I took my first lessons in housekeeping.  The room was so small that when strangers came in the country and stopped with us, as they usually did, we were obliged to set our table and chairs out of doors and make beds on the floor.  Our bags of flour, coffee, beans, etc., were pitched under the beds, and our meat which was mostly elk and venison lay on the roof of the house well frozen.”

Although Asa and Sarah had been married for a few months, they had been apart the majority of that time while the Call brothers traveled in search of the location for their new city and again when Asa journeyed back to Kossuth County at the end of August.  I am sure that by November Sarah was looking forward to permanently being with her new husband and truly beginning their life together.  Although she had to be aware that the couple would be sharing the small cabin with her brother in law, I can imagine that it must have been difficult at times spending the long winter in the 14x16 foot room with both your new husband and a brother-in-law that you barely knew. On one hand you would like to have more private time with your new husband but on the other it was nice to have another male presence for protection in this untamed territory.

The Homes of Ambrose Call - Part I -
Alexander Brown's log cabin which sits in
Ambrose A. Call State Park

It is hard to really imagine what life must have been like in the very early days of settlement.  A description that has always fascinated me is contained in the story of the arrival of W.H. Ingham and D. E. Stine outside the Call cabin on the 24th of November, 1854.  These two gentlemen were the first outsiders they had seen since Sarah’s arrival.  An account set out in the “History of Kossuth County” written by B. F. Reed in 1912, states:  “They were met in front of the cabin by the husband, who was wearing a silk blouse coat, white shirt and collar, and polished shoes.  The puzzling question that arose in their minds for solution was:  “What can be the object of a man of such commanding presence and evident ability living out here in the woods on the borders of civilization, dressed in such fashionable style?”  They accepted the courteous invitation to “alight and remain over night.”  Inside the cabin they were met by another surprise:  They were greeted by Mrs. Call who was tastily gowned in silk.  She stood before them, a young woman yet in her teens, and was the very picture of health and happiness.  Nature had done much in giving her both beauty and grace, but not more so than in giving her a disposition to be content with her lot and to make the most of what she found at hand.  The supper was a fine one that the two visitors in after years frequently referred to it when telling about their experience in first meeting Judge and Mrs. Asa C. Call.”

Although I have read this story many times, it was not until I was writing this story that it dawned on me that although Ingham describes staying overnight at the cabin, no mention is made of the presence of Ambrose Call, the owner of the abode.   Now there could be many explanations for this, but the romantic in me wants to believe that Ambrose wanted to give the newlyweds as much privacy as possible.  I have a feeling that quite likely there were many hunting trips that kept Ambrose away from home that winter until his older brother was able to build a log cabin in town the next spring.

Please join me for my next post which will tell the story of the house  Ambrose built for his own bride.

Until next time,

Kossuth County History Buff

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