The Day a Public Enemy Came to Davenport

It probably started as a routine patrol for Officer Elmer Schlueter on June 14, 1934. It was a warm summer morning at about 10:30 a.m. Officer Schlueter, a twelve year veteran of the Davenport Police Department, was patrolling the levee area near LeClaire Park when something out of the ordinary caught his eye.

It was a well-dressed man in a gray checkered suit carrying a large briefcase. He seemed out of place when Officer Schlueter approached him. Schlueter asked to look in the briefcase. The man handed it over and Officer Schlueter began to look through its contents.

Suddenly the man drew a gun and managed to disarm the officer. He forced Schlueter down the path leading to the Municipal Baseball Stadium. At that moment former Alderman and current secretary-treasurer of the Davenport Baseball Club, Al Schultze, was driving towards the men from the stadium. The armed man stopped Schultze’s car, forced Schlueter and himself into the back seat and ordered Schultze to drive. They headed along Rockingham Road west towards Buffalo.

Officer Elmer Schlueter and Al Schultze would soon learn they had been kidnapped by Joe Palmer, murderer and part-time member of the Barrow Gang. The gang had made headlines starting in 1932 for not only bank robberies, but murder as well. Barrow members Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker had been shot and killed on May 23, 1934 in Louisiana. The remaining free gang members were doing their best to avoid arrest. They were wanted in several states for their numerous crimes.

Witnesses immediately alerted the Davenport Police Department to the kidnapping. The police department was faced with two scenarios. The first being this was “just” a kidnapping that had taken place. The second scenario was the possibility this was part of a larger heist. With all officers on alert searching for the kidnap victims would other criminals be waiting to stage bank robberies in an unprotected city?

The police department split its resources sending some officers to cover local city banks while all others went out in force to find the missing men. The Scott County Sheriff called on their Vigilantes to go to county banks to cover them in case of attempted robberies.

Soon Mr. Schultze’s car was located on the side of the road near Blue Grass. It was then reported that Walcott veterinarian, Dr. W. H. Fitch, had never returned from a call he made to the Bernick farm in Blue Grass. He was last seen driving a Ford coupe about 10:45 a.m.

By 2:00 p.m. a report was made of a car matching Dr. Fitch’s driving rapidly west on Route 6 near Walcott. Officers immediately started in pursuit and cities along the way were notified to be on the lookout.

Davenport Police Chief Sam Kelly ordered all officers not on duty to head to Blue Grass and Walcott. They searched all wooded areas along the roadside to see if they could find the victims. All they found were veterinarian supplies and a briefcase. Even a local airplane was put into service to fly over the county to try to spot either the car or the men. No trace could be found.

Finally, at 3:45 a.m. on June 15th a call came into the Davenport Police Department. It was Officer Schlueter. He, Al Schultze, and Dr. Fitch had been released by their kidnapper in St. Joseph, Missouri. Both The Daily Times and The Davenport Democrat covered the story of their ordeal.

Al Schultze reported that Palmer was not happy with the condition of his car and soon after they got into Blue Grass Dr. Fitch was waved over while driving towards Davenport. Palmer soon had Officer Schlueter, who stood about 6 feet tall, placed in the small trunk of Fitch’s coupe. He locked the trunk and then ordered Fitch and Schultze into the car. Palmer made one of the men drive the car while he sat in the back with the remaining man. He kept a gun pointed at the man sitting next to him and told the driver if he made any wrong moves the other man was dead.

The route Palmer made the men drive headed west to Iowa City and then on to Washington, Kansas. They then back tracked into Iowa and headed towards St. Joseph, Missouri.

During the trip, Palmer made sure his kidnap victims saw the two .45 caliber automatic pistols he carried. He told the men they were gifts from Clyde Barrow who he spoke of in glowing terms. Palmer had no love for Officer Schlueter, or any other police officers. He mentioned several times during the kidnapping he should “do something” to Schlueter, but never followed through on the threat.

Of the three kidnapped men, Schlueter suffered the most physically during the ordeal. He was forced to lay on his side in the cramped trunk with the lid pressing into him. Breathing was difficult in that position and the heat from the sun hitting the car’s metal frame caused the small area to become a sweltering prison.

Suddenly, just after 3:00 a.m. Joe Palmer had the driver stop the car. He said he would let them have the car if they would return directly to Davenport. The men readily agreed. Palmer robbed the men of their money ($135 from Dr. Fitch, $93 from Al Schultze, and $1 from Officer Schlueter), but returned $15 to help them make the trip back to Davenport. Then Joe Palmer simply walked away.

Officer Schlueter, Mr. Schultze, and Dr. Fitch located police officers within 15 minutes of being released. Palmer was soon caught and taken into custody.

While being questioned in St. Joseph, Joe Palmer stated he kidnapped Officer Schlueter fearing he had seen a gun that was inside the briefcase. If Palmer was taken into custody he feared his identity would be discovered and he would be returned to Texas where he faced not only an escape charge from a jailbreak in early 1934, but the killing of a guard in the process.

Palmer asked to be taken to Davenport to face kidnapping charges. The sentence for that would be less than what he faced in Texas. Instead, he was returned to Texas where he was put on trial before being sent to the electric chair on May 10, 1935 along with fellow Barrow gang member Raymond Hamilton.

The families of Elmer Schlueter, Al Schultze, and Dr. Fitch were relieved when the men drove into town the evening of June 15th. The newspapers carried banner headlines of their return. Soon, life seemed to quiet down and the headlines were about other local stories.

The Barrow Gang’s crime spree ended in 1934 with the death of Clyde and Bonnie along with the arrest of many of its members. Officer Schlueter would return to work and eventually retire from the Davenport Police Department on July 16, 1946 after 24 years of service.

The early 1930’s were filled with gangs crisscrossing the United States stopping in small towns to rob banks or hide out. We feel certain that the people of Davenport were glad that no event like the day Joe Palmer came to town happened again.

(posted by Amy D.)

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Awash in the Electric Glow: Vander Veer Fountain’s 80th Year

One of Davenport’s local attractions is celebrating its 80th birthday this year. The electric fountain at Vander Veer Botanical Park opened on May 29, 1935 to the fascinated gazes of children and adults alike.

The new fountain took the place of an older Victorian fountain made of iron that had become structurally unsafe and was removed shortly before the new fountain’s construction began.

The Daily Times gave a full report on the construction of the fountain in its May 30, 1935 edition. The four basic colors used in the light display were amber, red, blue, and green. Seven projectors and three different types of sprays helped create the magical evening show that fascinated thousands of visitors that summer.

According to The City of Davenport, Iowa Annual Report 1934 – 1935 the fountain cost $3,091.73 to building during Fiscal Year 1935.  An additional $597.45 was spent during Fiscal Year 1936 to finish the fountain project according to the 1935 – 1936 report.


Construction work on the stone fountain at Vander Veer Park. [ca. 1933]

Since its first day of operation 80 years ago the fountain has had its ups and downs in operation. There were long periods of closure as worn out parts and finances stopped the beautiful night shows.

The fountain was once again restored and came alight in the summer of 2004. It remains a popular spot on hot summer days and (hopefully) cool evenings to visit.

If you haven’t been by recently, maybe stop by this summer to take a break, enjoy the beauty, and be part of a special 80-year-old tradition.


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Brown Bag Lunch Presentation: Eugene Ely, Daredevil Aviator

Author William M. Miller will be at the Davenport Main Library on Thursday, June 4th at noon for a presentation on local pioneer aviator Eugene Ely.

Bring your own lunch from home or pick up a boxed lunch from any of the nearby Downtown Davenport restaurants.

Check out this blog post about Eugene Ely published in November 2010 in honor of National Aviation Month.

For fans of local history, aviation history, biographies, daredevils and stunts!


(posted by Cristina)

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With Memorial Day approaching, the staff at Richardson-Sloane Special Collections thought to share an online government resource to aid in searching for veterans who have served in United States military forces.

These resources are free and may be accessed from any computer. As always, our staff would be pleased to assist anyone visiting our department with research help on our public computers.

Following is a brief tutorial created by a RSSC staff member on one way to search part of the U.S. National Archives Records Administration Access to Archival Databases.

And yes, we found a lot of acronyms involved!

The Defense Casualty Analysis System (DCAS) is part of  the U. S. National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) Access to Archival Databases (AAD).

This series was created for the Department of Defense (DoD) and contains records of U.S. military officers and soldiers who died as a result of either a hostile or non-hostile occurrence in the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, or War on Terrorism. It includes persons who were missing in action and prisoners of war, deaths occurring during peacetime (beginning in 1975), and deaths resulting from accident or illness. Dates of death range from June 28, 1950 to May 28, 2006.

There are several other databases available on this site and they are organized by category. We were looking for casualties.

NARA - AAD - Main Page


Click the search button next to Defense Casualty Analysis System (DCAS). You can also search only Korean War or Vietnam Conflict casualties by selecting their “Extract Data File”

NARA - AAD - Casualties


You can search by name, birth date, hometown, casualty location or death date. You may also add other fields to search. We searched for people from Davenport, Iowa and got 59 results.

NARA - AAD - Fielded Search


The search results only show up to 10 fields (name, service, birth date, hometown, place of death, death date, war or conflict name, casualty/incident category). You can sort by any of these fields, for this example we sorted by birth date. Select the person you want and click on View Record to get more information.

NARA - AAD - Display


Each record may include: the service member’s name, service name, rank or rate, occupation, date of birth,  hometown (city, county, state or province, country), casualty city, state or province and country, death date, war or conflict, operation incident, location, hostile or non-hostile death indicator, casualty type and category, incident casualty reason, body (recovered or not).

This is a wonderful site with many options. We hope it opens many research doors for those searching this Memorial Day.

(posted by Cristina)

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Genealogy Night is this Sunday!

There is still time to sign up for Genealogy Night! Join us this Sunday May 17th from 3-8pm at he Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center of the Main Davenport Public Library. The $10 fee covers use of our extensive collections, online computer programs, wonderful staff, and yummy food! Pre-registration is required.

Call us at (563) 326-7902 to register. You will be as happy as Libby, the Library Dog in this video.

DPL Libby from Mike Mickle on Vimeo.

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Vintage Moms

This gallery contains 6 photos.

These portraits of mothers with their children were taken by J. B. Hostetler in Davenport, Iowa in the 1910’s and are part of our photograph collections. Happy Mother’s Day from the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center! Marjorie (Cosgrove) Walsh with Marjory Mary … Continue reading

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Living Memory History: The “Great Flood” turns Fifty

Does anyone remember the “Great Flood” of 1965?

The Mississippi River seemed liked it would never stop rising in April 1965 in the Quad Cities. It finally did, on April 28th with a crest at Lock and Dam 15 in Rock Island, IL at 22.48 feet.

At 15 feet the water had started out of the banks of the Mississippi River. The growing water covered roads and bridges. Its icy coldness entering into businesses and homes along the river.

Several factors contributed to this great flood. November and December 1964 had been unusually cold, but without snow. The ground frost had a chance to go deep into the soil before snow started falling in early 1965.*

Snow was still falling into March with cold temperatures lingering late into the month. Normally, slowly rising temperatures help snow to melt at an easy pace that does not overwhelm streams, creeks, and rivers. This did not happen in 1965.

When April arrived so did quickly warming temperatures by mid-month along with heavy rain up and down the river. The still frozen ground could not absorb the snow melt and rain.

The National Weather Service records March 1965 as the second coldest March on record (with an average of 26.9 degrees Fahrenheit) and the seventh snowiest March (with 16.2 inches).**

April 1965 falls as the second wettest April on record with 7.92 inches of rain falling. 2.26 inches fell on April 24th alone.

The end result was the water started rising and local citizens responded. During the cool, rainy April of 1965 sandbagging seemed a never-ending task. Some areas held well others fell to the flood. There was just too much water to fast to keep back at times.

The National Weather Service records the damage in 1965 at $125 million dollars (based on current inflation the cost today would be nearly $1 billion dollars).

We’ve recently scanned and uploaded a set of 20 slides from our collection. You can view them on the Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive and on our Historypin.

Flood stage in Quad Cities is 15-feet – the record 22.5 feet caused scenes like this one near Government Bridge.

Flood stage in Quad Cities is 15-feet – the record 22.48 feet caused scenes like this one near Government Bridge.

Davenport’s Municipal Stadium, home of the Quad-City Angels, farm team of Los Angeles Angels.

Davenport’s Municipal Stadium, in 1965 home of the Quad-City Angels, farm team of Los Angeles Angels.

One of Davenport’s inundated streets. [East 2nd Street]

One of Davenport’s inundated streets. [East 2nd Street]

“Snug Harbor”, Davenport’s American Legion riverside headquarters, suffered thousands of dollars in flood damage.

“Snug Harbor”, Davenport’s American Legion riverside headquarters, suffered thousands of dollars in flood damage.

Additional 1965 flood photos may be seen in A Flood of Images previously posted.

The Great Flood of 1965 stood as the top Mississippi River Flood at Lock and Dam 15 for 28 years.

Then the never-ending water returned in 1993.


*National Weather Service observations on 1965 Flood conditions.

**Weather records are based out of Moline, IL for the National Weather Service since record keeping began in 1871.

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Save the Date: Genealogy Night!

Have you been looking for your Great-great-aunt Ethel’s gravesite for so long, you suspect she’s still alive somewhere, snickering at your efforts to find her?

Family Tree Nut2We in the Special Collections Center of the Davenport Public Library understand. And we are once again opening our Center to give you a little extra time to root out those difficult ancestors and tie them to your family tree.

For $10.00, you’ll have the run of the Special Collections Center from 3-8pm on Sunday, May 17th. For five whole hours, you’ll be able to use our resources, pick the brains of your fellow genealogists, socialize with those who share your obsessions . . . and we’ll feed you, too!

Registration is limited, so please call us at 326-7902 for more information, or drop off your registration fee at the Special Collections Center at our Main Street location to secure your spot!

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“The Lydia” – Iowa’s First Bookmobile

[Hardin Co. IA] School District No. 2. Teacher - Miss Birdie Lee - ca. 1926

[Hardin Co. IA] School District No. 2. Teacher – Miss Birdie Lee – ca. 1926

In the summer of 1926, the County Library Committee of the Iowa Library Association rolled out what would become Iowa’s first bookmobile. Every county in Iowa could secure the use of this library on wheels for a week at a cost of $50, to help stimulate interest in the levy of a tax so that each county might have its own library and caravan.

[Hardin Co. IA] School District No. 4. Teacher - Miss Maurine Varnum - ca. 1926

[Hardin Co. IA] School District No. 4. Teacher – Miss Maurine Varnum – ca. 1926

The Book Caravan traveled to rural communities of the state, making stops at country school houses and farm homes. “Three books to every man, woman and child in Iowa” was the slogan of the county library initiative. The idea of the book caravan, also known as “The Lydia”, was conceived by Miss Lydia Barrette, city librarian at Mason City.

[Hardin Co. IA] School District No. 2. Teacher - Miss Helen Holbrook - ca. 1926

[Hardin Co. IA] School District No. 2. Teacher – Miss Helen Holbrook – ca. 1926

 Lydia Margaret Barrette was born in Rock Island, IL on April 24, 1881. She was the daughter of George M. and Martha Barrette. She graduated from Davenport High School in 1900, earned a BA degree from Cornell College in 1905 and attended the University of Iowa and University of Wisconsin, before graduating from Western Reserve University Library School in Cleveland, OH.

The Barrette family - George M, Mattie, Lydia, Ada & George, Jr. - ca. 1900. Photographed by J. B. Hostetler, Davenport, Iowa

The Barrette family – George M, Mattie, Lydia, Ada & George, Jr. – ca. 1900. Photographed by J. B. Hostetler, Davenport, Iowa

Miss Barrette began her library career in Davenport, first in the children’s library and then as a reference librarian. She spent some time in Jacksonville, IL before taking charge of the Carnegie Library at Mason City in 1921.

Under her leadership, the Mason City Library became one of the first in Iowa to establish circulating art and music collections. Her aim was to establish the public library as the cultural center of North Iowa.  A plaque hangs in the Mason City Public Library with the inscription:

“Lydia Margaret Barrette, librarian, whose creative vision and untiring devotion gave to this community a library unique in service and beauty, 1920-1955.”

According to her obituary, published in the Mason City Globe on October 21, 1963, Miss Barrette was known as “one of Mason City’s Grand Old Ladies”.


(posted by Cristina)

County Library Service Book Caravan images from the DPL Archive collection


Works Cited

Ames Daily Tribune and Evening Times. “Book Caravan Touring County.” July 22, 1926: p.1.

Ames Daily Tribune and Evening Times. “Library Notes.” May 26, 1926: p.4.

Davenport Democrat and Leader. “Miss Lydia Barrette Editor New Bulletin Iowa F.B.& P.W. Clubs.” December 4, 1923: p.6.

Harlan, Edgar Rubey. A Narrative History of The People of Iowa Vol. 3. Chicago: American Historical Society, 1931.

Mason City Globe. “Miss Lydia Barrette dies at 82.” October 21, 1963: p. 1-2.

Waterloo Evening Courier. “Book Caravan Due in Waterloo August 14-16.” August 3, 1926: p.7.

Waterloo Evening Courier. “Campaign for County Library.” January 18, 1928: p.8.

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The Flowery Rhymes of Charles Eugene Banks

It’s National Poetry Month and we can think of no better way to celebrate than to remind everyone that Davenport has been the home of quite a few nationally acclaimed poets in its time.

Charles Eugene Banks (b. 1852 – d. 1932) lived in Davenport from the late 1890s into the early 1900s.

While here, he became a part of the literary-minded Davenport Group.  The talented members of this group included Susan Glaspell, George Cram Cook, Alice French, and Arthur Davison Ficke.

The following selections are from Banks’ book Quiet Music, which was published in 1892:


We heard not a sound of their marshaling feet,

Saw never the gleam of a spear,

Till their tents stood saucily fronting each street,

And the army of blossoms is here.


The Pansy

Three flowers in my garden grew;
A lily, pansy, and a rose.
I questioned Psyche: “Tell me true,
Which is most beautiful of those?”

The lily, hearing, reared its head.
“Behold the charm of grace,” it cried.
“Voluptuous beauty here is bred,”
The blushing rose as quick replied.

The pansy, drooping on its stem,
Concealed its face with modest start.
“Alas!” I said, “pride ruins them”—
I wear the pansy in my heart.

 A happy spring to all!

(posted by Amy D.)

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