Unsolved: The Death of Clara Schiele

As the sun rose on the morning of August 3, 1978, local Davenport newspapers predicated an exceptionally mild day in the 70s. A break from the normal blistering heat of an Iowa summer. Many people probably felt it was a good day to go out and run errands or just enjoy the summer at a pool or on the Mississippi River.

90-year-old Clara Schiele was beginning her day at 1416 Main Street. This section of Main Street was filled with older Victorian homes. Many of the homes, like Clara’s, had been converted from single-family residences to apartments or rooms to rent. Clara rented rooms to students attending nearby Palmer Chiropractic College. “Her boys,” as neighbors said she called her roomers, not only helped her afford the upkeep on the large home her family had owned since 1903, but also provided her with a sense of safety and she loved to hear about their lives. Clara had never married or had children and was the last surviving member of her immediate family. Her roomers, neighbors, and nearby church kept her active and social. She was described as very lively, kind, and always one to share a cheerful laugh by those who knew her.

The Quad-City Times, August 5, 1978. Pg. 3.

Clara left her house that morning for a women’s Bible study group at the nearby St. Paul Lutheran Church. Afterward, she took a bus downtown to eat a light lunch and stop at the grocery store before heading home. It was about 2:00 p.m. when she walked up her front sidewalk and climbed the porch stairs to her front door. Clara had a grocery bag in her arms along with her purse. Suddenly, a young man appeared and snatched Clara’s purse. The force of his action caused her to fall and hit her head on the cement. The man quickly ran off with the purse which contained about $20.

Clara was able to get inside and call her neighbor, Martha McGinnis, for help. Mrs. McGinnis later told police that at first Clara seemed ok and resisted Martha’s attempts to get her to go to the hospital to be examined. She wanted to wait for her favorite roomer to come home before making any decisions. At about 4:00 pm, Clara started to become nauseous, disoriented, and then began vomiting. Martha called for an ambulance. Clara died shortly after midnight on August 4th from a fractured skull.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, December 2, 1926. Pg. 16.

Clara was unconscious when she arrived at the hospital. The Davenport Police Department responded to the hospital when called and began an investigation. They interviewed neighbors and anyone working in the neighborhood who might have seen something as they were never able to speak with Clara. It would be a telephone repair man working down the street who reported he saw a young male figure walking in the neighborhood around the time of the purse snatching. He was wearing a jacket that was described as shiny with a wet look to it and jeans or darker-colored pants. Martha said Clara had described a young male in his teens or early twenties with a stocking over his face. He had thin arms, but a stocky chest. It was very little to go on.

Clara’s roomers and neighbors were in shock that this cheerful woman had been mugged at 2:00 in the afternoon. Everyone grieved the loss of this kind and generous woman.

Clara Elizabeth Catherine Schiele was born on January 8, 1888, in Farmington, Cedar County, Iowa. She was the youngest of six children and the only girl born to Charles and Elizabeth (Bernick) Schiele. Her family farmed until about 1903 in Cedar County. Not much is known of her younger years, but the 1940s U.S. Census indicates she had two years of college education.

The Daily Times, November 30, 1909. Pg. 6.

Upon their retirement, her parents moved into the house at 1416 Main Street. They soon began to rent rooms out to boarders. Clara had moved with them and quickly became involved with walking clubs and service organizations at St. Paul’s English Lutheran Church (now St. Paul Lutheran Church) while assisting her mother at home.

Clara lived at 1416 Main Street until about 1933. After her parents’ deaths, the house was rented to the Fred Martens family. Clara moved by herself to a house at 225 E. 6th Street. She would return to 1416 Main in about 1948. Clara worked as a draftsperson at the Rock Island Arsenal during World War II. It appears in her later life, her main income came from her roomers and by renting the house at 225 E. 6th and renting other properties she owned.

The Daily Times, August 4, 1939. Pg. 5.

At the time of her death, Clara was a fifty-year member of the Order of the Eastern Star, member of the St. Paul Lutheran Church Mae Rohlff Circle, member of the Cedar County Historical Society, and the Blackhawk Hiking Club. She had previously been involved with the St. Paul Lutheran Church Cradle Roll, St. Paul’s Young Ladies’ Home and Foreign Missionary Society, St. Paul Sash Drill, and the Esther Circle of King’s Daughters along with other numerous organizations.

Clara was buried with her parents and several siblings at the Durant Cemetery in Durant, Muscatine County, Iowa after a well-attended funeral at St. Paul Lutheran Church.

No one was ever arrested for the purse snatching and death of Clara Schiele. The Davenport Police Department still investigates any leads that are given to them on this unsolved case.

(posted by Amy D.)

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