Perry opinion hung unknown man’s 1906 death on Burns gang

Tom Burns was the leader of an outlaw gang, one of whose members was probably killed by another member in 1906 and left to rot in the weeds along the Rock Island right of way near Lucinda street.

The badly decomposed remains of a murdered man were found Aug. 24, 1906, on the Rock Island right of way near Lucinda street. His skull was crushed, and he was dragged into the weeds where the body was left to the elements.

Before long a large crowd of people came as the news got out, and the excitement was great. The body was found lying close to the fence on the east side of the right of way in the back of Den Cave’s home on Lucinda Street.

Mrs. Cave was away for about a week and just came home and noticed a stench that she supposed came from a dead hog or another rotting animal of some kind.

She asked her husband to mow the heavy weeds in the back of the lot to see if he could find the trouble, but he didn’t have the time to do it. On Saturday evening, Mrs. Cave started to look into it herself, and with a scythe she started cutting the weeds in the direction of the stench.

She soon got to where she could see a portion of a body and sent the Leval boys, Ed and Willie, into the weeds to see what it was. They reported finding the human remains, and word was sent uptown to the coroner and marshal.

Few could stand more than a fast look at the body, and a change in the wind would drive away the crowd in a hurry. The clothing of the man was all that kept the remains together. There was almost no flesh left as he lay on his back with his right arm curved above his head.

Even his hair was gone, and you couldn’t tell if the hair was black or brown or whether the man was black or white. His mouth was open, showing well preserved teeth that could have been those of a young man. The curious who came in large numbers were rewarded with bones, maggots, stench and a mysterious sight not soon forgotten.

The boys who found the body said there was a path down to the body, probably made by dragging it down there through the weeds. They found the skull was crushed on the right side so severely as to crack the skull around to the other side. The position of the body shows it was dragged there by the legs and dropped.

On looking over the scene, a man of the Rock Island found a leather revolver scabbard that was homemade from a boot top. Finding this tended to show that a gun entered into the fight in some way. Mrs. Wilcox, who lived a block east, said shots were fired on the tracks on the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 9.

On the night the shots were fired, three members of the Burns gang had a fight in which one member drew a revolver on another one of the gang members, who looked like the dead man.

Two men told the story of the fight that night that happen in Schreck booze joint. Six or seven of the Burns gang came in, and a short time later three of them started to fight. It started with one breaking a bottle over one head of another, cutting his scalp. The bar keep tried to stop it but got a chair across his right shoulder for his effort.

Then two of the Burns gang pulled knives and went at it. At this point, the third man, who went by the name of Slim, got into the game and started to pull out a large gun. That was when the barkeeper said to take it outside.

Everything points to the date of the crime being somewhere between Aug 8 and Aug. 10. This fight was on the evening of Aug. 9, and one of them pulled a gun. They were in a fighting mood. While there is nothing to prove that he was shot, there is no way of proving he was not. There was also a gun scabbard found on the spot, and ladies on different sides of the tracks tell the same story of the shooting on the night of Aug. 9.

The Burns gang since that time had not been seen. The grand jury returned a ruling that the remains were those of a member of the Burns gang and that he was murdered by a fellow criminal. They said they followed various clues but always came back to this verdict one as was the most plausible and probable one of all.

The clothes of the unknown dead man were then placed in a box and buried where they could be found if necessary at any future time. The authorities decided to look into locating the members of the gang known to be responsible and if breaking up the gang in the Perry area could be accomplished, everyone would be happy.

All of these events happened while the gang’s leader, Tom Burns, was doing prison time in Fort Madison on a conviction for grand larceny. Strange as it may seem, Burns was later given a government job carrying mail out of Angus, and he never broke the law again, but the outlaws operating by the name of the Burns gang carried on.


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