Murder of Warner Davis

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Salem, Henry, Iowa, United Statesmap
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Warner Davis was born 28 December 1787 in Guilford County, North Carolina.

Salem, Iowa had originally been settled around 1835 by Quakers with the intent that it would become a community of Friends. [1] They soon began to recruit other Quakers to migrate westward to join them. [1] Early on, people of other religious persuasions settled in the area so that it never was an exclusive community for the Society of Friends. [1] One of the families who went to Iowa was the Warner Davis family. Warner started a farm just north of Salem, Iowa and earned a good reputation. Unfortunately, he was murdered in November of 1859.

... "Warner Davis, a highly esteemed citizen of Henry county, near Salem, was brutally murdered in his own door-yard, by some person unknown, on the morning of the 19th inst. Having heard a noise in his smoke house he went out to see what was the matter. Soon after his wife heard two or three hard blows, and upon going out, found him lying on the ground, speechless. He lingered only a few hours, having received several severe fractures of the skull. The affair is accounted for on the supposition that some one was attempting to steal meat but being detected committed the horrible deed to avoid exposure. The deceased was about 70 years of age, and a member of the Society of Friends." [2]


Although it was thought that a thief was surprised into murder, this turned out not to be the case. In actuality, Warner was killed by a band of counterfeiters. He had accidentally come upon their operation in the woods while chasing a stray cow. He thought he was not seen, but he must have been because they found him and silenced him. Fast forward about 50 years and the major players had left the area. One of the culprits confessed the deed on his deathbed and the news was carried back to Henry County. It is not known if any further action was taken since the main players had probably already passed away.

Part 1.

How Salem Murder Myster Was Solved
    "Away back in 1861 [sic 1859], there was a tremendous excitement in the Salem vicinity, and indeed all Henry County, over the murder of Warner Davis, a farmer living near Salem. The murderer was never apprehended, nor his identity discovered nor the mystery surrounding the crime cleared up until many years later when the actual facts came to light by the death bed confession. Involved in the mystery was a story of a few men engaged in operating a counterfeit plant in the timber near Salem.
&nbps;   The story of the crime comes from a friend who had preserved the newspaper story of the crime. Probably no one in the Salem vicinity now was living at the time, but certainly there are those who have heard the story told many times. The story of the crime, which follows was clipped from an old newspaper issued in early September 1911."

Part 2.

Dying Man's Confession Clears Murder Mystery
(From Burlington Hawkeye newspaper in 1911)
    "The mystery surrounding the death of Warner Davis, a farmer living near Salem, in 1861 [sic, 1859], is apparently cleared by the death bed confession of Wallace Godfrey, a former Iowan, who died in Oregon recently. According to Godfrey's statement, Davis was killed by Clark Osborn, a former resident of Salem.
    The confession clears up one of the old murder mysteries of Henry county, a mystery forgotten except by the oldest residents of the vicinity where the tragedy occurred. Pioneers also are recalling the days when a gang of counterfeiters were operating near Salem, the band always being associated with the death of Davis, who was a much respected citizen in the old days.
    Davis was killed one night in the fall of 1861 [sic, 1859] when he went to investigate a disturbance in his smokehouse on his farm two miles northwest of Salem. The pioneers relate that his wife heard a blow struck and on investigating found her husband lying on some flagstones in front of the smokehouse door, bleeding and unconscious. It is supposed that he was hit by a hickory broom handle in the hands of a man who was hidden back of the door. Davis was carried to the house where it was found that his skull was crushed. He died a few hours later. The assailant made his escape.

Part 3.

    The whole countryside was aroused, excitement grew intense, many rumors became current, many different people were accused, but no definite clue was ever obtained, and no arrests were made. The old residents of the vicinity declare that the motive for the killing lay in Davis' knowledge of a band of counterfeiters who were working in the vicinity, Davis' appearance at the smokehouse giving someone an opportunity to cut off any source of information which might lead to the arrest of the makers of spurious coin.
    Davis gained his knowledge of the counterfeiters because his cows broke out of the pasture one fall day preceding his death. Smoke, rising from a hollow, while he was searching for the beasts, attracted his attention. Making his way noiselessly through the bushes, he found three or four men making counterfeit money, the smoke coming from a small furnace they were using in the manufacture of the spurious coins. He recognized the men, according to the history of the case, which is now being recalled by the residents of the vicinity, but he did not make his presence known to them.

Part 4.

    On returning home he stopped at the home of Joel Jones, a member of the grand jury, and told Jones he had something for him which he would give out before the next term of court. On arriving home he told his wife however. Two weeks after he discovered the counterfeiters, he was killed.
    Recently Mrs. Louisa Maxwell of Story county, a former resident of Henry county, returned from Oregon where she had been visiting her half-brother, Asa Llewellyn, formerly of Henry county. While on her visit in the west, she learned from her half-brother of the death of Godfrey and of his confession. Clark, accused by Godfrey on his death bed as being the murderer of Warner Davis, has been dead for ten or twelve years, not having resided in Salem vicinity for a number of years preceding his death. Godfrey was never suspicioned of having any knowledge of the tragedy.

Part 5.

    The smokehouse, under the projecting roof of which Davis met death, is standing today though it has been moved to the farm now owned by John Bicksler, one half mile north of Salem. It has the same walnut door, the same weatherboarding and the same strips of oak as bars across the two small windows, one on each side of the door." [3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Wikipedia contributors, "Salem, Iowa," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,,_Iowa&oldid=996313213 (accessed May 5, 2021).
  2. Muscatine Weekly Journal (Muscatine, Iowa), Friday, 18 November 1859, pg. 2, col. 4; digital images, ( : accessed 4 May 2021).
  3. The Mount Pleasant News (Mount Pleasant, Iowa), Thursday, 15 December 1949, pg. 2, col. 1; digital images, ( : accessed 4 May 2021).

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