Casefile Clues

01 June 2013

A Neighbor Boy Dreams of Death at the Keokuk-Hamilton Bridge

It difficult to imagine what a family goes through when a relative goes missing unless one has experienced it personally. I had seen newspaper references to Theodore Trautvetter's 1890 disappearance before, but those references had been in a newspaper in a larger town nearly forty miles away and had been highly summarized.

I knew that I needed to get an account from a newspaper that was more local. I still need to look in additional newspapers, but the Burlington, Iowa, newspaper had an interesting piece about Trautvetter's disappearance that discussed what was believed about him initially and some of the efforts that were undertaken to locate him.

Burlington Hawk-Eye 24 January 1890


Was He Murdered?
A Hancock county Farmer has been missing since the 14th inst.
He has either committed suicide through insanity or has been murdered – fears of the latter – a strange story.

Hamilton, Ill., Jan. 23. – Theodore Troutfetter, a well to do farmer residing near Warsaw, located about five miles below this place, has been missing since the 14th of this month. He came to Warsaw on that day with a load of wheat and, having disposed of the same, left his team hitched to a rack in the streets of Warsaw and then disappeared. It was generally thought that he had gone to Keokuk, but a vigorous search of that city failed to reveal his whereabouts. The family, becoming alarmed, offered rewards and have had searching parties out since the unsortunate man disappeared. It is now believed that Troutfetter, if not a suicide from insanity, has been the victim of foul play.
                Yesterday several of Troutfetter’s neighbors came to this place in company with a young boy who is said to have known the missing man intimately. The boy was placed under mesmeric influences by a local expert in that business, and is said while in this condition to have related a remarkable story to the effect that he saw Troutfetter leave Warsaw on the afternoon in question in a wagon in company with two or three other men. He described their passing through the thick timbered road between Warsaw and Hamilton, and saw them pass through Hamilton and go upon the dyke that leads to the Hamilton entrance of the bridge. At this point in the young man’s story he became much excited, exclaiming that blood could be found upon the approaches to the bridge, and that Troutfetter’s body lay in the river.

                Men began to drag the sloughs and river on the Illinois shore early yesterday afternoon, but up to a late hour to-night have found no traces of the missing Troutfetter. It is said that evidences of what seem to be human blood were this evening discovered on some rocks near the bridge, which report seems to heighten the idea in some minds that Troutfetter has been murdered. There is considerable excitement over the affair and it is hoped that the ugly mystery will be solved in a short time. Hamilton’s citizens are too sensible to believe in any sort of spiritual manifestation. Murder will out – if it is murder – and the sea will cast up its dead if it be suicide. 

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Trautvetter was eventually located and returned home, and at some point before his return he wrote a letter to the bank in Warsaw telling them that his wife could access money from his accounts there. 

But it's difficult to imagine how the family felt during that point in time when their was no news about his whereabouts. And that last sentence, "Murder will out – if it is murder – and the sea will cast up its dead if it be suicide" had to have been difficult for family members to read. 

I still need to look in Warsaw and other Hancock County, Illinois, newspapers for additional details on this story.

Theodore's a brother of John Michael Trautvetter, my great-great-grandfather.