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Spirit Lake murder

April 20, 2014
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

Phillip and William Heincy, father and son, were the only father and son executed together in the history of the State of Iowa. This is their story.

On the morning of December 15, 1944, the train stopped in the quiet resort town of Spirit Lake. It stopped just long enough to allow two shabbily dressed men to step off. They carried no luggage, and were strangers to the town. They hung around the station a bit, then wandered the streets, ending up in a bar where they had a beer and shot a game of pool. When it began to get dark, the pair headed west out of town. Their destination, five miles away, was a small secluded house on a bluff above Lake West Okoboji.

On December 16, the local talk of the day centered on the gruesome scene at Raebel's Resort, where owner Rob Raebel had sustained a mortal gunshot wound, and his wife, Esther was badly beaten. The Raebels owned and operated a small resort of 17 cottages. The operation was very primitive, but its cliental were loyal. The summer before, Henry Heincy and a female companion cleaned cabins for the Raebels. The pay was $100 a month, plus use of a cottage. Henry started off on the wrong foot when he answered the help wanted ad and gave the owners the impression he was bringing his spouse along. The relationship lasted only a month. Henry wasn't "employee of the month" material, but he was bright enough to get a sense of the resorts finances. His dad, Phillip didn't read or write. Henry brought his 72 year old father with him on his winter return to Iowa.

Returning to Iowa, Henry and Phillip had with them a billy club and a gun. They made their way to the Raebels resort while the Raebels were in town running errands. When a car pulled up and lights went on in the Raebel cottage, the Heincy's moved to the cottage next door. Rob left to stoke the coals in the furnace, allowing Phillip and Henry time to make their move. The Heincy's came through the door and shot Rob without warning. He struggled to get to Esther, who handed the Heincy's her billfold, along with Rob's, and the keys to their car, but the Heincy's struck Rob and Esther repeatedly with the club, finally leaving with the Raebel's car. They spent the night in Storm Lake, caught a train to Fort Dodge, to Des Moines, and then back to Quincy, Illinois.

Esther recovered enough to identify her attackers, and the manhunt began. Rob died from his injuries. The hotel stay and the stolen car guided the investigators as their manhunt began throughout the area. They were arrested within three weeks of the time they committed the crime, in Quincy, Illinois where Henry had gotten a job at a shoe factory. His dad lived with him in a boarding house. They were arrested and brought back to Iowa. They spent less than half an hour with their attorney who asked them if they did it. They said "yes," and he said "plead guilty." That play did nothing to lighten the sentence for the Heincy's. After a four day sentencing hearing a judge in Dickinson County put them on death row at Fort Madison. They were executed in the gallows there on March 29, 1946. Executions back then were carried out in no less than 12 months, nor more than 15 months, no appeals.

At the age of 72, Phillip had the distinction of being the oldest person ever executed in Iowa, and the Heincy's have the distinction of being the only father/son to be executed.



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