Decatur County Journal, Leon, Iowa Thursday, May 25, l905
"THE GANG BROKEN UP" - - - - - - - Story of an Organization of Outlaws who Flourished for Years on Grand River.
In all the realms of human fancy it is impossible to conceive of a more desparate band of incendiaries, cattle thieves and insurance fraud promoters than that which for years infested the regions adjacent to the little town of Grand River in Decatur County, Iowa.
Even the Cautril band of grave robbers was not more daring in its movement, more diabolical in its plans and more devilishly shrewd in putting those plans into action than what were called FRANK GREENLAND's barn burners and horse killers who held sway for perhaps ten years until finally run to earth by men who represent insurance companies in Iowa and other states.
Now the band is broken up. GREENLAND is under indictment for shooting two horses. He has also been convicted of cattle stealing and is now serving a term at Fort Madison. Other members of the gang, among them, DICK PRAY, the chief lieutenant, have confessed after awaiting until the statute of limitations made them immune from prosecution.
The terrorism that hovered over Grand River in a cloud has been dispelled and the frauds, unique and cunning, have ended.
'THE PLOT OF THE PLAY'
Here in brief is the system employed by the gang: Members would purchase horses for a couple of dollars each. They would remove good animals from their barns and place within the "plugs". The barn would be mysteriously destroyed by fire, the insurance companies would be forced to pay for the barn and for the destroyed animals and the good horses would then be sold at the highest market value in some far away point.
Still further, it developed when DICK PRAY took the witness stand, that these men would knock horses in the head, singe the hair on the necks and faces with matches, place the carcasses near barb wire fences and collect insurance for the supposed lightning struck animals.
In one case, it developed that two horses were tied to a tree, knocked in the head, dynamite was exploded in the branches and insurance companies paid $l90 insurance on the aged victims of lightning; and that on horses that cost less than $5 apiece.
'CITIZENS WERE TERRIFIED'
In the territory around Grand River the gang, numbering perhaps a dozen, ruled with absolute power. No one dared oppose or speak against the methods that were relentlessly pursued. Whenever a resident had the courage to say what he thought, his barn or other property would suddenly catch fire. The power of the gang was endless. It ruled with an iron hand. And thus, for several years, it pursued its course of burning, destroying and collecting until hundreds of dollars were filched from the treasury of the various insurnace companies.
Within the year l90l alone, thirty-three horses were destroyed by the fire or lightning and insurance was collected for them, not withstanding the fact that suspicion pointed an accusing finger at the owners of some of these mysteriously destroyed creatures.
'CORBETT SOLVED THE MYSTERY'
To I.N. CORBETT, of Des Moines, the claims adjuster for the State Insurance Company, more than to any other, is due the credit of the probing to the heart of the mystery and the successful clearing out of the gang of incendiaries.
At the present time the case is in the Supreme Court. It was appealed only a few weeks ago, more to kill time than for any other reason, so it is claimed.
In l90l, GREENLAND's barn burned and with it l9 head of horses. The State Insurance Company claimed that fraud had been used. It refused to pay the $4,000 insurance. The case was taken into district court and judgment was given GREENLAND for that amount against the company.
MR. CORBETT redoubled his labors. For three years he searched for evidence against what he believed to be the gang at the bottom of the work. Finally the statute of limitations having intervened, members of the gang confessed, and last October, Judge Towner set aside the judgment. It is from this decision that the appeal has just been taken to the Supreme Court.
Judge Towner's decision setting aside the judgment is masterful in its treatment of the subject. It scores members of the band in a manner that is most delightful to one who delights in plain terms. Judge Towner does not hesitate to say that DICK PRAY, T.J. MUNYON and ZEB PETERSON, who appeared against GREENLAND, are the most badly discredited witnesses that ever appeared before him.
In the homes at Grand River and the county thereabouts, the decision of Judge Towner is still being read. The neighbor of GREENLAND smacks his lips as he reads the cutting sarcasm directed at his neighbor and turns with an air of approbation to where his wife sits reading.
"I'll swan, but that is surely good." says he, and he starts in to read the document from start to finish.
FRANK GREENLAND, himself is a farmer of 39 years. He came to Decatur County about thirty years ago and has lived there since. For years he worked hard and steadily, stayed away from bad companions and refused to touch or taste liquor under any conditions.
Troubles have made GREENLAND an old man. His face is furrowed and wrinkled, and an observer would never take him to be less than 50 or 60 years of age.
To Be Continued. . 'GENESIS OF INVESTIGATION'
Copied by Nancee(McMurtrey)Seifert "With permission from the Leon Journal Reporter" August 22, 2001