Humans have always been mystified by the supernatural. We watch scary movies knowing that we will become frightened. We visit haunted houses just for the fun of being scared. Ratings have gone through the roof in recent years for shows that feature teams of ghost hunters who travel the country looking for haunted places to try and prove the existence of the supernatural world. Some of those places can be found right in your own backyard, if you know where to look.
Iowa is known for its fields of corn, our amazing college football teams and our important place in politics. But many are unaware of the spooky and haunted places that are found all across the state. Many are places of horrifying murders, where many people were brutally slaughtered and are said to have stayed behind. Teams from around the nation have gathered at these spots to try and prove those stories, to show that these lost souls still gather in the very spots where they took their last breath.
Our travels begin in Washta, Iowa. With a population of just under 300, this small town has been nicknamed the “Coldest Spot in Iowa” for having the record low temperature of 47 degrees below zero without wind chill. And if that doesn’t get you shivering, the story will!
Helena and Martin Schultz lived and operated on a small farm just outside of town in August of 1893. They were a quiet couple who had come from Germany. They had no children. They came looking for a place to finish out their lives together, and comfortably. They spent very little money and because of Martin’s fears, they kept their money at home. Relatives say that there was close to $1000.00 hidden around their home.
During the busy harvest season, Martin decided to hire on a farm hand for some extra help. Heinrich chose a stranger by the name of Will Florence to help out around the farm. Most of the townsfolk had already turned down Florence when he offered to assist them with farm help. They were scared, afraid of the unknown. But being a kind man, Schultz decided to hire him anyway, providing him with a place to stay, meals and a very small salary.
Florence had been from Texas, yet nobody in town really knew the man and his strange past. He revealed little about himself, and what he did talk about, was bits and pieces of a cloudy past. And though Florence was a clumsy and inexperienced farm hand, Schultz kept him on the payroll, and patiently taught him many things around the farm.
On the morning of August 17th, Nick Halk, a neighbor and friend of the Schultz’s, had come over to help stack grain. When Martin didn’t come to help, Nick went to the house to see what was keeping him. Upon entry, he realized something was wrong. He found Helena six feet from the open summer kitchen door. Her face was badly mutilated and because of the horrible blows, her teeth were scattered around her body.
He continued to look for Martin, who was found mutilated upstairs in the bedroom. He was almost unrecognizable because of the gruesome way his face was destroyed. The house was destroyed, as though someone had been looking for something. Almost all the money from the house was gone, with just a few dollars stuffed in a bible and a few dollars inside a can in the kitchen left untouched.
Word quickly spread through town on the rumors of who could have been the murderer. The farm hand, Will Florence was gone. As were a few other town wanderers who had been seen around the farm lately. In mid-September, Jack Skinner of Cherokee, Iowa was brought in and arrested for the murders. Witnesses claimed he was broke just days before the murder. However, following the murders he spent lavishly. However, because of a lack of evidence, he was released. Two other men, Oscar Nellis and Will Florence also were arrested, but let go after lack of evidence.
After all was said and done, rumors had begun to circulate in the small town about strange things happening in the graveyard, specifically at the place where Helena and Martin were buried. People had begun to see a face on the tombstone, claims that it was the person who had murdered the couple. And of course, those who seen the face, claim it to be that of the farmhand, Will Florence. A good friend of the Schultz’s, John Williams was the first to notice the fast growing on the tombstone. After a few visits, he came home to notice a note on his fence, threatening him that he had been the murderer. As news got to town, other townsfolk began to get the same letters. In November of 1895, two years after the murders, George Montagne Sr was arrested after making claims he had killed his sister, Helena and her husband. However, because of lack of evidence, he too was released.
In 1901, another accusation was brought forth and George Montagne, Jr, Helena’s nephew and son of George Montagne Sr, was arrested after going into a detailed confession of what happened that horrible evening when Helena and Martin were brutally murdered. He claimed that he had helped his father and uncle kill the couple and he was paid $80 to do so. He retracted the story after going to court and was then turned over to the Insanity Commission. But after being sent to the state asylum, he was allowed to return home. He did confess to sending the letters to townspeople accusing them of the crime, but said he only confessed to the murders when he did not get the land he was promised after turning 27. No other person was ever arrested and the murder is still listed on the Iowa Cold Case website.
Years passed and people still found themselves at the grave marker of Helena and her husband, Martin. After a while, a marble dealer was brought to the grave marker to look at the stone. He reported that the features were developing because of “atmospheric influences of the rust and veins in the marble”. He said that the “face” would grow plainer, and it did. Since then, the crime is still unsolved, the face on the gravestone is still there and people still flock to this small Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Quimby Township in Cherokee County for a good scare.
If you are one to enjoy such haunting stories, make the journey to Washta, Iowa and see for yourself the face they say is appearing on the grave marker. This writer may one day make it to Washta to see if there truly is anything. But until then…HAPPY HAUNTING!!