Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


My father carefully hung up the receiver on the old-fashioned walnut wall telephone, and exclaimed, "They found someoneís body lodged against one of the river bridge piers!"

He didnít believe in listening in on other peopleís conversations. We were on a party line and could tell when other people had calls. Often when one of us wanted to use the phone, neighbors would be using the line. We were never allowed to listen. We would always carefully hang up the receiver and wait a few minutes for the line to clear.

On this occasion, on May 26, 1962, my father had a crate or two of freshly picked strawberries ready for market. Customers ordered berries long in advance and were on a waiting list. He had gone to the phone to call one to tell him his berries were ready. Realizing that the phone was in use, he started to hang up, but something he heard in the conversation aroused his interest, so he continued listening for a moment or two.

From the living room window in Pittsburg, my mother and I could see people gathering on each end of the Des Moines River bridge. Quickly, we walked over to where a small crowd had formed above one of the piers. Already people were contemplating who the body might be, but some were saying that the object below was only a hogís carcass.

That Saturday afternoon some boys had been playing along the river bank. In the vicinity of the bridge they smelled a terrible, sickening stench, which they mentioned to Dick Mairet and Donald Dietzman who were fishing in a nearby boat. As the men moved their boat closer to the bridge, they saw something lodged in the driftwood against one of the piers, and accompanying it was the horrifying odor of a decaying body!

Realizing that this was a health hazard, the men docked their boat and crossed the bridge, using the phone at the Pittsburg Store to call the sheriff. In case the carcass was a human body as suspected, Sheriff Orville Lee brought county officials with him to investigate the report. Later identified by dental records, what they found was the body of Bette Ann Sheahan, a 32-year-old Ottumwa woman who had been missing since February.

We watched from far above on the bridge as the men oared two rowboats up to the driftwood, lifted the object with their oars and piled it into one of the boats. Clothing, now leathery brown, held the main part of the swolen body intact, which is what we had seen above the water line that resembled a hog carcass. Most of the flesh was gone from the dangling head, arms and legs. Quickly a tarp was pulled over the gruesome remains, and once ashore the body was whisked away from the scene by ambulance.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick