Cedar Rapids History: 75 Years Ago, a Doctor Charged with Murder
It was 7:30 a.m. on December 15, 1948, that the body of a 29-year-old man was found in a room at the opulent Roosevelt Hotel in Cedar Rapids.
The victim, Byron Hattman, worked for the Emerson Electric Company in St. Louis and had arrived in Cedar Rapids two days earlier. It was one of many visits he'd made to Cedar Rapids talking to engineers at Collins Radio Company. Both Emerson Electric and Collins Radio of Cedar Rapids had deals with the Air Force.
Less than 48 hours after Hattman's body was found, police officers in St. Louis, Missouri went to the apartment of Dr. Robert C. Rutledge, Jr. He was a St. Louis pediatrician. According to JustIA, when Rutledge heard them knock he consumed poison in an attempt to commit suicide.
Jury selection for the Rutledge murder trial started in May. The Gazette reports it was the first time in more than two decades that a Cedar Rapids jury had been isolated from the public.
At trial, prosecutors said Hattman had been found lying on his chest in his 7th-floor room with his feet crossed, and arms pulled behind him and crossed on his back. They said in addition to blood inside the room, there was blood in the hallway outside. An autopsy showed Hattman appeared to have been beaten over the head and also had a six-inch deep stab wound to the chest, damaging multiple organs.
Prosecutors alleged that Rutledge had a settle to score with Hattman, after he and Rutledge's wife, Sydney, had an affair in the summer of 1948. Sydney Rutledge and Hattman worked together.
According to prosecutors, Rutledge and Hattman were together on a company boat outing on July 23, 1948. Two days later, they went on a private, 12-hour sailing expedition. They spent time together again on July 29 and on July 31.
Sydney Rutledge appeared as a defense witness at her husband's trial. She said that on July 31 she became ill from drinking and that she and Hattman had sex against her will at her St. Louis apartment. A prosecution witness said she had asked Sydney Rutledge if Hattman had forced himself onto her. She claimed Rutledge said, "No, I guess I was as much to blame as he was."
Sydney Rutledge on the witness stand at her husband's murder trial.
According to the Gazette, Dr. Rutledge would testify at his own trial for 10 1/2 hours. Rutledge claimed he had heard about his wife's affair on August 10 and that for a time, he and Sydney feared she was pregnant with Hattman's child. Before finding out she was not, prosecutors said Robert Rutledge called Hattman to demand money for an abortion for his wife.
Rutledge and his attorneys claimed that Hattman had made threatening phone calls to Rutledge and his wife, suggesting that they separate. Rutledge testified that Hattman had demanded $2,000.
The prosecution would provide evidence that Rutledge had called Hattman on multiple occasions in August until Hattman told him not to call again, and instead to contact his attorney.
By the start of November, Hattman was spending three days in Cedar Rapids each week for his job. Rutledge was aware of the work arrangement and the prosecution said once Rutledge's vacation began on December 1, he "spent more than half his time in this search which ended December 14." Rutledge would make trips to Cedar Rapids on December 1, December 5, and again on December 13.
While Rutledge said he was trying to connect with Hattman to pay him money, the prosecution said Hattman was unaware of Rutledge's visits. When Rutledge determined what room at the Roosevelt was Hattman's, they claim he went inside while the room was being cleaned. They would claim he stayed, in wait, for Hattman.
May 28, 1949, after deliberating less than four hours, a Cedar Rapids jury found Robert Rutledge guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 70 years at the Iowa State Penitentiary.
After serving less than a year in prison, Rutledge filed an appeal with the Iowa Supreme Court. He was released on a $40,000 bond pending the court's ruling.
It was on April 4, 1951, that the Iowa Supreme Court upheld Rutledge's conviction. Two days later he was found dead inside his vehicle outside Houston, Texas, his hometown. The Madera Tribune reported that "a new section of garden hose carried carbon monoxide from the car's exhaust to the front window where Rutledge had sat with the hose in his mouth."
After his death, Sydney Rutledge received a letter from her deceased husband in the mail. It read, "Dear Diddy. Sorry to run out on you like this but think it is the best for you. There is a good future for you if you can forget about this. Love is a fleeting thing at best and time will cure a lot of grief.”
The book 'Murder at the Roosevelt Hotel in Cedar Rapids' is available on Amazon.
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Gallery Credit: Andrew Lisa