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By Mike Avitt
Ringgold County will be 149 years old in May and many wonderful, enlightening, and heartfelt stories have emerged from that history.
Some stories, however, have been draped in darkness and morbidity. This is one of those stories.
Redding, in Clinton Township, had gotten the railroad in 1880 and was a bustling commercial center for many years. Growth, activity, and prosperity attracted visitors and new arrivals alike.
So it was with Dr. Eli Quigley of Grant City, Missouri, who moved with his family to Redding in April 1883. The doctor opened a drug store and went about with his practice.
About this same time, C. S. Pugsley had been elected Redding Street Commissioner. Pugsley already owned the mill and would soon buy a dry goods store. The Ringgold Record newspaper called him “one of Redding’s most enterprising citizens.”
Dr. Quigley and Mr. Pugsley transacted business together from the start. Dr. King came aboard as Quigley’s partner in June 1884. The Grim Reaper would be next to join the fray.
On July 16, 1884, Dr. Eli Quigley was found dead in his burned out doctor’s office. He was known to be a drinker and some were not surprised at the accident. It was presumed the good doctor took one too many drinks and upset a coal oil lamp.
Dr. Bailey, the Ringgold County Coroner was summoned.
Dr. Bailey’s report was an unexpected one – the deceased was not Dr. Quigley.
The charred corpse had too much decomposition and the lower jaw was missing completely. Foul play was suspected and there was plenty of evidence for that.
Quigley, who was now missing, had recently taken out two life insurance policies on himself with his wife as the beneficiary. Investigators began a search for an empty grave and they found one in Mormontown (the town that preceded Blockton) in Taylor County. A Mr. Lynch had been removed from his grave, having been deceased about three weeks. His lower jaw bone was found at the site.
Suspicion fell on C. S. Pugsley and Dr. King. The charges were disinterment of a corpse, arson, and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. They were arrested but not brought to trial, not yet. The search was on for Dr. Eli Quigley.
And they found him.
The last week of December 1884, Quigley was arrested in Kelley, Iowa and Ringgold County Sheriff James Beard brought him in.
“Hyena” and “Grave Robber” the newspapers called him. At this time, Quigley still kept his accomplices a secret.
Quigley escaped from the Ringgold County Jail in early March 1885 and was captured two weeks later in Sedalia, Missouri. In a drunken state, the doctor sent several telegrams, including one to the governor, to Iowa folks and this led to his arrest.
Upon Quigley’s return to jail, he secured a change of venue, which put the trial in Leon. This outraged Ringgold County citizens who had no sympathy for the ghoul.
The trial took place in January 1886 and Quigley confessed. He and Pugsley had taken Lynch from the cemetery intent on burning him that night. But before the duo could get the body back to Redding, the sun began to rise so they stashed the cadaver on Pugsley’s property (remember, it was July) for a couple of days trying to get their plan back on track.
In the early morning of the 16th, they put Lynch’s body, containing Quigley’s keys and pocketwatch, in the doctor’s office and set it ablaze.
The corpse failed to be completely consumed for two reasons: the lack of oxygen in the office prevented the fire from spreading quickly and alert Redding citizens who doused the flames before the body could be turned to ashes.
Dr. Quigley was sentenced to three years at Fort Madison and was taken to serve his debt the first of February 1886.
Pugsley had a bad 1886, losing a lawsuit that cost him $1,600, and a worse 1887, being convicted of being an accomplice to Dr. Quigley. He got two years.
Pugsley secured bond and had his lawyers take the case to the Iowa Supreme Court. The court affirmed the conviction in June 1888 but Puglsey had made his escape to Arkansas. After a few months, C. S. Pugsley turned himself in and served about one year at Fort Madison.
His family had moved to Isadora, Missouri in March 1887.
In 1887, Dr. Quigley was brought from prison to testify at Pugsley’s trial. Dr. King was never brought to trial.
While Quigley was being transported back to Fort Madison, he escaped and spent the rest of his life a free man. An account of his death appeared in a Seattle, Washington newspaper and was made known to the Worth County Times newspaper.
Dr. Eli Quigley died on May 10, 1895 at Douglas City, Alaska. In a drunken stupor he had fallen from a wharf and died of his injuries the next day. The article states his family was living in the Pacific Northwest at the time.
There’s an old saying that goes, “Dead men tell no tales.” But, Mr. Lynch told a story, didn’t he?