Thursday, September 10, 2009

Is There Any Beer in the Cellar? Dog Tracking in Iowa in 1904

Some investigations are handled so poorly that it might be laughable were it not that people’s lives are damaged. A suit in Iowa for wrongful arrest is a case in point. Some chickens having been taken from a man named Brown, a small crowd collected, including the mayor of Des Moines, the chief of police, and a city alderman. Some dogs were found which took a scent from the chicken coop and followed the trail to the house of McClurg, who along with his family was awakened by the sound of the mob. When McClurg opened the door, the police chief stuck his foot in the door while the mayor announced that they had come on official business. The McClurgs said the search was not agreed to, but others said that McClurg had agreed. He may not have been given much of a chance to stop the search in any case. The crowd entered the house. One member of the crowd, finding the event rather fun, asked if there was any beer in the cellar. McClurg said there was no cellar. McClurg was arrested and charged with burglary. The mayor, who did not own or handle the dogs, was permitted to testify that he had heard good things about them and that he had received a letter from an old school chum about these particular dogs. An insurance salesman was permitted to testify that his company, which insured banks, held a very high opinion of tracking dogs. He testified that he had heard of dogs tracking a criminal for 30 miles. All of this testimony was objected to by McClurg’s counsel, but was admitted anyway. Thankfully, the Supreme Court of Iowa reversed. Des Moines was apparently a bit wild in 1904. McClurg v. Benton, 123 Iowa 368 (1904).

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