Time Machine

Time Machine: 3 murders in Benton, Tama County in 1967

Texas man shot Iowans, put kidnapped girls in car's trunk

This is the shed 4 miles southeast of Tama where Hubert McClelland shot and killed Leland Skoog, 54, and his son, Garith, 25, on June 21, 1967. (Gazette archives)
This is the shed 4 miles southeast of Tama where Hubert McClelland shot and killed Leland Skoog, 54, and his son, Garith, 25, on June 21, 1967. (Gazette archives)

Linn County Deputy Sheriff William Serbousek had no idea what he was getting into when he pulled over a car in front of the Pine Inn in southwest Cedar Rapids on June 21, 1967.

Serbousek was responding to a report from three teenage boys about a car bumping the rear of their vehicle near Fairfax and the driver firing shots at them. The boys reported the car’s license plate number. Serbousek spotted the car, followed it into Cedar Rapids and stopped it in the Pine Inn parking lot at Highways 30 and 149.

Serbousek encountered no resistance when he searched the driver, but a search of the car revealed a .38-caliber revolver under the seat. After Serbousek handcuffed the man and put him in the patrol car, the man, who identified himself as Joseph Carter, asked Serbousek for a cigarette in exchange for information. With the smoke in hand, Carter told the deputy to open the trunk of the car.

Expecting to find something horrendous, Serbousek opened the trunk to find two frightened girls inside. Pulling them away from Carter’s line of sight, Serbousek radioed for help from Cedar Rapids police.

It didn’t take long for authorities to discover their suspect was not Joseph Carter. His Texas ID and credit cards identified him as Hubert McClelland.

what happened

The 11-year-old cousins freed from the car trunk, Christine Schwab and Julie Braksiek, told of their ordeal in a case that attracted national media coverage.

It started when Christine’s mother, Gladys Schwab, 42, loaded the two girls into her car in Belle Plaine to take Julie home to her family’s farm 6 miles northwest of Keystone. A car pulled alongside, the driver waving at Schwab to stop. When she didn’t, the driver forced her car off the road.

The driver got out of his car, holding a gun, and ordered the girls to get into his car. Then the girls heard screams and gunshots. The man returned to the car, ordering the girls to do as he said or he would shoot them as well.

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The man — McClelland — took off, driving erratically, and flipped the car into a ditch near Elberon in Tama County.

Farmer Leland Skoog, 54, and his son, Garith, 25, saw the wreck and came to help, only to be held at gunpoint. McClelland forced everyone into the Skoogs’ car.

As they drove around, McClelland saw an old shed at an abandoned farm and ordered the two men inside. The girls, near the entrance of the shed, saw the gunman shoot Leland Skoog and then his son. The girls were forced back into the car and ordered to stay on the floor. When McClelland stopped for gas, he put the girls in the car’s trunk.

ran out of bullets

The death toll could have been higher.

McClelland later told officers he was reaching under his seat for his gun when Serbousek stopped him. When he checked his Italian Llama Especial .38, the gun was empty. His spare bullets were still in the car he had wrecked in Tama County.

to prison

McClelland, 42, was arraigned June 22 in Benton County District Court and charged with first-degree murder in the death of Gladys Schwab. He was returned to the Linn County Jail in Cedar Rapids. The bodies of Leland and Garith Skoog were found in the abandoned shed in Tama County the same day.

On July 6, 1967, the court ordered Cedar Rapids lawyer Robert Matias to act as McClelland’s attorney. He filed a motion in Benton County District Court for a psychiatric examination of his client, which the judge ordered, and McClelland was taken to the Security Hospital in the reformatory at Anamosa.

On Nov. 2, McClelland pleaded not guilty to the murder of Schwab. On Dec. 13, he was arraigned on two additional counts of first-degree murder in Tama County in the shooting deaths of Leland and Garith Skoog of rural Elberon.

ROCK HUNT

McClelland was granted a change of venue for his trial. But on Aug. 1, 1968, he pleaded guilty to the three murders and was sentenced to life in prison.

He was sent to the Iowa Security Medical Facility at Oakdale for psychiatric treatment. In December 1969, the clinical director at Oakdale responded to reports that McClelland had been seen outside the facility.

“McClelland has been on several rock hunts for the purpose of collecting stones for the making of inmate jewelry in our craft classes,” Dr. Douglas Johnson said.

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Later, a Gazette reporter talked to McClelland inside the facility. Assigned as the reporter’s guide at the institution, McClelland told of taking a leadership role at Oakdale, establishing an arts and crafts program.

Asked why he had shot three strangers, he said they had annoyed him.

TO FORT MADISON

In 1972, when Paul Loeffelholz became director of Oakdale, McClelland was sent to the penitentiary in Fort Madison

He and two other inmates appeared to have escaped from the prison’s maximum security unit in 1977. Officials found dummies made with stuffed prison uniforms as well as materials for making a ladder. While authorities were searching southeast Iowa, the “escapees” were found hiding in the prison library.

Three years later, McClelland was injured in a fight in the prison mess hall. En route by ambulance to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, he suffered a heart attack. The ambulance was rerouted to Mount Pleasant Community Hospital, where McClelland died. He was 55.

When no one claimed the body, the prisoners at Fort Madison took up a collection and paid $800 for his funeral.

l Comments: (319) 398-8338; diane.fannonlangton@gmail.com

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