A financially troubled Iowa farmer killed his banker, another farmer to whom he reportedly owed money and his own wife before committing suicide today as police closed in to arrest him.
Dale N. Burr, 63, shot himself in the chest with a 12-gauge shotgun in the cab of his pickup truck a mile from his farm in nearby Lone Tree, Johnson County sheriff's deputies said.
Moments before, he had walked into the office of Hills Bank & Trust Co. President John R. Hughes shortly after noon, pulled the shotgun from under his coat and killed him, deputies said. They said he had already shot his 64-year-old wife, Emily, at the family farmhouse, and Richard Goody, 38, on his neighboring farm.
The four slayings stunned this tiny farming community eight miles south of Iowa City. While the deaths were personal tragedies for people here, the national media quickly focused on the incident as evidence of deepening economic and social problems in the fifth year of a Farm Belt recession.
Townspeople said Hughes, 43 and the father of two teen-aged daughters, was one of the most energetic and popular bankers in the state. As president for about a decade, he had built Hills Bank & Trust into the state's largest rural-based bank.
Its main office and headquarters dominates Hills, a town of 605 residents. There are branches in Iowa City and other communities north of here.
"At this time, we believe the shootings were related to financial difficulties that Burr had with the bank and Mr. Goody," said Gary Hughes, Johnson County sheriff and brother of the slain bank president. Some people in the area said Burr may have owed Goody some money. Burr's financial status with the bank could not be determined precisely tonight.
Agricultural experts in Johnson County, in interviews tonight, said that while local farmers generally have fared better than those elsewhere in the state, tension and worry over rising costs and depressed prices for grain and other crops are a tangible part of life now.
County agricultural extension officer Dale Shires said Burr, a lifelong farmer, belonged to the Johnson County Rural Iowa Property Taxpayers, a moderate group that endorsed Gov. Terry Branstad's proposed freeze on farm property taxes. He was born in the area, went to a one-room schoolhouse and farmed 300 acres with a son, John. Longtime friends described him as "an easygoing man."
Goody, a young farmer, was married and had two small children. His wife teaches Sunday school at St. Joseph's Catholic Church here.
John Hughes was president of the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce three years ago and was one of the main fund-raisers for a new $115,000 community building here. Mayor Larry Culver recounted how Hughes "knew everybody by name. He'd see you in the bank and come out to say 'Hi' to you."
"No incident could more tragically reflect the brewing violence in the Farm Belt than the senseless killing of John Hughes," said Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), who said that he was a friend of Hughes. "The irony is that there was no more thoughtful, compassionate banker in Iowa."