Sandra Brown was 35 years old when her mother, Frances Glaspell, was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Jan. 17, 1977, as she and her husband Allan were crossing Washington Street when leaving the Happy Hollow Tavern at 1502 W. 14th in Davenport.
According to Quad-City Times newspaper stories about the incident, Glaspell, 65, and her husband had been married for about a month. She was walking just ahead of him on Washington Street when she was struck about 9 p.m. She died two hours later at Mercy Hospital.
“Of her six girls and one boy, there’s three of us left,” Brown, 76, of Davenport, said. She has a sister who is 79, she said.
“My oldest sister is 87," she added. "We’d just like to know something before she’s gone.”
An arrest is not even necessary, Brown said, as the person “has had to live with this for 41 years.”
Maybe someone knows something, she said. Maybe the person is no longer alive.
Former Davenport Police Lieutenant and Mayor Phil Yerington was one of the investigators on the case. Yerington was being trained by the Corporal Donald Schaeffer who would rise to the rank of police chief.
Yerington remembered the case well. It was one of two hit-and-run fatal crashes he and Schaeffer working at the time. The other case was of William P. Grimmer, 24, who was struck and killed Jan. 5 near 7th and Brady streets.
The Grimmer case eventually was solved as the car lost a headlight rim that Schaeffer and Yerington were able to trace to a car owned by a farmer. It was Schaeffer who found that car covered up and parked in a barn.
But in the case of Glaspell, Yerington said, “We had absolutely no evidence with which to work.”
“There was snow on the roadway, I remember,” Yerington said. “There were no car parts left at the scene, and no one could describe the car.” Not even Allan, an electrician, could give a description. He was too distraught and he had been drinking.
“He couldn’t even tell us if the car was of a light or dark color,” Yerington said.
That the car that struck Grimmer left a headlight rim was fortuitous, he said. “Those big heavy steel cars back then, you could hit someone and not even leave a dent. All you had to do was buff out any marks and no one would be the wiser.”
Today’s vehicles have crumple zones that take the energy from collisions and move it around the passenger compartment, he said. Hit somebody or something, and there will be telling damage.
That’s why, Yerington said, that some of those old heavy, steel cars did not look too damaged in a crash, but the energy went through the passenger compartments either killing or seriously injuring the occupants. It’s also why some crashes look horrific, but he occupants are up walking around.
The closest thing to a witness that night was Darlene Anderson, who was 65 at the time and the bartender at the tavern.
According to the Quad-City Times story published Jan. 18, 1977, Anderson was starting her car when the Glaspells came out of the tavern.
Anderson said at the time she saw a southbound car approaching on Washington and glanced down briefly then, “I heard this thud.”
The car continued south on Washington Street, Anderson said.
“This car could have avoided her easily. There was nothing coming from the other direction,” Anderson said.
Frances Glaspell’s son, Frank Chapman, wrote a letter to the killer that was published in the Quad-City Times on Jan. 19, 1977.
“Our mother and grandmother is gone – taken from us suddenly when, just when it looked like she was going to enjoy her 'golden years' of life,” Chapman wrote. “We loved her and we’re going to miss her. But how does her death make you feel? Did you sleep well last night knowing that you killed a lady who never hurt a soul?”
Chapman appealed to the driver. “We are not angry or bitter. We forgive you. We only hope you feel enough remorse that you will turn yourself into authorities. It won’t bring mom back, but at least we’ll know you are sorry.”
Yerington said the case is vivid in his memory and he would love to see someone come forward with answers.
“I played softball on the Happy Hollow Tavern softball team and I would often think about that case,” Yerington said.
“Whoever did that may have been a drunk driver or a kid that got scared,” he said. “Sometimes people getting close to their own demise confess their sins so they can get it off their conscience before they die. Maybe that has happened and the right person will come forward.”
Of course, it is possible the driver of that car is still alive and wants to now confess, he said.
“I can’t imagine what the family has had to bear all these years,” Yerington said.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact the Davenport Police Department at 563-326-6125 or leave an anonymous tip on the city’s mobile apps, “CityConnect Davenport, IA” or CrimeReports by Motorola.”