James and Charles Ashworth

It’s the morning of October 9, 1914. All seems undisturbed and peaceful and men an women pass each other on the quiet streets of Valley Junction. They’re blissfully unaware that right down the street, in a vacant room above a pool hall, Charles H. Ashworth was struggling against restraints, as Ed Wegner and his accomplice Frank Lavelle forced him to sign a check amounting to $5,000.

Check in hand, Wegner exited onto the street, striding towards the bank, intent on making himself richer. As he made his way, Wegner encountered the other Ashworth brother, James. Realizing he could drain even more of the substantial Ashworth fortune, Wegner informed James that two men had taken Charles and himself hostage, demanding a $1,000 ransom from himself and a jaw-dropping $10,000 from the Charles. Instead of immediately heading to the bank, James informed Wegner that if he got a hold of the men who had kidnapped his brother he would shoot them, going as far to open his jacket to show Wegner the pistol he carried.

There is some discussion about how the players then proceeded. What is known is that the event ended with Charles safe, Frank Lavelle in custody, Ed Wegner nowhere to be found, and the $5,000 check was never cashed. (The $15,000 that Ed Wegner attempted to extort would equal approximately $363,154 in today’s money!)

Eventually Wegner was found and brought before a jury. He was convicted of the charges against him, despite the attempt to use an insanity defense. Wegner and his lawyer appealed, and the case eventually made its way up to the Iowa Supreme Court by the spring of 1917. In a 4 to 3 decision, the conviction against Ed Wegner was reversed due to evidence that there was prejudice by one of the jurors as well as leading of the jury by the judge.

The legacy of the Ashworth brothers lives on in the communities they helped develop, with the donation of land for Ashworth Pool and Greenwood Park in Des Moines and Masonic Temple in West Des Moines. In their family’s honor White Pole Road was renamed Ashworth Road in 1940, 26 years after that fateful morning.