Scene of the Crime

Scene of the crime: The home of James Remakel is pictured above in this Herald-Leader file photo. Remakel was found stabbed to death inside on Christmas 2016. Over two years later in May of 2018 Drew Mangler was charged with first-degree murder.

The year 2018 felt like a roller coaster ride at various times, with failed special elections for multi-million dollar proposals like the Bellevue Elementary School and Jackson County Jail.

There were also major shake-ups inside the leadership in the City of Bellevue, with the Mayor and City Administrator resigning within weeks of each other this past spring.

Of course, there were positive developments, like the new $250,000 playground at Cole Park, the Fish Stack art on Riverview and the opening of the new Family Dollar store in Bellevue,

Finally, the ongoing mystery of James Remakel’s violent death was blown wide open when a Bellevue native was charged with first degree murder.

These are the top ten news stories of 2018 the way we see it.

1) Mangler charged with first degree murder

After two years of waiting and wondering, law enforcement investigators finally made an arrest in the 2016 Christmas slaying of the late James Remakel.

A 23-year-old Dubuque man and Bellevue native was arrested in May 2018 and charged with first-degree murder.

A pair of bloodied shoes may have led to the arrest.

Remakel’s body was found at his home inside his bedroom on Sunday, December 25, 2016, when the Bellevue Police Department was called to Remakel’s home, located at 606 South Riverview Drive.

Upon arrival, law enforcement found a door which appeared to have been forced open.  Once inside, Remakel was found deceased.  Bellevue Police requested assistance from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) with the suspicious death investigation, which was ruled a homicide several days later.

An autopsy of Remakel was conducted on Tuesday, December 28, 2016, at the Office of the Iowa State Medical Examiner in Ankeny. Results of that autopsy showed Remakel sustained multiple sharp force wounds throughout his upper torso, neck, face, and head area, which lead to his death.  He had essentially bled to death, said authorities. Records say he was stabbed 33 times.

According  to more detailed court filings following Mangler’s arrest, officials speculated that Remakel may have been dead for several days before his body was discovered. A check with Bellevue Municipal Utilities revealed the last time water had been used at the Remakel home was on December 19.

That same date in 2016 also closely coincides with a pair of bloodstained shoes that were obtained by law enforcement authorities during a search warrant executed at Mangler’s Dubuque residence.  Surveillance footage from Diamond Jo Casino on Dec. 20, 2016, showed Mangler at the casino wearing shoes similar to those found by police. He also was observed carrying a large sum of cash, authorities said.

The stained shoes were found in his closet, and a DNA test showed it was a close match with Remakel’s blood.

As the investigation unfolded, Mangler became a suspect and an arrest warrant was issued on May 17.  He was arrested on Friday, May 18, 2018 and authorities took Mangler into custody without incident.

Mangler would plead not guilty to the charges, and his trial will get underway Feb. 4, 2019.

2) $16 million

school bond issue fails

The effort to build a new $16 million elementary school in Bellevue failed to pass on Sept. 11, 2018, with 43 percent voting yes and 57 voting no.

According to the numbers from the Jackson County Auditor’s office, 1,887 patrons (54 percent) of the Bellevue School District cast ballots out of 3,300 eligible voters.

In a quick summary, the Bellevue Elementary building was defeated 57 percent to 43 percent with 1,887 people voting (out of roughly 3,300 total voters). The measure would have needed at least 60 percent approval to pass.

“It was great to see a large voter turnout in the Bellevue Elementary School referendum vote. It allowed our community to be involved, which was what the district strived for from the beginning,” said Bellevue Community Schools Superintendent Tom Meyer. “While I believe it was unfortunate this did not pass, it is time for our community to truly evaluate what we believe in and what needs to be done in the future with the Bellevue Elementary.”

Meyer said the school district will continue to work to develop future plans.

“As I have mentioned before, Bellevue is an exceptional community and any type of ‘divide’ based on personal opinions and perspectives which people have differences about must be handled in a civil manner. The residents of the Bellevue Community School District are very dedicated people, and we must all work together to make things even better for everyone involved.”

The money would have been used to build a new elementary school building near the current high school. Parts of the existing elementary school building have been around since 1848 and is said to be the oldest building in use in the state of Iowa.

3) Family Dollar opens

 in Bellevue

A new Family Dollar store opened in late 2018 on west State Street in Bellevue.

The new manager for the Bellevue store is Chris Olszewski of Bellevue. She has over two decades of experience in customer service at various businesses including Toy ‘R Us, Bed, Bath and Beyond, not to mention the former Pamida store here, which is the location of the new store.

“I’m totally pumped about the Family Dollar store,” said Olszewski, who noted the new store offers 8,000 square feet of products from food to school supplies to clothing. “Bellevue has needed something like this for a long time.”

Olszewski and her husband Jim have six children.

The location of the new store was the previous location of a Pamida store and a Place’s store as well.

Most recently, the building was used by J.J. Sheckel for a warehouse for a catalog company, Service Supply.

John Herrig, who owns the property where the new business will be located across from Bellevue High School, noted that Family Dollar will occupy half of the building. He said the remaining part of the building could house one tenant or be subdivided for multiple renters.

Herrig thinks Family Dollar will be well received in Bellevue. “I think there is a lot of excitement in town to have another variety store,” he said.

Family Dollar offers a mix of merchandise for the customers. Ranging from an expanded assortment of refrigerated and frozen foods and health and beauty items to home décor and seasonal items, Family Dollar claims to offer a low price, as well as the name brand and private-brand merchandise.

Family Dollar was founded in 1959 by Leon Levine, a 21-year-old entrepreneur. In November of that year, the company's first store was opened, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

4) Bond issue for new

 county jail fails

Jackson County’s $6.95 million bond referendum for a new jail failed Aug. 7, 2018. The referendum received 52.5 percent of the vote but needed 60 percent plus one to pass.

According to unofficial tallies, the bond referendum got the least support (less than 40 percent) in the northeastern and southwestern parts of the county, including Bellevue, Baldwin and Monmouth. More than 65 percent of Maquoketans supported the bond referendum.

Less than 21 percent of registered voters turned out.

Jail advisory committee members and members of the public crowded into the community room in the basement of Jackson County Courthouse Wednesday evening to decide what would happen next, as well as to dissect the arguments leading to voters’ decisions.

Steve Schroeder, chief deputy sheriff and chairman of the advisory committee, said that the state would start the process of closing the jail, but follow-up stories with state officials made it clear that is a long way off.

A second try at the vote, however, is expected to be held sometime during 2019.

5) Young Museum saved

by FPBH group

“Friends for Preservation of Bellevue Heritage,” a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit, tax-exempt organization became operational in Bellevue during 2018.

The initial, and primary purpose of FPBH is to obtain, revise, reopen, and operate the Bellevue (Young) Museum as an historic and educational site. Plans are to re-open the museum in 2019.

At his death in 1959, Young gifted to Bellevue his house as a museum along with its furnishings, personal possessions and artifacts, collected antiques, and a fund for museum operation. That fund now is exhausted according to city records.

FPBH secondarily exists to aid preservation of other remaining, but quickly disappearing, history and historical culture in Bellevue and related areas.

FPBH founder and director Susan Lucke was and is behind the efforts to re-open the classic museum.

Letters in support of revising and reopening the Bellevue Young Museum were submitted to the Bellevue City Council by both the national and Iowa Mississippi River Parkway Planning Commissions, which oversee the Great River Road. Other letters of support from officials of organizations and institutions as well as residents and former residents of Bellevue support revising and reopening the Bellevue Young Museum. State Historical Society of Iowa staff and Iowa government officials also have been working in support of the cause.

Recent research reveals that Joseph A. Young of Bellevue was a primary founder of the Great River Road through Iowa (in Bellevue, Riverview Street/ Hwy 52). The Great River Road spans the length of the Mississippi River, from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

Other towns celebrate their GRR pioneers, sometimes with only a plaque on a site. Bellevue still has the entire Young house with original furnishings, filled with original correspondence, including documents, photographs, and artifacts that tell the GRR story of Iowa and the nation and much more.

Each year, visitors from across the United States and around the world travel the Great River Road for its scenery and history. Museum records and Bellevue tourists today attest to this.

Bellevue possesses a prime opportunity to entertain and educate visitors that includes and reaches far beyond the GRR. Few towns possess the intact buildings and historical evidence of Bellevue, waiting for its stories to be told and new types of tourism to begin.

Joe Young’s Legacy

 In 1926, Joe Young was named first president of the Mississippi River Scenic Highway Association and led decades of work to have the national tourism route along the river run through Bellevue and other eastern Iowa river communities.

On  August 22, 1952, Young, then 80, was named “president emeritus for life” of the Mississippi River Scenic Highway Association. A week later, at dedication of the first segment of the Great River Road at LaCrosse, Wisconsin, he was named “Honorary Member of the Mississippi River Parkway Planning Commission.” This multi-state national commission today comprises 10 state MRPPCs to oversee the Great River Road and its links to by-ways in five states, the entire system covering almost 3,000 miles.

In September 1953, Joe Young’s efforts for Iowa and Bellevue were realized with announcement that the east central segment of the GRR in Iowa (still called the Mississippi River Scenic Highway) would run from Dubuque to Clinton, through Bellevue, incorporating highways 52 and 67. Collection materials await curating to reveal even more insight into his decades of work for the GRR.

While previously focused on antiques, Bellevue’s Young museum collections are a treasure trove of untold stories and exhibits about Bellevue, eastern Iowa, America, and the world from the 1800s into the 1950s. With his brother, George, Joseph Young was an internationally successful inventor, manufacturer, and entrepreneur. Both men had a passion for the Mississippi River, and they and their extended family had a passion for Bellevue.

Riverview Park, Bellevue State Park, Moulton Hospital, the Bellevue Masonic organization, and more all benefited or exist because of the Young family.

Photos, documents, and artifacts, previously unknown,  await visitors to Bellevue in a  revised Young museum. In turn, visitors await to discover Bellevue.

6) Bellevue City Administrator resigns

After nearly four decades of serving the City of Bellevue, City Adminstrator Loras Herrig turned in his resignation in May of 2018.

Herrig came to the Herald-Leader office in person with a copy of his resignation letter, which he also submitted to the staff at City Hall. While he did not include a reason why he was resigning in the letter, he did say that his resignation is ‘a result of medical reasons’ while he was at the newspaper office.

In his letter, Herrig thanked all his co-workers, past and present, as well as two former Mayors.

“I have had the good fortune to work with two of the finest Mayors in Bellevue’s history. Virgil Murray and Chris Roling have displayed a level of dedication and integrity to the citizens of Bellevue that should always be recognized and remembered,” stated Herrig. “I thank them for all they have done for me, my family and our city.”

Herrig, a 1976 graduate of Marquette High School, was first involved with the city of Bellevue in the late 1970s, when he was elected to the Bellevue City Council.

He now works for the city of East Dubuque as Interim City Manager, a job he landed in late 2018.

“While I will not be working for the City, I will remain one of Bellevue’s proudest citizens and supporters as we move into the future,” concluded Herrig.

His resignation came on the heels of a denial of an employment contract by the city council several months before.

7) Bellevue Mayor

turns in resignation

Bellevue Mayor Chris Roling resigned from his position with the city in April of 2018.

When contacted by the Herald-Leader, Roling said he resigned for “personal reasons,” but did not elaborate.

Roling did say that he has been involved in community service and leadership roles in Bellevue for the past 41 years. He had served as Bellevue Fire Chief, and had been on the department for decades. He also served on various county and city boards over the years.

He was elected as Bellevue Mayor in 2012, has served in that capacity for 6 years.

“It’s just time for me to step away,” said Roling.

Bellevue City councilman Tim Roth initially stepped up to serve as Mayor Pro-Tem, and eventually former councilman Roger Michels was appointed interim Mayor, serving out Roling’s term, which expires in 2020.

8) $250,000 Cole Park Playground installed

After about 18 months of fundraising, planning and discussion, the Cole Park Playground Project became a reality in Bellevue in late August 2018.

The new $250,000 playground was installed by volunteers under the supervision of Mark Mack of Miracle Playground Equipment, where the new equipment was purchased.

Over 60 volunteers showed up to assemble and install the fun and colorful playground pieces. Nuts and bolts were sorted while other crews put together the new slide complex.

The new Cole Park Playground marks another major milestone for the Bellevue Parks Department, and when all is said and done, the city will have invested nearly half a million dollars in the public property over the past three years. A majority of the improvements were paid for through grants and private donations.

On October 17, 1949,  the City of Bellevue purchased a tract of land from Lillian (Cole) Smith for a mere $15,000.  

That land soon became Cole Park (named after the Cole family), and has essentially become the hub of activity in town.

Over the decades, the park has grown significantly with a municipal swimming pool added in 1966, as well as tennis, basketball courts, a pavilion and two ball fields which are now used by both Bellevue High School and Marquette Catholic High School for baseball and softball.

The park underwent another major round of major improvements a few years ago, with nearly $200,000 spent for new grandstand seating, an announcer’s box and a brand new concession building, new scoreboards and storage buildings at the ball field.

The new playground marks another major milestone at what is considered as one of the main hubs of activity in Bellevue.

9) $1.6 million investment in 1865 building restoration

What many have considered a blight along Bellevue’s riverfront will soon become a significant asset to the community.

The old laundromat building on south Riverview, which served as a button factory over 100 years ago, will be completely refurbished and remodeled.

Water Street Partners, operated by Mark and Allen Ernst, has committed to spend $1.6 million to turn the unique structure, built in 1865, into a welcome center with public restrooms, a coffee shop and business incubator.

In the late summer of 2018, the Ernst family also found out that they will receive a $100,000 “Catalyst Grant” from the Iowa Economic Development Authority to help with project. The grant was one of 61 granted throughout the state for private-public partnership projects.

Talks are also underway with several technology firms to turn the middle and bottom floors into a local technology hub. And hopes are to start other businesses inside.

“Bellevue’s fiber optic internet system is one of the main reasons we are discussing this building, as well as the location,” said Allen Ernst, who is currently working with city and state officials on tax increment financing, as well as historic tax credits to help defray some of the costs of the project. “We know that with the building sitting empty it had become an eyesore, but we needed to wait until we had all the plans and funding in place before starting the daunting process of restoring it.”

Water Street Partners also owns several other business buildings on Riverview Street, and since 2007, has invested several million dollars in Bellevue’s downtown, without any prior government assistance.

“We want what is good for Bellevue, and this project should bring together some needed and talked about services for the community,” concluded Ernst.

The background of the old limestone button factory building, which is a twin to the Bob Ernst building just a block north, is rich and fascinating.

Buttons were made there from mussel shells harvested on the Mississippi, and in the early 1900s, a string of factories like the one here provided a livelihood for many workers in both Bellevue and Sabula.

Shells with the hole-punches can still be found along the beaches of Bellevue and alongside the old limestone factory and warehouse.

The artifacts that remain here are evidence of a once thriving business, according to Bellevue historian AnnaBelle Wacker who researched the button factories in old newspaper articles and other references.

Even when the water on the Mississippi is now low, piles of the shells along the bank of the Mississippi, punched with circular holes, remain by the old buildings. Those missing pieces of shell became buttons for shoes, coats and blouses around the world.

The shells are a reminder of a history tossed away as quickly as the punched shells, when a fluctuating market and labor unrest made for unstable employment, before the lock and dam system sacrificed the declining industry for a nine-foot navigational channel. It was an industry built on a finite natural resource, freshwater mussels that today are some of the river’s most vulnerable citizens.

Pearl button factories were big business up and down the river, in LaCrosse, McGregor and elsewhere. The unchallenged “pearl button capital of the world” was Muscatine, which in 1905 produced 1.5 billion buttons—almost 40 percent of the buttons produced in the entire world, according to the American Museum of Natural History.

In its “pearl button” heyday, Muscatine was also the scientific center of mussel knowledge, with a well-funded research station that attracted some of the nation’s top scientists.

In the first half of the twentieth century, “clammers” pulled tons upon tons of mussels from the bottom of the Mississippi near Bellevue and elsewhere. Shells were first cut into blanks, work often done by men in small shops. Larger operations employed mostly women to complete the multi-stage process from shell to finished button. At home, women sewed the buttons onto cards, on which they were sold to consumers.

The pearly shells we see lying along the shore and the perfectly-round pearls women wear around their necks or through their earlobes are made of exactly the same substance: nacre. Mother-of-pearl is pearl: the only substantive difference is the pearls’ perfectly-round shape.

Pearls themselves appear in local history, mostly as a speculative possibility for getting rich quick. In 1905, Wacker’s research shows that “Roy Cheney found a 54-grain pearl. About the size of a robin’s egg and shaped like a top. He was offered $350 by a Clinton pearl buyer, but declined to sell it.”

Another newspaper said he sold it for a reported $400-$500.

The newspaper reported “two extraordinary pearls” found at Prairie du Chien the previous year. Also in 1905, the largest pearl found in the Dubuque area had an offer price of $1,800.

Wacker’s research on Bellevue’s pearl industry, as well as a myriad of other topics, is available at the Bellevue library.

10) Bellevue collection at National Mississippi River Museum

A Bellevue century-old machine shop collection with a wealth of historical significance that was donated to the National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque five years ago will finally be on display for all to see in 2019.

Jan Brinker, a first cousin to the late William Brandt (grandson of famous boat builder Joseph Brandt), announced in 2013 that the contents of the former Iowa Marine Engine and Launch Works building, located at 307 South Second Street, would be given to the national museum, which would build a separate display for the one-of-a-kind collection.

After several years of study, cataloging parts and transferring some of the antique machinery to Dubuque, the building of the display (and functioning turn-of-the-century machine shop) will begin later this year. It is expected to be complete and open to the public in the spring of 2019.

The Bellevue display will be located inside the Fred W. Woodward Riverboat Museum building, as part of a new effort by the museum to bridge the Mississippi River’s past with its present. Most of the parts and antique tools and machinery were transported to the museum in Dubuque during 2018.

The exhibit, which will include other features of the river, will be called the “River of Innovation,” a year-round feature with new educational and hands-on attractions.

The centerpiece of the new, 9,000-square-foot exhibit will be the entire authentic belt-driven machine shop from Bellevue.

Originally used to build motors for racing boats in the early 1900s, the machine shop’s belts and motors will be up and whirring in the exhibit. According to the museum’s vice president of development and co-project leader, Erin Dragotto,  the machine actually will be used to manufacture real items.

“We want to make this an interactive experience that will take people back in time,” said Dragotto, who noted that the national museum has hired a company called “Roto,” whose people are experts in antique belt-driven machinery. “They are the group that built the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.”

As reported before in past issues of the Herald-Leader (which were also used by the museum to help with the historical aspects), the old Brandt building and its contents are extremely significant to Bellevue and the Mississippi River as the old limestone structure at the corner of Chestnut and South Second Street was the location where some of the first racing boat engines were built. It was also the location where the famous record-breaking Red Top engine was manufactured – which was the toast of racing boat enthusiasts from St. Louis to St. Paul in the early 1900s.

“We know there are people who wanted it to stay in here and be taken over by the Jackson County Historical Society, but we think this is the best way to pay tribute to the Brandt family,” said Brinker when she announced the donation five years ago.

Brinker, as the closest living relative to William Brandt, who died in April 2012, was given power of attorney over the property.

In his last will and testament, William Brandt asked that, if possible, the machine shop where the historic boats were built (which remained virtually untouched for the past century), be preserved by the Jackson County Historical Society, with assistance from Bill Rieckens, a good friend of Brandt.

If not possible to preserve the historical artifacts, the will stated that they be sold at public auction, with funds given to his estate.

“We want people to know that we didn’t sell them – all the machines in that building will be taken down by experts at the Mississippi River Museum and reassembled in Dubuque,” emphasized Brinker. “As part of the donation, we also asked that a video be made so that patrons of the museum could watch and understand what they were looking at.”

Before William Brandt passed away, the old shop was a regular hang out for those interested in antique mechanical things. That’s the way it was for several decades.

Rieckens (who passed away in 2014), along with Dr. Peter Pauly, a Bellevue dentist, would often join Brandt in the old garage to tinker around and talk about local history.

In the early 1990s, William Brandt discovered the pieces of a never-assembled two-cylinder racing boat engine located in the upstairs of his grandfather’s old building. Brandt and the guys who hung out at the shop decided to see if it would run.

The gang tinkered around with it for nearly two years before it finally sputtered to life.

Two similar racing engines, all in working order, still sit in the limestone, while one is currently on display at the national museum in Dubuque.

“It’s a smaller display right now, but only temporary,” said Dragotto. “Bellevue people should be glad to know that the Brandt machine shop will be the centerpiece of an entire building.”

In the new display, an overhead shaft which had been in place since about 1900, will run the length of the overhead interior of the exhibit just as it did originally. Still in working order, it powers a series of metal lathes, drills, saws and other strange mechanical wonders that once shaped hundreds of marine engines that powered record-setting racers – as well as small fishing boats which worked the Louisiana bayous.

It is estimated that the Bellevue machine shop turned out about 3,500 inboard engines starting around 1900 – just a few years after Joseph Brandt started out as an apprentice machinist in Dubuque, then moved to Bellevue to start his own business.

Most of the engines produced here were one-cylinder models, which were extremely popular with fisherman up and down the Mississippi River.

But perhaps more historically significant were the 8-cyclinder racing engines built at Bellevue’s Iowa Marine Engine and Launch Works, which were created by Brandt for wealthy businessmen, including Bellevue sawmill owner W.E. Hughley, who piloted the Red Top and Red Top II into the record books with a speed of 36 miles per hour.

According to an article in the Bellevue Leader from June 30, 1908, Bellevue residents came to watch from the river bank as the Red Top embarked on her maiden time trial on the Mississippi.

“Her four vertical exhaust stacks barked as Art Ellinghouse and W.E. Hughey idled her out into the channel,” the article read.

Although thousands of boats, including the Red Top, were built here, the crowning glory for Brandt was a launch named “The Comet,” which held the world speed record in its class in 1912.

It earned the honor by traveling at a pace of 37 miles per hour along the Mississippi. The Brandt engine creation consisted of six cylinders and 350 horsepower.

The last of the Red Top series, the Red Top IV, was powered by an 8-cylinder motor and reached speeds of 50 miles per hour.

The late Darby Brandt, William Brandt’s father and son of legendary marine engine builder Joe Brandt, was quoted in a 1976 Bellevue Herald-Leader article, reflecting on his father’s accomplishments.

“Dad didn’t own these, boats, he just built them,” said Darby, who explained that only “The Comet” was owned by a local man, Joseph Kelso, an early Bellevue Banker.

For nearly 40 years, Brandt and Iowa Marine and Launch Works in Bellevue built boats and motors that came to be known throughout the nation for their fine quality. But it 1930, the outboard motor was invented and the local business suffered greatly from the new and less expensive competition.

Joe Brandt continued operating the business for many years after 1930, doing mostly repair work. He died in 1947 at the age of 76. His son Darby carried on the business with son William for awhile, keeping the machinery running and things in order.

Today, the old limestone workshop remains as sort of a monument to the Brandt family’s boat-building heritage.

*  *  *

The National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque, where the Bellevue workshop will be preserved, is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute.