By the 1960s, use of the death penalty was declining sharply across the United States. Growing questions about the fairness of its use, particularly in the context of the Civil Rights Movement, had slowed the machinery of death in anticipation of Supreme Court review.
After eight federal executions in the 1950s, only one would occur in the 1960s, and that would be the last federal execution for nearly 40 years – until Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001.
Victor Feguer was a solitary drifter. He arrived in Dubuque, Iowa in 1960 and took up residence in a boarding house. From there, he called doctors looking for one to make a house call. When Dr. Edward Bartels arrived, Feguer kidnapped him, drove him to Illinois, and killed him. His motive was to obtain any drugs Bartles was carrying. It was July 11, 1960.
Feguer was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama, a few days later after he tried to sell Bartles’ car to James B. Alford without title papers, which led Alford to alert authorities.
Because Feguer had crossed state lines in kidnapping and killing Bartles, federal charges were filed against him.
At trial, he was convicted and sentenced to death. His appeal was rejected, as was his clemency request to President Kennedy. Iowa Governor Harold Hughes, who opposed the death penalty, also appealed to Kennedy for commutation.
Victor Feguer was executed by hanging at the Iowa State Prison in Fort Madison on March 15, 1963.
Feguer’s was the first and last federal execution in Iowa. He was also the last person executed in Iowa, which abolished the death penalty in 1965.