Murder at the Roosevelt Hotel in Cedar Rapids, Still Remembered after 68 Years

Aug 10, 2016

Murders were uncommon in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the 1940s, and especially a murder at the very high-end Roosevelt Hotel, sometimes called the Ritz-Carlton of Eastern Iowa.   On Dec. 15, 1948, a hotel chambermaid found aircraft engineer Byron Hattman dead in room 729.  

An investigation found Hattman had been murdered and a "love triangle" was discovered, involving St. Louis pediatric resident Dr. Robert C. Rutledge and his attractive second wife, Sydney.   Dr. Rutledge   confessed to the brutal attack after trying to poison himself.   After Dr. Rutledge was arrested, a sensational trial lasting several months was held in Linn County District Court.

Author Fannon-Langton told Charity that there was immense interest in the trial, partly because the defendant and his wife were good-looking and friendly.  The investigation disclosed that Dr. Rutledge was away from home often, Sydney went back to work, and there ran into Hattman who took her on a sailing date, with her husband's approval.   After their date,   Sydney testified at the trial that Hattman had come into her apartment and raped her.

Dr. Rutledge was eventually found guilty on a lesser charge and served a brief time at the State Penitentiary in Ft. Madison.   Free pending an appeal, he and Sydney moved to Texas and he began his medical practice, but then was found dead after asphyxiating himself in his car after flying model airplanes with his wife.  Asked why she finds the case so fascinating, Fannon-Langton told Charity "This was an exceptionally interesting story to research, I love area history.  But it also intrigued me for an unusual reason: what I found in the Gazette archives.  I turned up some unusual niches in this now ancient material, especially two large scrapbooks about the case that had been meticulously kept.  It was never my intention to write a book, but then I had to."