Polk County in Iowa
Des Moines in Polk County
Carol Ann Donnelly
Carol Ann Donnelly
Des Moines, IA
Case Number: 80-02405
November 16, 1979
Case information compiled by Iowa Cold Cases volunteers
A Young Woman Disappears
In 1979, Carol Ann Donnelly lived in Des Moines with her parents, Dwain and Ruth, and two sisters.
The 18-year-old was close to her family and always called to let them know where she was. She was not the type of person to run away.
So her worried parents notified Des Moines Police on Friday, November 16, 1979 when she failed to return home from her part-time job at the Village Inn Pizza N’ Pasta restaurant at 3600 Merle Hay Road, where today a Fazoli’s is located.
The restaurant was about 1.6 miles northwest of Carol’s home.
One source said she was waiting for her boyfriend to pick her up and was not there when he arrived.
Carol seemed to just disappear from a busy commercial area near Merle Hay Mall on the north side of Des Moines.
Police Detective Michael “Mike” Leeper handled the investigation into Carol’s disappearance. He interviewed all her friends and the young men she dated, but all were perplexed about where Carol could be.
Her trail went cold, despite the $1,000 reward Carol’s father and mother posted for information.
Detective Leeper later told Des Moines Register reporter Tom Suk, “For several weeks I kept telling [the Donnelly family] we’ll keep looking. But after a month I told them never [to] give up hope. I told them if the worst happened, it probably happened the night she disappeared. People are rarely held against their will for weeks or months.”
Leeper also told Dwain and Ruth Donnelly that 98 percent of missing people leave an indication of being alive, but that two percent of the cases end in tragedy.
So as time passed, the Donnelly family prepared for the worst.
A Body is Discovered
Sunday, April 6, 1980 was cloudy in the Des Moines area, but temperatures rose into the 60s by mid-afternoon and the early rain stopped.
Warning spring weather not only brings out pent-up Iowans suffering from winter “cabin fever,” but also reveals secrets long covered by snow or frozen under the ice of ponds, rivers, and lakes.
At 2:20 p.m. that Sunday, fisherman taking advantage of the early Spring day found a body floating in Saylorville Lake, a reservoir on the Des Moines River upstream from Des Moines.
It was Carol Ann Donnelly. She was 11 miles north of where she was last seen 142 days before.
Carol’s body was nude and her hands were tied. Polk County Medical Examiner Dr. R.C. Wooters said she had a deep stab wound in her lower back, but he could not rule out drowning as a cause of death. It was not possible to determine when Carol died, but it could have been within hours of her disappearance.
After her body was found, the Donnelly family used the $1,000 reward money for Carol’s funeral expenses.
Dwain Donnelly, a U.S. Postal Carrier for 23 years, told Des Moines Register reporter Tom Suk:
“Nothing can ever bring Carol back, but we would like to stop this from happening to anyone else. But we don’t know what we can do. We trust the law and society will take over and get the person responsible.”
Was Carol’s Killer Caught?
At 12:35 a.m. Monday, May 19, 1980 — a little over a month after Carol’s body was found — Melody Oliver was found lying in a Des Moines street. She was critically injured but able to tell authorities she was raped and stabbed by a man named “Fred” who drove a blue van.
One unverified source says Melody also told them “Fred” claimed he murdered Carol Donnelly. Melody Oliver died in a hospital at 3:20 that morning.
The description of Melody’s assailant matched Fred Louis Lamp, a man in his early 30s who was suspected in two unrelated local crimes.
At 4:20 a.m. that same day, police in Polk City north of Des Moines saw and stopped a blue van driven by Fred Lamp. Sheriff’s deputies arrested him for the murder of Melody Oliver.
While in custody at the Polk County Jail, Lamp was said to have confessed to a fellow inmate that he murdered both Melody Oliver and Carol Donnelly.
The jailhouse informant testified at Lamp’s trial. On November 25, 1980, Lamp was convicted of first degree murder in Melody Oliver’s death and on December 29 was sentenced to life in prison.
Lamp unsuccessfully appealed his conviction in 1987 and 1997. He was a disruptive presence in the Iowa Correctional System and was sent to an Illinois prison, where he is believed to have died.
Fred Louis Lamp was never charged or convicted in the murder of Carol Donnelly.
A Similar Murder?
Police thought Carol Donnelly’s vanishing and the discovery of her body were similar to the disappearance and murder of 20-year-old Camille Louise Njus, a Grinnell College student who interned with the Department of Transportation in Des Moines during the summer of 1978.
Camille disappeared from Merle Hay Road and Douglas Avenue on Friday, August 4, 1978 after visiting a hair salon in Merle Hay Mall. She was expected on a Greyhound bus that night in Grinnell to spend the weekend with her mother, who was entering the hospital on Monday.
Camille’s body was found October 18, 1978 — 74 days later — under a pile of brush near the Des Moines River Flint Access by a man looking for firewood. Because of decomposition, cause of death could not be determined.
Carol Donnelly and Camille Njus, both of good character and close to their families, disappeared on a Friday less than two years apart. Both young women were last seen near Merle Hay Road and Douglas Avenue in Des Moines, and their bodies were dumped north of the city within five miles of each other. It was believed that both died within hours of disappearing.
Questions and information concerning the unsolved murders of Carol Ann Donnelly and Camille Louise Njus should be directed to the Des Moines Police Department at 515-283-4864, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 515-286-3306, or to Iowa Cold Cases through the Contact form.
- Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation
- “Body is identified as Grinnell Girl,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 19, 1978.
- FRED LOUS LAMP, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT v. STATE OF IOWA; DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF ADULT CORRECTIONS; COUNTY ATTORNEY IN AND FOR POLK COUNTY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES, United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, No. 96-2946 (submitted March 13, 1997; decided August 13, 1997).
- LAMP v. STATE OF IOWA, United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, 763 F.2d 994 (submitted April 10, 1985; decided June 6, 1985).
- “Officials at loss in probes of similar D.M. Killings,” Tom Suk, Des Moines Register, April 7, 1980.
- “Slaying suspect,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, May 22, 1979.
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