- Courtesy photo Jeff Heinz/The Globe Gazette
- Doug Carnall of Snell’s Ambulance Service carries the body of John Snyder Jr. from Willow Creek two days after the boy disappeared from his home. At back is Mason City police officer Jay Lee.
John Snyder Jr.
John Snyder Jr.
1 YOA (20 months old)
10 S. Adams Ave.
Mason City, IA
Cerro Gordo County
July 20, 1994
Twenty-month-old John Snyder Jr., the son of John Snyder Sr. and Lisa Sellman, was reported as missing from his father’s 10 S. Adams Avenue Mason City apartment on Wednesday morning, July 20, 1994. The blond-haired, blue-eyed toddler was found dead in Willow Creek the following day.
Cerro Gordo County in Iowa
After tornado sirens went off the night before, John Snyder Sr. said he briefly went outside to look at the storm passing through. Back inside, while Snyder stayed up to watch a little television, John Jr. fell asleep in his father’s bed.
Before retiring himself around 11:15 p.m., Snyder lifted his son and then tucked the boy into his own bed.
Mason City in Cerro Gordo County
The next morning at approximately 8 a.m., Snyder got up to go to the bathroom and then went to check on John Jr.
His 20-month-old son was gone.
Snyder said he didn’t hear anything after he’d gone to bed that night, but that in the morning he’d found a blue blanket in the apartment’s hallway.
Police searched surrounding areas on Wednesday, and found the toddler’s blue pajama bottoms and his diaper by Willow Creek about two blocks south of the Snyder home.
Thursday morning around 10 a.m., searchers using dogs discovered the young boy’s body snagged on a tree stump near Willow Creek’s north bank, about one-half mile downstream from where the toddler’s clothing had been found.
“Why did I have to put him back in his bed?” a tearful Snyder, Sr., told police.
State Medical Examiner Tom Bennett said the child drowned, but had sustained severe head injuries — including a fractured skull and fractured jawbone, bruises and a cut to his lower lip — prior to his drowning.
Snyder Sr. — who had never been married to the boy’s mother, Lisa Sellman — was in the process of seeking full custody of his son. He did not have a current address for Sellman and already had begun the Public Notice process.
According to the toddler’s grandmother, Kay Snyder of Mason City, Lisa Sellman had recently moved to Illinois from Arizona.
John Snyder Sr. said police located Sellman in either Las Vegas or Arizona within a day or two of their son’s disappearance, but said he is unsure as to how or under what circumstances she was located.
In a Globe Gazette story published June 18, 2000, Lt. Ron Vande Weerd of the Mason City Police Department said police interviewed suspects in connection with the Snyder baby’s death, but were never able to prove who did it.
Frank Stearns (Courtesy photo Globe Gazette)
Vande Weerd began researching four unsolved cases in early 2000, including the John Snyder Jr. murder. He assigned officers to work each case on a regular basis, asking them to re-interview witnesses, family members and any others that had been involved with the case.
Vande Weerd contacted retired police officers who’d worked the cases, but despite the painstaking work rummaging through boxes of old files and revisiting earlier contacts, none of the four cases — which also included Andy Hatges, Elgin Strait and Dillon Luna — were ever solved.
Ten years later, in a Globe Gazette article published June 27, 2010, Mason City Police Lt. Frank Stearns said the department is always trying to find something they can pick up from a cold case file and move forward with it.
Jim Fountas (Courtesy photo Globe Gazette)
Jim Fountas, a former Mason City police officer who worked the Snyder case and also helped search for the baby, retired in August 1994 after 30 years in law enforcement but told the Globe Gazette that having a case go cold affects not only the victim’s family and friends, but law enforcement as well.
“You always feel bad,” Fountas told the Gazette. ”You’d like to solve everything, but that’s almost impossible.”
John Snyder Jr. was born November 13, 1992.
Information Needed: If you have any information about this unsolved case, please contact the Mason City Police Department at (641) 421-3636 or Iowa Cold Cases via our Contact form.
- John Snyder, Sr.
- Cold cases: Hunting for the ‘last piece of the puzzle’, Mason City Globe Gazette, June 27, 2010
- “Seven other murders within the last 40 years remain unsolved in Mason City,” Mason City Globe Gazette, Dec. 8, 2002
- “Unsolved homicide: The cold case files,” Mason City Globe Gazette, June 18, 2000
- “Autopsy: Boy had head wounds,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, July 30, 1994
- “Autopsy shows toddler drowned,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, July 23, 1994
- “Officials treating Mason City toddler’s death as murder,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, July 22, 1994
- “Missing toddler’s body found,” The Hawk Eye, July 22, 1994
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