- Julie Ann Benning
Courtesy photo Benning family
Julia “Julie” Ann Benning
Julia “Julie” Ann Benning
Case # 76-00382
Disappeared from Waverly, IA (Bremer County), Nov. 28, 1975
Body found in Shell Rock, IA (Butler County), March 18, 1976
She had a quick smile, a zany laugh. She was bright, beautiful, spunky and ambitious. She loved getting out to meet people and making things happen.
She loved live music and the weekly Top 100 Countdown.
Her creativity spilled over into every aspect of her life; she not only designed and sewed her own dresses, but painted landscapes and portraits of all things closest to her heart.
- Julie Benning shows off some of her artwork. Courtesy photo Benning family
She also was an avid reader — Nancy Drew mysteries were a favorite — was already writing her own stories and had an interest in investigative journalism.
But the day after Thanksgiving on Friday, November 28, 1975, 18-year-old Julie Benning suddenly vanished without a trace while on her way to work in Waverly, Iowa.
Her father, Lowell Benning of rural Clarksville, drove to Waverly and reported her missing to Police Chief Clarence Wickham. Mr. Benning knew that Julie — the eldest of his five daughters — would never just disappear without a word, and asked police to contact area media about his missing child. Wickham, perhaps not fully convinced foul play was involved, suggested Benning make the media contacts.
The distraught father went to newspapers and radio stations in person, asking they alert the public about his daughter’s disappearance. KWWL Radio reported on the story, and a Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent was sent to work with the family.
Initial reports stated Julie was last seen that Friday afternoon, walking on Bremer Avenue on her way to work as a waitress at the Sir Lounge in Waverly’s downtown business district. Chief Wickham would later announce he’d also heard reports that Benning had been spotted in a shoe repair shop Friday at 5:05 p.m. to get a pair of shoes she’d left there.
On December 12, Julie’s 19th birthday arrived, but there would be no celebration without her.
A Beautiful Life — Gone
- In addition to designing and sewing her own clothes, Julie Benning’s creative talents also included writing and painting. Courtesy photo Benning family
A missing person search that sometimes extended to other states produced no clues to Julie’s whereabouts until March 18, 1976, when a Butler County road maintenance worker found her nude and decomposed body in a roadside ditch along a quiet country road about a mile northeast of Shell Rock, Iowa. The teen had been raped and strangled.
An autopsy report established cause of death as “homicidal violence, caused by injury to the throat area.”
A 1975 graduate of Plainfield High School, Julie Benning lived on a farm near Clarksville with her parents and four younger sisters, but had been staying with her aunt and grandmother, Malita Benning and Mrs. Emil (Frieda) Benning, in northwest Waverly while employed in Waverly.
The friendly teen had no enemies, and officials struggled to come up with a motive.
As a senior at Plainfield High School, Benning had sharply criticized the taking of human life and life imprisonment. In a May 8, 1975 school newspaper editorial, Benning wrote:
“Murder is a horrible crime to commit and, of course the offender must be punished, but does that mean he should rot in prison until he dies? I don’t think so . . . nor do I think any person has the right to say someone should never be let out of prison, or give them the death penalty.” She urged her readers to “Put yourself in their shoes — the convicts are still humans, too. I hope people will be willing to help them and lend support in convicts’ efforts to rehabilitate themselves.”
- Every summer, Julie Benning and her four sisters helped their father clear rocks from the field before he planted. Courtesy photo Benning family
Six months later, the outspoken teen was dead, though a high school editorial hardly seemed like a motive for murder, particularly given the months passed since its publication.
On Saturday, March 29, 1976 at about 8 p.m., Butler County Attorney Gene Shepard received an anonymous letter postmarked March 27 from Oelwein, Iowa. Authorities didn’t say how or where the note was found, but said officers wanted to look further into information contained in the note.
Three Young Women, Three Similar Deaths
On Tuesday morning, Sept. 7, 1976 — less than six months after Benning’s body was discovered — the nude, beaten body of 20-year-old Marie “Lisa” Peak was found in a ditch a quarter mile north of Waverly’s city limits six miles from where Benning’s body was found.
Peak had been sexually assaulted, and, according to autopsy findings, died of suffocation and a broken neck. None of Peak’s clothes were found at the scene.
Peak, the daughter of Knoxville veterinarian and former city councilman Dr. Frank Peak and Mary Peak, had just returned to the Wartburg College campus in Waverly the day before to begin her sophomore year with plans to major in journalism. Peak had told friends she was going shopping Monday afternoon but never returned to the campus that night.
Investigators cited a number of similarities in the Benning and Peak slayings, and FBI criminologists were consulted to determine if the same person murdered both young women.
Both Benning and Peak were attractive and described as “outgoing” or “popular.” Both disappeared in broad daylight. Miss Benning was purported to have last been seen in a shoe store, and Peak reportedly was going to pick up a pair of shoes. Both women’s bodies were found nude and both had been sexually assaulted.
Both women also had interests in journalism and enjoyed reading about and writing mysteries.
Questions also emerged as to whether the Benning and Peak murders had any connection to another area homicide four years earlier.
On June 15, 1971, the partially clad body of 14-year-old Valerie Lynn Klossowsky of Waverly was found on a creek bank under a bridge three miles west of Denver, Iowa. The Waverly-Shell Rock Junior High School student also had been strangled.
All three homicides remain unsolved.
Julie Benning was born December 12, 1956. Survivors included her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lowell Benning of rural Clarksville; four sisters, Lori, Kelly, Carol and Linda, all at home; and a grandmother, Mrs. Emil Benning of Waverly.
If you have any information about Julie Benning’s unsolved murder, please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact Special Agent Moeller at the Federal Bureau of Investigation at (712) 258-1920.
You may also contact Jody at Iowa Cold Cases.
- “Area missing girl sought,” Waterloo Courier, December 4, 1975
- “Julie Benning Still Missing,” The Plainfield News, Wednesday, December 17, 1975
- “Find body at Shell Rock,” Oelwein Daily Register, March 19, 1976
- “Body of missing woman found in Butler County,” Des Moines Register, March 20, 1976
- “‘No clues’ in Benning autopsy,” Oelwein Daily Register, March 20, 1976
- “Julia Ann Benning,” The Waterloo Courier, Sunday, March 21, 1976
- “Girl Criticized Death Penalty; Found Dead,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Friday, March 26, 1976
- “Victim,” Oelwein Daily Register, March 26, 1976
- “Anonymous note to investigators in Benning case,” Oelwein Daily Register, Tuesday, March 30, 1976
- “Julia Ann Benning Murdered: Autopsy,” Waterloo Courier, Tuesday, April 13, 1976
- “Tell cause of Benning death,” Oelwein Daily Register, April 13, 1976
- “Julie Benning Death Found to Have Been By Strangulation,” The Plainfield News, April 14, 1976
- “Probe of coeds slaying under way,” Waterloo Courier, Sept. 8, 1976
- “Shoes a Link in Slayings of 2 Women?” The Des Moines Register, Friday, September 10, 1976
- “FBI enters Waverly co-ed case,” Oelwein Daily Register, September 11, 1976
- “Use of ‘profile’ a first: BCI tries psychology to find Waverly killer,” Waterloo Courier, Sunday, September 12, 1976
- “Deny finding death site at Waverly,” Oelwein Daily Register, Sept. 15, 1976
- “Bremer plods on with Peak-Benning murder probes,” Waterloo Courier, August 30, 1977
- “Slayings may be tied together,” Oelwein Daily Register, April 27, 1979
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