On Thursday evening, August 28, 1997, Julie Davis, a 33-year-old Cedar Rapids, Iowa mother of two, was found brutally murdered inside Skyline Display’s satellite office on East Second in Des Moines where she worked.
Davis — who had a successful career selling trade show displays through her company’s Cedar Rapids and Des Moines offices — had been stabbed several times and her throat was slashed.
Police immediately began questioning people Davis knew, starting with the man who said he’d discovered her body.
Courtesy photo WHO-TV
Crime scene tape surrounds the Des Moines building where Julie Davis was slain.
Initial reports stated he was a passer-by who discovered the business’s rear door ajar shortly before 7 p.m. and then found Davis’ fully clothed body lying on the floor inside. The former lead detective in the case, however, spoke with WHO-TV‘s Aaron Brilbeck on August 19, 2010, and says the man who discovered the body knew Davis.
“When we did arrive at the scene there was an acquaintance of Julie’s there,” said Craig Hamilton, who retired from the Des Moines Police Department in 2007 and is now Chief of Operations at Prairie Meadows. “That individual was also interviewed. And nothing came of that,” he said.
Hamilton said it looked like the perpetrator came up behind Davis, grabbed hold of her hair, pulled her head back and cut her throat. Before she fell, he said, she was stabbed several times in the chest area.
There were signs Davis put up a struggle, though no signs of sexual abuse. There was no forced entry and robbery didn’t appear to be a motive. Rather, everything pointed to a crime of passion.
“There was no robbery. Nothing was taken. Jewelry was not taken from Julie. It was an up close crime,” Hamilton said. “In your face, so to speak.”
WHO-TV Channel 13′s Aaron Brilbeck reports on the upcoming 13th anniversary of Julie Davis’ unsolved murder. August 19, 2010
Davis had just posted one of her best months ever with the trade-show displays. She and her family resided in Cedar Rapids, but she routinely traveled to Des Moines once or twice each week to work at the showroom in the new business park office located between the Department of Economic Development and the Botanical Center. The Des Moines office was open only two days each week and by appointment only.
A Prairie High School graduate, Davis was married to Frank Davis, a Cedar Rapids firefighter whom police ruled out as a suspect early in the investigation. The couple had two sons, ages 3 and 5.
Police believe the last contact Davis had with anyone the day of her murder was an afternoon telephone conversation with a fellow Skyline Display employee from the Cedar Rapids office.
Investigators interviewed Davis’ co-workers, acquaintances and family members in Cedar Rapids in hopes of establishing a motive for the attack, but came up empty handed.
In an August 30, 1997 interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Davis’ brother, Christopher Bell, 35, of Cedar Rapids, said, “There was never any money there or anything where she worked. Just absolutely no motive or reason why. It’s just terrible. We’re just in shock.”
According to Kevin Eagleton — a Houston businessman who owned the Iowa Skyline Display franchises — Davis traveled to the Des Moines office Wednesday to pack materials for an upcoming move to a new Des Moines location. He said she returned to Cedar Rapids Wednesday night and worked in the Cedar Rapids office until late morning Thursday before heading back to Des Moines.
News of Davis’ death hit her co-workers with “absolute shock and sadness,” Eagleton told the Gazette. Four full-time workers and one part-time employee had worked together nearly five years in the Cedar Rapids office, and Eagleton described them as “almost like a small family.”
Cedar Rapids Fire Chief Brud Gorman described his organization as being “shell-shocked” after learning Frank Davis’ wife had been murdered.
Courtesy photo WHO-TV Channel 13
Former lead detective Craig Hamilton – now Prairie Meadows’ Chief of Operations – says he thinks about the Julie Davis case almost daily.
“You know, we did everything we could do. We investigated every lead,” Hamilton said. “We went to Cedar Rapids. We went through her office. Contacted people at her office… people she had contact with. It went nowhere. A dead end. A brick wall.”
With the sheer volume of blood present at the scene, officials had hoped to find some type of print, but Hamilton said they discovered neither finger prints on the windows nor foot prints on the floors. It not only pointed to a crime of passion, but one committed by a pro.
“It seems like it was kind of a professional hit to a certain extent if you would say,” said Hamilton. “They did their homework.”
The homicide — the capital city’s 10th in 1997 — still weighs heavily on Hamilton, who said he thinks about the case nearly every day.
“You never forget what you’ve seen and unfortunately this young woman had two young boys. That plays a lot into your feelings,” he said.
Julie R. Bell was born December 31, 1963, in Cedar Rapids, the daughter of Robert and Joanne Richardson Bell. She graduated from Prairie High School with the class of 1982. She married Frank Davis on September 26, 1987, at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Cedar Rapids. The couple had two young sons.
Courtesy photo Gail Wenhardt, findagrave.com
Julie Davis is buried at the Cedar Memorial Park Cemetery in Cedar Rapids.
In addition to her employment as a sales representative at Skyline Display, Julie was a member of St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids and volunteered with the seekers Sunday school class. She also volunteered at the McLeod Academy.
Memorial services were held on Tuesday, September 2, 1997, at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids, with a private family burial at Cedar Memorial Cemetery.
Survivors included her husband, Frank; two sons, Christian and Spencer, both at home; her parents, Robert and Joanne Bell of Cedar Rapids; two brothers, Christopher and wife Kathy of Cedar Rapids and Timothy and wife Brenda of Wellman; and her mother-in-law, Jan Davis, and a sister-in-law, Margaret Ann Davis, both of Des Moines.
She was preceded in death by her father-in-law, Frank Davis Jr.