Homicide (presumed murdered but body never found – legally declared dead)
3100 30th St. Dr. SE
Cedar Rapids, IA
August 6, 1972
When Keith Schuller reported his wife Lynn Schuller missing in August 1972, police suspected murder from the very beginning. More than four decades later, they still believe Schuller is responsible for her death, but don’t ever expect to find her body. Why? The suspicions surrounding her disappearance sounded so much like that of local folklore that even police were reluctant to acknowledge Keith Schuller could have committed such an abhorrent act.
- Linn County in Iowa
Cedar Rapids in Linn County
The tale began in a Minneapolis suburb, where Lynn Tickner had been born and raised. Barely a teen, she met Keith Schuller — five years her senior — while the two families were vacationing in northern Minnesota. A long-distance relationship culminated in Lynn and Keith’s marriage in 1967.
The two made their home in Cedar Rapids, and Lynn gave birth the couple’s first and only child in 1969. By all outward appearances, they seemed like a happy couple until 1971, when Keith abruptly announced he wanted a divorce. Lynn, however, wasn’t ready to break up their new family and refused to grant the divorce.
“She always indicated to me that she was hopeful they would resolve it because of the child,” Lynn’s mother, Eloise Tickner, told the Cedar Rapids Gazette in a March 1992 interview.
Keith continued to press for a divorce, and in 1972, Lynn wrote a letter to her mother stating that Keith had threatened to kill her.
Keith owned a 6-foot-long alligator, Pogo, and two pet snakes. He’d also served as a medic in the Army for three years.
“You never believe anything like that is going to happen in your own family,” Eloise Tickner told the Gazette, “So I threw the letter away.”
A few months later, while vacationing at the same lake where their daughter and Keith had met, the Tickners received a call from their son-in-law. Lynn had disappeared, he told them, and he didn’t know where she was.
The Perfect Crime?
Harry and Eloise Tickner immediately headed south for Cedar Rapids, where Keith Schuller told them he’d last seen Lynn while she was sleeping. He said that around 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 6, 1972 [sic- that date was a Sunday] that he and their 3-year-old son had left the home and returned about five hours later to discover both Lynn and her bicycle were gone.
- These maps show where Lynn Schuller went missing in Aug. 1972, where Jane Wakefield disappeared in Sept. 1975 and where Denise Fraley vanished in Sept. 1982. All three women were in volatile marriages with divorce proceedings pending. Detectives are certain all three were murdered, and though they’ve long had a prime suspect in each case, have never been able to find enough evidence to convince a prosecutor to charge any of the suspects with murder. (Maps courtesy Cedar Rapids Gazette)
Schuller said he’d decided then to take his son swimming at Bever Park. Before they’d gone, he said, he’d left a note for Lynn.
The “swim” was short-lived, and Schuller and his young son returned home about an hour later. This time, however, he said Lynn’s bicycle was there but that she was missing.
The home showed no signs of forced entry and nothing was disturbed. Lynn’s purse and all her belongings were still there.
Later that same day, Keith Schuller had contacted his wife’s parents — along with several others — to report his wife was missing. Those he’d called arrived at the couple’s home and helped conduct searches in and around the surrounding area.
Keith Schuller Arrested for Refusing to Help Officers in Search
The following afternoon — approx. 24 hours after Keith Schuller said he first realized something was wrong — he called the sheriff’s office to report Lynn missing. Dozens of volunteers helped conduct a more extensive search, while detectives got a search warrant and seized several items from the Schuller home. State investigators were also called in to help.
Keith Schuller was asked to assist in the investigation — particularly to help search the nearby woods for his wife’s body — but he refused to do so and was arrested for refusing to assist an officer. Schuller said he’d refused because he’d already checked out the woods himself. The charge was later dismissed for lack of evidence.
Infrared aerial photos were taken of the home’s surrounding areas to determine if the ground had recently been dug up, but they produced no positive results.
Lynn’s parents offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to Lynn’s body or her whereabouts, but no one came forward. Everyone seemed to hold the same opinion — that Keith Schuller had killed his wife, chopped up her body, and then fed the pieces to Pogo and the snakes.
Multiple Divorce Papers Filed
Keith Schuller continued with efforts to obtain a divorce — this time on the grounds that his wife had deserted him. When Lynn’s parents hired an attorney to represent their daughter, Schuller dropped the case. He would file again and again — a total of seven times in Linn County District Court — but each time when it became apparent he’d have to testify about circumstances surrounding his wife’s disappearance, he would drop the case.
Without his in-laws’ knowledge, Keith Schuller finally went to Dubuque County District Court to file the papers; the divorce was granted in July 1976. Less than two years later on March 20, 1978, a Dubuque District Court judge granted Schuller’s request to have Lynn Schuller declared legally dead. The decree listed their son as the sole heir of Lynn’s life insurance benefits, with Keith the conservator.
Keith would later marry a woman he’d met in Cedar Rapids before his wife’s unexplained disappearance, but that relationship also ended in a divorce.
Schuller and Pogo head to Idaho where Schuller teaches middle school students, obsesses about death
Schuller eventually left Iowa — taking the 6-foot-long alligator with him — and moved to Fruitland, Idaho, where he taught middle school students for 25 years. A 1992 article in the Gazette said “Pogo” had become a favorite of Schuller’s students, and that Schuller had just recently been featured on a local television news program.
One of Schuller’s former students vividly remembers his science teacher from the mid-90s.
On Friday, August 2, 2013, the student responded to an “Ask Reddit” post titled “What is the scariest unsolved mystery you have ever heard?” The student responded, “My 6th grade science teacher!”
Courtesy photo Independent-Enterprise
- In January 2008, Keith Schuller received the Fruitland (ID) Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement award.
According to the former student, Schuller was seemingly obsessed with death.
After leaving his teaching position, Schuller went on to become the Payette County coroner. Payette County is part of the Idaho and Ontario, Oregon, Micropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 22,623 as of the 2010 census; the county seat and largest city is Payette, ID.
“Although he was our science teacher, all I remember him talking about was deadly diseases (the hantavirus was a favorite of his), deadly animals (he had a pet gila monster), and deadly gasses (he talked about carbon monoxide poisoning a lot),” the student said.
Schuller had lived right next door to the school, and would sometimes let the students come over and feed Pogo the pet alligator, they said.
The Aug. 2 Reddit post linked to Lynn Schuller’s page here on Iowa Cold Cases, and by 10:15 that night, nearly 12,000 people had clicked the link to read about her still unsolved disappearance/murder.
One Reddit commenter said the case sounded like a story from a “Goosebumps” book.
There is no statute of limitations on murder, so it’s unlikely Keith Schuller will be writing the end to Lynn Schuller’s own horror story any time soon. He is busy writing, however. Autopsy Reports.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department currently has two volunteer investigators who work exclusively on unsolved homicides. These investigators work closely with other investigators from both the Cedar Rapids Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.
If you have any information about Lynn Schuller’s unsolved disappearance/homicide, please contact the Cold Case Unit at (319) 286-2645 or (319) 286-5619.
The current investigators assigned to the Cold Case Unit are J.D. Smith, a retired Agent for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, and Jeff Mellgren, a retired Captain from the Cedar Rapids Police Department. Please feel free to contact either investigator with information.
- “What is the scariest unsolved mystery you have ever heard?” Ask Reddit, August 2, 2013
- Payette County, Idaho – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- “Schuller receives Chamber’s Lifetime Achievement Award,” The Independent-Enterprise/Argus Observer, Ontario, Oregon, January 17, 2008
- “Cold Cases: Technology, tips help clear old homicides, but time takes toll on investigations,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, Sept. 21, 2003
- “Unsolved murder cases: DNA technology did not exist 20 years ago,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, Jan. 31, 2002
- Cedar Rapids Police Department
- “Murdered, Missing, Unsolved: Police suspect 3 killed but lack bodies,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 19, 1992
- “Missing persons pose different kind of puzzle,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, Sept. 18, 1983
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