It was October 30th, 1982. Marvin Brandland, 69, and his wife Ethel were handing out candy to trick-or treaters in their Fort Dodge home when a knock came at the door.
Someone wearing a pillow case with holes cut out for eyes stood outside.
“Trick-or-Treat. Give me your money or I’ll shoot,” the trick-or-treater said.
Following her husband’s murder, Ethel Brandland broke down on Thanksgiving Day and died a few months later. Family members say she died of a broken heart.
Ethel playfully tried to lift the pillow case, thinking it might be a relative playing a joke. After all, their granddaughter, Teresa Trueblood, had left the house just minutes before. But the trick-or-treater held it down.
When Ethel turned around and started for the candy, the person followed her inside, then pulled out a gun and ordered the couple to the basement where they kept a safe.
When they got to the kitchen, Mr. Brandland reached for the trick-or-treater’s gun just before being shot in the throat.
The Marvin and Ethel Brandland home in Fort Dodge, Iowa
The shooter tore off the pillow case and threw it down before fleeing from the home.
“I’d just told her ‘I’ll see you later’ and I almost went back into the house to tell her not to answer the door after 7:30 because that is what they said,” Trueblood said, fighting back tears in a recent interview with WHO-TV Channel 13′s Aaron Brilbeck. “And it haunts me to this day that I didn’t.”
Mr. Brandland was rushed to the hospital where he died on the operating table. The family remembers getting the news.
“You go numb,” Trueblood said. “And I had to take my grandmother back to the house to get medicines and you walk in and you’re just in disbelief that it’s happening till you see the blood. And then you know it’s real.”
“God works in mysterious ways,” said Brandland’s daughter, Jan Horton. “And you wonder why, you know, why would God allow this to happen?”
Marvin’s murder and the loneliness took its toll on Ethel. Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by family, she broke down. She died a few months later.
“She was eating and she just quit eating and she broke down and she cried and cried and cried,” Horton recalled. “And you know, I’ll never forget when they carried her out in her chair. We always say she died of a broken heart because she didn’t want to be by herself.”
Fort Dodge Assistant Police Chief Kevin Doty
What makes this case especially disturbing is that the family is certain they know who the shooter is — an acquaintance of the family. They say he bragged about it to them after the killing.
At the request of investigators, WHO-TV didn’t release the suspect’s name, though a Fort Dodge Messenger article dated November 15, 2009, reported that [immediately] following the shooting, Ethel Brandland told police the shooter had blondish hair and blue eyes, was about 5 feet 8 inches tall, and between 16 and 20 years old.
Police confirmed they had a prime suspect, but said there wasn’t enough evidence for an arrest.
“Everybody that was on the department… everybody in town wanted the case solved at the time it happened,” Assistant Fort Dodge Police Chief Kevin Doty said. “And we wanted to get it to the point where not only can you charge somebody but you can take the case to trial and get a conviction and not leave anything to doubt.”
The detectives, Doty told Brilbeck, couldn’t get it to that point.
They still hope to get it there.
Marvin Brandland’s daughter, Jan Horton
A key piece of evidence — the pillow case — was left at the scene. Family members wondered: if evidence was found, and police have a suspect in mind, why couldn’t the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation do a DNA test?
Brilbeck asked the DCI about it, and they submitted it for testing and hoped to have some answers soon.
“I don’t know exactly how long,” said DCI Spokeswoman Courtney Greene. “I think they’re hoping in the next 30 days they might have some information. Then again, if it’s part of an ongoing investigation it could be confidential. So even though we know the results we may not be able to release the information.”
DCI Spokesperson Courtney Green
The information was exactly what family members had hoped for; perhaps after 28 years,they could finally have peace.
“When you take a tragedy like that and it’s just taken away from the family like that, it will always be with you,” Horton said. “You’ll never, never forget it.”
Less than two months following Aaron Brilbeck’s report, the DNA test results were in, bringing with them a whole new wave of disappointment; there hadn’t been enough material for a hit.
That could still change.
“Technology has evolved and today we were able to extract some information,” the DCI’s Jessica Lown told Channel 13 just before the year 2010 came to an end. “We didn’t get everything we wanted, but who knows what will happen in the next couple of years.”
The family had hoped for some closure, and Trueblood called the findings a “real big letdown.” The family plans, however, to keep pushing for an arrest even though they’re afraid the killer may come after them.
“For the longest time we didn’t pursue anything because we knew in our stomach, in our gut, who it was. But there was fear,” Trueblood said. “And Grandma always lived in fear. But I know they would want it solved. They’d want us safe.”
And, Trueblood says, “We owe it to them.”