Mary Jayne Jones (courtesy Des Moines Register)

Mary Jayne Jones (courtesy Des Moines Register)

Mary Jayne Jones


Mary Jayne Jones
17 YOA
Blakesburg, IA / Ottumwa, IA
Wapello County
Case Number: 74-00243
April 9, 1974

Mary Jayne Jones, 17, of Ottumwa, Iowa, was found slain in a farmhouse near Blakesburg, Iowa, on Tuesday, April 9, 1974. She had been sexually assaulted and shot once in the head and once in the heart at close range with a high-powered rifle.



Robert Eugene Pilcher, 67, will stand trial in Wapello County beginning Jan. 14, 2014.

Judge declares mistrial

On Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, a judge declared a mistrial in the case of the man charged with first-degree murder in Mary Jayne Jones’ death.

After trying for a week, jurors said they could not reach a verdict in the case of 67-year-old Robert “Gene” Pilcher and that any more deliberation would be pointless. Judge Richard Meadows agreed.

Pilcher’s trial began Jan. 14.

Pilcher was charged in November 2012 after DNA evidence linked him to the murder, and has been held in the Wapello County Jail on a $1 million bond since his arrest.

Prosecutors asked the judge for a change in venue for the second trial, but Judge Richard Meadows denied the request on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.

Pilcher’s new trial is scheduled for this September. If eventually convicted, he faces a mandatory life sentence.

Case summary by Jody Ewing

Mary Jayne Jones, 17, of Ottumwa, Iowa, was found slain in a farmhouse near Blakesburg, Iowa, on Tuesday, April 9, 1974. She had been sexually assaulted and shot once in the head and once in the heart at close range with a high-powered rifle.

Shortly after 5 p.m. on April 9, the Wapello County sheriff’s office received a call from Ernest Marlin, who said his wife had discovered the body in a farmhouse about seven miles west of Ottumwa.

Wapello County
Wapello County in Iowa
Blakesburg, Iowa
Blakesburg in Wapello County

The farm was owned by the Marlin’s son, Max Marlin, and the elder Marlin worked the farm. According to [then] Wapello County Attorney Sam Erhardt, the Marlin’s son was “out west on a vacation” at the time of the slaying. Erhardt said he believed no one was staying at the home at the time of the slaying, although Mr. and Mrs. Marlin had stayed at the house “a couple of nights” before the slaying.

Several guns were found in the house, though it wasn’t determined early in the investigation if any of those found was the murder weapon.

[Then] Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) agent Wayne Sheston, in charge of investigations, said Jones died of “multiple gunshot wounds.” Wapello County Medical Examiner Dr. Warren DeKraay confirmed that Miss Jones, an Ottumwa drive-in restaurant employee, died from gunshot wounds to the head and heart.

DeKraay said the girl was shot “once in the head and once in the heart from fairly close range with a rifle, apparently a pretty high-powered rifle, judging from the wounds.”

Miss Jones had not been beaten, nor were there signs of a struggle.

The BCI’s Crime Laboratory and local law enforcement conducted a thorough crime scene investigation, with several items of evidentiary value collected and stored at the Wapello County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office interviewed numerous people and circulated photographs of Jones in efforts to find persons who may have seen her Tuesday before her death.

By week’s end, at least one suspect had undergone a lie detector test conducted by the BCI, but authorities were unable to gather enough evidence to charge anyone with Jones’ murder.

Came to Iowa to visit pregnant sister

Investigators believed Jones was last seen about 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, April 9, at the Union Bank and Trust Co. in Ottumwa. She had been employed at Henry’s Drive-in restaurant in Ottumwa for the past nine months, and restaurant employees said Jones had not been at work since the previous Friday, believed to be because of illness.

mary-jayne-jones-color-ap-photo-courtesy-judith-cabanillasAP Photo/Courtesy Judith Cabanillas
This 1973 photo provided by Judith Cabanillas shows her sister, Mary Jayne Jones, a year before the 17-year-old girl was found dead in an Iowa farmhouse.

Mary Jayne Jones had come to Iowa from North Carolina nine months earlier to visit her sister, Mrs. Pat (Jacque) Williams, who was expecting a baby. Jones stayed with her sister until the sister had the baby in November, and had decided to remain in Iowa rather than return to N.C.

Friends described the 5′ 2″ auburn-haired Jones as an “outgoing girl,” and fellow employees said she was “a bubbly, super girl.”

Roy Ware, owner of the apartment building where Jones had occupied a second-floor, one-bedroom apartment for “about four or five months,” said he’d received a letter Wednesday, dated April 9, 1974, from Miss Jones. Her rent check was in the letter, which said, “You told me to inform you when I have a roommate. Her name is Lynn Guyette,” Ware said the letter stated. Ware said Miss Jones was a very good tenant and a great girl.

Vernon Guyette, Jr., Lynn Guyette’s brother, said his sister met Miss Jones at Henry’s Drive-In, where both were employed. Miss Guyette had been living with Jones for about a month.

Authorities confirmed Jones had written a letter, postmarked Tuesday, April 9, 1974, to friends in N.C. telling of a boyfriend named Art who did not want to get married but who had given her a beautiful ring for Valentine’s Day. The BCI said the boyfriend was not a suspect in the case.

DNA “Hit” through CODIS links Pilcher to Crime

On Tuesday, November 13, 2012, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) agents and Wapello County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Robert Eugene Pilcher, 66, of Des Moines, Iowa in connection with Jones’ unsolved 1974 homicide.

DCI agents said Pilcher — who was arrested at the A-1 Motel in Des Moines — was questioned in the case years ago and released. He is now accused of sexually assaulting Jones and shooting her in the head and chest before leaving her body in his cousin’s Wapello County farmhouse. He has been charged with first-degree murder in the teen’s death.

A-1-motel-des-moines-pilcher-mary-jayne-jonesCourtesy photo Google
Robert Pilcher was arrested at the A-1 Motel in Des Moines on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012.

Pilcher had a long list of other crimes committed since 1974 — with DNA samples taken along the way.

New DNA technology finally caught up with him, thanks to the DCI’s Cold Case Unit, which operated from 2009 through 2011 under a federally funded grant.

Members of the Cold Case Unit resubmitted items collected from the crime scene and from Jones’ body to the DCI Crime Laboratory for additional DNA testing using analysis technology not available at the time of the homicide. A DNA profile was developed from the resubmitted evidence and entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The CODIS database searches DNA profiles from convicted offenders, unsolved crime scene evidence, and missing persons.

As a result of this search, the DNA profile developed from the evidence matched that of known offender Robert Eugene Pilcher.

Pilcher was arrested and taken to the Wapello County Jail, where he was held on a one million dollar bond pending his initial appearance.

robert-pilcher-jury-deliberations-dmr-1-24-14Courtesy photo The Ottumwa Courier
Robert “Gene” Pilcher, center, reads over the instructions being presented to the jury before deliberations began Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, at the Wapello County Courthouse in Ottumwa. On Thursday, Jan. 30, Judge Richard Meadows declared a mistrial after jurors said they could not reach a verdict. Pilcher will be retried March 25, 2014. 

A pretrial conference held Monday, June 17, 2013, determined the trial for Pilcher, now 67, would begin Oct. 15, 2013, at the Wapello County Courthouse.

In September 2013, a Wapello County judge pushed the trial date back to Jan. 14, 2014.

Pilcher’s trial began Jan. 14, and on Jan. 30, 2014, Judge Richard Meadows declared a mistrial after jurors said they could not reach a verdict.

Prosecutors said they would retry Pilcher, who’s been held at the Wapello County Jail since his November 2012 arrest. After granting the mistrial, Meadows scheduled the second trial for March 25, but that was postponed after prosecutors asked the judge for a change in venue for the second trial.

Judge Richard Meadows denied the request on Tuesday, April 8, 2014, and Pilcher’s new trial is now scheduled for September 2014.

If eventually convicted, Pilcher faces a mandatory life sentence.

“A Family Responds to Arrest in Mary Jayne Jones Cold Case” (reprinted from the ICC blog)

The following text appeared on the Iowa Cold Cases blog on November 30, 2012, posted by ICC founder Jody Ewing:

Late last week, I received an e-mail from Judith Cabanillas — one of two sisters of Iowa Cold Case victim Mary Jayne Jones. Judith wrote to thank us for including her sister on our site, and said she and her family “were in shock” when they learned Robert Eugene Pilcher had finally been arrested based on DNA evidence legally collected from Pilcher’s long list of crimes after 1974.

“Our family has waited for 38 years for this man to be arrested,” Judith wrote.

She was quick to praise the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the Wapello County Sheriff’s Office, and all those involved over the years in her sister’s case.

“Wayne Sheston, a former agent, worked her case after he retired,” she said. “Mike Berrier kept our family abreast of her case and what was occurring, and Wapello County did a wonderful job of preserving the evidence in her case.”

Who would have thought in 1974, she wrote, that there would one day be computers that could break down one’s cell structure and record it exactly, and that this DNA code would be identifiable to only one person?

“While we understand that this is only the beginning, at least we know there is proof, and while he walked free basically for 38 years, he will never be free again,” she said.

I asked Judith, who resides in Redding, Calif., if she would like to share any information about Mary Jayne with our readers. She responded with the following, in which she describes a beautiful young woman known not just as “Jayne,” but a daughter, sister, aunt, grandchild, and most of all, a friend — one who has been missed and loved every moment of the past 38 years.

Judith wrote:

What can I say about Jayne… she was an amazing individual. Always happy with a smile, full of energy and life. She had strong family beliefs and was always there to help another.

There was a mischievous twinkle in her brown eyes and she laughed a lot and freely.

I am not certain what Jayne wanted to do when she became an adult. I could always picture her in a field where she helped people. At 17, when she was murdered, I am not certain that she had decided what field of study she planned to go into.

Our family has grieved for thirty-eight years. That does not change nor go away. We have missed her every day since she was so callously taken from us.

Our older sister Jacque, who lived in Ottumwa at the time, has three boys. I had a daughter, and in memory of Jayne named my daughter Marijayne.

We intend to come to Iowa whether Robert Pilcher takes a plea or stands trial. My sister and I intend to make victim impact statements during sentencing. We want the Judge/Jury to understand that Jayne was not a throwaway person, without family or friends.

I have prayed that Pilcher would one day be caught, and my prayers have finally been answered.

“This is our beginning and hopefully the peaceful resting of her spirit,” Judith told Iowa Cold Cases.

For other families who’ve lost one they loved due to violence, Judith says:

“I pray for you and I pray for justice in honor of your loved one(s).”


Courtesy photo Frances Allen Titsworth,
Mary Jayne Jones had come to Iowa from North Carolina nine months before her death to visit her sister, Mrs. Pat Williams, who was expecting a baby. Mary Jayne was buried in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
About Mary Jayne

Mary Jayne Jones was born September 10, 1956.

Survivors included her mother and stepfather, who lived in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and two sisters, Miss Judith Cabanillas of Fort Bragg, N.C., and Mrs. Patrick (Jacque) Williams of Fairfield.

Mary Jayne was buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park in Fort Smith, Sebastian County, Arkansas.



Copyright © 2014 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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4 Responses to Mary Jayne Jones

  1. Mike says:

    With the help of DNA maybe more cases will be solved.At least I hope so.Nobody should get away with murder.

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