- Courtesy Mary Novak Whitehead
- Ronald Novak
Ronald Lee Novak
Ronald Lee Novak
Rolling Acres Road
Rural Center Point, IA
December 23-24, 1983
- Linn County in Iowa
Center Point in Linn County
Ron Novak stayed home on the deadly cold night. With the gusting winds, wind chills plummeted toward 50 degrees below zero. Christmas Eve would arrive the following day, and Novak hoped to spend some time with his large family and girlfriend.
His girlfriend, as well as his best friend, Dale Laver, were supposed to stop by later in the evening, and the 24-year-old bachelor — who usually thrived on privacy — found himself looking forward to their visit.
Novak had graduated from Jefferson High School in 1978, and a few years later, in search of solitude, bought the farmhouse on Rolling Acres Road about three miles north of Center Point in Linn County, Iowa.
For now, anyway, he at least had the company of his three golden retrievers, Ruff, Candy and Crystal. Despite their friendly nature, they still made him feel somewhat safer; he suspected he was being watched.
- Courtesy photo Mary Novak Whitehead
- Ron Novak enjoyed spending time at his rural Center Point home with his three golden retrievers, Crystal, Candy, and Ruff.
His instincts proved to be true.
At some point, a vehicle drove up to the house. Footprints in the snow indicated someone had gotten out and went to the home’s back door, while a second person went to stand and wait behind a tree.
In town, Novak’s girlfriend went out to start her car about 8 p.m., but the ignition wouldn’t turn over in the frigid cold. She’d just hung up from talking to Novak, and now would have to call him back to tell him her car wouldn’t start. She went back inside and phoned him, but there was no answer.
Near 9 p.m., Laver — who’d met Novak in the first grade and been his best friend ever since — went out to start his vehicle and had the same problem. The dead battery guaranteed he wasn’t going anywhere that night. He, too, tried to phone Novak to let him know he couldn’t make it, but his repeated calls went unanswered.
Both knew Novak rarely left his home for long, and while troubled about not being able to reach him, they felt certain that if something happened, Ron would be able to fend for himself. Nicknamed “Tarzan,” Novak stood 6 feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds. He also kept three guns in his home.
Novak would never know why the two failed to arrived.
Christmas Eve Day, 1983
Shortly after noon December 24, one of Novak’s brothers, Jon Novak, went out to Ron’s house. He would never forget the horrific scene he found.
His brother’s bloody and frozen body lay face down in an unheated storeroom near the home’s back door. Ron’s hands had been bound and tied behind his back. He’d been beaten about the head and body with two hammers and a golf club — the weapons still lay nearby — and shot once in the upper right arm with a .22-caliber handgun.
Huddled closely around him, Ron’s three faithful dogs shivered in the cold as they struggled to keep their master and themselves warm.
Blood splattered throughout the room indicated a violent struggle, and Novak’s cordless telephone lay near the hammers and golf club.
The murder investigation began almost immediately.
- Courtesy Mary Novak Whitehead
- In happier days, Ron Novak (center) at Sandy Beach on Coralville Lake with friends.
Novak’s wallet — where he usually kept several hundred dollars for “walking around money,” according to another brother, Don Novak — was missing. And in the adjacent kitchen, a door’s window had been broken, apparently in an attempt to open that door, which was close to one of Novak’s loaded shotguns. The door, however, had stayed shut that night.
Most puzzling, though, was what officials found in Novak’s bedroom: a small suitcase holding $32,000 in cash and $7,650 worth of marijuana in a green duffel bag.
“At first, we thought the motive probably was robbery,” said Capt. Dennis Fiser of the Linn County Sheriff’s Department in a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated March 21, 1992. “But then when we found the drugs and cash out in the open like that, we weren’t sure.”
While investigators worked the crime scene, strong winds outside blew snow across the footprints of Ron Novak’s killers. No fingerprints were found, and neighbors said they hadn’t seen or heard anything.
Fiser said there was little doubt the murder was drug-related. He could only speculate about the presence of the phone near Novak’s body. He might have been on the phone when he let the person in, Fiser said, or perhaps someone had pretended to be a stranded motorist and Novak was taking the phone to them.
That night, while watching television, Laver learned his best friend had been shot and bludgeoned to death with the hammers and golf club.
“We were practically brothers,” Laver told the Gazette. “To have somebody snatch a brother away from you like that, it hurts.”
- Courtesy photo Mary Novak Whitehead
- Ron Novak with friends and one of his three golden retrievers at his rural Center Point home.
Laver said he knew Novak sold marijuana but had never known to what extent. He said Novak loved it out where he lived but had expressed some concerns to him about six months earlier regarding a car he’d seen parked overnight near his house.
Novak’s autopsy listed three causes of death: the beating, the gunshot and the cold.
Detectives interviewed some of Novak’s known associates and developed a list of what they called “good” suspects, but never got enough physical evidence to charge anyone.
Family and Friends Wait for Justice
“It’s always bothered me deeply that I didn’t go out there that night,” Laver said in the 1992 interview with the Gazette. “But if I had been there, would I have been able to prevent the murder, or would I have been laying there with Ron?”
Novak’s sister Mary Novak Whitehead told Iowa Cold Cases in March 2010 that because her brother was not a “sympathetic” victim, the family has suffered for 26 years with no information.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette featured Ron Novak’s murder in their ‘Murdered, Missing, Unsolved’ series on March 21, 1992.
“We have no idea what or who has been considered,” Whitehead said. “We hear rumors from time to time, but again nothing that gives us any peace.”
Whitehead said a former DCI agent told her they’d waited two days to be called but the call never came. She said the agent also told her that someone in possession of the gun had been arrested, but that the family had never been told why no charges ever were filed.
Another sister, Patti (Novak) Wilson, told ICC she felt her brother’s murder had always been ignored and that he was treated like just another drug dealer.
“Murder is murder, no matter who the victim is,” Wilson said in an e-mail to Iowa Cold Cases. “Ronnie had a mother and siblings and nieces and nephews and friends, and we have all been affected in a life-changing way due to his murder and the apparent inaction of the legal/justice system.”
The slaying of his lifelong best friend also altered the way Laver viewed the world.
“When I think about the murder, all I see is darkness,” Laver said. “The facts are clouded, the clues are few and I don’t know who to trust anymore.”
About Ronald Novak
Ronald Lee Novak was born November 11, 1959, in southwest Cedar Rapids, where he was raised. Survivors included his mother; two sisters, Mary and Patti; three brothers, Bob, Don and Jon; and his faithful companion dogs, Ruff, Candy, and Crystal.
After Novak’s death, Ruff and Candy went to live with Ronald’s sister Patti; Crystal went to live just down the road from her former home with Novak’s brother Jon.
If you have any information about Ronald Novak’s unsolved murder, please contact the Linn County Sheriff’s Office at (319) 892-6100 or Iowa Cold Cases via our Contact form.
- Linn County Sheriff’s Office
- Personal correspondence with Ron Novak’s family members (ongoing)
- “Mystery of murder adds to grief,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, May 18, 1998
- “Murder, Missing, Unsolved: Loved ones – Families and friends learn to cope and live own lives,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 22, 1992
- “Drugs, diamonds: Deadly motives,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 21, 1992
- “Judge rules man’s estate must pay IRS,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 7, 1984
- “State wants part of money murder victim left behind,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, May 25, 1984
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