Rose Z. Burkert, 22
Roger E. Atkison, 32
Case # 80-06274
Amana Holiday Inn
September 12, 1980
On Friday, September 12, 1980, Rose Burkert left for a romantic weekend getaway with her married boyfriend, Roger Atkison. The 22-year-old Burkert was a nurse trainee at St. Joseph Hospital in Missouri; Atkison, 32, was employed as a telephone installer-repairman for General Telephone Co. in Savannah, Mo.
The two checked in for the night at the Amana Holiday Inn along Interstate 80 near Williamsburg, Iowa, getting the last room available due to a morticians’ convention.
The following day the couple missed the noon check-out time. At about 1 p.m., a maid went to Room 260 to check on them, and after getting no response to her knock, let herself in. She would never forget the horrific scene before her.
- Iowa County in Iowa
Williamsburg in Iowa County
Blood was splattered everywhere — all across the bed’s headboard, the walls, the carpet. Both Burkert and Atkison lay face down on the bed, their heads chopped open from multiple blows by either an ax or hatchet. Atkison also had several severed fingers, most likely the result of trying to protect his head.
Burkert was fully clothed, whereas Atkison wore only his shorts.
The room showed no signs of forced entry. Two chairs sat next to the bed, indicating the killer or killers may have carried on a conversation with the couple prior to the slaying. Evidence also indicated the killer had at one point put his feet up on the desk. He’d carved a piece of soap and written one word on the bathroom mirror: ‘This.’
The television had never even been turned off.
Buchanan County Sheriff’s Department Captain Howard Judd, who worked the case for the St. Joseph Police Department, described the scene as “pretty gruesome” and “overkill.”
Rumors swirled in both Missouri and Iowa. Some suspected Burkert’s ex-boyfriend, whom she’d kicked out of her house due to his drug use. He’d been stalking her in the weeks before the murder, and Burkert had filed a complaint with the Andrew County Sheriff’s Department and told them if she ended up dead it would be because of her ex.
A single mother of two children, she’d gotten a dog for protection, only to later find it hanging — butchered — in front of her home. The ex-boyfriend, however, had a solid alibi and also passed a polygraph.
- Gerald Shanahan took over as DCI director in August 1977 after retiring from the FBI.
- Courtesy photo Spencer Daily Reporter
Rumors also circulated that the killer may have been Roger’s own uncle, serial killer Charles Hatcher. Hatcher had escaped from a Nebraska mental health center, though it couldn’t be confirmed whether he’d escaped before or after the Burkert and Atkison slayings.
State investigators said neither guns nor drugs were involved in the deaths.
“We are not going to give up,” Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Director Gerald Shanahan told the St. Joe News-Press in a September 24, 1980 interview about the case.
Shanahan left the DCI three years later, and cited the Amana hatchet slaying and the disappearance of Des Moines Register paperboy Johnny Gosch as the two unsolved cases he would think about most after his departure.
“Those kinds of things will always remain with you,” Shanahan said. “Hopefully as time goes on they will be solved.”
Three decades later, both crimes remain unsolved.
If you have any information regarding the unsolved double slaying of Rose Burkert and Roger Atkison, please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010, e-mail email@example.com, or send your information to Iowa Cold Cases via our Contact form.
- Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation
- “Rumors surround 1980 killings,” St. Joe News-Press, Sept. 20, 2009
- “JonBenet arrest fills East Iowans with new hope,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, Aug. 19, 2006
- “Shanahan leaves ponies to successor,” The Spencer Daily Reporter, June 28, 1983
- “Two Die in Amana motel,” Oelwein Daily Register, Sept. 15, 1980
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