Cold Cases in the News

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An ongoing series, published statewide, as part of a partnership between Iowa Cold Cases, the Iowa Newspaper Association, and participating newspapers.

Click or tap on any story title to read the full referenced article.

Rugland: Always on alert

May 29, 2016 |

Over the last few months, I have read a handful of stories on social media about people acting suspiciously in stores in Iowa and, more specifically Mason City.

One story in particular really grabbed my attention. It was written by a woman who, while shopping at a store in Mason City with her husband and young son, was followed around by two men and a little girl.

The woman and her son separated from her husband to walk to the toy section. That’s when she noticed the men and child. They followed her into every aisle. When the woman and her family checked out, the men grabbed a bag of candy as their sole purchase and checked out, as well.

Full Story

Baby drop boxes? God help us.

May 5, 2016 |

There are times when you just have to wonder what has become of the world.

This week, I received a press release about a new innovation – the baby drop-off box – which is being used in Indiana and will soon probably be available across the country.

Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.

If you don’t want your child, you toss it in the drop box, like last week’s library books or DVD movies you decided you don’t really want to see after all.

It’s even drive up, like a fast food joint. Because goodness knows we’re too lazy to get out of the car to abandon our babies these days.

I honestly couldn’t believe it when I read it. I thought it was a sick prank or something. It’s not. Full Story

Law enforcement relics: evidence room techs showcase ‘pieces of history’

May 4, 2016 |

A 1940s Colt semi-automatic pistol, an Iowa driver’s license from 1933 and an Iowa State Sorority sweatshirt from 1968 all sound like items one would find at the Ames Historical Society or any other museum in central Iowa. But these relics are not in a museum, or any antique store.

They are all pieces of evidence in the Story County Sheriff’s Office.

According to Story County Sheriff’s Office Investigations Sgt. Rodney Bunn, items such as these are not usually kept for this long. But they are unique in the sense that they are all evidence in three separate murder cases.

“We keep the homicide stuff not only if (the case) is unsolved — because it could be solved some day — but also because people have a chance to appeal,” Bunn said. “We’ve all seen TV shows where people get released from prison because evidence is found later to prove that they didn’t commit the crime, so that’s why we keep all that stuff on homicides.”

The Colt pistol was used to kill Henry Chavis, who owned the former Ames Canning Company. Chavis was gunned down just outside of the porch to his home on the morning of Nov. 8, 1948. The prominent businessman was shot three times — in the arm, back and neck. The gun was discovered years later in Squaw Creek by two young boys. To this day, the case remains unsolved.

The 1933 Iowa driver’s license came from the wallet of Fred Hollingsworth, who in 1934 was shot in his car just east of Ames. A suspect was arrested and taken to trial, but was acquitted due to insufficient evidence, and to this day, that case, too, has never been solved. Full Story

After acquittal in death of cab driver, Johnathan Mitchell indicted in cab robbery: Mitchell was acquitted in death of cab driver in 2013

April 26, 2016 |

The man acquitted in the 2011 homicide of a local cab driver has now been charged in federal court for robbing her at the time of her death.

Johnathan Dewayne Mitchell, 38, of Cedar Rapids, was indicted Tuesday of one count of robbery affecting commerce in U.S. District Court. The indictment states Mitchell obstructed commerce — the cab company service — by “violently” robbing Catherine “Cathy” Stickley, 54, who was driving a Century Cab on April 29, 2011.

His initial appearance in federal court hasn’t been set. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

Iowa Cold Case: Who murdered Lisa Peak?

Lisa Peak

Lisa Peak at age 19 (Courtesy photo KWWL and Meredith Van Benthuysen)

April 26, 2016 |

WAVERLY (KWWL) – “It’s been 40 years. It’s about time for it to just be resolved,” said Meredith van Benthuysen, Lisa Peak’s sister.

Peak was a sophomore journalism student at Wartburg College. As a Wartburg college journalism alum, perhaps, that’s why I was so interested in her story.

Heck, I even lived in the same dorm as Peak lived in. When speaking with Peak’s sister, she even mention to me that I’m living the life maybe her sister would have been living.

It’s a case that has stuck with me for several years, but I’m not the only one bothered by this cold case.

Peak was last seen leaving campus and walking toward the shopping center. Her body was later found in a ditch outside of town. She was naked, raped, and murdered.

Still no answers 5 years after Ashley Okland murder

April 8, 2016 | The Des Moines Register

Ashley Okland

Ashley Okland

Five years after the murder of 27-year-old real estate agent Ashley Okland in West Des Moines, the case still remains unsolved.

Friday was the five-year anniversary of Okland’s death, and West Des Moines Police issued a news release to ask anyone with information about the murder to come forward.

“Even with the passage of time, investigators assigned to this case are confident that someone has important knowledge about the time leading up to her death and the identities of those involved,” police said.

A reward of up to $150,000 is available for information leading to the arrest of Okland’s killer.

Magistrate denies supervised release for Anthony Burtch: Bond set at $1 million cash

March 25, 2016 | The Cedar Rapids Gazette

IOWA CITY — Anthony Burtch will remain in custody on a $1 million cash bond after a request to be placed on supervised release was denied. During an initial appearance Friday morning, Burtch’s attorney Lei Bei, said his client fit the criteria for a lower bond or supervised release. Burtch, 57, has lived in Iowa City continuously since 1976, working for a time as a parking cashier before retiring due to disabilities.

“Even after he was investigated,” Bei said.

Bei said his client has diabetes and has suffered from a stroke. He has a pacemaker, shunts in his heart, dietary restrictions and requires a special medication he receives from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Burtch is a single father to two sons, one of which still lived at home at the time of his arrest, Bei said.

“He’s not a flight risk,” he said. “He’s not a danger to the community.”

Cold Case murder suspect makes initial court appearance

March 25, 2016 |

Thirty years after a murder case goes cold, suspect Anthony Burtch is arrested. His bond is set at one million dollars at his initial court appearance. Burtch’s attorney argues the amount, saying Burtch should have a lower bond.

“He’s not a flight risk,” attorney Lei Bei said. “He has ties to the community, he’s not a danger to society.”

But due to the nature of the charges, the bond remains. The 57-year-old is suspected of shooting and killing Lance DeWoody in 1985.

Burtch has lived in Iowa City for years, but neighbors find it hard to believe the man on their street could be a murderer.

New Mason City Police Chief optimistic about solving Jodi Huisentruit case

March 25, 2016 |

In a recent telephone conversation with FindJodi’s Caroline Lowe, Mason City Police Chief Jeff Brinkley reflected on what it will take to solve the case and what he thinks that resolution would mean to the Mason City community.

Brinkley took over as chief in January 2016 after 20 years with the Ames, Iowa, Police Department.

He’s the fourth Mason City Police Chief since Jodi Huisentruit disappeared on her way to work at KIMT TV on June 27, 1995.

Cold case arrest raises hopes for success in other unsolved crimes

March 25, 2016 |

Law officers are hoping they can solve more of state’s cold cases following this week’s arrest in a three decades old homicide in eastern Iowa.

Iowa DCI Assistant Director Mitch Mortvedt says reviewing cold cases is “very labor intensive” and his agency does not have people dedicated solely to the effort.

“All of our agents out in the field across the state of Iowa, there are 29 or 30 of them, they carry case loads of all the current homicides, kidnappings, sexual assaults, and everything else that we get requested to assist with — and almost everyone of those agents also carry two or three cold cases as part of their case load,” Mortvedt said.

Cold Case Murder Suspect’s Bond Set at One Million Dollars

MARCH 25, 2016 | KCRG.COM

Authorities say Burtch, 57, shot and killed Lance DeWoody in Coralville in August of 1985. Workers at the University of Iowa Oakdale campus found DeWoody suffering from gunshot wounds to the head and neck.

Burtch’s attorney argued that his client should not be subject to such a high bond because he is not a flight risk. Burtch is retired from working for the city of Iowa City in the parking department, his attorney said.

Trial delayed for Iowa man charged in 1995 death of woman

March 19, 2016 |

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The trial for a man charged with first-degree murder in the 1995 death of an Iowa City woman has been delayed.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen reports ( ) that Steven John Klein, of Mount Vernon, now faces trial on July 25, and the trial is expected to last 10 to 15 days.

Murder trial delayed for man charged in cold case

March 18, 2016 | Iowa City Press-Citizen

The trial for the man charged with first-degree murder in the death of Susan Kersten in Iowa City 20 years ago has been delayed.

Steve Klein of Mount Vernon was arrested in July on homicide charges for the death of Kersten. At a pre-trial hearing Friday afternoon at the Johnson County Courthouse, Klein’s public defender and Johnson County attorneys agreed to a joint motion to delay the trial.

Judge Chad Kepros of Iowa’s Sixth Judicial District suggested the trial be pushed to July 25, and the defense and prosecution agreed. That trial is expected to last 10 to 15 days, Assistant County Attorney Dana Christiansen and Kepros said.

Top 10 Iowa City area news stories of 2015

Dec. 31, 2015 | Iowa City Press-Citizen

From the turnover in the University of Iowa’s president’s office, to development battles over historic and future buildings, to the Hawkeye football team’s stunning run to Pasadena, there was no shortage of banner headlines in the Iowa City area in 2015.

Number 8: Arrest made in 20-year-old cold case (Steven Klein arrested in Susan Kersten murder)

Top 10 Iowa City area news stories of 2015

Jan. 3, 2016 | Iowa City Press-Citizen

From the turnover in the University of Iowa’s president’s office, to development battles over historic and future buildings, to the Hawkeye football team’s stunning run to Pasadena, there was no shortage of banner headlines in the Iowa City area in 2015.

#8: Arrest made in 20-year-old cold case

In the two decades since Susan Kersten‘s body was found in a burned-out car in a field 2 miles south of Iowa City, her death had remained a mystery.

Authorities reached a major breakthrough in the case July 17, when Johnson County sheriff’s investigators announced they had arrested 54-year-old Steven John Klein in Muscatine and charged him with first-degree murder.

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