Lisa Peak

Lisa Peak

While many families celebrate today’s Labor Day holiday, at least two Iowa families will mark the day with another kind of remembrance: the loss of a young, vibrant daughter, and the cold case anniversary of each of their untimely and senseless deaths.

Thirty-three years ago on Tuesday, September 7, 1976, the nude, beaten body of 20-year-old Marie “Lisa” Peak was found lying face down under a lone cottonwood tree in a ditch a quarter mile north of Waverly, Iowa’s, city limits. She had been sexually assaulted, and, according to autopsy findings, died of suffocation and a broken neck. None of her clothes were found at the scene.

Peak, a sophomore majoring in journalism at Wartburg College in Waverly, had just returned to the campus following a summer vacation break. She disappeared the following day — Labor Day — after telling friends she was going shopping.

Many couldn’t help but wonder if Peak’s murder might be connected to two other Waverly homicides.

The nude body of 19-year-old waitress and budding writer Julie Ann Benning of Clarksville had been found March 18 approximately six miles from where Peak’s body was discovered. Benning had been missing since late November 1975 and had been strangled. An autopsy report established her death was due to “homicidal violence, caused by injury to the throat area.”

Five years prior to Benning’s murder, the partially clad body of Valerie Lynn Klossowsky, 14, was found south of Waverly. She, too, had been strangled.

All three cases remain unsolved.

Labor Day also proved deadly for another young Iowa woman. On September 7, 1992, Rhonda Anette Knutson — a month shy of her 23rd birthday — was murdered in the early morning hours while working the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. shift at the Phillips 66 convenience store in Chickasaw County. Knutson died from severe traumatic head injuries caused by beating from a blunt object.

The investigation into her death included hundreds of interviews by deputies and agents from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, along with the employment of a private investigator and several psychics.

Her case also remains unsolved.

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