Ronette Peterson

Ronette Peterson

She’d been just 17 when she lost her mother in 1981. The following year, her 52-year-old father died at the Madrid Home for the Aging. Perhaps the young Ronette (Peterson) Burton wanted to leave the past behind.

Some time in the mid-eighties, Peterson, 22, left her Madrid, Iowa, home for unknown locations in Georgia and Florida. In March 1986, a family member received a letter from her, postmarked from Georgia on March 1, 1986. It was the last time her Iowa family heard from her.

On May 7, 1986, an unidentified female’s body was found floating in a water filled pit off Highway 33, approximately three-fourths of a mile north of Combee Road in Lakeland, Florida. An investigation revealed the victim had suffered multiple blows to the head and body and then been put into the water and left to drown. The death was ruled a homicide.

One of the victim’s tattoos seemed especially foretelling; it was a question mark (?) on her right hip.

Boone County in Iowa
Boone County in Iowa
Madrid in Boone CountyMadrid in Boone County

For the next 19 years, “Jane Doe” remained without a name on both the Polk County (FL) list of unsolved homicides as well as the state’s missing persons list. She was buried in the Polk County Board of County Commissioners Shady Oaks Gardens Cemetery.

Back in Iowa, Peterson’s younger sister, Danielle Buxbaum, had grown increasingly frustrated after nearly two decades of unsuccessful searches for her lost sibling. She’d even called Florida before, but neither she nor anyone else knew for certain if Peterson had even made it to the state.

In 2005, thanks to the sister’s unrelenting efforts, Florida’s Jane Doe was finally identified as Ronette Lynn Peterson from Madrid, Iowa. After 19 years, the young woman’s body finally had a name.

Still, it made no difference in helping to identify her killer. And today, on the 25th anniversary of Ronette Peterson’s homicide, her murder remains unsolved. Read more about Ronette’s case.

Anyone with information regarding Ronette Peterson’s unsolved homicide is urged to contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 281-5138 or the Boone County Sheriff’s Office at (515) 433-0524. You may also contact the Polk County (FL) Sheriff’s Office Homicide Unit at (863) 298-6379.

10 Responses to Ronette Peterson: Alone, Unknown, Unsolved

  1. Phyllis Ann Kirby says:

    Interesting article. I was on the phone with my half brother, Robert. He was talking about my family in Madrid today.. My father Charles, passed away when I was a toddler. I never really knew that side of the family. I do remember a visit where I got head butted by a goat! I was looking on Goggle for Ruby’s Cantina. Came across this cold case in Iowa. After I hung up with Robert, I was scrolling down the article, only to find my Aunt Ruby’s obituary provided by Jody Ewing. I thank you for that. Also, I am very sorry for Ronette’s families loss. I pray for the capture and convection of her murder(s).

  2. tm says:

    I thought I met her when I was 15 she had darker hair though but maybe it wasn’t her. If it was she was with an older man …I remember her smile being different . I really thought it was her and the man came looking for her and I asked my dad where she went and he said he called her parents and I thought she went back home. My dad said they were hitchhiking…and she should go home to her parents…I remember the last name and that she had my middle name lynn. We lived behind the circle K off N combee road.

    • Rita polson says:

      tm I would like to talk with you regarding Ronette. Was she hitchhiking on Combe road. The person of interest layered up so unable to question this person further.

  3. Suzi says:

    Dannielle, you don’t have to bite the woman’s head off. Ronnette called grandma Mamma all her life and frankly, I never knew her real mom was alive. She didn’t talk about her. Anyway, I pray all the time for Ronnette and hope they solve this someday. But if not, God knows and he will take care of it.

  4. Greg says:

    Ronette was a sweet girl and very kind.I spent a lot of time with her in Madrid in our early to mid teens. Greg

    • greg phillips says:

      I thought I’d add I used to drive Bryon around when I was 16 or so,we always had fun.He had a friend Daniel Danielson that I used to drive him out to hi house in the country.I remember He had either a 1955-56-57 2 door stored in a garage of a house Ronette’s sister Debbie lived in with her husband Jerry Blake.I will always remember Ronette as being a sweet girl that like to be accepted by eevryone.We never dated but I had a crush on her because she was quite stunning ii person.Haven’t the years flown by.She was a good girl So I chose to think she’s in a better place now.

  5. Danielle Buxbaum says:

    Wanted to say My sister is dearly Missed. Also Jody Ewing should get her facts straight as Ronette and I share a mother and she is alive and well In Lakecity Florida. I find it insulting for her to refer to her mother as dead. He step mother on the other hand may have died.. But not our Mother.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Dear Danielle,

      Thank you for contacting us about your sister’s case, and please accept my apology for inadvertently stating your mother was deceased. Here at ICC, we write our case summaries based on research, which often includes newspaper archives and other sources. Of all the sources used for Ronette’s summary (cited at the bottom of her page) only one mentioned a mother — — and none so much as mentioned a stepmother.

      Using bold text to emphasize the referenced material from the findagrave article, I submit the following:

      Ruby E. (Scott) Walker Peterson, 58, of Madrid, died Friday, April 17, at the Iowa Methodist Medical Center, Des Moines. She was born March 28, 1923, the daughter of Joseph Scott and Nellie Cline Scott. She was married first to Thomas Walker, who died in 1965. In l967 she was united in marriage to Byron K. Peterson. Mrs. Peterson was the owner-operator of Ruby’s Cantina at Madrid. She was preceded in death by a son, Charles, three sisters and three brothers.

      Survivors include her husband, Byron, of Madrid; four daughters, Bonnie Crandell, Gloria Kilts, Debbie Roberts, and Ronette Peterson; three sons, Edward Walker, James Walker and Jerry Walker; two brothers, Earl and Edgar Scott; 13 grandchildren.


      As you can see, nowhere does it refer to Ronette as a stepdaughter, and at the time when I found and included this information, I’d felt good about having discovered it because we’d not heard from any of Ronette’s family members, and one of our goals in doing these summaries is to remind the public that each of these victims had family members that loved them. Our intent is never to cause further pain for these families. We do all that we do here on a volunteer basis because we care about these victims and the many families with whom we’ve established relationships, and because we feel that the more our readers know about these victims, the more they can “see them,” per se, as unique individuals — funny, witty, dedicated, passionate, committed-to-family or whatever — rather than just another cold case name. We try to celebrate these lives whenever possible, which is almost always accomplished by family members reaching out to us (with pictures, more information, tributes they’ve written, etc.) because they’ve taken time to look around our website and understand what we’re trying to accomplish.

      The more details we have on any case, the better chances are that someone else might just provide the one missing puzzle piece to help solve a loved one’s case.

      Please extend to your mother my deepest apologies for having used a source (normally quite reliable) that turned out to be inaccurate. And, I extend to all of you my deepest condolences on the loss of your sister and [your mother’s] daughter.

      Jody Ewing
      Iowa Cold Cases Founder

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