Mary Jayne JonesCourtesy photo Des Moines Register
Mary Jayne Jones

Late last week, I received an e-mail from Judith Cabanillas — one of two sisters of Iowa Cold Case victim Mary Jayne Jones. Judith wrote to thank us for including her sister on our site, and said she and her family “were in shock” when they learned Robert Eugene Pilcher had finally been arrested based on DNA evidence legally collected from Pilcher’s long list of crimes after 1974.

“Our family has waited for 38 years for this man to be arrested,” Judith wrote.

She was quick to praise the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the Wapello County Sheriff’s Office, and all those involved over the years in her sister’s case.

Robert PilcherCourtesy Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation
Robert Eugene Pilcher, 66, was arrested November 13 at the A-1 Motel in Des Moines by Iowa DCI agents and Wapello County sheriff’s deputies. He is charged with sexually assaulting 17-year-old Mary Jayne Jones and shooting her in the head and chest before leaving her body in his cousin’s Wapello County farmhouse on April 9, 1974.

“Wayne Sheston, a former agent, worked her case after he retired,” she said. “Mike Berrier kept our family abreast of her case and what was occurring, and Wapello County did a wonderful job of preserving the evidence in her case.”

Who would have thought in 1974, she wrote, that there would one day be computers that could break down one’s cell structure and record it exactly, and that this DNA code would be identifiable to only one person?

“While we understand that this is only the beginning, at least we know there is proof, and while he walked free basically for 38 years, he will never be free again,” she said.

I asked Judith, who resides in Redding, Calif., if she would like to share any information about Mary Jayne with our readers. She responded with the following, in which she describes a beautiful young woman known not just as “Jayne,” but a daughter, sister, aunt, grandchild, and most of all, a friend — one who has been missed and loved every moment of the past 38 years.

Judith wrote:

What can I say about Jayne… she was an amazing individual. Always happy with a smile, full of energy and life. She had strong family beliefs and was always there to help another.

There was a mischievous twinkle in her brown eyes and she laughed a lot and freely.

I am not certain what Jayne wanted to do when she became an adult. I could always picture her in a field where she helped people. At 17, when she was murdered, I am not certain that she had decided what field of study she planned to go into.

Our family has grieved for thirty-eight years. That does not change nor go away. We have missed her every day since she was so callously taken from us.

Our older sister Jacque, who lived in Ottumwa at the time, has three boys. I had a daughter, and in memory of Jayne named my daughter Marijayne.

We intend to come to Iowa whether Robert Pilcher takes a plea or stands trial. My sister and I intend to make victim impact statements during sentencing. We want the Judge/Jury to understand that Jayne was not a throwaway person, without family or friends.

I have prayed that Pilcher would one day be caught, and my prayers have finally been answered.

“This is our beginning and hopefully the peaceful resting of her spirit,” Judith told Iowa Cold Cases.

For other families who’ve lost one they loved due to violence, Judith says:

“I pray for you and I pray for justice in honor of your loved one(s).”

Share Your Thoughts

Discover more from Iowa Cold Cases

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading