Alice Van Alstine

Alice Van Alstine (Courtesy Albia High School)

Alice Mae Van Alstine

Missing Person/Homicide Strongly Suspected

NAME: Alice Mae Van Alstine
DOB:
May 23, 1947
AGE AT REPORT:
28
LOCATION:
4375 N.E. 29th St.
Des Moines, IA
Polk County
HEIGHT:
5’ 7”
HAIR:
Brown
EYES:
Blue
CASE NUMBER:
76-2184
NAMUS MP #:
18982
MISSING SINCE:
March 26, 1976

 

Case summary by Jody Ewing

On a cold Friday night, March 26, 1976, Alice Van Alstine — a 28-year-old former “Minutemen” sympathizer who’d recently abandoned the right-wing paramilitary organization — tucked her children into bed at their 29th St. Des Moines apartment and then vanished into thin air, never to be seen or heard from again. Her purse and money were found in the apartment, and despite the near-freezing 37º outside temperature, she’d also disappeared without her coat or shoes.

Polk County in Iowa
Polk County in Iowa
 
Des Moines in Polk CountyDes Moines in Polk County

Neighbors found three of her children alone in the apartment on Sunday — the fourth was a patient in a state institution — and reported her as missing that same day.

Investigators found Alice’s car door open, the keys in the ignition. Her 6-year-old son told officers that when he got up Saturday morning, “Mommy wasn’t there.”

Detective Paul Womak said the disappearance is mysterious because, based on interviews with Van Alstine’s friends and relatives, she “was very close to her family — the good mother — who for all practical purposes just disappeared.”

To Alice’s close family members and friends, her mysterious disappearance was anything but a mystery; almost all believed she’d been kidnapped and assassinated by Minutemen or Minutemen sympathizers because she wanted to leave the organization but knew too much about their activities in Iowa and was considered a “traitor.”

Acknowledged the Minutemen “bombed a Des Moines home”

Founded by Robert DePugh of Missouri in 1959, Minutemen believed a Communist takeover was eminent, and were known for stockpiling weapons, ammunition and explosives, and plotting and carrying out right-wing paramilitary activities.

Lee AndreCourtesy photo Des Moines Tribune
Van Alstine’s family believes Lee Andre was involved in Alice’s murder. The couple had four children together; two were born mentally retarded due to violent beatings Alice endured while pregnant. A third child suffered from epilepsy.

Alice, indeed, had known and witnessed plenty while married to her first husband, Lee Harlow Andre, and already had begun cooperating with officials.

On July 21, 1977, Des Moines Tribune writers Greg Stricharchuk and Gene Erb published a page one, full-scale exposé on Minutemen activities in Iowa chronicling several Minutemen-related incidents in the Des Moines area. According to the article, Alice stated in a sworn deposition that while married to Andre, suitcases belonging to Minutemen were left at her home, that one suitcase contained a Bible with secret coded messages, that the suitcases were burned when Minutemen were sought by authorities, and that stolen weapons and explosives were stored in her barn.

In that same deposition, Alice acknowledged explosives had been used to bomb a Des Moines home and that she’d been visited by FBI agents.

The Tribune article also stated that in a two-hour interview, Andre — who said he was trying to get custody of the children — acknowledged he’d dropped by Alice’s apartment the night she disappeared to discuss the matter with her. Andre also said there wasn’t a “shred of evidence” to suggest foul play in his ex-wife’s disappearance.

“Dad, they are going to kill me.”

So convinced of the Minutemen’s involvement in his daughter’s disappearance and murder, Alice’s father, World War II veteran Howard Barnes, took to sleeping each night on a sofa for more than a year with a loaded .30-caliber carbine at his side. The July 1977 Des Moines Tribune article quotes Barnes as saying that before Alice vanished she’d told him, “Dad, they [the Minutemen] are going to kill me.”

alice-van-alstine-dmrCourtesy photo The Des Moines Tribune
This July 21, 1977 Des Moines Tribune article written by Greg Stricharchuk and Gene Erb detailed Alice Van Alstine’s involvement with and attempts to leave the Minutemen paramilitary organization.

At the time she’d confided in him, Barnes said he couldn’t picture Minutemen “that vicious a bunch,” but fully believed it after his daughter went missing and after driving more than 15,000 miles talking to people about Alice and her connections to the Minutemen. Based on his discoveries, Barnes began to fear he, too, may be killed or his hand-built home in Lovilia bombed.

A Des Moines Register article dated Aug. 17, 2013, said authorities interviewed more than 200 people in the case, but came up with nothing.

In July 2013, a Polk County sheriff’s office spokesman told the Register that the case remains open, but that no detectives are currently assigned to it, and most of the original investigative materials were destroyed in the 1993 floods.

Van Alstine’s classification on the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Missing Person Information Clearinghouse is listed as involuntary, suggesting it was an abduction or kidnapping.

About Alice
alice-van-alstine-by-nephew-thaddaeus-bappe-FBCourtesy photo Thaddaeus Bappe
Alice Mae (Barnes) Van Alstine (circa 1967) loved animals and had enrolled at Iowa State University with plans of becoming a veterinarian.

Alice Mae Barnes was born May 23, 1947, in Albia, Iowa in Monroe County to Howard E. and Marion (Wilson) Barnes.

She graduated from Albia High School in 1965 at the top of her class. According to the Des Moines Tribune, her former principal, Rolle Foster, said she was on the honor roll two years and “a very active student.”

Alice was described by others as highly intelligent, outgoing, very attractive and creative. As a child, she’d owned all kinds of pets, including a raccoon.

It was her love for animals that led Alice to enroll at Iowa State University after high school with plans to become a veterinarian. She dropped out after running out of money for tuition, but talked about illustrating a veterinarian textbook. She continued to dabble in art and poetry at the Indianola writer’s workshop.

She married Lee Harlow Andre in a Des Moines Mormon church on July 15, 1967, and they later reaffirmed their vows in Utah. They had four children, April, Lance, Crystal, and Erich. The couple divorced January 3, 1975.

She married Merlyn Everett Van Alstine the same day, January 3, 1975, and they divorced January 1, 1976.

Survivors included her parents and four children.

Her mother passed away in March 1980. Howard Barnes died in October 1986.

Information Needed

If you have any information regarding the unsolved disappearance and suspected murder of Alice Van Alstine, please contact Det. Tim Hopper at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at (515) 286-3800 or the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010.

Sources:

 

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23 Responses to Alice Van Alstine

  1. Travis White says:

    Does anyone know if they ever ruled out her being the skeletal remains found in Des Moines in 1980? Seems like the timeframe and location is pretty close.

    http://www.doenetwork.org/cases/1209ufia.html

  2. Otis Driftwood says:

    Lee Andre died this past Friday. Unfortunately, he likely took the truth about Alice with him.

    • Hieronymous Bosch says:

      I won’t say that I knew Lee Andre, but I ran into him from time to time. I used to encounter him regularly at the grocery store, he would be using a scooter and have his dog with him, and would engage people in lengthy conversations about all manner of topics, from which it was very difficult to extricate oneself.

      I assumed he was a harmless old guy, probably lonely, with plenty of life experiences to share. And perhaps he was harmless, but discovering the story of Alice Van Alstine was an eye-opener. I used to imagine the next time I would run into him, I would ask if he wanted to get together to talk about his life, and see if the conversation would land on this topic.

      • Patrick Kerrigan says:

        Harry, nice of you to join the investigation. Maybe you get a few other retired LAPD detectives to assist on this case
        Maybe Chief Irving is available.

      • Otis Driftwood says:

        I also had occasion to talk with Lee numerous times over the years. Hours of conversation. You description of him is spot on. The dog you mentioned was named Princess Patti. It was very tough to ascertain where the truth ended and the fantasy began with Lee’s stories. He did, on a couple of occasions, tell me that Alice had been “an FBI informant” who had run off with her handler, and was still alive under an assumed name. Of course, I don’t believe that. My suspicion is that Lee took Alice that night, either over child custody, her having been interviewed by law enforcement, or both. As for what Lee did with her, I doubt we’ll ever know. What I found very interesting, is the fantasy Lee built around Alice’s disappearance. In my experience, only guilty people concoct such stories.

        • Jody Ewing says:

          Otis, I tend to agree with you regarding those who concoct such stories. The “she ran off with another man” narrative is a timeworn pretense. We’ve got several of them on this website.

          I also agree that he took his secret to the grave. Victims’ family members — the ones who usually know who killed their loved one — always hope and pray the offender will make a deathbed confession, and that’s rarely the case. I’ve yet to see that happen with any of our cases where everyone knew who was responsible. Thanks so much for the alert on Andre’s death.

  3. anon says:

    This link is to a civil complaint (lawsuit pleadings) filed by her former husband.
    Fascinating read and gives some idea of who his cronies were and waht they were capable of. https://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/iowa/iasdce/4:2006cv00574/32469/1

  4. Mallory Kay Schloss says:

    Hey. I’m Alice’s great-niece. This was my Grandmas best friend and the case was never closed. I believe she deserves some sort of justice. Whether if we can bury her or not. We got the day she went missing out on her headstone some amount of years ago. I want to see my grandmother have some type of closure over her sister. Who can help me??

  5. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    There should be something in the FBI files about her. Also, I would xpect that they would have someone who infiltrated the group. When, I was in the Army Reserve, some members were federal agents. They said that a number of people who attended meetings of a local Nazi group, were federal agents keeping tabs in their activities.

    So, Who knows what might be buried in their records in the archives. Since, she had been interviewed by them. They would be interested in her disappearance. Plus, they should have the names of those involved with the group from that time period and where they lived.

    Who knows what they might find, if they tracked down the surviving members from that time period.

  6. Victoria Finch says:

    Woodlawn jane doe

  7. So much corruption in the world.

  8. Don says:

    Maybe a case for “Cold Justice”?

  9. Jeanne Ray says:

    I think about her missing every St. Patrick’s Day, and then again May 23rd her birthday.

  10. Where members checked out?

  11. Alice approximately ca. 1967

  12. Nicole Kline says:

    I sure hope the kids didn’t end up living with their dad. They likely had been victims of severe beatings.

  13. Wendy Holman says:

    it is rare a murderer feels guilt

  14. These all make me sad and think about the victims and their families as well as those who have kept quiet for so long…knowing that some have taken their guilt to the grave as well…:(

    • That said it is hard to feel much sympathy for someone who joins a group of murderous neo-nazis and ends up getting burned by them

      • Otis Driftwood says:

        The Minutemen weren’t Neo Nazis. They were anti communist, anti government, whackos. Your use of the term Nazi here is incorrect, much like most uses of it in today’s climate. There is no evidence that Alice was anything other than a good person who was victimized and coerced into participation with this group. Your lack of empathy says a great deal more about you than it does about Alice and her children.

  15. It’s too bad someone’s guilty mind hasn’t given up the people responsible for her death.

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