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Amos Jellison, a 74-year-old former railroad employee, was bludgeoned to death in his Blairstown, Iowa, mobile home either late Sunday night, Aug. 2, 1981 or in the early morning hours of Monday, Aug. 3, 1981, during an alleged robbery.
Jellison’s clothed body was discovered about six feet from the main door of his 306 Prospect Street NE home at 1:30 a.m. by his nephew, Daryl Jellison of Blairstown, and Wilbur Hartz, mayor of Blairstown and part-time town marshal, the Gazette said on Aug. 4, 1981. Download the Gazette’s complete story in PDF format.
Daryl Jellison told authorities he’d received an anonymous phone call about 1 a.m. telling him his uncle was injured.
Daryl Jellison declined to speak with reporters, but in recounting the chain of events leading to the discovery of Jellison’s body, Hartz said the caller told [Daryl] Jellison, “Your uncle’s hurt read bad, so you’d better come.”
“Daryl called me a little after 1 [a.m.] and told me about the call,” Hartz told the Gazette. “He said ‘I’m scared,’ so I told him I’d go over. I put on my gun and Daryl came by and picked me up . . . when we got there, the television was on, a light was on . . .
“He (Daryl) opened the door and I shined a light in. When I saw [Jellison] lying there I said ‘shut the door’ and I went home and called the sheriff.”
Hartz said the person who called Daryl Jellison may have known both him and his uncle because “he called Daryl by name.”
Hartz said Daryl Jellison thought the caller “sounded like an older man.”
Hartz lived only a half-block from Amos Jellison’s trailer, and told authorities he never heard a thing.
“It was probably one of the quietest nights of the year. It was just a quiet Sunday night for a small town,” he said in the Gazette’s Aug. 4 story.
The state Division of Criminal Investigation and the Benton County Sheriff’s Department investigated the slaying, but told the Gazette they were limiting the release of information on Jellison’s death “to protect the investigation.”
DCI Chief Gerald Shanahan said robbery was being considered as a possible motive. The Gazette’s Mark Bowden reported on Aug. 4, 1981:
Officials Monday night refused to comment on an autopsy performed on Jellison Monday afternoon in Vinton.
However, a source told The Gazette that Jellison suffered several wounds to the face and head. The wounds appeared to be inflicted by a sharp instrument, according to the source.
Another source told the Gazette that although Jellison lost a lot of blood, he may have lived for several minutes after the attack because it appeared he moved about in the mobile home after the attack.
Relatives told the Gazette Jellison had moved to Blairstown from Chicago about five years earlier.
A widower, Jellison lived alone in a trailer next to one of his younger brothers, Elmer Jellison, 71, and depended on Elmer to get him around because Jellison didn’t drive. The two frequently spent their days fishing, and neighbors often saw Jellison sitting outside in a lawn chair or riding his mower in his or Elmer’s yard.
Jellison’s slaying renewed concern about another brutal murder that took place in Luzerne — a small community about four miles west of Blairstown — four years earlier.
On June 22, 1977, Charles Plucar, 74, of Luzerne was found dead at his house, the Gazette reported. The killer had tied Plucar’s hands behind his back before shooting Plucar twice in the head with a small-caliber gun.
Robbery was suspected in Plucar’s slaying, which also remains unsolved.
The probe into Jellison’s murder led authorities to Iowa City, nearly 30 miles southeast of Blairstown.
In an Aug. 5, 1981 Gazette report, Tim McDonald, Cedar Rapids office manager of the state DCI, said officers “are investigating in the Iowa City and Blairstown areas.”
McDonald said interviews with friends, relatives and neighbors of Jellison prompted agents to check out various leads, but declined to say why the investigation was being conducted in Iowa City.
Benton County Attorney Mark Mossman told the Gazette no warrants had been issued for arrests but would not comment when asked if any search warrants had been issued.
Three weeks after Jellison’s murder, sheriff’s officials said they were keeping mum about Jellison’s case in order to protect their investigation, while DCI representatives said they were following so many leads it wasn’t possible to give any solid information at that time.
Officials had not yet publicly announced the cause of death, though on Aug. 23, 1981 the Gazette said they’d learned the weapon used was a blunt instrument, not a sharp one as previously reported at the time of the murder.
The Gazette said they’d also learned Jellison may have been the victim of a robbery in which a large amount of cash — possibly $10,000 — was taken by an assailant who became acquainted with Jellison when he was hospitalized at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Iowa City earlier in the year.
The Gazette’s Mark E. Bowden reported:
Investigators are not in agreement about the motive for the slaying.
Benton County Sheriff Kenneth Popenhagen said his investigators have determined that nothing was taken from the trailer or from Jellison’s person, but DCI Director Gerald Shanahan said robbery is being considered as a possible motive, and Jellison’s brother, in an interview last week, said robbery “could be the only reason” for the crime.
“We don’t know that he had any money with him, but he had money in the bank,” said Elmer Jellison, the victim’s 71-year-old brother, who lives in a small house next to the trailer.
Daryl Jellison was Elmer Jellison’s son.
“My son went to the bank that morning, but they (law enforcement officers) had told them (bank officials) not to tell anybody,” Elmer Jellison said in the Aug. 23 story.
Elmer Jellison said his brother used to carry a lot of money with him, but had started writing more checks after his last visit to the Iowa City VA hospital two or three months before the murder. Amos Jellison had spent about a week in the hospital for pneumonia.
A source close to the probe told the Gazette that while at the hospital, Jellison may have accidentally made it known he had money, or access to it, and that he was vulnerable to a robbery because he lived alone.
Elmer Jellison said his brother moved to Blairstown about four years ago from Chicago, where he had been “a maintenance worker in two apartment houses owned by his wife. She’s been dead for some time and they had no children,” he said.
“I have no idea of who would want to kill him. He never had an enemy in his life,” Elmer said of his brother.
Elmer Jellison provided the Gazette with his own timeline of events that included:
- He’d last seen his brother about 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 2, 1981.
- Elmer had wanted to check on some drainage tile in a creek (near the trailer) so the two had gone down to check.
- After that, Elmer went to his son Daryl’s house for supper.
- At about 8:30 p.m. when Elmer was out picking up worms, he’d heard his brother’s television going (in the trailer), but no lights were turned on in his brother’s trailer.
- He washed up about 10:05 p.m. and went to bed.
- Around 2 a.m., Daryl came and got him and told him what had happened.
Elmer Jellison told Bowden he thinks investigators believe the assailant “used the back door,” which opened into a bedroom at the rear of Amos’ trailer, and clubbed his brother to death after he fell asleep watching television.
“They think they (the assailant) came up behind him and hit him while he was asleep in a chair. It was upset and there was a pool of blood,” Elmer Jellison said. “They think he didn’t feel a thing, but must have had some kind of reaction because he kind of walked forward to the kitchen and collapsed.”
Elmer said he believed whoever killed his brother knew Amos and also knew the family, and that the assailant may have called Daryl because his name was listed first in the phone book.
His brother never locked his doors, Elmer said.
“Daryl and me used to tell him he’d better keep the doors locked, but he had a mind of his own and would say nobody was going to tell him what to do,” Elmer told the Gazette.
Amos Jellison’s trailer and possessions were sold during a public auction on Saturday, Oct. 3, 1981, exactly two month after his death.
Six years after Amos Jellison’s murder — and two more recent homicides where arrests were made in those cases — Gazette reporter Donna Lee Olson’s ‘Page 1’ article published Wednesday, Nov. 11, 1987, addressed both concern and advice for those living in rural areas.
The elderly, officials told Olson, may sometimes increase their chances of being a victim if they keep to themselves and lead lives set by a lonely pattern, or if they are careless about common sense safety or don’t recognize that someone they know could be dangerous.
The week before Olson’s report, Carl Wiedemeier, 72, was slain in his large but run-down rural Ladora farmhouse. And in August 1987, 73-year-old Ruth Patterson was murdered in her rural Washington County home. Four men were charged in Wiedemeier’s death, and a former employee charged with Patterson’s homicide.
The article cited the unsolved murders of Amos Jellison and Charles Plucar, and provided a number of safety tips for rural elderly.
“There tends to be a feeling of trust with rural elderly people,” Russ Proffitt, director of the Heritage Agency on Aging, told Olson. They have a “misconception that these types of crimes only occur in large metropolitan areas.”
Washington County Sheriff Yale Jarvis said Patterson apparently followed rules of self-protection, but the widow’s black Labrador puppy was only six months old, still at the puppy stage of curiosity, and was tied outside while Patterson was assaulted inside her home.
In a Gazette article dated March 22, 1992, Benton County Sheriff’s Office Detective Pete Wright said that according to local rumors, Amos Jellison preferred to squirrel away his savings at home rather than at the local bank, and the rumor cost Jellison his life.
Robbery was the motive, Wright said, but no stash of cash was [found at the home] to take. Wright told the Gazette he had a suspect in the case.
Amos Wesley Jellison was born to George and Etta Mae (Haskins) Jellison on November 15, 1906.
He married Elsie McCreedy in Cook County, Ill., in December 1957.
After retiring from the railroad, Jellison helped out his wife by doing maintenance work in the two apartment complexes she owned and managed.
Memorial services were held at 10 a.m. on Thursday, August 6, 1981, at Russell’s Funeral Home in Blairstown.
Amos Jellison was buried at the Dunkard Cemetery in Midway, Iowa.
*Note: The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s former Cold Case Unit listed Jellison’s date of death as August 2, 1981. Cedar Rapids Gazette articles reported the death as occurring early Monday on August 3.
Most published articles give Jellison’s age as 75, though Jellison was 74 when slain.
When the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Amos Jellison’s murder was one of approximately 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s new website as those the DCI hoped to solve using latest advancements in DNA technology.
Although federal grant funding for the DCI Cold Case Unit was exhausted in December 2011, the DCI continues to assign agents to investigate cold cases as new leads develop or as technological advances allow for additional forensic testing of original evidence.
The DCI remains committed to the resolution of Iowa’s cold cases and will continue to work diligently with local law enforcement partners to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice for the victims and their families.
Anyone with information regarding Amos Jellison’s unsolved murder is asked to contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the Benton County Sheriff’s Office at (319) 472-2337.
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