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Beth Ann Ricketts, a 31-year-old military veteran and mother of three young children, vanished from Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday, Dec. 22, 1997, under suspicious circumstances.
According to Des Moines police, Ricketts left her duplex early that morning to go Christmas shopping for her children. She drove a gold 1991 Geo Prizm and was last seen wearing black pants with a zebra belt, a white shirt, a black leather blazer, and carrying a medium-sized black purse.
Police described her as a caucasian female with strawberry blonde shoulder-length hair, blue eyes, 5-foot-8 and weighing about 120 pounds.
Ricketts disappeared sometime after purchasing Christmas presents for her kids and a dress to wear for New Year’s Eve.
She never got to wrap the presents or wear the new dress.
The same day she went missing, a fire broke out at 2:10 p.m. in the bedroom of Ricketts’ residence, causing extensive damages that totalled $7,500. Firefighters listed the cause of the fire as unknown.
When Ricketts hadn’t returned home by the following day, friends caring for her children reported her missing.
On Wednesday night — Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1987 — all three television networks in Des Moines aired a story about Ricketts’ disappearance. At 7:30 p.m., shortly after the story aired, Ricketts’ boyfriend, William Halterman, called police and told them Ricketts wasn’t missing after all.
Halterman told police Ricketts had contacted him via cellular telephone and said she didn’t want to be found and that she was with friends.
Halterman’s allegations didn’t make sense; Ricketts loved her children and had been looking forward to both Christmas with her kids and New Year’s Eve.
The Des Moines Register published a story Christmas Day about Ricketts’ mysterious disappearance, and Halterman quickly lawyered up.
Police initially classified Ricketts’ case as “Endangered Missing” — meaning the missing person is considered to be in physical danger — and Des Moines Det. Dennis O’Donnell said police believed Ricketts had been taken against her will.
Officials reached out to the public, asking for help in filling in the blanks in the investigation.
Despite Halterman’s report that Ricketts was alive, Police Lt. Randy Dawson said the department reopened the missing persons case Jan. 7, 1998.
On Thursday, April 2, 1998, Des Moines Register reporter Tom Alex tried unsuccessfully to reach out to Halterman for a comment on Ricketts’ disappearance.
Police said [Halterman] had declined to talk to them and had hired an attorney. Investigators also questioned whether Ricketts had ever been “found” and said they believed she “quite possibly may be dead.”
The Register’s story ran Friday, April 3, 1998, and included, in part, the following:
Deepening the 3-month-old mystery for detectives is a fire that broke out and heavily damaged a bedroom in Ricketts’ residence at 4000 Dubuque Ave. on the same day that friends say she disappeared.
Ricketts has not spoken with friends and relatives nor tried to contact a son, 3, or daughter, 10, since December, police said Thursday.
“I think she has been murdered,” Assistant Des Moines Police Chief Kayne Robinson said. “But I would love to be proven wrong.”
Paul Christian said he and wife Regina are close friends of Ricketts.
“Personally, I think she is dead,” Christian said Thursday. “I don’t know how or anything. I just think that because she never got far away from her kids. If she was still alive, she would be with them. It’s been way too long.”
— Des Moines Register, April 3, 1998
Though her body has never been recovered, the Des Moines Police Department classifies Beth Ricketts’ case as a homicide.
Beth Ann Ricketts was born October 25, 1966. She was a military veteran and lived in Oklahoma City, Okla., prior to moving to Des Moines.
She was the mother of two young daughters and a son.
If you have any information about Beth Ricketts’ unsolved disappearance and suspected homicide, please contact Sgt. Darren Cornwell at the Des Moines Police Department at (515) 283-4811.