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Roberta “Bobbi” Crawford was a fireball. She worked as the registrar at Ellsworth Community College and raised her son as a single mom. She also loved racquetball, skydiving, and being a grandmother. To her son, Lee, she was more than a mother — she was a friend.
All that disappeared in an instant when, sometime between late Tuesday night, November 16, 1999, and early Wednesday morning, November 17, Bobbi Crawford was murdered inside her tiny home in Hampton, Iowa. An autopsy concluded the 53-year-old — who lived alone — died of blunt force trauma to the head.
Police found Crawford’s body Wednesday after co-workers at the Iowa Falls college reported her missing.
Someone had cut what they thought were the phone lines and then broke in, killing her in her bedroom. Burglary didn’t seem to be the motive. Nor had Crawford been sexually assaulted.
Lee Crawford, who lives in Sigourney with his wife, Jolie, and the couple’s two sons, told Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck he remembers getting the news, and then having to make the three-hour drive to his mother’s home.
“Not knowing,” Lee Crawford said in an interview WHO-TV aired January 27, 2011. “Basically the whole way. Not knowing what’s going on at home. What’s happened. Hoping someone’s been caught.”
Lee described the trip as the “three hour drive from hell.”
He spent the next few days in a fog, not knowing what had happened or why someone would want to do such a horrible thing to his mom. None of it made any sense.
“It’s like that missing jigsaw puzzle of…you know…the big question is why. And who? And you don’t know,” he said.
Growing up, it had been just the two of them.
“It was me and her together. All my trials and tribulations and all my emotions kind of went through her,” he told Brilbeck. “So the way I react to things kinda comes from her. I kind of wear my heart on my sleeve and that’s kind of where she was. Everything was my heart on my sleeve.”
Even after Lee grew up, got married and started his own family, the two remained close. After all, she’d been his sounding board while growing up and all through junior high school.
“If I was having problems she was the first one I’d talk to. It’s just one of those things you don’t have now,” Lee said.
Two years after her murder, authorities offered a $19,500 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction. The reward included $14,500 in local funds and $5,000 from The Carole Sund/Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, an organization established in memory of Sund, who was found murdered in Yosemite National Park. The foundation has provided reward money in 100 murder cases in 27 states.
In a Globe Gazette article dated Nov. 14, 2004, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Special Agent Bill Basler said he could not comment on specifics but said the case was still being investigated.
Hampton Police Chief Ray Beltran told Channel 13 he keeps a picture of Bobbi Crawford on his office wall — right above a filing cabinet dedicated to her case. The case haunts him, he says, and he takes it very personally.
“I was the first officer to arrive on the scene, and the contact that we’ve been having over the years with the family — with her son Lee — I just can’t imagine not having closure,” Beltran said in the 2011 interview with WHO-TV’s Brilbeck.
Over the past eleven years, the Hampton police and state investigators have tracked hundreds of leads — some across state lines — but still can’t make sense of such a senseless crime.
“It kind of confuses you,” said Hampton Police Captain Jim Hilton. “You work on it. You try your best to go forward and get some resolve. And it is frustrating.”
Lee Crawford said he credited his wife, Jolie, with helping him through the first years after his mother’s death and remained hopeful the crime would be solved.
“There’s probably not a day that goes by I don’t think about it,” Crawford, who teaches reading and writing to students with learning disabilities at Sigourney Junior-Senior High School, told the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier in an earlier interview. “I have two sons, and it’s a bitter reminder this time of year when they don’t have a grandma. They’ve missed out on her and what she could have brought to them, spoiling them.”
Crawford said he’s had to use other things to replace that. In addition to his teaching, he’s also coached football, basketball and baseball. His mother, he said, used to “truck him around” to Little League baseball games, Boy Scout meetings and other events.
In June 2005, a private investigator from South Dakota said he believed Bobbi Crawford was killed by a serial killer — the same one he believes killed Mason City television reporter Jodi Huisentruit. The detective said the suspect was a Newton native who then moved to Arizona, where he and another member of the Aryan Nation allegedly beat a man to death.
Despite the leads, no one has ever been charged in Bobbi Crawford’s homicide.
Both the family and police say there will be no rest for them until the killer is caught — and they get some answers.
It’s hard for Lee and Jolie to watch their sons grow up knowing they’ve been robbed of a grandmother to spoil them.
“Yeah, yeah. It’s hard,” Lee says. “I hope you can tell it’s hard to talk about. But yeah, it still hurts.”
Roberta “Bobbi” Crawford was born July 26, 1946.
In addition to her son and his family, Bobbi was survived by her sister, Fran Foland of Geneva, and her mother, Kay Whitesell of Hampton.
Bobbie was laid to rest at Hampton Cemetery. Her headstone features an image of her and Lee walking home from one of Lee’s baseball games, headed toward a golden sunset.
Anyone with information regarding Bobbi Crawford’s unsolved murder is urged to contact the Hampton Police Department at (641) 456-2529, or the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email email@example.com. Callers may remain anonymous.
WHO-TV’s Aaron Brilbeck reports on the unsolved 1999 murder of Roberta “Bobbi” Crawford of Hampton.
Air Date: January 27, 2011