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Brian Lee Schappert, a 22-year-old Coe College senior, was killed in the early morning hours on Friday, September 8, 1989, while working the midnight shift alone at a Cedar Rapids Kum & Go convenience store. Schappert, who’d just begun his senior year at Coe that same week, was slain during a robbery at the 2743 Mount Vernon Road SE store.
His throat slashed, Schappert also sustained numerous stab wounds to his back.
His slaying marked a horrific end for an optimistic young man, who, as a kindergartener, had come home from school one day and announced to his mother he was “going to get married” to a fellow grade schooler named Susan.
Seventeen years later, and long over his boyhood crush on Susan, Schappert’s dreams of getting married lay just beyond the horizon; he planned to marry his college sweetheart, Connie, once he finished his senior year.
He never even got the chance to officially propose to her.
According to a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated Sept. 9, 1989, cab driver Thomas Cress of Center Point discovered Schappert’s body around 3:15 a.m. after stopping to buy gas.
Later that day, police released a sketch of a white male in his 20s, about 6 feet tall and 170 pounds, with shoulder-length, dark brown hair. Witnesses told police they saw the man in the area shortly before Schappert’s body was found.
Cedar Rapids Police also had one crucial lead: a witness placed a van at the store near the time the murder occurred.
Police checked on more than 400 such vans registered in the Cedar Rapids area, but admitted the van driver could simply have been making a delivery at the store.
Following Schappert’s murder, Marion city leaders insisted surveillance cameras be installed in convenience stores, and by mid-1990, every store had at least one. The efforts paid off; in January 1992, a skinny robber who held up Marion’s Coastal Mart found his image flashing on televisions all throughout Eastern Iowa’s viewing area.
Not long afterward, Cedar Rapids also had surveillance cameras in the city’s all-night businesses.
Then, out of the blue, an anonymous woman phoned Brian Schappert’s parents on Thursday, September 23, 1993, and told them about a van she felt might have been involved in their son’s murder. The caller spoke at length with Laura Schappert, telling her why she thought the van might be the one witnesses had seen and why its owner might have been the murderer. The caller said she knew who owned the van, and said the individual frequented the convenience store.
Still, the caller would not provide her name or the van owner’s name.
“But she promised to call Detective (Sam) McClurg the next day,” Laura Schappert is quoted as saying in a Gazette article dated Sept. 30, 1993.
The call hadn’t arrived by the next evening.
“Maybe she’s afraid. Maybe she doesn’t want to get involved,” McClurg said.
The anonymous woman did, however, phone Det. McClurg the following week and told him where police could find the van, which she said had not been driven since Brian’s murder.
Arnold Schappert told the Gazette he believes his son was acquainted with his killer. Two weeks before the murder, Brian had been promoted to assistant manager and given the combination to the store’s safe, his father said.
Brian’s body was found near the convenience store’s open, emptied safe.
Mr. Schappert said his initial desire for revenge eventually gave way to a hope his son’s murderer will yet be brought to justice. Schappert told the Gazette:
“I’ve kind of put the hate part behind. But someday, before I die, I hope I know who did it, and I see him in the witness box trying to argue his way out of it. There might still be a little bitterness there, I don’t know.”
One witness did lead police to the owner of a white van; the van’s owner admitted being near the store around the time of the murder but said he saw a brown van there at about the same time.
A Gazette update published Sept. 23, 1996, quoted Assistant Cedar Rapids Police Chief Bruce Kern as saying detectives had interviewed a potential witness as recently as in the past few months, but that the lead turned out to be a dead end.
“It’s still active,” Kern said of Schappert’s murder investigation.
Less than two months later, two men and a 17-year-old girl were arrested just minutes after the men allegedly robbed the same convenience store where Schappert was killed.
According to a Gazette article dated Nov. 15, 1996, Christopher J. Kibler, 18, of 1022 Friendly Ave., Iowa City, and Derome M. Robertson, 19, of 1409 Washington Ave. SE, were found within 15 minutes after the Nov. 14 robbery, said police Lt. Kenneth Washburn. A 17-year-old female from Iowa City also was arrested. The Gazette reported:
Officers were a few blocks from the store when the clerk called police at 3:59 a.m. to report she’d been held up by two men wearing ski masks and armed with a sawed-off shotgun. An officer noticed someone slumping down as if to hide in a car parked in the 2900 block of Seeley Ave. SE, and all three occupants were arrested.
The shotgun, ski masks and cash taken from the store were found in the car, according to the complaint against Robertson. The suspects’ shoes matched footprints at the store. Kibler and Robertson also were identified through videotape from the store’s surveillance camera.
The robbery was the third at the Kum & Go store in less than one year. At the time of the Nov. 14 robbery, Danny Hodges, 35, was awaiting trial on charges of robbing the store Nov. 26, 1995. Damien Medulan, 17, was charged with holding up the store June 3, 1996.
Kibler and Robertson were later convicted by a Linn County District Court jury of first-degree robbery and possession of an offensive weapon. Both faced up to 30 years in prison and would have to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.
In 1998, Cedar Rapids police began conducting seminars with business owners and employees, with topics covering how to react during a robbery, evidence preservation and preventing shoplifting.
“If you’re getting robbed and they have a gun that looks real, just assume it’s real,” Officer Glenn Kieler said in one of the seminars held Jan. 29, 1998. “If a robbery does happen, think about your safety first. You need to remain calm and you need to keep that robber calm.”
The convenience store where Brian Schappert was killed is now a tattoo parlor.
Brian Lee Schappert was born on March 2, 1967 at St. Lukes Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the first of two children born to Arnold and Laura (Kinsel) Schappert. He attended Garfield Elementary, Franklin Jr. High, and Washington High Schools, all in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
He worked one year at a Kum & Go convenience store before enrolling in classes at Coe College, where he was double majoring in Political Science and History. He continued working at the Kum & Go while in college to help pay for his education, and would often work the late night and early morning shifts because there was less activity and he could sometimes work in some studying.
Brian had a strong work ethic, and during his short life never gave up when the going got tough. His mother described him as “quiet, shy, but smart.”
At some point during his college years he met a young lady named Connie, and they became great friends. While they never made it official, the two planned to marry once Brian graduated from college.
Memorial services were held at 11 a.m. Monday, Sept. 11, 1989 at the First Lutheran Church and officiated by the Rev. Richard Jessen of First Lutheran Church and the Rev. Paul Widen of Valley View Baptist Church. Burial was at Cedar Memorial Park Cemetery.
In addition to his parents, Brian was survived by a brother, Darrin, and Darrin’s wife Angie.
In 1990, Arnold and Laura Schappert established the Brian L. Schappert Memorial Prize in History at Coe College. The award recognizes a senior history or political science major who has demonstrated a serious interest in his or her studies. The Schapperts established the memorial prize through contributions of friends and neighbors.
No one has ever been charged in Brian’s slaying.
When the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Brian Schappert’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.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department currently has two Cold Case Unit volunteer investigators who work exclusively on unsolved homicides. These investigators work closely with other investigators from both the Cedar Rapids Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.
The current investigator assigned to the Cold Case Unit is J.D. Smith, a retired Agent for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
If you have any information about Brian Schappert’s unsolved murder please call the Cold Case Unit at (319) 286-5919 or email Investigator J.D. Smith.
Linn County Crime Stoppers accepts anonymous tips, and rewards for information may be available. Crime Stoppers may be reached at 1-800-CS-CRIME (319) 272-7463.