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Dariusz “Darek” Szczeponek, a 25-year-old University of Northern Iowa student, was shot to death Wednesday night, September 29, 1993, at Annie’s Launderette on 819 Sycamore St. in Waterloo, Iowa, during an apparent robbery attempt.
Szczeponek, a young Polish immigrant who worked at the launderette to earn money for college, was shot about 7:47 p.m. by a gunman wearing a ski mask and pronounced dead a half-hour later at Allen Memorial Hospital.
Officials believe Keith Trenell Taylor is likely responsible for Szczeponek’s homicide; Taylor currently is incarcerated at the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia, Mich.
Waterloo Police Department Investigator Brice Lippert provided the following news articles about Szczeponek’s murder and Taylor’s alleged involvement. (Articles are listed in chronological order.)
Thursday, Sept. 30, 1993
A young immigrant from Poland was shot to death Wednesday night at Annie’s Launderette, 819 Sycamore St., where he worked to earn money for college.
Dariusz “Darek” Szczeponek, 25, a University of Northern Iowa student who formerly lived and worked at the Catholic Worker House, was an attendant at the launderette when he was shot about 7:47 p.m. and pronounced dead about half-hour later at a local hospital.
The gunman, wearing a ski mask over his face and a skull cap on his head, reportedly entered the business through the front door just before closing time, police said.
The gunman approached Szczeponek, who was apparently behind the counter, and shot him with a revolver during an apparent robbery, police said. The number of times he was shot and where he was shot was not disclosed.
Waterloo Police Chief Bernal Koehrsen said at least one woman, who was doing laundry, was in the building at the time of shooting and there may have been others going in and out of the building.
The woman reportedly told police she didn’t hear what was being said between Szczeponek and the gunman, Koehrsen said.
No shots were fired at the woman or others, police said.
Koehrsen said robbery appears to be the motive for the shooting, but he didn’t know this morning whether money was taken from the laundromat.
Police are looking for an 18 to 23-year-old white male or a light skinned black male wearing a dark colored jacket and jeans.
The suspect apparently fled on foot from the store, but police don’t know which direction he traveled.
Szczeponek was taken to Allen Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 8:13 p.m.
Assistant County Medical Examiner Mark Bickley said an autopsy was expected to be performed on the body this morning by Deputy State Medical Examiner Dr. Francis Garrity. Bickley wouldn’t release any other information.
Szczeponek, who came to America several years ago from Gorzyce, Poland, studied at the Divine World Seminary in Epworth and a seminary in Chicago before coming to Waterloo in August 1990 to study at UNI.
Derek Danilson, a staff member at the Catholic Worker House, a temporary emergency shelter, said Szczeponek moved to a house on West Third Street in May, and was a staff member at the Catholic Worker House for about a year.
Ed Amend, a UNI professor who advised Szczeponek, said ” a more sensitive and gentle human being you could not imagine.”
The UNI senior was majoring in philosophy and minoring in psychology and planned to become a psychologist, Amend and a school official said.
He was fluent in Russian and knew Latin and Greek, Amend said.
Although Szczeponek had discontinued his religious training, he was still dedicated to the ministry and helping those in need, Amend said.
Friends of Szczeponek at the Catholic Worker House said he had an interest in helping the homeless and kept a journal of daily life at the house.
The laundromat was a block away from the house, so Szczeponek stopped there after work, even after he moved out, friends said.
Danilson said he got Szczeponek hooked on TV’s “Star Trek.” The Polish student also liked to read and often rode his bicycle around town, Danilson said.
Szczeponek began working at the laundromat in September 1992 to earn money for School, Danilson said.
Last summer, he also worked full-time at IBP Inc., Danilson said.
This Christmas, Szczeponek had planned to return to Poland to see his family for the first time in three years, Danilson said.
He had a fiancée, who lives in Dubuque, and was planning on getting married some time after he graduated.
Koehrsen said Szczeponek had a relative in Dubuque, but the rest of his family lives in Poland.
Police contacted the Polish consulate in Chicago to try to notify the family of the Szczeponek’s death.
Friday, January 14, 1994
A Michigan man accused of killing a Waterloo convenience store clerk allegedly bragged at a party before the murder that he had shot and killed a downtown laundry attendant only two weeks earlier.
Waterloo Police Sgt. Tom Jennings testified Thursday that an informant said Keith T. Taylor, 24, of Saginaw, claimed responsibility for the death of Dariusz Szczeponek, who was gunned down Sept. 29 at Annie’s Launderette, 819 Sycamore St., during an apparent robbery attempt.
Police have made no arrests in the Szczeponek murder. County Attorney Tom Ferguson said the case “is still open.”
“Police are going to continue to follow up any information that comes to light,” he said.
Taylor and a co-defendant, Reginald C. Nelson of Waterloo, are charged with the Oct. 12 killing of Scott Meyer, 34, whose body was found behind the counter at Coastal Mart, 1415 Logan Ave.
Nelson subsequently made statements to police implicating Taylor as the triggerman. Both are accused of first-degree murder.
At a hearing Thursday to decide if those statements will be allowed as evidence at Nelson’s trial, set to begin next week, Jennings described how police, acting on information from neighbors and others, set up surveillance of Nelson’s home, 125 Irving St., in the days leading to the convenience store shooting.
“We had tips that out-of-town gang members were there,” Jennings said. “The informants said these were bad people, involved in all kinds of things, and they were heavily armed.”
One of the informants allegedly saw a man matching Taylor’s description running to the Irving Street address the night Szczeponek was killed. The suspect was allegedly carrying a large-caliber handgun, Jennings testified.
Police have said both Szczeponek and Meyer were shot in the head with a large-caliber handgun.
A woman identified by Jennings as Felicia Simmons told detectives that Taylor displayed a large handgun at an Oct. 11 party, and said he “had to cap” Szczeponek after he refused to let Taylor enter the laundry.
“She said Taylor told her that if she said anything, he’d come back and blow her brains out,” Jennings said.
Taylor is in Michigan, where he was extradited to stand trial for an unrelated murder.
Jennings said detectives in unmarked cars observed “heavy traffic” at Nelson’s home in the days before Meyer’s death.
“The officers said they felt the individuals at the residence were doing counter-surveillance,” he said.
Jennings said nearly a dozen “hard-core gang members” frequented the house. Informants said the men often discussed robberies they’d committed, and were even plotting a bank hold-up.
Police, armed with a search warrant, entered the home three days after the Meyer murder. No guns were found but Nelson, Taylor and three other adults were questioned. Nelson and Taylor were then taken into custody for further interrogation.
Nelson’s attorney, Brad Harris, argued that Nelson thought he was under arrest. Jennings said although a shoeless Nelson was placed in a marked patrol car for the ride to the police station, “I didn’t order him; I asked him. He was willing.”
During the six hours of questioning that followed, police said Nelson fingered Taylor as the killer, and admitted to helping him kidnap a woman whose van they allegedly drove to the convenience store.
Judge Margaret Lingreen ruled Monday that Nelson’s statements cannot be used against him at trial because the search warrant was improperly drawn up by police.
County Attorney Tom Ferguson appealed, and the hearing was re-opened Thursday.
Ferguson argued vigorously that Nelson was at no time under arrest, that he came to the police station on his own volition, and that the statements implicating Taylor were not related to any information gathered via the improper search warrant.
Harris countered that police intimidated Nelson before and during the interrogation.
Lingreen did not indicate when a new ruling can be expected.
Friday, March 25, 1994
A man who lived in Waterloo last summer was found guilty of second-degree murder for the death of a Michigan teenager.
Because Keith Trenell Taylor was also allegedly involved in a Waterloo murder, Black Hawk County Attorney Tom Ferguson said he will monitor his sentence and then decide whether to bring Taylor back to face murder charges here.
In Saginaw, a jury deliberated over a three-day period before convicting Taylor, 24, of Saginaw, Mich., late Thursday afternoon.
Taylor was convicted of second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, carrying a concealed weapon in a vehicle, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Second-degree murder in Michigan carries a penalty of “any term of years up to, and including life” in prison but with a chance for parole. A first-degree murder conviction would have carried an automatic sentence of life without parole.
A sentencing date had not been set, although Saginaw Police Sgt. Patrick Rudy estimated it would be within six weeks.
Taylor was charged in Michigan with first-degree murder for his role in the death of Lance Townsel, 15, last Aug. 23.
Although it is alleged Taylor’s friend, Archie Thomas, 23, pulled the trigger, Taylor’s half-brother, James Chapman Jr., testified Taylor would have pulled the trigger had his gun not jammed.
Townsel was killed when Taylor and Thomas allegedly stopped to rob Townsel and his three teenaged friends. The three fled before Townsel was killed at point-blank range, although another of the teens suffered gunshot wounds while running.
After the Townsel murder, Taylor testified that he fled Michigan to stay with relatives in Waterloo because of “fear and confusion.”
He lived for less than two months with his cousins, Reginald and John Nelson, of 125 Irving St., before getting into trouble in Waterloo.
Taylor was charged, along with Reginald Nelson, with the execution-style slaying of convenience store clerk Scott Meyer, 34, at the Coastal Mart on Logan Avenue on Oct. 12.
Nelson was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty by a Black Hawk County jury of first-degree murder. Charges were dropped against Taylor in order to extradite him to Michigan to stand trial for the Townsel murder.
Ferguson said the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office will keep him advised of what is happening with the sentencing there, and then he will decide on whether to re-charge Taylor here.
Ferguson said he’s also keeping the Meyer family informed of the status of the case.
“We won’t make any decisions at this point in time,” Ferguson said. “We’ll just see what the justice system does as it pertains to his involvement in that case, and make decisions as the process evolves.”
Taylor also has been implicated in the Sept. 29 slaying of Annie’s Launderette attendant Dariusz Szczeponek in Waterloo, although he was never charged.
Taylor’s attorney, A. Lee Sturtz, called the Saginaw verdict “unusual” and a “compromise.”
“I don’t think they wanted to let him go,” Sturtz said. “But I don’t think they thought he was guilty.”
Under state law, second-degree murder is a homicide committed in the heat of passion or at the spur of the moment, as compared to one that is planned or premeditated.
Sturtz said the conspiracy count essentially means the jury felt Taylor “planned” to commit a “spontaneous” act.
“I don’t know how you can do that,” a bemused Sturtz said. “Technically, with conspiracy there is some agreement (among suspects).”
Sturtz says he will ask Saginaw County Chief Circuit Judge Leopold P. Borrello to reconsider the verdict.
Assistant County Prosecutor Richard P. King argued that circumstantial evidence showed that Taylor and Thomas worked out the details of the crime that day.
The jury found Taylor innocent of attempting to murder the three friends that Townsel was with that night, and with conspiring to rob the group.
Thomas is to stand trial Tuesday.
Wednesday, June 15, 1994
A suspect in a Waterloo killing will not be brought back for trial for now because he will remain in a Michigan prison until he’s at least 80 years old, according to Black Hawk County Attorney Tom Ferguson.
The earliest possible release date for Keith Trenell Taylor, 24, of Saginaw, Mich., would be in the year 2050, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections. Taylor was convicted in March in the shooting death of a 15-year-old Saginaw boy.
That doesn’t rule out his being brought back to Waterloo if more evidence is found linking him to the fatal shooting of a convenience store clerk last October, Ferguson said.
Taylor never was formally charged with the Waterloo murder, but he lived in Waterloo while a fugitive from the Michigan charges and was suspected of participating in the murder of convenience store clerk Scott Meyer on Oct. 12.
Taylor was convicted in Saginaw Circuit Court of second-degree murder, armed robbery and possession of a weapon by a felon in the Michigan shooting death in August 1993.
Taylor received a sentence of 40 to 65 years on the second-degree murder charge. Combined with his sentences for the other charges, he will remain in prison at least 56 years, said a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Corrections. Even with “disciplinary credits” — the equivalent of good-time behavior reductions in Iowa prisons — the earliest Taylor could be paroled is 2050, the spokeswoman said.
Taylor is being held at the Reformatory in Ionia, Mich., which has medium and maximum security levels, according to corrections officials.
When Taylor was sentenced last month, Ferguson was unsure whether to bring Taylor back for trial in the Waterloo murder.
Ferguson said Monday he is not precluded from charging Taylor ever because there is no statute of limitations for murder.
“We’re not in a position to charge anyone else at this time,” Ferguson said.
“The investigation concerning Keith Taylor and evidence is still continuing, and there are some additional investigatory procedures that will continue to be in process,” Ferguson said.
Taylor was one of two men taken into custody after Meyer, 34, of Waterloo, was shot to death.
Taylor’s cousin, Reginald Nelson, 20, of 125 Irving St., was convicted of first-degree murder in the slaying and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Nelson told police that Taylor was the triggerman.
By that time, Taylor had been extradited to Michigan.
Ferguson said that according to law, Nelson’s statements against Taylor would be inadmissible if Taylor were brought to trial for the murder.
Other evidence in the case is scant, as was shown in Nelson’s trial. There was no physical evidence linking Taylor to the crime and no eyewitnesses, and a weapon was never recovered.
Two men forced Patricia Dunfee of Waterloo to lie in the back of her van while they took the vehicle to the convenience store, but she had her head under a jacket and was never able to positively identify her assailants.
Ferguson said he has explained the situation to the Meyer family.
During pretrial hearings for Nelson, investigators said a teen-age Waterloo girl told them Taylor admitted killing a Launderette clerk on Sept. 29, 1993. Dariusz Szczeponek, a Polish student studying at the University of Northern Iowa, was gunned down while working at Annie’s Launderette on Sycamore Street.
No one has been charged in that case, but there are similarities between that shooting and the Meyer slaying. Ferguson said the Szczeponek investigation also is continuing. The weapon in that case is still being sought, he said.
“Someone died as a result, and the taking of a human life is the most serious offense,” Ferguson said. “The investigation will continue to follow up through police sources and public information.”