The Eberly siblingsCourtesy photo Clarinda Herald Journal 
The five Eberly children, L to R: Larry, Ricky, Denise, Otis, and Dixie. Denise and Dixie died in the Oct. 15, 1964 fire set at their rural New Market home.

Denise and Dixie Eberly

Double Homicide

Denise Diane Eberly, 3 years old
Dixie Lynne Eberly, 13 months old
Rural New Market, Iowa
Taylor County
October 15, 1964

Case Summary compiled by Jody Ewing

On Thursday morning, October 15, 1964, Dixie Lynne Eberly, 13 months old, and her 3-year-old sister, Denise Diane Eberly, died after an arson fire in the family’s rural New Market, Iowa home in Taylor County.

Taylor County in Iowa

Taylor County in Iowa

Officials said 13-month-old Dixie burned alive in her crib. Denise died of smoke inhalation a short time later at the Municipal Hospital.

New Market in Taylor County

New Market in Taylor County

The girls were the daughters of Clara “Ruth” Eberly and John “Leroy” Eberly.

Two other children, Rickie, 4, and Otis, 2, were hospitalized after being rescued from the front of the house. A fifth child, Larry, was in kindergarten class in New Market — a small town with only 506 residents — when the fire broke out.

The state fire marshal arrived Thursday afternoon to investigate and ordered the home be closed; the fire had burned several holes through the roof and left no room undamaged.

That same night, Ruth Eberly gave birth to the couple’s sixth child, a boy they named John Leroy.

Neighbor Discovers Fire

According to a Clarinda Herald Journal article dated Oct. 15, 1964, Mrs. Eberly was at a neighbor’s house when another neighbor discovered the fire.

1964-10-15-chj-leroy-eberly Courtesy The Clarinda Herald Journal   
Charred Remains: Leroy Eberly looks over the porch just outside the room where his 13-month-old daughter burned alive in her crib October 15, 1964.

Sometime just after 9 a.m., Mrs. Orval Ridnour saw smoke swirling around the eaves at the back of the Eberly’s house. Thinking it might be a bonfire, she walked over to the house and discovered smoke coming from under the entire roof.

Ridnour couldn’t get the front door open and found the back door engulfed in flames.

Firemen brought the three older children, Rickie, Denise and Otis, from a front room where they’d taken refuge.

They found baby Dixie’s crib in the dining room, the same room in which investigators would later determine someone set the fire.

The girls’ bodies were taken to the Walker Funeral Home for identification and autopsies.

Boys Remain Hospitalized During Sisters’ Service

Leroy and Ruth Eberly had lived in New Market about five years and were well known throughout their rural community.

Leroy Eberly, originally from Villisca, Iowa, worked as a road worker for Page County and had served his country as a soldier with the United States Army during the Korean War.

New Market Early Days, Courtesy Leo and Normalee Miller

New Market Early Days (Courtesy Leo and Normalee Miller)

Ruth (Brown) Eberly, who’d grown up in Corning, Iowa, stayed at home with the couple’s five children.

On Saturday, Oct. 17, the family held a single memorial service for both girls at the Walker Funeral Home.

As of Monday, Oct. 19, both Rickie and Otis Eberly remained under care at the Clarinda Municipal Hospital, while state and county officials worked together to determine what caused the fatal blaze.

County employees with whom Mr. Eberly worked contributed to a fund held for the family in a Clarinda bank.

Just over one week after the fire, the hospital released Rickie and Otis Eberly on Friday, Oct. 23, 1964.

A “Card of Thanks” ran in the Clarinda Herald Journal on Monday, Nov. 16, 1964, which stated:

WE ARE so grateful for the help of friends during our recent loss of our children and for the care of those at the Clarinda Municipal hospital.

— Mr. and Mrs. Leroy Eberly
Mr. and Mrs. Roy Eberly

State Takes Four Remaining Children

Once fire officials and detectives classified the fire as arson, they began checking into the Eberly family’s history.

On Sunday, April 12, 1964 — six months prior to the girls’ deaths — Dixie Eberly, then 7 months old, and Otis Ray Eberly, 19 months, were admitted to the Municipal Hospital in need of medical services, according to a Clarinda Herald Journal article published Monday, April 13, 1964. Both young children spent two nights in the hospital before being released April 14, the Journal reported April 16, 1964.

Approximately one month before her death, Dixie had been admitted to the hospital again and released Sept. 17, 1964.

Three days later, her parents were “out-of-town guests” at the Sept. 20 wedding of Marilyn Parrott and Martin D. Walker, the Journal reported Oct. 1, 1964.

clara-ruth-eberly-newbrey-tributes-site Courtesy Powers Funeral Home
Clara “Ruth” (Brown) Eberly Newbrey’s 2009 obituary didn’t mention her three surviving children.

Officials ruled out Leroy Eberly as a suspect in his daughters’ deaths; he’d gone to work earlier that morning and wasn’t present when the fire broke out.

Based on the children’s previous injuries and because they’d — like the fire — always occurred while under Ruth Eberly’s sole care, the State of Iowa determined the remaining four children, Larry, Rickie, Otis and baby John, should be taken from the Eberlys and placed in foster care and put up for adoption.

Leroy Eberly filed for divorce from Ruth, hoping to reclaim his children. The couple’s divorce was finalized March 16, 1965, less than five months after Dixie and Denise’s deaths.

The state refused to return Leroy’s children. He wouldn’t be allowed to see any of his children, children’s services said, until they turned 18 years old.

He grieved deeply over having lost all his six children in a matter of months.

Ten years after divorcing Ruth, Leroy Eberly married widow Helen (Hewitt) Hanson on May 24, 1975. Helen loved sewing baby quilts, crocheting, and enjoyed reading as well as writing. She passed away in March 2010 at age 85.

Ruth Eberly also remarried. She married Kenneth Newbrey in Grand Island, Neb., on June 23, 1995. She lived in Creston and died March 17, 2009, at her aunt’s home near Greenfield, with burial in the Quincy Cemetery.

Her obituary at tributes.com said she was preceded in death by son Otis Ray (Eberly) Fraizer, and two daughters: Denise Diana Eberly and Dixie Lynn Eberly.

The obituary made no mention of Ruth’s three living children.

A Broken Man in a Café

The more Leroy Eberly aged, the more he ruminated about his two little girls’ senseless deaths and how he’d been cheated out of raising his other four children. He, too, had become a victim.

He frequented a local café, where he often shared his thoughts with café employee Lorrie Murphy.

“Everyone knows my [first] wife did it, but there’s not enough proof,” he told Murphy about his young daughters’ unsolved murders. He’d been able to track down three of his four other children, he said.

john-leroy-eberly-redoakexpress
Courtesy photo Red Oak Express
This black and white photo of John “Leroy” Eberly published in the Red Oak Express April 9, 2013, announces his upcoming 80th birthday celebration to be hosted by his children at the Villisca Community Center April 13.

A Red Oak Express article dated Tuesday, April 9, 2013, announced an open house celebrating John Leroy Eberly’s 80th birthday — hosted by his children at the Villisca Community Center from 1:30-4 p.m. April 13, 2013. Those unable to attend were encouraged to send greetings and good wishes to Eberly’s 715 E. High St. Villisca home.

Otis Ray — who’d been only 2 years old when taken away from his parents — had been given a new name, Kenneth Otis Frese, and passed away April 1, 2003 at age 40.

Five months after his 80th birthday, Leroy Eberly passed away Sept. 15, 2013 at the Villisca Good Samaritan Society. In addition to his three surviving children, he left behind 27 grandchildren and 49 great-grandchildren.

According to his obituary, John Leroy Eberly was born to Ray Martin and Onieda Bell (Beery) Eberly on April 10, 1933 in Taylor County, Iowa, and served his country as a soldier with the United States Army during the Korean War. He worked for the City of Villisca for 15 years and for Montgomery County for another 15 years. He retired from Eaton’s after 15 years as a forklift operator in the Transmission Division.

john-leroy-eberly-eff-cc-obituaries Courtesy Eickemeyer Funeral Chapel
Leroy Eberly passed away just five months after his 80th birthday.

A lifelong Villisca resident and member of the Mt. Calvary Lutheran church, he enjoyed watching old western movies and was an avid John Deere collector.

He married Helen Pauline (Hewitt) Hanson on May 24, 1975 at the Kuntz Memorial Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska. Helen passed away March 15, 2010 in Omaha at age 85. Her obituary mentioned the passing of her step-daughters, Denise and Dixie Eberly, and referenced her surviving husband, Leroy Eberly, of Villisca. The paper noted other survivors as step-sons Larry (Melissa) Eberly of Cherokee, John (Wendy) Flanscha of North Liberty, and Rick Bunge of Texas.

Leroy Eberly was preceded in death by his parents Ray and Onieda; first wife Ruth; second wife Helen; daughters: Denise Diane and Dixie Lynne; son Kenneth Otis Frese; step-daughter Judy Hanson; and brother-in-law Darwin Snyder.

Survivors included his children: Larry (Melissa) Eberly of Cherokee, IA; Rick Bunge of Texas; John (Wendy) Flanscha of North Liberty, IA; his step-children: Gloria (Denny) Mascher of Farragut, IA; Galen Hanson of Omaha, NE; Barb (Del) Kruse of Des Moines, IA; Bonnie (Chuck) Clark of Omaha, NE; Jerri (Mark) Otto of Gretna, NE; Janice (Bob) Roach of Moore, OK; Jacque (Bill) Fisher of Springerville, AZ; Paul (Diana) Hanson of Omaha, NE; brother Rex (Janice) Eberly of Corning, IA; sister Linda Snyder of Corning, IA; aunt Anna Miller of Villisca, IA; daughter-in-law Barbara Frese of North English, IA; friend of the family Keith Hammers of Villisca, IA; special friend Barbara Roberts of Villisca, IA; 27 grandchildren, 49 great-grandchildren, and many extended relatives and friends.

john-leroy-eberly-headstoneCourtesy photo Lisa B., findagrave.com
John “Leroy” Eberly is buried at the Butler Cemetery in Shambaugh, Iowa. He died five months after his 80th birthday.

Memorial services for Leroy were held at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday, September 18, at the Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church in Villisca, with visitation scheduled for one hour before the services and with Wolfe Funeral Home in charge of arrangements. Burial followed at the Butler Cemetery in rural Shambaugh, Iowa. Family members, friends, and area residents then gathered for a luncheon in the church basement.

Family members suggested memorials be made to the Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church in Villisca, the Villisca Fire Department or the Villisca American Legion.

About Denise and Dixie Eberly

Denise Diane Eberly was born March 8, 1961, in Clarinda to John Leroy and Clara “Ruth” (Brown) Eberly. She died Oct. 15, 1964, at age of 3 years, 7 months and 7 days.

Dixie Lynne Eberly was born in Clarinda Aug. 31, 1963. She died Oct. 15, 1964, at the age of 1 year, 1 month and 15 days.

Survivors included the girls’ parents, Leroy and Ruth Eberly of New Market, Iowa; four brothers, Larry Dean, 6, Ricky Gene, 4, Otis Ray, 2, and John Leroy Jr. born Oct. 15, 1964; grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Otis Brown of Corning, Iowa and Mr. and Mrs. Ray Eberly of Villisca, Iowa; and many aunts and uncles, all of whom grieved the young girls’ tragic deaths.

Memorial services for both Denise and Dixie were held Oct. 17, 1964 at Walker Funeral Home with the Rev. C.D. Uetzmann of St. John’s Lutheran Church officiating, with interment following in Butler Cemetery in rural Shambaugh, Page County.

Information Needed

If you have any information about this unsolved double homicide, please contact the New Market Police Department at (603) 659-8404.


Family Historical Records

JOHN LEROY EBERLY, “Leroy,” b Apr. 10, 1933, Polk Twp., Taylor Co. Iowa;
McMullen rural Sch., Taylor Co.; emp. City of Villisca; Lutheran, Clarinda; PFC
Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., 6 Mo., Ft. Bragg, N. Carolina 18 Mo.; ad Villisca, Iowa;
m (1) Aug. 1957, New Market, Iowa (div. Mar. 16, 1965), RUTH BROWN; m (2) May
24, 1975, Omaha, Nebr. (Memorial Lutheran), HELEN PAULINE HEWITT HANSON, b Feb. 13, 1925, Thayer, Iowa (da Bert and Celia (Bowen) Hewitt); 8 gd. Talmage, Iowa,
1 yr. Thayer H.S., training in child care, Omaha; Lived Denver, Colo., San
Diego, Calif., Madison, So. Dak.; 1965-75 child care through the Social Welfare
Services, Omaha, Nebr.; Prince of Peace Lutheran, Ralston, Nebr.
1. Larry Eberly, b Apr. 23, 1958.
2. Ricky Eberly, b Dec. 17, 1959.
3. Dennise [sic] D. Eberly, b Mar. 8, 1961, Clarinda, Iowa; d Oct. 15, 1964; home fire at New Market; bur. Butler Cem.
4. Otis Ray Eberly, b Sept. 5, 1962; named changed to Kenneth Otis Frese, d April 1, 2003, age 40, buried in South English Cemetery in Keokuk County
5. Dixie Lynn [sic] Eberly, b Aug. 31, 1963, Clarinda, Iowa; d Oct. 15, 1964; home fire at New Market; bur. Butler Cem.
6. John Leroy Eberly, b Oct. 15, 1964.


Sources:

4 Responses to Denise and Dixie Eberly

  1. Gay Appelhans says:

    I knew Ruth she was a great aunt to my grandson and I can tell you straight up this lady had nothing to do with her daughters deaths may she rest in peace with her little girls.

  2. Christie Gillham says:

    I am Ruth’s sister and i am her to tell all of you make him out to be such a angel only his side of the story and what he said heart broke my ass no one ask where he was that day or where he was oh yea he worked for the county she had to take care of them kids she was at Larry’s after there first baby was born we knew where the rest where also I was 13 years old when this happen this should be taken off this site if there was any truth to it him or her would of been aressted

    • Lorrie Murphy says:

      If you would have read the story above you would have seen LeRoy was ruled out as a suspect he was at work, why would Ruth leave four young children alone in the house to go to the neighbors ? ? why were there two children admitted to the hospital under RUTH’S CARE ? ? then one more child admitted to the hospital under RUTH’S CARE ? ? I knew LeRoy for years, he was a soft spoken, sweet gentle man and I believe he had nothing to do with this senseless murder of two innocent children.

  3. Lorrie Murphy says:

    Jody ~ thanks for updating this case.

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