Denise Fraley

Denise Fraley (Courtesy Iowa Department of Public Safety)

Denise Ordene Fraley

Missing Person – Presumed Homicide

Name: Denise Ordene (Stark) Fraley
Age at Report: 30 YOA
DOB: April 4, 1952
Weight: 115 lbs.
Height: 5’04”
Race: White
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Hazel
Incident Type: Endangered Missing / Involuntary disappearance
Missing From: 107 24th Ave. SW
Cedar Rapids, IA
Linn County
Investigating Agencies: Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and Cedar Rapids Police Department
Case Number: 8305108
NamUs MP # 17088
NCIC Number: M-141931927
Missing Since: September 12, 1982
Linn County in Iowa
Linn County in Iowa
Cedar Rapids in Linn CountyCedar Rapids in Linn County

Denise Fraley was last seen alive in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the early morning hours on Sunday, September 12, 1982.

Denise and her husband, David Fraley, had played in a band Saturday night at a private Cedar Rapids party. Once the couple left the event, Denise was never seen alive again and foul play is suspected in her disappearance.

David Fraley never reported his wife as missing. And, for more than a month, he deterred his wife’s family from filing any missing persons report.

On Thursday, March 19, 1992, Cedar Rapids Gazette writer Jeff Burnham, as part of the Gazette’s “Murdered, Missing, Unsolved” week-long series, wrote extensively about three Iowa women — Jane Wakefield, Lynn Schuller and Denise Fraley — who were strangers in life but connected in volatile relationships, separations and pending divorces.

The following is an excerpt from the story in which Burnham focused solely on Denise Fraley’s life and what happened in the months following her still unsolved disappearance.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette

MURDERED MISSING UNSOLVED: Police suspect 3 killed but lack bodies

By Jeff Burnham | Gazette staff writer
March 19, 1992
crg-3-19-92-fraley-schuller-wakefieldCourtesy the Cedar Rapids Gazette
On March 19, 1992, Gazette writer Jeff Burnham chronicled the cases of three Iowa women who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. All three women are presumed dead. Download the two-part article in PDF format.
Denise Fraley (excerpt)

Don’t mess with the Mafia.

That warning, issued in the shadow of Denise Fraley’s disappearance nearly a decade ago, kept her out-of-state relatives from coming to Cedar Rapids in search of answers for six months.

Heeding that warning, made by the missing woman’s husband, 29-year-old Dave Fraley, is a decision that Denise Fraley’s family has regretted ever since.

Her sister and parents are convinced the Mafia had nothing to do with Denise Fraley’s disappearance. They fear the 30-year-old woman was murdered. And they often wonder if the six-month delay cost them the chance to prove what really happened.

Born and raised in northwest Missouri, Denise Stark was a cheerleader in high school and graduated as valedictorian of her class. She came to Cedar Rapids in the early 1970s to live with her grandmother. That’s when Denise met Dave Fraley, and the two were married in 1975 in Urbana, his hometown.

A daughter, Haley Jo, was born in 1979. Denise Fraley stayed home to raise the girl while Dave worked as a pest control technician. Both played in bands, often with Denise singing and Dave playing piano.

The two used illegal drugs, according to court records filed later. The judge found that Dave was a drug courier. The judge, based on statements made by Dave, also found that Denise was a drug courier.

Violent episodes were scattered through the marriage, according to a 21-page ruling issued by a judge during a custody battle after Denise Fraley disappeared. There were two documented episodes where she entered a local hospital after her husband had tied her up and beaten her.

The judge’s ruling also says police were called to the Fraley home in June 1981 after Dave Fraley threatened his wife with a gun while he was drunk. Dave later said that in all of the violent episodes, he was merely defending himself from his aggressive wife. But the judge wrote the evidence indicated Dave was lying.

The marriage deteriorated to the point that Dave Fraley filed for divorce in May 1982. Denise Fraley responded by asking for custody of the daughter, then 2-1/2 years old, and a restraining order preventing Dave from making any contact with them. A judge granted the restraining order after Denise cited recent violence by Dave, including threats that he would kill her.

The two had been trying to work out their differences when they spent Labor Day Weekend 1982 with Denise Fraley’s sister in northwest Missouri. That was the last time her sister saw or heard from Denise.

The band the Fraleys were in played at a private party in Cedar Rapids the evening of Sept. 11, 1982, after Dave Fraley had made arrangements to provide the music. He later said Denise disappeared that night, but he gave differing accounts about where he last saw her — whether at the party or back at home. In a deposition related to the divorce, he explained those differences by saying he had been drinking and may have been smoking marijuana.

More than a month went by before Denise Fraley’s family in Missouri had any idea that Denise was missing. Finally, Denise’s mother called the Fraleys in mid-October in hopes of talking to Denise. The phone was answered by Dave Fraley, who hung up when Nadine Stark asked for Denise, Stark later said. She then called the Cedar Rapids police, who sent an officer to the house to see if anything was amiss. It’s unclear what transpired when the officer spoke to Dave Fraley — he declined to comment when contacted by The Gazette and police files on the case were not available.

Jane Wakefield, Lynn Schuller, Denise Fraley mapsMaps courtesy Cedar Rapids Gazette
These maps show where Denise Fraley vanished in Sept. 1982, where Jane Wakefield disappeared in Sept. 1975 and where Lynn Schullerwent missing in Aug. 1972. All three women were in volatile marriages with divorce proceedings pending. Detectives in each case have identified a prime murder suspect, but lack of solid evidence — particularly the lack of a body — have made it tough to prove murder.

Nadine Stark officially reported Denise Fraley as missing on Oct. 18, 1982. Within a week, Denise’s sister, Linda Plowman, said Dave Fraley called and explained that Denise had tried to run off with several thousand dollars in drug money that was not hers and that he feared the Mafia was looking for her.

Fraley warned the family that the Mafia wouldn’t take kindly if Denise’s relatives traveled to Cedar Rapids looking for answers, Plowman said. And so, for six months, they heeded Dave Fraley’s warning and stayed away. Meanwhile, an investigation by Cedar Rapids police had stalled.

Finally, Linda Plowman decided she didn’t care if the Mafia was involved — though she never believed that anyway. In March 1983, she and her mother made the first of many trips to Cedar Rapids in search of answers.

They convinced police to reopen the investigation. They hired their own private investigator. They also hired an attorney and entered the divorce proceeding to obtain custody of Haley Jo.

While the custody issue was pending, the Plowmans obtained temporary custody of the child for about six months. During that time, they later said in court affidavits, Haley Jo told them she had seen her mother tied to rocks and thrown into a river.

Child development experts later interviewed the girl and said her statements should be taken seriously. But they could not conclude whether she was speaking of something she had actually seen or if the story came from watching the movie “Poltergeist.”

The police investigation again stalled, but not before detective Robert Manchester said he believed there was a “50-50” chance that Denise Fraley was murdered. He even named the likely killer.

Through the various investigations, Denise’s family started learning that Dave Fraley had given several conflicting explanations about what had happened to Denise. While some were told that Denise may have been harmed by drug-dealing thugs, some were told by Dave that Denise had simply left to further her singing career.

The custody battle continued for several months. Included was a deposition by Dave Fraley that said Denise called him two days after the party, said she had been “ripped off” in a drug deal and told him to take care of Haley Jo. He said he hadn’t seen her since.

He explained the other accounts by saying he had speculated to some people about what might have happened to Denise.

In the same testimony, Dave Fraley said he had been kidnapped and forced to take a lie detector test by individuals with the Mafia who wanted to find Denise Fraley and the money she had allegedly taken. But he also indicated he wasn’t particularly interested in helping police find those thugs or in helping find Denise.

The divorce was granted in January 1984. The custody battle ended about the same time when Juvenile Judge Brent Harstad awarded custody of Haley Jo to Dave Fraley.

Copyright © 1992 The Cedar Rapids Gazette. All rights reserved.

Information Needed

This case is currently being investigated by both the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

Dental information and charting is available and entered.

If you have any information about Denise Fraley’s suspicious disappearance or suspected homicide, please contact the Iowa DCI at (515) 725-6010 or Lt. Craig Furnish at the Cedar Rapids Police Department at (319) 286-5478.



33 Responses to Denise Fraley

  1. Alice says:

    I have questions. What was the name of the judge who chronicled the domestic abuse and at least partially concluded that Dave was lying? It couldn’t have been the juvenile court judge who gave custody to Dave. Or was it? Because if domestic abuse evidence, that much of it, was testified to, the juvenile court judge was incompetent to award Dave custody. And what court papers are available to the public? I don’t know if it’s progress that someone can be convicted of murder without a body found, because circumstantial evidence is a tricky and slippery slope to try a case on. But I’m surprised, given the evidence outlined here, that the county attorney didn’t bring a case. Terribly surprised. Who was the county prosecutor at that time?
    All these people commenting. Where is your evidence? Especially the story of hip bone and a spine being found in the river. I guarandamntee you I would harass the cops until they told me what THAT was about. C’mon.
    Also-they reunite on Labor Day because the wife wants to reconcile? Did he? Surely she confided in her friends. Sounds like they were a fairly popular couple and drug users always know alot of people.
    Intetesting that Dave claimed sobriety at one point. Isn’t he in jail this very moment for drunk driving? (Monday, September 13, 2021) I bet he went to AA. I went to meetings somewhere else with a man who murdered his wife. AA is such a hide out for predators. Silly cult.
    Why didn’t the family pursue a civil case against him? And at least get a verdict of damages, because they would have. And my point is not the amount they would receive. That doesn’t matter. It’s the moral victory of winning the case that shows the perpetrator and the community that he’s never going to really get away with anything.
    I’m surprised the dude had the stones to stay in Cedar Rapids. And that anybody in the area would avail themselves of his services.
    The 2nd wife died of cancer in 2015? At 55? Very young. That’s terrible.
    My heart is with the daughter. And, no, a baby’story would never be enough to convict someone of murder. It breaks my heart that the girl was kept from her mom’s family. But I’m glad it gave them joy to finally have contact with her.
    I hope Dave Fraley will at least tell his daughter the truth before he dies. Unless she had a lover, it’s pretty inconceivable to me that he didn’t kill her.

  2. Debbie fuhrman says:

    I just want to find her. She is a great lady. She would have never left her daughter.

  3. I just that we could find her. And let her rest in peace

  4. Jeanne Mcelroy says:

    Geez.. You never know who you work for. I worked at Certified Pest Control for Donna & Dave Fraley like 23 years ago. I worked out of their home prior to them even buying the building on 16th Ave; they actually had bought the building while I work for them. Haley would of been 15-16 at the time. She was a happy kid. Donna was a great Mom to her. I remember Donna saying she was Haley’s step Mom, but I don’t think she ever mentioned anything else about Haley’s Mom. She just said she’d raised Haley since she was a toddler. It’s been a long time ago and I only worked there about a year. I know at the time I worked for them they attended church and Dave did not drink anymore. I do remember Dave saying he had been an alcoholic and almost lost the business when he was younger. Never thought to much about it. I hope that the family finds peace and am glad that they were able to reconnect with Haley.

    • Debbie fuhrman says:

      good for him. I hope that he feels better after talking care of his frist wife.she would have nevet left her daughter with him. OPEN THE CASE BACK UP. IT’S BRING HER HOME

  5. Christie Petersen says:

    Dee was my sister Cindys best friend. Dee would never have left her daughter. Dave was creepy then and is still to this day. For almost 35 years he has gotten away with the murder of Dee. I don’t ever want to give up hope that he will face justice someday. Dee was part of our famile.

  6. Sean Kirby says:

    It’s so obvious the husband did it

  7. LavenderSoulstice TwilightVenom Desire says:

    Out of curiosity was the surrounding waters even searched? Granted the daughter was only 2 and 1/2 years old at the time and had watched "Poltergeist" but she apparently stated "she had seen her mother tied to rocks and thrown in the river". Considering HOW she stated that would be how to look at that one IMO. Starting with the "she had seen her mother" would tell me something about that one right there. The waters should have been searched and the child asked questions if she knew where. My guess is she definately saw something. Also was a lie detector test given to Dave Fraley by the cops? If he gave so many conflicting stories that don't set right with me and also right along with not telling the family right off she was missing either. Article doesnt state if the house was searched either. Was it? Poor little girl. I can't believe the father got custody of her. :(

    • Christie Petersen says:

      No the water was never searched. It was not even investigated until 6 months after her disappearance. I think of Dee all the time. She was my sisters bf and part of our family. It will be 36 yrs 9/12/18

      • Fiona says:

        My best friend knew them both – at one point David said he could make it so nobody would ever find her and there were stories of Denise’s body being (sorry graphic) sawed up and tired to rocks and thrown in the river :'( and yes, Haley witnessed it.

      • debbie says:

        She told us the same thing. I wish that we could find her

      • Beau A Smith says:

        Hi Christie. Is there a private investigator on this case?

    • Melinda says:

      Couple years ago a teenager that was working for us was out fishing in that area and snagged a spine and small hip bones with shorts. Police were called but I never heard this ever got connected with this case.

  8. What a pretty lady! Such a sad story.

  9. Kim Gardner says:

    I knew Denice vary well was at party she went missing from. what are the odds that exatctly 32 yrs later on a full moon I would run into a woman that looked just like her? strang

  10. Kim Gardner says:

    Ran into a girl today that looked just like her,I thaught I was in a epasode of the returner it was so strang

  11. Well then they need to get on it

  12. No idea it was along time ago but our detectives are much smarter now

  13. Wow. Why aren’t they trying to prosecute him at all? Do they not have “sufficient evidence”?

  14. Oh for sure! His family said the young daughter said mommy is in the water he’s a loser he owns certified pest control in Cedar Rapids

  15. Reading the story without any background knowledge of this incident, and it is pretty obvious it was David.

  16. Everyone knew it was Dave who did it the investigators are so much smarter now talk to the family I lived by family who knows a hell of a lot

  17. Brian Stark says:

    Yes, In fact the Low Lord Fauntleroy courts sided with David in the custody battle. A poor little silly paranoid, drunk who couldn’t handle narcotics even if he tried, over my grandmother Nadine, who I must add is the most loving and caring person to all people I’ve ever known. Moreover, David obstructed every attempt to see or contact Haley Jo, my understanding is he projected us as villans to her…basically we were Persona non grata. At one point maybe 1996 my grandmother contacted David and told him, “David, I know you did it, as do you, and I forgive you, it’s not my place to judge you that judgement will be made by God’ she said it was the hardest thing she had ever done she also said he heard her out and didn’t hang up . Fast forward to the the age of social media. Haley Jo was contacted by her aunt and arrangements made for a meeting and as I’ve heard they had a beautiful time. It gives me alot of happiness to see me family intently listening to my aunt and grandmother excitedly telling of their meeting, two old ladies looking like perfectly happy kids, Oh Haley Jo this and Haley Jo that……these were the last memoirs of my grandmother Perhaps we’ve all became a little stronger, whereas David’s probably just a little weaker.

  18. Veronica says:

    They gave her back to her dad………………………………

  19. andrea says:

    The daughter was born 12-28-79. She was 2 years and 9 months old when this occurred. Children can accurately communicate events such as the event the child related to her aunt. She should have been believed back then.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Andrea, I updated Denise Fraley’s page last night where it now includes the excerpt on Denise from Jeff Burnham’s story published March 19, 1992, in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. (He had two other sections on Jane Wakefield and Lynn Schuller in the same story.) His section on Denise captured so much more than what I’d previously had in her summary, and included information readers should know.

      As far as the information the daughter conveyed to mother’s family, yes, she should have been believed back then, and I’m certain many “did” believe her because a child that young wouldn’t just make up something like that…not about her own mother…especially when her father was busy telling conflicting stories to others — none of which Haley Jo repeated. She only told what she had witnessed with her own young eyes.

      Taking her along to witness what happened to her mother could be viewed as heinous an act as the crime itself.

  20. Theresa says:

    I believe the daughter can remember what happened with hypnosis.

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