Dennis ChaffeeCourtesy photo Maria Chaffee
Dennis Wayne Chaffee

Dennis Wayne Chaffee


Dennis Wayne Chaffee
33 YOA
914 28th St. SE
Cedar Rapids, IA
Linn County
July 17, 1983


Case summary by Jody Ewing

Dennis Chaffee of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, spent the weekend of July 16 – 17, 1983, at home with his 1-1/2-year-old twins — son Adam and daughter Maria — and on Monday, July 18, was to return them to their mother, Mary Hernandez, who resided in Marion, Iowa.

When Monday arrived, Chaffee didn’t answer his phone when Hernandez called, nor did he show up for work at Wilson Foods in Cedar Rapids where he’d been employed for the past 15 years.

Concerned, Hernandez called Chaffee’s parents, Harlon and Betty Chaffee, also of Cedar Rapids.

Linn County in Iowa
Linn County in Iowa
Cedar Rapids in Linn CountyCedar Rapids in Linn County

When the Chaffees went to investigate at 8:30 p.m., they found the toddlers, dirty and thirsty, but unharmed. Their son, however, lay at the bottom of the basement steps, dead from several gunshot wounds.

Chaffee, a 33-year-old Vietnam vet whom police described as “a kind of loner,” had been shot once in the arm and twice in the head with a small caliber weapon. The gun was not located at the scene.

The house sat back from the street and was surrounded by shrubbery, large trees and a fence. And though the two-story brick home was somewhat in disarray, police didn’t believe it had been burglarized. The door was found closed but unlocked.

After discovering their son’s body, the Chaffees took the children across the street to the home of Judy Ryan. Ryan cared for the twins for about an hour, at which time they were picked up and taken to Mercy Hospital for examination.

Hernandez picked up her children early Tuesday morning after an interview with Cedar Rapids detectives.

Dennis Chaffee homeCourtesy photo Cedar Rapids Gazette
Dennis Chaffee was found shot to death at the bottom of his basement steps in this Cedar Rapids brick home. His 1-1/2-year-old twins were in the house at the time but neither were harmed.

On Wednesday, July 20, 1983, Cedar Rapids police received a verbal autopsy report from Linn County Medical Examiner Dr. Percy Harris. Police, however, were tight-lipped, refusing to release autopsy details, according to a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated July 21, 1983.

Assistant Chief James Barnes, who headed up the detective bureau, said in the same article he would not release any more details concerning the investigation.

“Releasing further information at this point in the investigation will not benefit us,” Barnes told the Gazette.

Despite ruling out burglary as a motive, Chaffee was known for collecting antiques.

An Oct. 9, 1983 Gazette article announcing Chaffee’s upcoming estate auction, scheduled for Sat., Oct. 15, 1983, listed a number of antique items including:

  • A 1915 harpsichord
  • Steubenville china
  • 6 antique typewriters
  • 4-6 wash boards
  • A Packard pump organ
  • Edison cylinder records
  • A 5-section brass telescope
  • Numerous advertising tins
  • A Globe (Victor Tellurian – 1882)
  • An antique Wurlitzer lighted-speaker
  • Sears pot-belly stove
  • Minnie/Mickey Mouse cookie jars
  • Dutch Boy and pig cookie jars
  • Numerous pieces of Depression era glass
  • and many other antique items.

Musical instruments listed for auctioning included 3 cornets with cases, 3 clarinets with cases, an alto saxophone with case, a Cleveland trombone with case, baritone with case, 4 string banjos, a ukelele, 2 Fiddle-ettes, 3 guitars and 2 electric guitars, a drum set and bongo drums.

Other items reflected his dedication to spending time with his children: a child’s swing set, assorted fishing poles, 5 sleds, 4 pair of snow skis, a small toboggan, and a wooden plane.

More than three decades after Chaffee’s murder, his twins, Adam and Maria, remain committed to finding answers to questions they still have about his untimely death.

No one has ever been charged in Dennis Chaffee’s murder and his case remains unsolved.

About Dennis Chaffee

Dennis Wayne Chaffee was born September 15, 1949, in Cedar Rapids to Harlon E. and Betty L. Chaffee.

dennis-chaffee-gravestoneCourtesy photo paforbes,
Dennis Chaffee’s gravestone in Cedar Memorial Park Cemetery

He had been employed by Wilson Foods for the past 15 years and was a member of Salen United Methodist Church and the United Food and Commercial Workers AfL-CIO Local P-3.

He served in the Army during the Vietnam War.

He was survived by his parents, Harlon E. and Betty L. Chaffee of Cedar Rapids; twin children, Adam and Maria, at home; two brothers, Jack L. of Radcliffe, Ky., and Milo M. of Eyota, Minn.; and a grandmother, Mrs. Ted Hoover of Robins.

Services were held at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21, 1983, at Turner Chapel East by the Rev. Paul Hasel of Salem United Methodist Church, with burial at Cedar Memorial Park Cemetery.

Information Needed

If you have any information about Dennis Chaffee’s unsolved murder please contact Cedar Rapids Police Department Investigator Matt Denlinger at (319) 286-5442 or email

  • Cedar Rapids Police Department
  • Cedar Rapids Police Department Cold Case Unit
  • Find a Grave Memorial
  • Correspondence with Maria Chaffee (daughter of victim)
  • “Cedar Rapids Estate Auction for Dennis Chaffee: Sat., October 15, 1983 at 10:00 a.m.,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 9, 1993
  • “C.R. police proud of record in solving homicides,” by Mark Glenn, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Sunday, September 18, 1983
  • “Legal Notices: Notice of Appointment of Administrator and Notice to Creditors in the matter of the estate of Dennis Wayne Chaffee, decades,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 19, 1983
  • “Police tight-lipped about murder,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, July 21, 1983
  • “Tots found with body of C.R. murder victim,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, July 20, 1983
  • “Dennis W. Chaffee” Obituary, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, July 20, 1983
  • “Murder Suspected in C.R. death,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, July 19, 1983


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23 Responses to Dennis Chaffee

  1. Kim says:

    The Cedar Rapids Gazette had an in-depth article about Chaffee’s death:
    This is part of their cold case series.

    • Jerry Chaffee says:

      Thank you Kim. How did you find me to send a message?
      Jerry Chaffee

      • Kim says:

        Hi, I don’t think I sent you a message, I just linked the Gazette article here to Dennis’ page. It’s part of a series the Gazette is doing about cold cases in the area. Last month the story was about Fred Coste’s murder in downtown Cedar Rapids in 1959. You might have gotten an alert to my post if you’re signed up to receive new posts or comments on the ICC site.

  2. Jerry Chaffee says:

    I am an Iowan by birth but lived elsewhere for many years. We returned to Iowa during the era when the Dennis Chaffee murder occured and because I am a Chaffee, I have been interested in this unsolved case. I encourage Marie and Adam to pursue a solution.

  3. Bonnie Cleveland says:

    Please contact me. I am Dennis’s cousin. Betty and Harlon were my great Aunt and Uncle.

  4. MARIA CHAFFEE says:

    I’m now 37 years old. I still think of my dad. And how many of my family members died without knowing. I wonder if his killer is still alive. Why ? Please if anyone reading this knows or thinks something might help, no matter how small, please contact the detectives.

    • Bonnie Cleveland says:

      Hi Maria, my wife is your dad’s cousin. Please contact us. Thank you! Greg & Bonnie Cleveland

  5. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    I don’t understand why the police refused to release any details of his murder. Were they protecting someone? This case is almost 35 years old. What are they waiting on. Also, has this case been entered into VICAP, so it can be possibly linked to another case that might have been solved, or matches this case.

    We don’t even know the caliber of firearm used. Someone needs to ask the Cedar Rapids Police, when they are going to release the details of the murder. His children deserve some answers before they die.

    • bing21 says:

      What the hell is going on with Law Enforcement in the state of Iowa for the last 50 years? All these sad cases on this website all ended the same way and tell the same sad story. I read about how law enforcement dropped this ball or that ball, how there was no investigation or the investigation was botched or the crime scene was compromised or a member of law enforcement was actually in on it or somehow responsible or the ex police chief was corrupt and arrested himself for drug dealing or stalking or was buddies with the DA etc etc over and over again. What the hell was going on with Iowa police departments ? We’re they always this bad or is Iowa any worse or notoriously negligent and incompetent than every other department in every other state or are they all this bad everywhere? I think I know the answer sadly but that’s my question.

      • Michael says:

        The only arrest’s the CRPD and Linn County can make are DUI’s,they don’t even try to investigate anything else unless it’s big news and then only if CBS,NBC,or ABC shames them into doing some work!

      • Maria C Chaffee says:

        I have some questions. Please message me..

  6. Pam Swanton says:

    How very sad that another human being could do this in front of children an with technology these days open this case up an reinvestigate

  7. This case does not seem to have been investigated much…a man lost his life horribly in front of his children and no information ever released and no further search mentioned.

    • Kim Hernandez says:

      No they really didn’t. They were convinced Mary did it and followed her and made her life a living hell. They would stop her with her kids and Mom in the car, and harassed the hell out of her. She loved Dennis, she could never do something like this. The cops dropped the ball on this one real bad.

    • MARIA CHAFFEE says:

      His case is still cold as tomorrow (-50) someone knows something. Please come forward.
      Thank you all for your support. I have hope after Michelle’s case may be solved.♡

  8. Wonder if it is/was same offender.

  9. Agreed, I was not aware how many we had in CR until I counted all from 1950 to now. Holly cow I have lived here all my life and now moving next year. We have way too many here!

  10. It seems like so many of these cold cases are from Cedar Rapids or the surrounding area. They are all so very sad and tragic, just noticed it seems like I see Cedar Rapids listed a lot.

  11. Maria I hope you and your family find out who murdered your father and you get the answers that you are looking for.

  12. Thanks for posting. Think about him often. I really wish someone would come forward with some answers.

  13. I pray they find that person or whoever was involved and they get justice.

  14. Lori says:

    I hope for his children’s sake that whoever did this will be found and they have some sort of closure.

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