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On Thursday afternoon, July 10, 1975, a young woman’s badly decomposed body was found in the trunk of a tan 1966 Rambler in a parking lot at Southwest 20th and Porter near the Des Moines airport.
Dr. R.C. Wooters, Polk County medical examiner, identified the victim as 21-year-old Diane Marie Schofield.
Schofield, a divorcée with a 5-year-old daughter, lived at 2931 Cottage Grove in Des Moines and had worked in Des Moines as a waitress and a masseuse.
Wooters said an autopsy indicated Schofield died of strangulation.
In a Des Moines Register article dated Friday, July 11, 1975, Wooters said the victim had been dead for several days and had been strangled with a towel and that her hands and ankles were tied.
A parking lot sweeper for Warren’s Steak House had noticed an odor coming from a car in the parking lot and alerted authorities. Firemen who’d been called to the scene pried open the trunk’s lid and discovered the young woman’s body.
The parking area behind the steak house had been used to store airport rental cars.
Schofield’s body was found fully clothed in a green halter top and blue jeans, but with no shoes. Her hands were tied behind her back and her feet bound with twine near the ankles. She’d been strangled with a strip of knotted cloth.
Other than strangulation, the body showed no other apparent signs of violence.
Police Chief Wendell E. Nichols said robbery didn’t appear to be a motive because Schofield still wore her $200 digital wristwatch and several turquoise rings. The family identified Schofield primarily through the personal items found on the victim’s body.
Police said the 1966 Rambler was registered to the victim.
According to police and Schofield’s acquaintances at the time of her death, Mrs. Schofield had been employed as a masseuse at several massage parlors in Des Moines and also had worked as a waitress at the Totem Pole Lounge, 1503 E. Douglas Ave., the previous summer.
Dr. Wooters initially reported Schofield had been dead for approximately six days, but later revised his ruling after Des Moines police detective Clarence Jobe said police interviewed witnesses who said they’d seen Schofield alive Monday evening, July 7, the Des Moines Register reported on July 19.
According to the Register article written by Nick Lamberto, Wooters said he made the original estimate without taking the period’s high temperatures into consideration, and modified the date to place Schofield’s time of death as “sometime after 9 p.m. Monday, July 7.”
Schofield recently had lived at 1503 24th St. and at 3828 Cottage Grove Ave., and had rented a U-Haul trailer from the Apco Service Station, 2324 Forest Ave., about 8 p.m. on July 1 to move her belongings to her new Cottage Grove address. She returned the trailer the following day.
Witnesses told police Schofield drove into the same service station about 10 a.m. Monday, July 7, where she bought $2 worth of gasoline. An attendant on duty that night recalled that Mrs. Schofield complained about her car’s tail lights not working properly after the U-Haul trailer hitch had been removed. The service station attendant said the tail lights had apparently been fixed by an employee at the station.
An attendant said Schofield returned to the station about 9:10 p.m. that evening to buy cigarettes, and mentioned she was going to be late for work.
Schofield’s last place of employment was Dave Salem’s Foozin’ ‘n’ Boozin’, a tavern at 1803 Keosauqua Way. Salem, who said he’d known Schofield for about six weeks, said she had asked for time off about 10:30 p.m. on July 4 and that he hadn’t seen her after that.
Salem said the young mother could “do no wrong” and was “always willing to help out.”
William Smith, 22, a drug counselor for ADAPT, 512 Ninth St., said he thought he last saw Mrs. Schofield alive about 9:30 p.m. on July 4 when she took him and his 18-year-old nephew to Smith’s home and dropped them off.
“She told us she was going to take a shower and go to work at Fooze and Booze,” Smith is quoted as saying in a Des Moines Register article dated July 12, 1975.
Schofield’s gravestone lists her date of death as July 4 — the day her closest friends last saw her alive. The day also coincides with the medical examiner’s initial findings.
In the Register’s July 12 story, Smith described Schofield as “mixed up at times” and said she “seemed to have a lot of pressure on her.” Smith said he was acquainted with Mrs. Schofield “because I had done time with her husband (Kenneth) at Anamosa. I got out a year ago Monday.”
Smith also referenced Mrs. Schofield’s “gun charge was kind of bad,” stating that someone else had slipped a gun to her to avoid getting caught. According to the Register, police records showed Diane Schofield was sentenced in January 1975 to five years in the Women’s Reformatory for carrying a concealed .22-caliber pistol but was placed on probation. She’d been arrested on the charge April 23, 1974.
Mike Killion, 22, said he’d known Mrs. Schofield for about seven years, had seen her at the Clearwater Beach on Friday afternoon (July 4), and that he believed more than one person killed her because Schofield was strong and knew karate.
“I was the one who reported her missing Monday and started the search for her. She didn’t show up for work,” Killion told the Register.
Attorney William Kutmus, who represented Schofield in her concealed weapon charge, said she told him several months earlier that she’d been asked to be some type of informant relating to drugs. Officers connected with Schofield’s investigation said they’d had no knowledge of her being an informant.
Schofield’s mother, Marie Dalton, told the Register her daughter finished ninth grade in the Saydel school district. The Register also reported on July 12, 1975:
Records show she was married to Kenneth L. Schofield in 1969 and was divorced from him in 1970 — when she was 16. Records also show Mrs. Schofield was awarded custody of the couple’s daughter.
In January 2015, Diane Schofield’s sister, Twyla Johnson, and family friend Amy Sauve launched a new public Facebook group, “Justice for Diane Schofield.” The group is hoping to find answers about what happened to Diane nearly four decades ago. Please take a moment to visit this new Facebook page and learn how you can help Diane’s family find closure.
Diane Marie (Dalton) Schofield was born November 1, 1953, to Kenneth and Marie Dalton.
She grew up on Des Moines’ north side, and attended Woodside Junior High and Lincoln High School. She attended the Southtown Pentecostal Church.
She married Kenneth Lee Schofield August 7, 1969, and the couple resided on Des Moines’ south side. They later divorced.
Diane’s survivors included a daughter, Shawna Marie of Des Moines; her mother, Mrs. Marie Dalton of Des Moines; her father, Kenneth Dalton of Des Moines; two brothers, Robert and Martin, both of Des Moines; a half brother, Kenneth Valadez of Des Moines; and a sister, Twyla Dalton of Des Moines.
Memorial services were held at 3 p.m. Monday, July 14, 1975, at Hamilton’s Funeral Home, with burial at McDivitt Grove Cemetery in Urbandale in Polk County.
The top of her gravestone reads “Beloved Mommy.”
Her case remains unsolved.
If you have any information regarding Diane Schofield’s unsolved murder, please call Det. Matt Towers at (515) 283-4981 or the Des Moines Police Department at (515) 283-4864.