Donna Sue Davis

Donna Sue Davis (Courtesy photo Sioux City Police Department)

Donna Sue Davis



Donna Sue Davis
21 months of age
715 Isabella Street
Sioux City, IA
Woodbury County
July 10, 1955


Case Summary by Jody Ewing

Donna Sue Davis hadn’t yet reached her second birthday. The 21-month-old 21-pound blue-eyed girl with the mass of dark blond curly hair was the youngest of James (“Don”) and Mary Davis’s three children, and her three prized possessions included her teddy bear, a rubber doll and a red purse.

Eleven-year-old Mary Claire, the eldest of the siblings, had friends who resided in the same west side neighborhood in Sioux City, IA, and they often could be seen pushing strollers and buggies around the block with Donna Sue and the other girls’ young siblings in tow. Timothy, 7, also had ample playmates within safe walking distance from the family’s 715 Isabella Street home.

Everyone knew and loved Donna Sue, though seldom used her name. To them, she was simply “The Darling of the Neighborhood.”

In July 1955, life is still good along West 14th and 15th street and the intersecting Rebecca and Isabella streets, and half the summer still remains for riding bicycles and playing Army and swimming and girlfriend sleepovers, and even entertaining baby sisters and brothers while mothers work in gardens and hang fresh sheets to flap and dry in the wind.

But summer in this working class neighborhood — and life as all its residents know it — is about to change forever. The shift begins to emerge the night of July 9, when sirens awaken a city that will not know peaceful slumber for many years to come.

Rain has fallen since 9 p.m., and near 12 a.m. flood sirens puncture the midnight hours. While rain falls in torrents, a fire breaks out at a lumber company but fire trucks can’t navigate the water laden streets. Utility employees work throughout the night to restore electricity to Sioux City residents.

Dawn is about to break.

Sunday, July 10, 1955

Rain ends by early morning, and as water starts to recede city crews move forward with clean-up efforts.

The Donna Sue Davis home in 1955Courtesy photo Sioux City Journal
Donna Sue Davis and her family lived in the bottom apartment at this 715 Isabella Street duplex in Sioux City, Iowa.

The day’s temperatures soar into the 90s, bringing with them humidity’s heavy blanket. Though room air conditioners have grown in popularity since World War II’s end, costs are still prohibitive for many western Iowa families, whose usual reprieve amounts to nothing more than a cool bath and, hopefully, a nightly breeze through an open window. The Davis family has learned to weather the heat.

Sunday night, Mary Davis gives Donna Sue a bath, dresses her in pink pajamas, and about 9:30 p.m. tucks her into her crib for bed in the first-floor bedroom of the two-story duplex where the family has resided for many years. Donna Sue’s crib sits against the wall at the foot of the Davis’ bed, right next to a cedar chest positioned directly below the bedroom window.

“Three to get ready, and four to go . . . to bed,” Mary tells Donna Sue as she kisses her goodnight. The child is all set with her teddy bear, rubber doll and red purse within arm’s reach. With temperatures still in the 80s, the bedroom window is left open to capture any breeze.

In the kitchen, Mary sits down to read the day’s Sioux City Journal as her husband — a clerk for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway — watches television in the living room. In the next room, Mary Claire and Timothy are already fast asleep.

In the upstairs duplex, Mr. M.A. McLeod goes outside to sit on his upper porch balcony while his wife putters around in the couple’s bedroom.

On the corner just south of the Isabella Street duplex, George Berger sits in his back yard at 1301 Villa Avenue. His back yard faces the Davis home’s south side, and he often enjoys watching the Davis children and their neighborhood friends play together in the large lot between the two homes.

9:35 p.m.

Something catches Mr. Berger’s eye. A man has just crossed through a hedge near the front of the Davis house and, walking quite erect, is heading west along the south side of the Davis’s home. Berger strains to see what the man is doing, but can’t see very well in the darkness and his vision also is obstructed by his own vehicle, which he parked in the driveway earlier that day.

Route the kidnapper took to Donna Sue's windowCourtesy photo by Newman, Sioux City Journal Staff Photographer
Donna Sue’s kidnapper walked erectly west along the south side of the Davis home and a few minutes later headed toward Villa Avenue, walking in a crouched position with a bundle in his arms.

A few minutes later he sees the man retrace his steps toward the street and head in a northerly direction. The man, however, now walks in a crouched, stooped position.

Mr. and Mrs. Laif Fjeldos, who live around the corner two houses away at 1310 West 14th Street, hear their dog Rex barking at the back door. Their back lot borders the Davis’s back lot, separated by mulberry and hackberry trees.

Mrs. Fjeldos gets up to let Rex inside and switches on her back yard light. Skulking along the alleyway, she sees a man who appears to be carrying some type of bundle. She immediately calls for her husband.

Mr. Fjeldos grabs a flashlight and shines it toward the man, who is now stooped over and hiding behind a bush. Mr. Fjeldos isn’t about to let this one get away, either; just two weeks before, Rex’s ferocious barking had alerted him to a young man tampering with the Fjeldos’ car, and Rex had held the man at bay while Fjeldos called police. Before police took the man into custody, Fjeldos had voiced a strong complaint about the “poor lighting” in the neighborhood.

This time, however, Fjeldos suspects the stranger might be carrying meat to poison Rex or other neighborhood dogs. He hands his wife the flashlight with instructions to keep it shining on the stranger while once again he calls police.

9:37 p.m.

Sioux City police answer a call from a Mr. Laif Fjeldos, who tells them he has “a suspicious man cornered” and needs assistance. Before police can arrive, the man flees north through the alley and Fjeldos gives chase. Fjeldos chases the man across W. 14th Street and into the next alley, which leads north toward W. 15th. The man — described as about 31 years old with a slight build and wearing a white T-shirt and khaki trousers — runs awkwardly, still stooped over with the bundle. He appears to have something wrapped inside a blanket.

The man suddenly ducks between two bushes in the back yard of the home at 1417 Isabella Street. It is but one block from the Davis home, despite the jump from the 700-block to 1400-block addresses. Fjeldos approaches slowly, but by the time he reaches the bushes realizes the man has simply vanished.

Approximately 9:40 p.m.

DSD-cribCourtesy photo by Newman, Sioux City Journal Staff Photographer
Donna Sue Davis, not yet 2 years old, was kidnapped from this Sioux City bedroom July 10, 1955. Police speculated the furniture’s arrangement forced the abductor to physically enter the room to steal the child, and that he exited the home via the same window.

Mr. Davis gets up to go to bed and check on Donna Sue. He doesn’t see her in her crib and thinks she’s hiding beneath the covers, but she isn’t there.

“Where’s Donna?” he hollers to his wife, and then sees that the bedroom screen has been removed. He immediately telephones police, unaware they’re already on their way to the neighborhood in response to Mr. Fjeldos’ call about the prowler.

Laif Fjeldos stands outside his home waiting for police to arrive and telling the gathering crowd of neighbors what he’s seen and how he chased the man up the alley toward 15th Street before losing him.

Suddenly, they hear Mary Davis screaming from inside her home. “My baby is gone! My baby is gone!” she wails, and then they hear sounds of crying as she pleads “Help … help … help.”

Running out the Leads

As more and more area residents gather outside to discover what the commotion is all about, Sioux City Police officers arrive on scene.

Mr. Berger tells police about the stranger he saw moving stealthily along the Davis home’s south side just a little while earlier.

Mr. and Mrs. McLeod from the upstairs Isabella street duplex state they didn’t see or hear anything unusual.

Several neighbors report having seen the man, but say they found it difficult to judge his height because he’d walked bent over while carrying something.

Friends gather at the Davis home as the search for Donna Sue beginsCourtesy AP Wirephoto and The Sioux City Journal
The Davis home quickly became headquarters for search parties organized by neighbors after Donna Sue’s abduction.

More than 25 neighbors go out searching in the vacant fields and houses in the vicinity. Mr. Davis, extremely distraught over his daughter’s disappearance, jumps into his car and begins to search the area on his own, but the surrounding roads are still muddy from the rains and he drives his car into a ditch and gets stuck. Friends come to his rescue to help him pull it out.

Relatives begin gathering at the Davis home to provide comfort and support. The Davises tell police there’s been no family trouble and they know of no one with a motive for wanting to kidnap Donna Sue.

10:05 p.m.

Sioux City resident Sid Goldberg drives through the nearby town of Elk Point, South Dakota, and near a motel sees a man in a white T-shirt and khaki trousers standing on the road beside a black Chevrolet 2-door sedan with Nebraska license plates. The man in the T-shirt and khakis holds a baby in his arms, but Goldberg — unaware of what has transpired back in Sioux City — thinks nothing of it.

10:30 p.m.

Mrs. Everett Hauswirth, who lives on the “Old Back Road” in South Sioux City, Nebraska, is startled by sounds of a vehicle either stopping outside on the gravel road or pulling into her driveway. A moment later she hears the car quickly accelerate and speed away.

Approximately 11 p.m.

Sid Goldberg is back on the road and listening to his radio. He hears the report about Donna Sue’s abduction and immediately stops to telephone Sioux City police. The Sioux City police notify Elk Point, S.D. police, who quickly converge at the same hotel Goldberg passed almost 90 minutes earlier. The Chevrolet sedan is gone, but Goldberg says he remembers the license plate number.

Sioux City police radio a detailed description of the man and child to law enforcement networks in Iowa, S.D. and Neb., and to taxicab companies whose cabs are equipped with two-way radios.

Police take Donna Sue’s bedroom screen and several other items to police headquarters to check for possible fingerprints.

Police follow up on the license plate number in hopes of discovering the owner and getting a lead, but nothing pans out. The Nebraska Motor Vehicle Bureau won’t be open until the following morning.

Sioux City Police Chief James O’Keefe is roused from bed to take charge of the search for Donna Sue and her kidnapper.

Capt. John Rispalje and detectives John Banys and Paul Brown are held over for extra duty in the investigation, as are several patrolmen.

Throughout the night, Sioux City police swarm over the city’s west side in search of any type of clue.

Monday, July 11, 1955

Early Monday morning at the Davis home, Capt. Rispalje explains that the FBI cannot be called in on the case until proof exists the abductor took Donna Sue across a state line or contacted the Davises asking for money or other consideration in exchange for Donna Sue’s return.

More detectives descend upon the neighborhood, talking with residents about the previous day’s and evening’s activities. They conduct a house to house check.

Three FBI officers from the Omaha Field Office arrive at the Davis home, stating they are there to familiarize themselves with the neighborhood. They unofficially associate themselves with the case in what they call a “consultatory capacity.”

A farmer reports to the Woodbury County Sheriff’s office that he heard a baby crying in a parked car on a road about three and one-half miles east of Highway 75, halfway between the nearby towns of Sergeant Bluff and Salix, Iowa. He says the car had Nebraska plates, and deputies go to investigate.

Just across the river in South Sioux City, Neb., Mrs. Ernest Oehlerking, 33, is in a festive mood. Today, one of her six daughters turns 11 years old, and she is getting ready to bake a cake while the girls are in town at a Girl Scouts camp. The birthday gifts are already wrapped.

As afternoon approaches, Chief O’Keefe appeals to all householders to check carefully for the possible presence of baby garments or a child’s clothing that might be a clue to the kidnapping.

Police officers report to an anxious public that a man with a bundle had been seen north of an alley near 14th and Nebraska streets. They say the man entered a garage in the vicinity, stayed a few minutes and then left the building.

They speculate the child may have been wrapped in a blanket the abductor carried with him elsewhere in the city, but state nothing has been taken from Donna Sue’s bedroom. Her teddy bear, rubber doll and red purse were all found inside her crib after she vanished.

The search party grows to include Air National Guardsmen, extra police and dozens more volunteers. The search extends from West Seventh Street to West 18th Street and along Perry Creek, and from West Eighth and Bluff Street West to Ross Street.

They find nothing.

3:45 p.m.

Across the river in Nebraska, Ernest Oehlerking drives his tractor toward South Sioux City where he intends to buy oats. His nephew, 14-year-old Ronnie Oehlerking of Denver, rides behind the tractor in a wagon along with Ernie Reed and Harlan Haas — two locals who help out on the Oehlerking farm.

One-eighth of a mile north of his farmhouse and midway to Mrs. Everett Hauswirth’s home, Ernest Oehlerking notices something in a ditch. He goes to investigate and discovers the bottom half of a baby’s pink pajamas as well as a pair of rubber pants — the kind normally worn over a baby’s diaper.

He immediately turns around for home where he calls the police and tells his wife what he’s discovered.

Mrs. Ernest Oehlerking leaves right away for town to pick up her daughters from Girl Scout Camp. On her way home – based on what she later calls ‘women’s intuition’ – she stops at the home of her sister-in-law, Mrs. William Oehlerking (47 years old). The women set out in two cars to search for Donna Sue, both driving south on the Old Back Road. Mrs. William Oehlerking’s 13-year-old daughter chooses to ride with her aunt and six cousins (ranging in age from 18 mos. to 13 years), while Mrs. William Oehlerking drives alone.

It is a blistering 96 degrees outside.

4:15 p.m.

The Oehlerking vehicles pass the Ernest Oehlerking farm and continue down the gravelled Old Back Road that leads from South Sioux City to Dakota City. A half-mile past the Oehlerking farm the girls suddenly scream, crying out that they’ve seen Donna Sue’s body. Mrs. Ernest Oehlerking comes to a stop and backs up.

Mrs. William Oehlerking, 47 (left) and Mrs. Ernest Oehlerling, 33, rightPhoto by Murphy, Sioux City Journal Staff Photographer
Two South Sioux City sisters-in-law, Mrs. William Oehlerking, 47 (left) and Mrs. Ernest Oehlerking, 33 (right), are pictured standing near the cornfield — with corn about waist high — where the two women and their children discovered the body of Donna Sue Davis Monday afternoon, July 11, 1955. Ernest Oehlerking farmed the 40-acre cornfield, and earlier had discovered Donna Sue’s night clothes in a nearby ditch.

Donna Sue Davis lies 15 feet west of the Old Back Road in the first row of a 40-acre cornfield. Her pink pajama top is wound around her neck. The corn is about waist high and there is little shade to cover her small body.

Donna Sue’s arms lie above her head. She could be sleeping if not for the blood and bruises and markings around her eyes.

Mrs. Ernest Oehlerking takes the girls home with her to call police while her sister-in-law stays with Donna Sue’s body. Mrs. William Oehlerking finds an old paper sack nearby, tears it up and covers the body.

4:45 p.m.

Police arrive at the site. In South Sioux City, Chief of Police F.E. (Pete) Baumer notifies SCPD Identification Bureau Superintendent Harold Casey and the clothing is taken to the parents for identification.

Police hold three persons for questioning in the case.

South Sioux City and Sioux City police investigate the cornfield area where Donna Sue was found. Broken cornstalks indicate her body likely was thrown from a car.

Later that day, Dr. Thomas L. Coriden (Woodbury County coroner) and Dr. A.C. Starry, Sioux City pathologist, perform the autopsy. They conclude Donna Sue has been dead between 10-12 hours.

The child’s battered body has been raped, sodomized, and her left jaw broken. Numerous bruises populate her body, along with cigarette or cigarette lighter burns on her buttocks.

The coroners list cause of death as “massive brain hemorrhage resulting from a severe blow to the head” — also known as blunt force trauma to the head.

Sioux City police, S. Sioux City police and FBI agents investigate the area in the cornfield where Donna Sue's body was found.Photo by Murphy, Sioux City Journal Staff Photographer
Sioux City police, S. Sioux City police and FBI agents investigate the area in the cornfield where Donna Sue’s body was found. A broken cornstalk indicated her body had been thrown from a vehicle.

When the autopsy is finished, Donna Sue is transported to Sioux City’s Manning-O’Toole funeral home.

Dr. Coriden says blood types are are undergoing chemical studies in efforts to assist with the investigation.

Police discount reports they are seeking a 1941 model car. Dakota County Sheriff Tony Goodsell says he had directed the search for the vehicle after a hit-and-run accident in Dakota City about an hour after Donna Sue’s disappearance Sunday night. Evidence indicates there is no connection with the case, and police say they are investigating other leads.

Early evening

Sioux City Journal reporter Bob Gunsolley is covering a city council meeting when news arrives that Donna Sue’s body has been found. Sioux City Mayor George Young begins to go “berserk” – ranting and screaming and cursing.

In South Sioux City, the Oehlerking families begin receiving phone calls from relatives in Beemer, Neb.; they’ve already heard the news on TV.

Tuesday, July 12, 1955

10:05 a.m. (approx.) State police in Pierre, S.D., receive a report that a truck driver has seen a man answering the description of the slayer a little after 10 a.m. on U.S. Highway 12 east and south of Selby, S.D. The trucker says the man was hitchhiking on the highway, which runs north and south through Selby.

Noon – Walworth County Sheriff Theodore Delbert says a thorough search in all directions from Selby failed to uncover any trace of a hitchhiker or man answering the killer’s description.

Police Identification Bureau experts check a collection of fingerprints found on a cedar chest under the window in the room where Donna Sue slept. Officials will check the prints against Donna Sue’s family members and nearby relatives.

Afternoon – Federal officers file a “John Doe Warrant” for the slayer, giving officers throughout the country the authorization to arrest and hold anyone suspected of the slaying.

The Sioux City Journal demands Sioux City be made “the most feared town in America for the sex deviate.”

The FBI pursues the case under the Lindbergh Act; the suspect, when caught, will be tried in federal district court in Sioux City and be eligible for the death penalty.

Six FBI agents — under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Joseph Thornton of Omaha’s FBI field office — take over the search for the slayer under terms of the Lindbergh kidnapping law.

Police and federal agents run down countless tips on the slayer’s whereabouts.

Dr. Coriden says chemical studies on blood types are in progress.

Sioux City police begin a citywide roundup of what they call ‘known sex perverts.’

The police, the Sioux City Journal and other information centers take calls from incensed residents all day long as an ugly mood surges throughout the community.

Wednesday, July 13, 1955

9:00 a.m. – Donna Sue’s funeral is held at Sioux City’s St. Boniface Catholic Church. A crowd of 350-400 people pass by the small white flower-covered casket. In the eulogy, Rev. Philip Koehler says Donna Sue has died in a defense of purity, and compared her killing to those of small Jewish boys in biblical times. She is now “to many hearts, St. Donna,” he says, and the mourners “might well pray to her rather than for her in order they might all be childlike.”

A FBI agent and several local detectives attend the funeral and mingle among the mourners on the chance the killer may have returned out of morbid curiosity.

Donna Sue Davis' family members gather for her burialCourtesy photo Sioux City Journal
Mr. and Mrs. James D. Davis and their two children, Mary Claire, 11, and Timothy, 7, stand near 21-month-old Donna Sue’s casket at Calvary Cemetery. At right are an uncle, John McCarville, and the maternal grandmother, Mrs. Mary McCarville.

Following the funeral, 40 cars accompany the body to Calvary Cemetery, where four young boys – David Madsen, Steven Stafford, Gary Manning and Thomas Walsted (ages 12 to 14) – carry the casket to its resting place on a green hilltop.

Iowa Governor Leo A. Hoegh holds a press conference and suggests Donna Sue’s killer “must have been insane.” He recommends more be done to prevent mental disease.

In Washington, D.C., FBI director J. Edgar Hoover learns about Donna Sue’s murder and its sadistic nature.

“Get him!” Hoover demands.


Thirty-one-year-old farm hand Otto E. Wennekamp visits a car dealership to trade in his vehicle and leaves with the new car to go get the money. When he doesn’t return, the dealer notices a number of cigarette burns in the old car’s dashboard. He telephones police.

South Sioux City Sheriff John Elliott of Pender, Neb., receives a tip on Wennekamp’s whereabouts from a farmer whose identify is not ascertained. Elliott finds the suspect on the Otto Bengin farm. FBI investigators and Sioux City police arrive and immediately begin questioning Wennekamp.

Wennekamp is apprehended and taken into custody near Thurston, Neb. Elliott, FBI and Sioux City law enforcement question Wennekamp for about an hour at the S. Sioux City police department but his alibi checks out; he’s held over only for auto theft.

2:30 p.m.

Sioux City detectives announce that Wennekamp has been released and exonerated of any connection with Donna Sue’s death.

That same day in Joplin, Missouri, 42-year-old drifter Audrey Earl Brandt tells police he killed Donna Sue Davis. He later recants, saying it was all a hoax. Police determine he’d been traveling in Missouri with a carnival the night of Donna Sue’s abduction and he’s eliminated as a suspect.

Omaha’s FBI regional office sends nearly 30 special agents to Sioux City to help police direct the investigation. The agents are paired with Sioux City police officers and work out of Sioux City’s federal building.

U.S. District Attorney Francis E. Van Alstine and Woodbury County Attorney Donald O’Brien make a plea to the public to let the law take its course in the event there’s an arrest. They emphasize they’re doing everything possible to apprehend Donna Sue’s slayer, and that if the person is caught, that they are “duty bound to see that he receives a fair trial.”

Sioux City Chief of Detectives Harry Gibbons — a former boxer — begins writing in what eventually will become a cache of spiral notebooks, all cross-indexed with every interview, every suspect and every detail related to Donna Sue’s murder.

Thursday, July 14, 1955

In their headline “Sex Offender Law is Unused,” the Des Moines Register reports Des Moines police are taking first steps to certify a pedophile as a sexual psychopath. The Register’s editors place the article on page 3, next to a picture of the Davis family grieving in front of Donna Sue’s casket.

The Journal-Tribune Co. offers a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Donna Sue Davis’s killer.

A demand for watchdogs for protection increases in Sioux City. Mrs. M. W. Baldwin, director of the Humane Society, says people want dogs who will be kind to children and cross to strangers. Shepherd breeds are in the greatest demand, with a heavy demand for German shepherds, or “police dogs.”

Friday, July 15, 1955

Governor Leo Hoegh calls for special meeting of the Board of Control and superintendents from the state’s four mental hospitals. They schedule the meeting for the following Friday.

Friday, July 22, 1955

The Davis family breaks its silence to thank the public for their support. The Davises have received some 500 cards and letters from all across the U.S.

The Sioux City Journal reports its reward fund has grown in one week from $1,344 to $2,387. A Sioux City TV station promises $500 and Gov. Hoegh offers $500 on behalf of the State of Iowa. It is the first time the state has ever offered a reward in a criminal case.

At the meeting, Gov. Hoegh announces the state is establishing a special ward for criminal sexual psychopaths at the state mental hospital in Mount Pleasant.

Saturday, December 10, 1955

Virgil Vance WilsonCourtesy photo Sioux City Journal
Virgil Vance Wilson, a 32-year-old butcher from Onawa, Iowa, told Reno, Nevada, police he raped and strangled Donna Sue Davis and threw her body out of the car. He later recanted his confession.

Police in Reno, NV, arrest Virgil Vance Wilson on charges of intoxication and disorderly conduct. Wilson, a 32-year-old butcher from Onawa, Iowa, asks to speak to a detective, and tells Capt. Reno Ferretto that sometime in July, he stole a car and raped and killed Donna Sue Davis.

Wilson tells Ferretto he stole the car in Sioux City (36 miles north of Onawa), and drove onto a side road where he raped and then strangled the child. He said he then threw her body out of the car and abandoned the vehicle. Reno police telephone Sioux City police.

Sunday, December 11, 1955

FBI agents question Virgil Vance Wilson. Wilson contradicts his earlier story and repudiates his confession, denying any connection whatsoever with Donna Sue’s slaying.

Tuesday, December 20, 1955

Sioux City Police Chief James O’Keefe announces that Wilson has been eliminated as a suspect. He says Wilson had been in Des Moines in the company of friends as late as 7 p.m. the night of Donna Sue’s murder and couldn’t have arrived in Sioux City with enough time to commit the crime.

Friday, June 8, 1956

A man is taken to Des Moines for a lie detector test in connection with Donna Sue’s murder; he is held for further questioning because of discrepancies in his story.

Woodbury County Attorney Donald O’Brien and Chief of Detectives Harry Gibbons address the lie detector tests, saying one suspect has been ruled out and that another should be questioned and investigated further.

Wednesday, November 13, 1957

The Sioux City Journal closes the book on its reward fund for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Donna Sue Davis’s killer. They return individual contributions to the donors.

Wednesday, January 29, 1958

The Sioux City Journal reports that the Davis case is being reopened and is the subject of a closed inquest being conducted at the Woodbury County courthouse.

Woodbury County Attorney Donald O’Brien says the three-man jury is tentatively scheduled to meet again Saturday.

Dr. Coriden says the inquest is closed to “protect witnesses.” He says eight or 10 persons have taken lie detector tests.

Friday, January 16, 1970

Chief of Detectives Harry J. Gibbons — who has filled many notebooks and obsessed for nearly 15 years over Donna Sue’s unsolved murder — dies. It is rumored he spent his final days in a mental health facility, cutting out paper dolls.

About Donna Sue Davis
donna-sue-davis-gravestoneCourtesy photo T.R. Patterson,
Donna Sue Davis is buried as Calvary Cemetery in Sioux City.

Donna Sue Davis was born September 19, 1953, the daughter of James “Don” Davis and Mary Beatrice (McCarville) Davis.

She died July 10, 1955, at the age of 1 year, 9 months, and 22 days.

In addition to her parents, survivors included a sister, Mary Claire, 11; a brother, Timothy, 7; the maternal grandmother, Mrs. Mary McCarville of Sioux City, and the paternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. R.E. Davis of Sioux City.

Memorial services were held at 9 a.m. Wednesday, July 13, 1955 at St. Boniface Catholic Church with the Rev. Philip Koehler officiating. Between 350-400 people attended the service.

Donna Sue was laid to rest at Calvary Cemetery in Sioux City.

The above information is from dozens of Sioux City Journal archives, The Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, the Sioux City Police Department, and other sources.

Information Needed

If you have any information about Donna Sue Davis’ unsolved murder please contact the Sioux City Police Department at (712) 279-6390.


Copyright © 2020 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


83 Responses to Donna Sue Davis

  1. patty collums says:

    that beautiful baby girl, why would a creep like l virgil vance wilson do such a horrible crime. she was just a baby, couldnt defend for herself.i know her parents must to had nightmaires. it must to had about killled them. her snall brother timothy, and her oldest sister mary claire. beautiful names. iam soo sorry, even tho i was born in 1955, baby donna sue would had been a mother, grandmother, but her small life was snuffed out by some sexulal creep. she would had been arounr 54. thanks, god bless, and soo many sorries. patty

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Patty, back on December 20, 1955 (see timeline), Sioux City Police Chief James O’Keefe announced that Virgil Vance Wilson had been eliminated as a suspect in Donna Sue’s murder. For any number of reasons, people will sometimes confess to a crime they didn’t commit. Wilson had been in Des Moines that night and couldn’t have made it to Sioux City to kidnap Donna Sue in the time frame she went missing. I, too, often wonder what her life might be like today had this never happened. All best, Jody

      • triciaann hellums says:

        thank god, virgil vance Wilson was eliminated. she was such a beautiful child, her parents had nightmares, until the day thay died.

  2. Theresa says:

    I am surprised the fingerprints from the trunk haven’t been run through CODIS, as I would believe that a comparison has already been done with Virgil Wilson.

  3. tammy smith says:

    i just read this i feel so sad, and yet so angry, the man got away with killing this precious gift from GOD. GODS rath on this man will be unspeakable. RIP

  4. This is one of the saddest stories I have read.

  5. CRC says:

    Wish that ‘Cold Justice” would review this case.

  6. I’m so sorry. My prayers and thoughts with the family and friends.

  7. This one always makes me cry. Rest in Peace little one <3

  8. Mandie El says:

    You should read the book about it

  9. Mandie El says:

    Its called sex, crime, panic. Its very sad but will make you question how someone got away with this for so long. My this innocent baby rest in Peace

  10. What f***ing a**hole could do this to such an innocent child?

  11. This one has always made me the most upset, that some animal could do this and not be punished. Rest in peace sweet girl.

  12. My grandmas best friends little brother was found decapitated before this and they went on a witch hunt its in that book Mandie El mentioned. Crazy nobody was ever brought to justice for these crimes :(

  13. Mandie El says:

    Its sad book but a good read. I still think the lil boy n her have the same killer. Bk then we had a lot of cattle sales n trucks coming in n out of here. I do believe that someone driving these trucks had something to do with it.

  14. Beth Cameron says:

    This horrid crime was committed by Edward Wayne Edwards. Read the book “It’s me Edward Wayne Edwards The serial killer you never heard of ” available at

  15. Kris Starks says:

    What is the name of the book re this cold case? I would be interested in reading it Thank you.

  16. Will Keleher says:

    If you want to read a good book about this case and the kidnapping of Jimmy Bremmers from Sioux city who was kidnapped and murdered in the same time frame the book is called “SEX CRIME PANIC Sioux City”

  17. Beth Cameron, Edward Wayne Edwards was *not* the one who killed little Donna Sue Davis. The reason Edwards is called the “serial killer you never heard of” is because he was so obsessed with being in the media spotlight he confessed to a number of unsolved crimes, including that of Jon Benet Ramsey. People make false confessions for a number of reasons, and can a serial killer be considered a trustworthy source of information? Sioux City police know who killed Donna Sue but the DNA had degraded over the years (before today’s forensics allowed for microscopic replication), and Donna Sue’s killer passed away just a few years ago.

  18. Beth Cameron says:

    Well Iowa Cold Cases I think you are wrong about a couple of things. Edward Wayne Edwards did commit this crime, Jon Benet’s murder, the Zodiac, the Atlanta child killings and so many more. You are correct that Donna Sue’s killer passed away – Edward Wayne Edwards died in prison on April 7, 2011. You can’t deny the facts as they all fall into place – there is so much more information out there and so many more crimes to be solved and imprisoned innocent people that need justice. The truth will come out.

  19. Mary Wendt says:

    I was born and raised in Sioux City. I was 12 when this happened about 4 blocks from where we lived. So SAD. I still often think about what her poor mother and the rest of the family went through–and the ones still alive are probably still going through. The perpetrator was probably caught in a similar crime, but even if he was never caught, God’s wrath will finally consume him.

  20. Tim says:

    Mr. Laif Fjeldos, who tells them he has “a suspicious man cornered” and needs assistance. Before police can arrive, the man flees north through the alley and Fjeldos gives chase. Fjeldos chases the man across W. 14th Street and into the next alley, which leads north toward W. 15th. The man — described as about 31 years old with a slight build and wearing a white T-shirt and khaki trousers,,,

    Sioux City resident Sid Goldberg drives through the nearby town of Elk Point, South Dakota, and near a motel sees a man in a white T-shirt and khaki trousers standing on the road beside a black Chevrolet 2-door sedan with Nebraska license plates. The man in the T-shirt and khakis holds a baby in his arms, but Goldberg — unaware of what has transpired back in Sioux City — thinks nothing of it…

    Goldberg says he remembers the license plate number… Police follow up on the license plate number in hopes of discovering the owner and getting a lead, but nothing pans out.


    The Nebraska Motor Vehicle Bureau won’t be open until the following morning.

    What happened after the Nebraska Motor Vehicle Bureau opened ?

    What about the Plate number ?

    • Detective Moreau says:

      And how can you reach Elk Point from Sioux City in 25 minutes in 1955? My primarly thoughts about this story focuse on an sick, pedant petty thief who sought the opportunity to steal something but instead stole the baby girl because he was also a sexual deviant.

    • Bree says:

      I’m glad someone is paying attention, my question as well

    • Alua says:

      Thank you! That was never mentioned again and definitely required follow up!

  21. Tim says:

    I think DNA should be documented at birth of every new born and that EVERY adult should be required BY LAW to submit DNA starting ASAP.. yes people will fight it and say it’s a violation of their privacy and other rights BUT…

    if your innocent…

    1. it is in the best interest of the public.. and for the Rights, Welfare and Protection
    of the innocent public..

    2. Identification of Suspects and Unidentified Victims as well would be automatic..
    no more waiting and hoping for a possible match..

    3. A Deterrent..

    I am a Death Penalty Advocate but I believe that Mandatory DNA Testing Truly
    Would be a Deterrent to Future Criminals Knowing that their DNA is a matter of
    Record and the smallest Touch DNA or Hair or minute Blood or Skin Cell would
    lead to their Arrest.. people would think differently knowing their DNA is on file..

    4. Only the guilty will mind providing Mandatory DNA New Born or Not..

    5. Decent Law Abiding Citizens should have no problem providing DNA

    (providing they are Innocent, Caring and a Non-Treat to todays Society)

    6. It would save lives!! even if just one life it would be worth it..

    7. and then there’s the A.C.L.U..

    Babies are born everyday, why not simply record their DNA and enter into a data base ?

    it would also clear up the baby mix ups in the Hospital for people taking home the wrong baby.. there’s a million good reasons to make DNA mandatory and not a single bad one.

    Also for New Immigrants.. and anyone entering our country for that matter.. all’s it would take is a simple poke.

    Young Kids growing up with the knowledge knowing their DNA is Recorded AND on Record would have a different mind set..

    except for the suicidal.. and in their case they execute justice on themselves.

    • LuluBelle says:

      DNA is taken from every child born in the US since 1966.
      It’s called the PKU/Guthrie card.
      A few drops of blood is taken to screen against a disease, then cards are filed away for X amount of years.
      They are eventually destroyed in some states, kept in others.

      What’s needed is for what’s contained in this record to be kept indefinitely on file.

  22. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    I wonder if there are any similar incidents anywhere else in the country. Also did the offender know that this baby was there. Also what information if any was gained from the license plate

  23. LeechZombie says:

    edwards did it out of revenge

  24. christine says:

    @CRC …I was wishing the same thing…I would like to see Cold Justice review the case. I read somewhere else that the cold case investigators actually were able to get DNA which, if true, is amazing for such an old case & considering how evidence was handled that long ago…an even better reason to get Cold Justice to look at everything. Whoever did this is up there in years but I’d still want to see him caught.

  25. Natasha says:

    Yesterday I took her two roses, and one for her parents as well. I cried for her. My heart feels so much pain for this whole family for a little baby to have to go out that way feel those feelings and to be a mother to lose a child that way I just can not imagine. I think of her a lot and I just wish and pray she will get justice.

  26. I brought her roses today, such a truly heartbreaking story…

  27. This is such a sad and horrible case. Rip little darling.

  28. What a horrible story. Our world is filled with monsters who look human. Did the Nebraska authorities ever run the license plates ?

  29. My daughter is close to that age. I can’t even imagine.

  30. Sandi Uhl O'Brien says:

    There was also a book written about this case by Miller called "Sex-Crime Panic: A Journey to the Paranoid Heart of the 1950s"

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Sandi, the book written by Neil Miller was actually the horrific story of 20 Siouxland homosexuals who were sentenced to mental institutions following the Aug. 31, 1954 murder of 11-year-old Jimmy Bremmers of Sioux City, and then the subsequent kidnapping/slaying of 21-month-old Donna Sue Davis on July 10, 1955, even though none of these men had anything to do with either homicide. Neil’s book focuses more specifically on Jimmy Bremmers’ case, though Donna Sue Davis is referenced insofar as when the “sex-crime panic” really began.

      In what I consider an ironic twist of fate, I worked as a feature writer at the (Sioux City-based) “Weekender” at the time Neil’s book came out, and I interviewed him as part of our “Author Interview” series. The story ran on March 21, 2002, back when I’d never even thought about writing about Iowa’s unsolved murders. (The Weekender’s articles from back then are no longer archived on the Weekender’s website, but I’d saved a copy and it’s available on my personal website.)

      In his book (and at college readings), Neil spoke about the Sexual Psychopath Law of 1955 (which lumped homosexuals together with pedophiles), and its relevance to today. The law wasn’t repealed until 1977. It is indeed a good read about Sioux City history and how gays were viewed/treated back in the ’50s.

      Ernest Triplett, an itinerant music salesman for Flood Music in Sioux City, was questioned by police in September 1954, and on Oct. 5, 1954, appeared before the Woodbury County Insanity Commission with no legal representation. The next day, doctors injected Triplett with 80 mg of the amphetamine Desoxyn and three grains of the barbiturate Seconal, even though Triplett hadn’t eaten since the previous day. By days end, Triplett confessed to killing Jimmy Bremmers, and was formally charged March 3, 1955. Seventeen years after Triplett’s life sentence, U of Iowa law professor Robert Bartels challenged Triplett’s conviction. On Oct. 17, 1972, Triplett’s conviction was overturned in Jimmy Bremmers’ murder and Triplett was released from prison the following day.

  31. the whole story is like watching a terrible movie, only real, God bless her soul! and those who lived through it.

  32. Randy Leedom says:

    I went to school with Tim Davis I lived right across the street from Saint Boniface

  33. Somebody commented on another page she spoke to the sister and she said they know who did it but can’t prove it.

  34. I am amazed at this. Look at all the neighbors and strangers who promptly reported anything they saw or heard that seemed suspicious. While in this case Donna Sue didn’t survive and her killer has not been caught, it still put investigators on the right track and helped this baby to be found sooner rather then later. We are a communities eyes and ears and can help solve cases. Also the generosity of others for putting up rewards for tips shows th

  35. The care people have for one another. Also this case helped shed light on mental health issues and the need of dealing with sex offenders.

  36. Joni Jones Wilde says:

    So sad. I had not heard this story before.

  37. Kathy Berry says:

    It would be odd that no one had seen this man whether stranger or not, or a friend or family member visiting in the neighborhood because the guy knew exactly who his victim was and where to find her. Someone knows who it is. Maybe their conscience will bring them forward with this article.

  38. Debby Edwards says:

    One of the saddest stories I've ever read.

  39. Who did they think it was #IowaColdCases

  40. Kelly Coyne says:

    Rest in peace Donna Sue Davis

  41. Randy Leedom says:

    Does anyone know where Tim Davis is I went to school with him at St. boniface and Heelan hope he will come to the reunion in September 2016

  42. Joel Nordstrom says:

    Poor little girl! People can be so evil!!

  43. Annika Smyslov says:

    Today's DNA should sort this out quickfast. Although the killer is probably dead by now. Or maybe he migrated to Rochester, NY and did their 3.

  44. Judith Pierce says:

    there has got to be some dna evidence which at the time this dna testing was not availble but now is availble has this been currently teasted and matched up with national databases> even tho the killer is probably dead it would maybe show up the killer. Judith Pierce

  45. Natasha says:

    Brought her a Lilly today, breaks my heart this story…

  46. So sad. Poor baby girl.

  47. La=y Little says:

    The name that has came up in the last few years was Barnes. There was three or four brothers. According to the information was one of the Barnes brothers killed Donna Sue Davis. Maybe they could check and see if the last name showed up anywhere.

    • Patricia says:

      I’m the daighted of one of those Barnes brothers. I brought information to the sherrif back in the 80s. I gave info that my dad had told me that was not included in the newspaper articles. They were inyeresint. Dad had 3 polygraph test given to him. All 3 came out as inconclusive. He was taking alot of digferdif medications at the time for health reasons. Since there wasn’t enough proven evidence to indite him at the time he was not arrested. .he died. December of 1994. He talked about the case alot but only when he and I were alone and when I was very young. I would say until I was about 12. Yes he was a sex offender. Mostly little children and they were mostly family members one as young as 2 years old. We lived in Chicago when Donna sue davis was kidnapped and killed but dad was visiting his family in sioux City during that week. He took the grayhound bus to Sioux City but used his brother’s car to drive around in while he visited. My uncle who owned the car was stationed away in the navy at that time. The car did fit the description of the one used in the crime. What is really weidw is that back in I believe it was 1962 my parents bought the house where this all happened and we ended up living there. Also during one day when I was 4 which was in 1955 2 men came to our house said they were working for the FBI and questioned my dad. I remember they asked him if he had been in Sioux City during and around July 10th. He said no. Then they asked my mom and her sister who were in the same room if he had been in Sioux City during that time. They both answered no. They also asked me what my name was how old was I and who that man was. I told them my name was Patty. I was almost 5 and that he was my daddy. There was always alot of denial and covering up about dad’s sexual deviation by my mom and dadsd families on both sides. I’m not sure if dad was the one or not for sure. I can only go with my gut feeling and instincts and of course with my childhood experiences. But why would they question him way in Chicago when the crime happened in Sioux City Iowa? Why would he talk about it so often and only to me when nobody else was around? Why in the world would he buy the house and have us live in it ? Sometimes a criminal will return to the scene of the crime. How was he able to tell me things that weren’t public knowledge or at least in the newspaper?

      • Patricia Scott says:

        Sorry about all the spelling mistakes in my previous comment. My hands are shaking. This is all very emotional for me just to think that I could be a child of such a monster.

        • Suzan Atkinson-Haverty says:

          Patricia, you need to contact the police of that town and tell them who you are, and what you believe, and you are willing to take a dna test. They then should compare those results to anything that is left on that poor baby Donna’s clothing from way back in 1955. Just do it, do what is right, do it now! I think your instincts are right on.

        • Suzan Atkinson-Haverty says:

          Patricia, you really should contact the police of that town and tell them you are willing to do a DNA Test to either rule in or out the Barnes name. Just do it now, do the right thing!

      • Linda Rivers says:

        You may want to see if you can provide a DNA sample and see if they can run the DNA of the girls clothes and get a match.

  48. Just sickening they never were able to find the piece of trash that did this!!

  49. Janice Baer says:

    Having lived in Sioux City since 1949, I became a neighbor or Mrs. Fjeldos in 1962. In visiting with her about Donna Sue’s abduction/murder, she told me that the intruder they saw kept his back to them, but seemed to be holding something in front of him. She mentioned that he was cleanly dressed like a “professional man”. The horrific details of Donna’s injuries have never left my memory.

  50. Dennis Neil says:

    Sad, very sad, that this vicious killer was never apprehended, tried and executed for this senseless, barbaric murder of such a beautiful, young, innocent child! It appears to me, someone who would commit such a horrific crime would be likely to do so again, i.e., as if this has not already been the case previously? Could be, that this person is a “pedophile serial killer” and very possibly a psychopath, or sociopath, who could continue on this course until captured at some future date. Even so, he will pay for his crime(s) in the next world but, in the interim, the emotional toll and grief invoked on his victims and others is beyond human measure. So far in my life I have had 13 people that I personally knew, most pretty pretty well, at one time or another (though in various capacities) that were murdered. In one scenario, I almost became a victim, myself, but had the good sense to hit the ground when several shots were rapidly fired at me for no apparent reason. I quickly learned what they sounded like zinging through though the tall grass as I stood holding my Hunter Lantern which was turned on since it was dusk. I later surmised that they had to be firing at my light? But why? And with no regard for the human life holding it? I was only 15 years old at the time! Most of these killers of my friends and associates in my situation were arrested and brought to justice, though some have not and likely may never be…at least in this life….and at this late juncture! Thus, you may easily understand why I have such a strong belief in Capital Punishment for those committing such crimes because they need to be held accountable for their actions…!!!

    • Suzan Atkinson-Haverty says:

      Dennis, WOW! Sorry to hear what happened to you when you were young. It is amazing the things that can happen around us daily! It pays to be on your game 24/7! LOL I was raised by a U.S.Marine and he taught me well how to survive out there in this big bad world! I was his oldest daughter, and boy oh boy did he tell me the truth about boys, and how to protect myself. He got that in my head very young, so I was ready, when I could only date at age 16 back in the early 1970’s. I also agree with you on the death penalty! I wish that all of our 50 states had the death penalty and were using it daily. When I was in a Catholic grammar school in MA back in the 1960’s a little girl of 8 years of age was murdered by a 13 yrs. old boy from another school up the road. That freaked me out back then. I knew her, She was there one day, then gone the next, in a white coffin, coming down the aisle in the church because of a sexual predator. That is what made me begin to read true life crime stories when I got into my teens. This very sad case about this baby Donna, is beyond words. This animal was from that area, that town, or surrounding towns. He knew that neighborhood, he knew that family and who they had for kids. He likes female babies. This guy knew exactly where this little baby Donna was located. I believe this was not random at all. I think this killer was a sociopath and he is able to keep calm, cool, and collected always. I think after a short period of time (maybe a year or two), he may have then moved away, and he surely kept on raping and killing in another state. These sick twisted perverts cannot stop! He just moved on!

  51. MIke says:

    I was born in Sioux City and lived the horror of the Davis and Bremers murders. I was attending Irving School at the time. We lived 3-4 blocks from Irving. My father had the most direct route from school to home figured out , and if I deviated from the route, he was out looking for me. Things were never the same after these two events.

  52. Tia says:

    If they knew who did it and he’s dead now, then why can’t you tell us who this person was Iowa Cold Cases?

  53. Lisa says:

    So if that man admitted to what he had done to little Donna Sue … why was he not charged with her murder? Were all of the details released to the public? And even , if it was, within his confession I am sure there was something he claimed in his detailed confession that would’ve been enough to prosecute is sorry ass! That poor baby, so innocent ,sleep in her bed and taken by a pathetic monster and brutally killed. To know she never received justice is heartbreaking! May her small soul RIHP …

  54. Lisa says:

    So if Wilson didn’t commit the crime and it wasn’t Ed Edward’s. Who then did kill this baby so brutally? If he has passed away years ago… it should be ok and up for discussion. And I’d also like to know, … is why is this other person a suspect?

    • Patrick Kerrigan says:

      Lisa, you ask good questions. The problem is taking the known facts and connecting them to someone.

      In this case it appears this was a planned event. Not, something that was random in a sense, because the offender seemed to know where she was.

      This was a time when law enforcement, was not up on serial killers, people into molesting little kids, crime patterns, sharing information across jurisdictions, etc. They did not have the ability to run license plates through NCIC, or state motor vehicle records. We still don’t know if they traced the plates on that one vehicle.

      So, all we have is suspicions of who might have done the dirty deed. We have no proven facts that a prosecutor could use to seek an indictment.

      We need some facts that be proven. There might be a clue on the reports on this case, that was never followed up on. On review of many cold case investigators have come across someone who was mentioned and never interviewed or a piece of evidence that was never tested.

      There is a law enforcement agency that is looking at Ted Bundy in connection to a murder of a young girl. He was supposedly in the area when she was murdered.

      But, don’t stop asking questions, because it might jog someone to look at something they remember from that time period. Who knows they provide a clue to a culprit.

      • Suzan Atkinson-Haverty says:

        This was definitely someone from that area who knew the house and the family and that they had this very young female baby and that she was located in that particular room. This was not random! These demons, hide among us! They are called sociopaths! They do not have a conscience and what he did, does not bother him at all! He does not think or feel like normal people do. That is why he is a sociopath. And there are degrees of sociopaths….and I would say this guy is the worse on the meter because of the horrid description of what he did to this baby girl Donna. This guy if he had been caught, deserved the death penalty for what he did! It is so unjust that this animal was never caught for this rape, and torture murder of this baby girl it make people literally go crazy in their minds to think about it! I can see why that policeman felt so responsible and was losing it in the end of his life about this case! Very sad all the way around!

  55. Pat McGoff says:

    I lived in Sioux City at the time and was only 7. I remember everyone talking about this as it happened just a short time after a kid in our neighborhood was kidnapped and killed as well. His name was Jimmy Bremmer and he and his sisters went to our grade school. It was a rough time back then and kids were scared. Our parents actually started locking the screen doors at night which never happened before all this. The garage they mention in the article was my grandfather’s.

  56. Linda Rivers says:

    Who do you need to talk to in order to have someone else checked for committing this crime? My sister told me about this case this evening and she told me who she thought might have done it and I agree it is a possibility.

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