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At the end of the day on Friday, March 18, 1966, Effie Bell (known as “Cupie” to her family) got off work from her job at McRay Cosmetics Factory in Madrid, Iowa, just as she’d done since 1958 when first hired by the cosmetics manufacturer.
There was no telling what the weekend had in store for the wife and mother of three, or what her husband, Frank Bell, Sr., 49, might have in mind.
He’d just quit his job at the John Deere Des Moines Works plant the previous day.
On Sunday evening, March 20, Frank Bell placed a call to his wife’s general manager, Irwin Wikstrom, at his home. He told Wikstrom that Effie was leaving for Illinois.
“He told me she was upset and nervous and that she would be leaving to visit a sister,” Wikstrom recalled.
The following Wednesday, March 23, Bell went into McRay Co. and picked up his wife’s $40.41 paycheck.
“I asked him when [Effie] would be returning and he told me she was not coming back,” Wikstrom said.
Mrs. Bell had given no indication on March 18 that she would not be returning to work, Wikstrom later told police, and she’d always been a “fast and conscientious worker.” She had gone before to visit her sister in Moline, Ill., he said, but each time she’d always notified him she would be absent.
Townsfolk had begun to talk. Several Madrid persons quoted Mr. Bell as saying around that time that he was moving to Des Moines. In fact, some remembered Bell’s comments from as early as Wednesday, March 16, and others as late as Saturday, March 19. Yet Mrs. Bell had said nothing about her husband — or even the two of them — moving to Des Moines or why.
A Madrid man for whom Frank Bell worked part-time as a household appliance repairman quoted Bell as saying his wife “had left town.”
“He asked me if I’d be interested in buying a refrigerator,” the man said. “He told me he had put his wife on the train the night before, that she had left him and that he was selling their household goods.”
The explanations for Mrs. Bell’s disappearance weren’t adding up. Still, Frank Bell put the couple’s Madrid home up for sale.
At about 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 31, Jane Comer, 18, and her 12-year-old brother, Jerry, of nearby Moran were poking around at the Madrid city dump in Dallas County when they stumbled upon something they never expected to see: skeletal remains.
Protruding from beneath a piece of tin, the skeleton’s head and shoulders lay partly hidden amongst tin cans and other refuse in a gully about 40 feet from the main gate.
They immediately notified Marion Johannsen, a Woodward policeman, who summoned Dallas County Sheriff John Wright of Adel.
The Madrid dump — south of Madrid but in Dallas County — fell under the jurisdiction of both counties, and Dallas County’s Sheriff Wright placed calls to Boone County Sheriff Jack Camelin and Madrid police officer William Allen. Wright also called in the State Bureau of Investigation to assist with the investigation.
Sheriff Wright, who saw the skeleton soon after it was discovered, said part of the skull was missing but that it could not be determined whether the skull had been crushed by a blow.
While investigators found only shreds of clothing on the skeletal remains, three rings — including a gold wedding band and two diamond rings — remained on the fingers, and burned articles of clothing were discovered near the head. Beneath the body lay a newspaper dated February 26, 1966.
According to authorities, no women had been reported missing in Boone County or Dallas County.
Initial speculation was that perhaps the skeleton might be that of Mrs. Alma Stum, 63, who had been missing since leaving Friendship Haven December 13, 1965.
State agents took the remains to the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where associate professor and anthropologist Dr. Helen Dawson would examine them and conduct laboratory tests. Authorities said they hoped to determine the age, sex and time of death as well as the cause of death. Sheriff Wright said the shreds of clothing were also being examined to see if they belonged to Mrs. Bell.
In the interim, Frankie Bell, Jr., 23, of Ankeny, was asked to take a look at the three rings. He identified all three as belonging to his mother.
Early Saturday morning, June 4, 1966, an Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent spotted Frank Bell’s car in Des Moines and followed it to the home of Bell’s son-in-law and daughter, Mrs. Barbara Vest, who lived in the 3900 block of Oxford Street. In short order, Des Moines police, state highway patrolmen, sheriff’s officers and state agents had the house surrounded. Bell was ordered to come out with his hands up, to which he complied.
Bell was arrested on charges of forgery and uttering a forged instrument; by having signed his wife’s name to her final paycheck and then cashing it, officers had the justification needed to make the charges and the arrest.
Bell was taken to the Boone County jail, and later that morning was arraigned before Justice of the Peace E. H. White of Boone. Bell admitted he had taken and cashed his wife’s paycheck, but refused to answer questions about his wife’s whereabouts.
He was bound over to district court on charges of forgery and uttering a forged instrument, and returned to the Boone County jail in lieu of a $5,000 bond on each charge.
Looking for further evidence, the Bureau of Investigation tore up the sewer at the Bell home and took from the house a variety of items and articles of clothing, which they sent in for analysis.
Meanwhile, Frank Bell’s Madrid employer, who asked that his name be withheld, said Bell had been an “excellent worker” and a “nice guy who was always willing to work and anxious to please.”
On Saturday, June 11, 1966, Boone County Sheriff Camelin announced the skeletal remains had been identified as those of Mrs. Effie Bell, 46, of Madrid. Camelin said University of Iowa’s Dr. Helen Dawson made the identification with the assistance of other specialists, and that a foot x-ray played a large role in the identification.
According to a Muscatine Journal article dated June 11, 1966, Mrs. Bell broke bones in her right foot a year before her death and had x-rays taken. These were available for comparison to the skeleton found at the Madrid dump.
A report by Dr. Dawson also concluded that the woman’s body had been burned sometime after death. No theories were offered as to cause of death.
While the close-knit rural communities absorbed this shocking new development, Frank Bell remained in custody at the county jail.
University officials released Mrs. Bell’s body to her family on Thursday, July 28. Two days later on July 30 — and with Frank Bell now free on bond — Dallas County Medical Examiner Keith Chapler said the cause, time and place of Mrs. Bell’s death were not being listed on his death report because, “The matter continues to be under investigation.”
Effie Bell’s family buried her remains in Moline on Saturday, July 30.
By August, Boone County Attorney Stanley Simpson said death was listed as a suspected homicide. Frank Bell’s trial for forgery and uttering a forged instrument was scheduled for September.
He was never charged with his wife’s murder.
When the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Effie Bell’s murder was one of approximately 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s new website as those the DCI hoped to solve using latest advancements in DNA technology.
Although federal grant funding for the DCI Cold Case Unit was exhausted in December 2011, the DCI continues to assign agents to investigate cold cases as new leads develop or as technological advances allow for additional forensic testing of original evidence.
The DCI remains committed to resolving Iowa’s cold cases and will continue to work diligently with local law enforcement partners to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice for the victims and their families.
Effie Corelis was born September 14, 1919, in Moline, Ill., the daughter of Greek immigrants Angelos and Evangeline Corelis (also spelled Corellis).
Effie married Frank Bell, Sr., September 24, 1940, in Rock Island, Ill.
In addition to her husband, she was survived by two sons, Frank, Jr. of Ankeny and William Craig of Des Moines; a daughter, Mrs. Barbara Vest, Des Moines; four sisters, Mrs. Geri Avegires of East Chicago, Ind., and Mrs. Julius Parien, Miss Katherine Corelis and Mrs. Angeline Fuller, all of Moline; and a brother, George Corelis of East Moline, Ill.
A 1-day-old daughter, Georgia Bell, proceeded her in death on June 2, 1943, according to findagrave.com records.
Services for Mrs. Bell were held at 10:00 a.m. Saturday, July 30, at the Esterdahl Mortuary in Moline, with burial in the Riverside Cemetery.
If you have any information concerning Effie Bell’s unsolved murder please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email email@example.com. You may also contact the Boone County Sheriff’s Office at (515) 433-0524 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office at (515) 993-4771 or email email@example.com.