Montgomery County
Montgomery County in Iowa
Red Oak, IowaRed Oak in Montgomery County

Evelyn Resh

Homicide

Evelyn Resh
87 YOA
400 E. Coolbaugh St.
Red Oak, Iowa
Montgomery County
September 16, 1997

 

Evelyn Resh, 87, died Tuesday, Sept. 16, 1997 after someone deliberately set fire to the Red Oak apartment house where she lived alone.

Her death is one from a group of “cold case” fire investigations resurrected in Iowa in spring 2016. The cold cases became the focus in “Arson Awareness Week,” as proclaimed by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.

Red Oak Arson Case - Evelyn ReshCourtesy The Red Oak Express
Red Oak Fire Chief John Bruce (third from right) was among the members of the Iowa Chapter of Arson Investigators who attended Gov. Terry Branstad’s sighing of proclamation, declaring Arson Awareness Week.

In a Red Oak Express article dated May 17, 2016, Red Oak Fire Chief John Bruce said the fire department, Red Oak Police Department, and the Iowa State Fire Marshal’s Office are requesting the public’s assistance to help solve the crime.

The September 16, 1997 fire call was issued at 11:14 p.m. to 400 E. Coolbaugh St., and fire officials said the blaze had been set in two different locations within the structure, causing Resh’s death.

Police and the Fire Marshal’s Office followed up on several leads, but never located any viable suspect, the Red Oak Fire Department told The Express.


What follows is the report from the Red Oak Express in the first issue after the fire, as reported at the time by Jan Castle Renander.


Local law enforcement still are looking for the “very dangerous” individual or individuals who set two fires inside a crowded apartment house last week. The fires, intentionally placed so they would block the exits from the building (including the fire escape) claimed one life and left many other residents homeless.

Funeral services were Friday for Evelyn Resh, 87. Mrs. Resh lived on the third floor of the apartment building at 400 Coolbaugh in downtown Red Oak. She was the last person rescued from the burning building and was pronounced dead a few hours later at Montgomery County Memorial Hospital. Cause of death was smoke inhalation.

Red Oak firefighters received the first call to 400 Coolbaugh at 11:14 p.m. The first fire crew on scene were Randy Askey, Mark Goldapp and Bob Eisenbraun.

Upon hearing the first call from the 911 dispatcher at the sheriff’s office, Goldapp requested a second alarm. Within seconds of Goldapp’s request, Fire Chief Rick Askey, responding from his home, called a third alarm — mutual aid from area departments. He wasn’t even at the fire scene downtown.

“I heard Chris Stephens (deputy sheriff who was the first law enforcement on scene) advise that we had people trapped inside the building,” Askey said, as he explained his quick decision to call for help.

Askey credits the prompt response of Askey, Goldapp and Eisenbraun with giving the rescuers precious time.

“They made the decision to go to the interior and knock down the fire instead of trying to rescue people,” Askey explained. If they had gone for people first and left the fire to spread, the intense heat alone would have driven people to jump from the window ledges to the concrete sidewalk and pavement below, he said.

The sight that greeted Askey when he arrived downtown was the same that greeted all the firefighters. “I looked at the west side of the building and all I could see were legs,” he said (because of all of the smoke).

The thick, choking black smoke and the intense heat (Askey estimated 800 degrees or better) challenged firefighters to rescue residents. They moved quickly, getting ladders and the city’s aerial truck into place – pulling residents from second and third story windows. Some were assisted down the fire escape at the back of the building.

Within four minutes, all residents of the building had been evacuated and firefighters concentrated their efforts on controlling the blaze. Again, Askey credited quick and well-trained response.

“Everyone did exactly what they were supposed to do,” he said.

Eight people were brought out by rescue personnel. The ninth, 87-year-old Evelyn Resh, was found in her third floor apartment in the northeast corner – Code Blue. She later was pronounced dead at Montgomery County Memorial Hospital.

According to Dave Jennings, public relations at MCMH, the hospital’s emergency room treated 10 patients during the early morning hours of Sept. 16, that included Mrs. Resh, two firefighters and one deputy sheriff.

Area departments responding with pumpers, firefighters with air packs and /or emergency medical personnel were Elliott, Emerson, Stanton, Griswold and Essex. All told, roughly 55 rescue personnel were on scene.

Fire was contained to the hallways of the building, mostly on the second and third floors. Actual apartments sustained little fire damage, but heavy smoke and some water. Askey pointed out that while belongings could be salvaged because they were not burned, most articles retain the “smoke” smell forever.

“No one wants to live with that,” he said.

Investigation of the fire began in earnest Tuesday morning with the arrival of daylight. Askey and Dave Schipper, state fire marshal’s office and a member of the Red Oak Fire Department, were assisted by other agents from the state office as well as the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agency.

Their conclusion: Arson.

The fire was started in two places, each in the hallway or corridor. The obvious intent was to block anyone from leaving the building either through the front door or by way of the fire escape.

The investigation continues and with all local law enforcement agencies involved. Anyone with photos from the fire or with any information that might be helpful is asked to come forward with that information. Contact the sheriff’s office or policy department.

Rick Straw and Valerie Allen lived on the third floor of the apartment house. They paint a horrifying picture representative of what other residents experienced.

“I got one-quarter of the way across the dining room and had to turn back because of the smoke,” Valerie recalls.

Rick went to the front door and ended up with a face full of black smoke.

“I felt the door and it was warm, but not hot. So I unlocked it and opened it and the force of the smoke and the fire pushed into me. Of course, when it hit me I sucked it in and took in all that smoke,” Straw remembers.

From there, they went to their third story windows – Straw so weakened by the smoke that he couldn’t break out the screen in his window.

“I wasn’t planning to jump when I went to the window, but once I got there it was awful appealing,” Valerie recalls. She credits “a cop” whose name she didn’t know (Chris Stephens of the sheriff’s office) with keeping her calm and in the window ledge until firefighters in the aerial truck came for her.

“I’ve got to find him and thank him and thank him and thank him,” she gushed. “He risked his life to save me. I would have jumped if it hadn’t been for him.”

There was no smoke alarm in their apartment, so the first warning for the couple was the shouting from people outside. Rick remembers that he went to bed less than 30 minutes earlier and neither heard or smelled anything out of the ordinary.

“I heard the people yelling in the street,” Rick remembers. “I thought there was a fight at the bar. But they were yelling at us to get out of the building because it was on fire. Then I smelled the smoke.”

Both Rick and Valerie have high praise for the fire departments which rescued them.

“They did a hell of a job that night,” Rick says. “In four minutes. They had everyone out in four minutes.”

“It was like precision,” Valerie added. “They were fantastic. They knew exactly what to do.”

The building is owned by Linc and Marlene Morse and their daughter and son-in-law, Bill and Sherry Bourlon. They were renovating the apartments.

Structurally, Askey believes the building can be salvaged, unlike the fire which destroyed the buildings across the street.

“The difference was that fire had a good two hour head start on us. This one had, maybe, 15 minutes.”

For Askey and the firefighters, the particular challenge and frightening prospect of this fire was the potential for human life loss.

“I remember, just before we got the ladder up, all of a sudden I saw this little girl, dangling from the window. He was holding her, down, trying to get her out of the smoke. I was afraid I was going to drop her,” Askey recalls, noting that because of their excitement, two men handled a ladder that normally takes six people to maneuver.

Ironically, approximately two months ago, firefighters toured the apartment building as part of a routine training exercise.

“We said then, that if this building ever burns, everyone is going to die,” Askey recalls. He notes that becauses of the building’s age, it was “grandfathered in” and was not required to meet the stringent fire codes today’s apartment houses do. Remodeling from here on will be considered new construction, he said, and subject to those codes.


That Sept. 23, 1997, edition of The Express also carried a story about the community’s great response to a call for items to help the victims.

The National Guard Armory was the site of a flood of clothing, shoes, boots and toys for victims of the fire, the report said. The Red Oak Eagles, the National Guard 1168th Transportation Company, and the Red Oak Chamber of Commerce coordinated the effort. Additionally, fans attending the Friday night homecoming football game were encouraged to take a non-perishable food item to the game for the victims.


Chris Stephens, the county deputy sheriff credited by Valerie Allen with saving her life, on Sunday, Oct. 5, (1997) was honored for his “heroic” actions during the fire. He received plaques from both the Red Oak Fire Department and the State Fire Marshal’s Office. He was credited with saving five lives.

Fire Marshal Schipper, in making the presentation, said, “What he did was above and beyond the call of duty. What he did – we don’t recommend anyone do. But he was lucky, so he’s a hero. He could just as easily have been a fool. He could have lost his own life.”

Also recognized by Red Oak Fire Chief Rick Askey for her superb efforts was Betty Geer, the sheriff’s office telecommunicator who was on duty that night.

About Evelyn Resh
Evelyn Resh gravestoneCourtesy photo Anne Ryan, billiongraves.com
Evelyn Resh is buried at Walnut Cemetery in Montgomery County, Iowa.

Evelyn M. Resh was born May 14, 1910.

She was a resident of southwest Iowa her entire life and had retired from Schoenberg’s clothing store in Red Oak, though she continued to do alterations for people thereafter.

Her obituary at the time listed among the survivors a son, Charles Resh of Shenandoah; three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Funeral services were held Friday, September 19, 1997, and Evelyn was laid to rest in Walnut Cemetery in Montgomery County.

Information Needed

If you have any information about Evelyn Resh’s unsolved murder please contact the Red Oak Police Department at 623-6500, the Red Oak Fire Department at 623-6504, Iowa State Fire Marshal John Ticer at (712) 308-3977, Montgomery County Crime Stoppers at 888-434-2712, or the Iowa Arson Hotline at 800-532-1459.

Sources:

 

One Response to Evelyn Resh

  1. A lot of arsonist become firefighters because it allows them access to the excitement of fire. Isn’t it more than a little suspicious that the building was used for firefighter training two months prior and it was decided that “if this building burns, everyone is going to die” and then two very strategically placed fires were started?

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