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Frederick “Fred” Leonard Coste, the 47-year-old manager of the Family Finance Corporation in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was stabbed to death inside his loan interview cubicle on Thursday morning, Oct. 15, 1959. Two customers found Coste — lying on his back in a pool of blood — shortly before noon at the 312-1/2 Second Ave. SE Cedar Rapids business.
According to a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated Oct. 15, 1959, customers Thomas McMurrin, Linn Junction Rd. NE, and Donald McSpadden, 309 H Ave. NW., who’d come by the office to negotiate a loan, immediately went to the DeVar restaurant below the finance company office and reported their findings to Patrolman Donald Hollister.
Detectives George Matias, Roy Walker, and Identification Officer T.C. McDermott investigated the murder scene.
Dr. Percy Harris, county medical examiner, said Coste had a bruised left eye and suffered six stab wounds to the chest. One thrust punctured Coste’s heart.
Harris said he believed the murder weapon had been a heavy instrument because three of the six stab wounds penetrated Coste’s rib cage. Harris estimated time of death as some time between 11:10 and 11:35 a.m.
Investigators found smudges of blood on the walls and on the cash register drawer; $258.58 was missing from the drawer, though no fingerprints were found.
Coste was the only employee working at the Second Ave. business at the time of the killing. The company’s only other employee, an office girl, had recently resigned to accept employment elsewhere.
By Thursday evening, Cedar Rapids Police Chief Carl Badger said detectives had found a knife — in the possession of a possible suspect — containing traces of blood and flesh.
“Identification Officer T. C. McDermott took the knife to the FBI laboratory in Washington,” Badger told the Gazette. “We are still awaiting official notification of their findings.”
A Gazette article dated Jan. 3, 1960, said test results revealed stains on the knife were not made by human blood.
Coste, described by his neighbors as a quiet, well-mannered man, lived with his wife and young daughter at 512 A Ave. NE in Cedar Rapids.
Two years prior to his murder, the Family Finance Corp. had been victimized by a holdup man who escaped at the time but later had been captured.
In a Gazette article dated Oct. 21, 1959, Badger said scores of people had been interviewed in connection with the slaying, “but we have been unable to establish a definite motive for the crime.”
In the same article, Badger said that the two men who discovered Coste’s body had voluntarily submitted to lie detector (polygraph) tests late Thursday night.
“The examinations indicated that Thomas McMurrin and Donald McSpadden were telling the truth,” Badger said.
Prof. Richard Holcomb of the University of Iowa conducted the polygraphs.
Badger said results for a lie detector test given to a third person were still “being evaluated.” He declined to name the third person.
Badger noted that records for two individuals — both of whom had accepted loans from Family Finance — were missing from the office, and that officials were pursuing that angle of the investigation.
Five detectives were assigned to work full-time on Coste’s unsolved slaying.
On October 22, 1959, the Ames Daily Tribune announced that the Iowa Consumer Finance Association posted a $200 reward for help in capturing Coste’s slayer.
Two days later on Oct. 24, the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s “Page One” story announced a $2,500 reward — made by an anonymous donor — for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Coste’s killer.
“The person or persons offering the reward wish to remain anonymous,” Chief Badger said in the Gazette story. Badger also stated:
“Our approach has been that no lead is too small to check. We hope the public will take that same attitude and that individuals who believe they may know something report to us immediately.” ~ Cedar Rapids Police Chief Carl Badger
On Oct. 25, 1959, Det. Sgt. John Scriven said numerous calls had been received following publication of the reward offer. Scriven said all reports were being filed, and that each would be investigated.
Five years after Coste’s murder, Detective Capt. John Kuba told the Gazette that even though the murderer’s trail had grown cold, police were not giving up.
“The files will remain open until an answer or solution to the murder is found,” Kuba said in a Gazette article dated Oct. 15, 1964.
Kuba said the last three years had yielded no new leads in the five-year-old case.
“Three years ago we had a slight lead from another state where a similar murder had been committed, but we checked it out and it wasn’t related to this one,” Kuba told Gazette staff writer Jerry Elsea. “We still have hopes of clearing up this case. There have been murder cases solved 20 years after the crime was committed.”
Kuba theorized that the murderer argued with Coste — probably over refusal of a loan — and then killed him with a series of stabs. The theft was probably secondary to the murder, an “afterthought,” Kuba said.
Fred Coste was born Dec. 9, 1911, in Kobe, Japan, to Louise (Yerrell) and Frederick Walter Coste. He served in the US Army during World War II.
Coste was married and had a seven-year-old daughter, Diane, at home. He had worked for Family Finance for 18 years.
Before being transferred to the Cedar Rapids office, Coste had worked in the company’s Atlanta, Ga., Charlotte, N.C., and Baltimore offices. He’d been transferred from the Baltimore office 14 months prior to his murder.
Some time after his death, Coste’s wife and daughter moved from their A Avenue NE home back to Atlanta, Ga., where Coste was buried.
Coste also was survived by his mother, Mrs. Louise Coste.
Anyone with information about Fred Coste’s unsolved murder is asked to contact Cedar Rapids Cold Case Investigator J.D. Smith at (319) 286-5619 or the Cedar Rapids Police Department at (319) 286-5375.