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Gladys D. Held, an 83-year-old retired personal secretary, was beaten and strangled at a Waterloo senior citizens home around 11 p.m. on Wednesday, December 8, 1993.
Held resided alone in a third-floor apartment at the Walnut Court Retirement Community complex at 315 Walnut Street. A senior home companion became concerned when Held didn’t show up for an in-house worship service Thursday, and went Held’s apartment to check on her at approximately 11 a.m.
The senior home companion found Held’s door unlocked, and once inside the apartment, discovered Held lying the wrong way in her bed, her room tossed.
An autopsy concluded Held had been beaten in the head with a telephone and then strangled.
In a Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier article dated Dec. 10, 1993, Police Chief Bernal Koehrsen said Held’s death was originally treated as an elderly person who died in her sleep. Waterloo Fire Department paramedics and the Waterloo Police Department were called in to investigate, and an autopsy report confirmed strangulation.
Police told the Courier they knew how entry was gained to the building and to Held’s apartment, but were not releasing that information because of the ongoing investigation. Koehrsen said police also had determined a motive, but couldn’t release that information, either.
The Dec. 10 story in the Courier also reported:
A neighbor, Gladys Wenthe, said residents were gathered together Thursday afternoon and told Held was thought to have died of natural causes, but an autopsy was being performed. She said residents were told, however, to make sure they kept their apartments locked at night.
Wenthe said most residents didn’t learn that Held was murdered until they saw it on the 10 p.m. television news.
“We’ve always felt so safe,” Wenthe said.
Police went door to door Thursday evening asking residents whether they’d seen or heard anything out of the ordinary, Wenthe said.
“She was such a nice woman, a really beautiful lady. She was always immaculately dressed and with her hair done,” Wenthe said.
Held was a small woman at 5-foot-4 inches and weighing 110 pounds.
A resident on the first floor — who’d kept her own apartment unlocked so a woman she’d hired to help could get in — told officials a man had entered her apartment and asked for money, but left when she told him she didn’t have any.
Also on the first floor, residents in another area reported that one of the glass panels of the locked door facing Iowa Street had been broken out, but the door was fixed early in the day on Thursday.
A Courier story dated Friday, Dec. 31, 1993, said they had obtained a copy of Held’s death certificate, which showed Held’s time and date of death as 11 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8.
Dr. Mark Bickley, Black Hawk County medical examiner, signed the certificate and reported Held’s cause of death as “strangulation.” The certificate stated death was “immediate.”
The day after Held’s body was discovered at the Walnut St. facility, 87-year-old Jacob “Jake” Biretz was found dead three blocks away in another Waterloo retirement home. Biretz was found on his sofa, his arms crossed over his chest, and his death was also ruled a homicide.
He’d been suffocated with a pillow.
According to his death certificate, signed by Black Hawk County Medical Examiner Dr. Albert Dolan, it took several minutes for Biretz to die.
On Monday, Dec. 13, 1993, Waterloo police released the following statement concerning Held’s and Biretz’s murders:
“Officers of the Waterloo Police Department are continuing their investigation into both homicides. Officers are looking at any and all possibilities to determine if they are connected. No further information will be released at this time, and the investigation is continuing.”
No suspects were ever arrested in either case, though Waterloo police later said they believed the murders may have been committed by the same person.
In January 1994, Held’s son, Donald Newberry — owner of Newberry’s Ice Cream Shop in Cedar Falls — offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person or people responsible for his mother’s murder.
“The longer you go, the harder it is to get the person,” Newberry said during a Jan. 7, 1994 press conference held at the Waterloo Chamber of Commerce.
Newberry, who became choked up during the press conference, told the Courier he and his family were “repulsed at the cowardly act” of the killing.
“Nobody should die the way she died,” Newberry said. “She did fight, as best as an elderly woman can fight, I guess.”
In the Courier’s January 1994 story, Newberry said his family wasn’t allowed into the apartment until eight days after the murder. “So many strange things” were done in the apartment, he said, alluding to items that were in the wrong place but not taken from the apartment.
Newberry also praised the Waterloo Police Department for what he called “excellent” work in their ongoing efforts to locate his mother’s killer or killers.
Gladys Dorothy (Rogers) Held was born in Waterloo, Black Hawk County, Iowa, on July 19, 1910 to Burt Rogers and Minnie Louells (Baumgartner) Rogers.
She and her husband, Lester Eugene Held, who died in 1971, had both worked at Rath Packing in Waterloo. Mrs. Held had been George Rath’s personal secretary.
Gladys later married James Elwood Newberry. He passed away Dec. 27, 1976.
Her murder remains unsolved.
Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000.00 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Waterloo Police Department at 319-291-4340 ext. 7 or Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers at 855-300-TIPS (8477). Tips also may be left at www.cvcrimestop.com, sent with TipSoft or by texting the word CEDAR plus the information to CRIMES (274637). Message and data rates may apply. Text STOP to opt out at any time. Text HELP for more information.
Anonymous tips may be sent through the Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers Confidential Web Tip Information System.