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Ila Mae Clark was found beaten to death in her Marshalltown, Iowa home on August 29, 2001. An autopsy showed the 73-year-old died from multiple head injuries.
Clark managed a seven-unit apartment complex where many residents paid cash. About $500 was missing from Clark’s home, which was located less than 100 yards from the apartment building and showed signs of forced entry.
No fingerprints or DNA were found, and no suspect has ever been named in the case.
Assistant Police Chief Brian Batterson — a former detective who worked the original case — told the Marshalltown Times-Republican in an August 2011 interview that there had been some suspicion of a couple staying at a nearby hotel on Iowa Avenue, but police had been unable to find evidence connecting them to Clark’s slaying.
The day after the murder, one member of the couple suddenly left for Louisiana, Batterson said. Police learned through interviews with others that the person had been “freaking out” and wanted to leave Marshalltown quickly.
Batterson felt the person’s car may have been involved in the crime, and obtained a search warrant. Local officials in Louisiana did not immediately act on the warrant, however, and the vehicle was involved in a rollover accident just a few days later. Reported the Times-Republican:
“Obviously there was blood from the people in the car, and the (local police) took all the stuff that flew out of the car in the accident and piled it back in the car, which made (the investigator’s) job of looking for trace fibers very difficult,” Batterson said.
Nothing helpful was found in the mangled car.
One of the most harrowing experiences of the case, Batterson said, was calling VanDraska to tell her about the car but then later making a second call to tell her that any evidence that may have existed was lost.
“There could have been something there. We’ll never know,” Batterson said.
Batterson stopped short of calling the couple suspects.
“We just had circumstantial evidence,” Batterson said.
Marshalltown Police Chief Lon Walker said investigators believe robbery was the motive for the attack.
One half of the couple has since died, but as of the Times-Republican article in 2011, the other still lived in Marshalltown but consistently refused to speak with police.
Batterson said he remembers the date well. High temperatures reached 86 degrees that Wednesday, and Batterson had been on his way to execute a search warrant in a drug bust. He was diverted by a call, he told the Times-Republican, after another officer requested assistance at 116 Iowa Avenue West. There, Batterson went inside and found the elderly woman beaten to death.
Undisturbed outside the back yard was a gas grill, a red swing and a sign bearing the image of a smiling St. Nick and the words “Santa Stops Here.”
A Fareway receipt found in Clark’s purse placed her at the store at 5:21 p.m. on Aug. 28, so police knew she’d been alive at least 24 hours before her body was discovered.
Batterson said crime scene details indicated that at least two individuals were in Clark’s home, and that a third party may have waited outside in a getaway car. A confrontation with the intruders may have led to Clark’s death, Batterson said.
Given the amount of traffic in the area, officials believe Clark was murdered some time after dark that same evening, or before sunrise the next day.
Although he’s committed all the case’s facts to memory, the assistant chief is reluctant to divulge any key details lest the value of the little evidence collected be damaged. Nor will he reveal what kind of object police believe was used to beat Clark.
A feisty woman less than one week away from her 74th birthday, Clark had planned to celebrate the day by attending a casino with a friend.
“She was a caring person. She’d help anybody,” neighbor Sandy Park said in a Times-Republican story published Sept. 1, 2001. “I can’t understand why anybody would do this to her.”
The Sept. 1 story also reported:
Larry Barcus, one of several foster children the Clarks adopted, still asks the same question. Barcus, 59 of Eldora, was a self-admitted troubled teen when he met the Clarks. He’d been in 17 previous foster homes, but, “This was the only one that I felt more or less taken in by,” Barcus said. “They put me temporarily, they said, into Sis’ place but I stayed there until I graduated (from high school).”
During his four years with the Clarks, the three would load-up the Clark’s pick-up camper for weekend fishing and hunting trips.
Shelley VanDraska of Swisher, one of Clark’s five grandchildren, said Clark not only knew how to handle a shotgun, but also helped do the heavy lifting. She remembered Clark helping her husband Scott bring home the venison.
“She go out with him,” VanDraska told the Times-Republican. “After he’d shot a deer she’d help him drag it out of the timber and get it up in the truck.”
VanDraska, 44, said she believed her grandmother picked up the nickname “Sis” because was “kind of a sister to everybody.”
The suspected murder weapon, as well as other items found in Clark’s home, are boxed up and remain in the evidence room at Marshalltown’s police headquarters.
Ila Mae Clark — called “Sis” by many — was born September 4, 1927 in Wright County, according to an obituary published in the Times-Republican.
She married Donald Clark, her second husband, on April 14, 1962, in Princeton, Missouri.
After moving to Marshalltown, she worked as a cook at the Iowa Veterans Home and at Grandview Heights Nursing Home. She also was a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars auxiliaries.
Donald Clark passed away July 3, 1993.
She spent the last days of her life canning tomatoes for relatives and preparing for a birthday trip to Meskwaki Casino.
Ila Mae was buried next to her husband, Don, at Rose Hill Memorial Gardens in Marshalltown. Her funeral was held September 4, 2001, on what would have been her 74th birthday.
Anyone with information concerning Ila Mae Clark’s unsolved murder is asked to contact the Marshalltown Police Department at (641) 754-5729.