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Jane Ellen Wakefield, a 26-year-old schoolteacher in North Liberty, Iowa, disappeared without a trace from her Iowa City mobile home sometime between late Saturday night, Sept. 6, 1975, and early Sunday morning, Sept. 7, 1975.
Wakefield, who was in divorce proceedings with her husband, John Wakefield, had spent Saturday on a cross-country bicycle ride with a group of friends. According to a Cedar Rapids Gazette article published March 19, 1992, Wakefield told her friends she had to get back for an appointment. A neighbor talked with Wakefield later that afternoon and said nothing seemed unusual.
Wakefield had filed for divorce six months earlier and moved from the couple’s apartment into a mobile home at Bon-Aire in Iowa City. She had recently become romantically involved with another man, but found her divorce held up over disagreements on how she and John Wakefield would divide two businesses he owned.
Late night on Saturday, Sept. 6, neighbors recalled hearing someone yelling or screaming, but weren’t sure where the screams were coming from. They assumed the yelling came from a nearby home’s loud party.
When a friend paid a visit to Wakefield’s mobile home Sunday, no one answered the door and the friend left.
“Obviously, between Saturday night and Sunday morning, she disappeared,” Iowa City Police Department Capt. Patrick Harney told the Gazette.
When Wakefield didn’t report Monday morning to her teaching position at Penn Elementary School in North Liberty and school principal Larry Sharp couldn’t reach her, school officials called Bon-Aire. The mobile home park manager contacted Wakefield’s boyfriend, and the two went together to Wakefield’s home.
The Gazette’s Jeff Burnham wrote:
Outside, they found her bicycle locked to the yard lamp, and her Fiat in its parking space. Inside, they found her purse and other belongings, but no sign of Jane Wakefield.
The two then contacted Iowa City police. Inside the mobile home, detectives found everything in order, and evidence suggesting she’d recently showered.
In the beginning, police thought Wakefield may have left with a “Jesus People” cult that had been camping near Coralville Lake. Wakefield’s friends and family members told the Gazette Jane was “too much on top of things” to join a cult, a belief confirmed after a search of the cult’s latest camp in Huntsville, Arkansas, turned up nothing to tie the teacher to the group.
On Sept. 10, 1975, Iowa City police drained two city lagoons near the victim’s trailer court but uncovered no evidence pertaining to the case.
Four months after Wakefield vanished, detectives got a break when a confidential informant — a friend of the primary suspect — told police that an individual he knew had admitted to murdering Wakefield, cremating her body, and spreading her remains along a ditch on I-80 near Iowa City.
The suspect had gone so far as attempting to redirect suspicion toward Jane Wakefield’s new boyfriend.
According to the CI, on Sept. 6, 1975, the individual had rented a car from the Cedar Rapids Airport that matched the one driven by Wakefield’s boyfriend. The individual had then driven to Jane’s mobile home late that night and choked her to death with his bare hands.
He’d put her body in the rental car’s trunk and driven to an Iowa City apartment building — the same building where John Wakefield resided.
In its week-long MURDERED, MISSING, UNSOLVED March 1992 series, the Gazette reported March 19 that, according to the CI, the person then placed large quantities of charcoal into the trash incinerator, lit it, and dumped [Jane’s] body inside.
Wrote the Gazette’s Burnham:
After the fire was out, the individual swept the contents of the incinerator into a garbage can. The individual claimed he waited until the next night, drove onto I-80 near Iowa City, pulled to the shoulder and spread the contents of the garbage can along the ditch.
Though police declined to identify the informant, they did confirm he was friends with the suspect and that he’d passed a lie detector test.
A series of lie detector tests narrowed the list of suspects down to one, who refused to submit to a polygraph and questioned the validity of such tests.
In January 1976, armed with search warrants for the apartment building, the trash incinerator and the two businesses run by John Wakefield, police went to an Iowa City tavern where the suspect worked, and then searched the Iowa City apartment house and a billiard parlor, both of which John Wakefield managed.
Police sifted ashes from the incinerator of the apartment in question and sent them to the state crime lab in Des Moines.
Reported the Gazette:
Police detectives and agents from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation seized miscellaneous pieces of bone debris, a piece of metal that appeared to be a tooth filling, and a small, white chip of bonelike material.
Officials also seized five vacuum cleaners from the property, and weren’t about to give up.
The following week, some 20 detectives — on their hands and knees — searched several miles of ditches north of Iowa City along I-80.
Lab analysis of bone fragments found in the incinerator were inconclusive.
One individual remained the prime suspect in Wakefield’s disappearance, but never faced charges due to insufficient evidence and forensic limitations from that era.
Although the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Missing Person Information Clearinghouse lists Wakefield’s incident type as Endangered / physical — meaning Wakefield is missing under circumstances indicating her physical safety is in danger — detectives have long believed homicide played a role in her disappearance.
A Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated Jan. 31, 2002, included Wakefield’s case in a sidebar titled, “Unsolved murder cases.”
Seven years following her disappearance, Jane Wakefield was declared legally dead on September 5, 1982.
Jane Ellen (Hallberg) Wakefield was born Nov. 19, 1948, and grew up near Minneapolis. She met friend “Carol,” in 7th grade, and during the two’s senior year they discovered both had plans to attend Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.
They decided to room together, and in 1966, both enrolled as freshman at Morningside. That year, Jane worked at Sioux City’s Public Museum, and through a co-worker met John Wakefield.
After completing her freshman year in spring 1967, Jane moved in with John for the summer. John, a graduate student in business administration at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, had classes starting in the fall of 1967. In September 1967 Jane and John married, and Jane transferred from Morningside College to The University of Iowa.
She graduated from UI in 1970 and taught in two area school districts before filing for divorce from John in March 1975. She moved out of the couple’s home and into the Bon Aire Mobile Home Park in Iowa City.
In August 1975, she accepted a teaching position at Penn Elementary School in North Liberty, Iowa, and vanished without a trace the following month.
Officials immediately suspected foul play and believed her husband played a role in her disappearance. Jane’s friend, Carol, was living in New Jersey when she learned Jane had gone missing. Jane’s mother, Pauline, and Carol’s mother spoke frequently about Jane’s suspicious disappearance.
On September 5, 1982 — seven years after she mysteriously vanished — Jane was legally declared dead.
Her remains have never been recovered.
Anyone with information concerning Jane Wakefield’s disappearance is asked to contact the Iowa City Police Department at 319-356-5275 or Lt. Sid Jackson at 319-356-5276. You may also email the Investigations Division at email@example.com.
Information may be submitted on an anonymous basis.