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Janet LaFratte, 35, was reported missing to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday, June 20, 1973. LaFratte’s husband, Frank LaFratte, placed the call at 5:30 p.m. and stated his wife was missing from their home. The couple lived about 25 miles south of Des Moines and northwest of Churchville in rural Norwalk.
Sheriff’s deputies located Mrs. LaFratte’s body in a pond behind the couple’s home at 8 p.m. that same day.
Initially, Warren County Medical Examiner S. F. Yugend ruled LaFratte’s death an “apparent drowning,” and released little information to the public. An investigation by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and the Warren County’s Sheriff’s Office, however, cited “mysterious circumstances” surrounding LaFratte’s death, and the DCI ruled her death an unsolved homicide.
When the DCI established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Janet LaFratte’s murder was one of approximately 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s new website as those the DCI hoped to solve using latest advancements in DNA technology.
Although federal grant funding for the DCI Cold Case Unit was exhausted in December 2011, the DCI continues to assign agents to investigate cold cases as new leads develop or as technological advances allow for additional forensic testing of original evidence.
The DCI remains committed to the resolution of Iowa’s cold cases and will continue to work diligently with local law enforcement partners to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice for the victims and their families.
Janet Alvilda LaFratte was born in Jewell, Iowa, on March 2, 1938, to Sylvia Lucille Bentson and Jens Christian Christensen.
Janet had three sisters — Mary Anne Martin, Carol Carstens and Marjorie Jean Teig — and one brother, Stanley James Christensen.
She graduated from Jewell High School and married Franklin D. LaFratte on September 20, 1959. The couple lived in Des Moines and operated Motel 6-69. Janet earned awards for her work from the Iowa Motel Association and in 1966 Frank was named ‘Motel Operator of the Year’ by the group.
In October 1967, the couple adopted a boy they named Pat. In 1969, the LaFrattes sold their motel, and in 1970 adopted a daughter, Chris Ann, and moved to the farm where Janet would live only a few short years.
Janet was active in the Martsensdale St. Paul Lutheran Church, where she served as ALCW President. She also belonged to the American Legion Auxiliary Hawkeye Post 550 in Jewell.
Memorial services were held Saturday, June 23, 1973, at the Martensdale St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, with burial at Calvary Cemetery in Churchill.
If you have any information about Janet LaFratte’s unsolved death, please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at (515) 961-1122.