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On Monday, November 22, 1976, at approximately 5:06 a.m., two young men found John Robert Hill, 51, lying face down in a small room at the Ottumwa Launderette that Hill owned and operated on East Main Street in Ottumwa.
Authorities said Hill had been stabbed 21 times and also had been shot. A .25-caliber pistol lay on the floor near Hill’s right hand. Police said it had been fired five times and found five bullet holes near the front door, but only four bullets could be found in the building. Police think Hill died fighting.
Hill’s pockets had been turned inside-out, and he was believed to have been robbed of several hundred dollars.
Someone also had written two words in his blood. One was either “black” or “lack.” The other was “older.”
Lt. Mike McDonough of the Ottumwa Police Department, new to the department at the time, described the crime as a bloody murder and said there obviously had been a lengthy struggle.
The Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation was called in to aid in the murder probe, and Craig Beek, then-director of the Iowa BCI, sent a crime team to the scene.
Two suspects emerged soon after Hill’s murder, and on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 1976, then-Chief of Detectives Hugh McElroy said at least one would take a lie detector test that week. The suspects, McElroy said, were southeastern Iowa residents, and that one of the major problems hampering the investigation was the early morning hour involved and that there had been no response by the public to pleas for information from anyone who may have been in the area at or near the time of the murder.
The evidence never came together well enough to make a case that would stand up in court, and police never made an arrest.
When the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, John Hill’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 resolving 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.
Anyone with information about John Robert Hill’s unsolved murder is asked to contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also contact the Ottumwa Police Department at (641) 684-5555.