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John Wayne Jeffery, 31, was shot to death late Tuesday night, May 29, 1990, while sitting inside his 1970 Chevy Chevelle outside Leo’s Lounge, an east-side tavern in Des Moines, Iowa.
Patrons of the 1018 E. 12th Street lounge heard a gunshot that night, and although one person went out and spotted Jeffery inside his vehicle, didn’t realize Jeffery had been shot and assumed he was sleeping. Police weren’t notified until the following morning when Judy Leo stopped by the tavern about 8 a.m. with some supplies.
“I went over to wake him up,” Ms. Leo is reported as saying in a Des Moines Register article published May 31, 1990. “I hollered at him and banged my knees against his car. Then I poked his arm and realized he was dead.”
Police found a sawed-off .410 shotgun in front of Jeffery’s car. Officials reported a shotgun shell fitting the weapon was found in Jeffery’s hand, and that other shells were found on the seat of the car.
Polk County medical examiner Dr. R.C. Wooters ruled cause of death as a small-caliber gunshot wound to the head.
In a Register article dated June 1, 1990, Jeffery’s wife, Ruth Jeffery, said her husband had had problems with alcohol and drugs but had completed a drug rehabilitation program the previous year. She said he’d been drinking Tuesday night for the first time since completing the program.
Ruth’s recent three-week hospitalization, and her inability to work during that time period, had left the family facing a financial crisis as medical bills continued to pile up.
Ruth told Iowa Cold Cases her husband came home agitated after seeing two friends, Jeff McNeely and Tim McGreen, drinking at Leo’s Bar in the company of a woman, Dianne Cross. McNeely and McGreen had owed Jeffery money for over a year, and Ruth said her husband reasoned that if they had money to buy alcohol, they should be able to repay him. When he confronted the men, Ruth said they’d laughed at him.
Jeffery came home to the couple’s 2108 E. Maple Street home and retrieved a shotgun, telling Ruth he only wanted to “scare” the two men a little. Ruth said that although her husband didn’t have shells for the gun when he left the house, she feared she might not see him again.
“I just knew he wasn’t going to be coming home,” she stated in the Register’s June 1 story. “I just knew.”
It was, in fact, the last time she’d see her husband alive.
The Register’s May 31 article reported that Des Moines police broadcast a statewide alert for a “stop and hold” on the driver of a “white over blue older-model Chevrolet Blazer” in connection with Jeffery’s homicide.
Assistant Polk County Attorney Maggi Moss referred to the individual as a “material witness.”
Police located Cary Lapour of 3833 E. Tiffin Ave. at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday at a north-side tavern, and although Lapour was taken to police headquarters for questioning and subsequently arrested on a weapons charge, Des Moines Police Lt. William Fitzgerald said ballistic tests couldn’t link him to Jeffery’s murder. Lapour was later released on a $575 bond.
Moss said authorities were seeking “several search warrants” to gather evidence in Jeffery’s slaying, but didn’t articulate what locations police wanted to search.
Des Moines police interviewed numerous individuals, including the men who owed Jeffery money, but were unable to make an arrest in the case. They believe there were witnesses to Jeffery’s murder who feared coming forward then with what they knew, and continue to encourage the public to contact them with any known details. There is no statute of limitations on murder.
In a interview with WHO-TV Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck in a story airing September 23, 2010, Jeffery’s first wife, Pamela Chandler, said her ex-husband had a wild side, but always put family first.
“John did whatever he could to make sure [his children] were taken care of,” Chandler said. “He used to donate blood when he had to, to make ends meet.”
Chandler and Jeffery had one child together, daughter Shannon, who was 12 years old when her father was killed.
The day of Shannon’s birth, Jeffery brought her a single pink rose, and continued to deliver pink roses to her on special occasions. The day she graduated high school, Shannon’s mother made sure Jeffery was there, if only in spirit; Chandler gave her daughter a bouquet of pink roses with a card that read, “Love, Dad.”
Jeffery’s other children included Shawn and Shaleen Jeffery (with wife Ruth), as well as Ruth’s children Charles Klingensmith and Tricia Garrett.
“John and I always considered all of them as ours,” Ruth told Iowa Cold Cases. “We never differentiated between ‘our’ kids as ‘mine’ or ‘his.’ They all were and all are still ours.”
John Wayne Jeffery was born October 10, 1958, and is buried at Pine Hill Cemetery in Des Moines, Iowa.
Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck reports on the unsolved 1990 murder of 31-year-old John Wayne Jeffery.
September 23, 2010
If you have any information about John Wayne Jeffery’s unsolved murder, please contact the Des Moines Police Department at 515-283-4864.