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On Sunday, April 13, 2014, Des Moines police found Juanita Lagrone beaten to death with a baseball bat in her 2809 E. Douglas Avenue home.
Her murder — which just happened to fall on her 56th birthday — marked the city’s first homicide of 2014.
Authorities arrived at the home about 2:14 p.m. after her daughter called police to report she had found her mother unresponsive on the home’s floor, the Des Moines Register reported.
Lagrone’s body showed signs of trauma, and a baseball bat lay nearby.
“Obviously, (it’s) very suspicious, enough (that) we’re calling it a homicide,” Des Moines Police Sgt. Jason Halifax said in a KCCI-TV Channel 8 News report on Monday, April 14.
Lagrone rented the home and had lived there with her daughter for about a year.
She worked at CDS Global in Des Moines.
In a public statement released to the press, CDS Global said:
“Juanita Lagrone was a valued employee of the CDS Global family for 6-1/2 years. While we cannot comment on an ongoing police investigation, we would like to express our deepest condolences to Juanita’s family and friends at this time.”
~ Public statement by CDS Global re Juanita Lagrone’s death
Police took witnesses to the Des Moines police station for interviews, and Halifax said Lagrone’s boyfriend, Robin Butts, has been interviewed and is a witness in the case but is not a suspect at this time.
KCCI said police records show Lagrone had a no contact order against Butts after a domestic assault in November 2012. According to the report:
Butts “grabbed her by the shoulders and slammed her head into the wall behind the chair forcefully 5 to 6 times,” but she “didn’t want Butts to go to jail” [because] “she now fears retaliation.”
~ KCCI.com, April 14, 2014
The day after Lagrone’s murder, police booked Butt into the Polk County Jail for violating the no contact order.
Neighbor Ray Mondlin told Channel 8 that in the 14 years he’s lived in the 2800 block of East Douglas Avenue, he’s never had any problems.
“It’s just kind of really strange, [that] something like that would happen here,” he said.
A crime scene unit remained at the home through Monday as investigators continued to process physical evidence, Halifax said.
The state medical examiner conducted an autopsy that same Monday, but didn’t release an official cause of death.
Lagrone had no criminal record, but was listed as the victim in a domestic assault case from November 2012, the Register reported on April 15, 2014, noting the case had been dismissed four months later in March 2013.
The day after her murder, the suspect in that case was arrested for violating a no-contact order. The court released the defendant, however, because the no-contact order had been rescinded after the case’s dismissal.
Though officials have not publicly identified a suspect, Halifax said the homicide did not appear to be random and there is little threat to the rest of the city.
In a Register article dated December 31, 2014, Halifax, who also serves as Des Moines police’s public information officer, said that of Des Moines’ 12 homicides in 2014, the victims ranged in age from 4 months to 97 years.
Police cleared all cases except Lagrone’s — the year’s first murder.
The 11 cases solved put the department above its 87.5 percent clearance rate for the previous 10 years. The Des Moines Police Department has a higher clearance rate than the 64.1 national average recorded in 2013, the Register reported.
Halifax said police have a suspect in mind for Lagrone’s homicide, though they haven’t yet made an arrest.
“It’s a matter of what you can and cannot prove,” he said.
“Most homicides are not random acts” but involve people who know each other, Halifax said in the Register’s December 31, 2014 story, citing the 12 homicides from 2014 as examples:
Over the last two decades, Des Moines saw its highest number of homicides — 20 of them — two decades ago in 1995, but had only five per year in both 2009 and 2010.
Lagrone’s murder — the first in 2014 and the year’s only open case — remains high on the list of those officials believe they can still clear.
Lagrone’s final post to her Facebook page ended on a happy note. On March 30, exactly two weeks before her death, she’d posted a link to a YouTube video featuring an excerpt from standup comedian Robin Harris.
Her last word to the world about Harris’ act: “Hilarious! !!!”
Lagrone then left the stage on the same month and day as when she’d made her own debut into the world.
Juanita Lagrone, 56, of Des Moines and formerly of Davenport, departed this life Sunday, April 13, 2014 at her home.
Services to celebrate her life were held at 2 p.m. Monday, April 21, 2014, at Weerts’ Funeral Home in Davenport, where her family greeted friends from 1 p.m. until the time of service. Burial followed in Davenport Memorial Park cemetery.
Juanita was born April 13, 1958 in Columbus, Mississippi, the daughter of the late Millard LaGrone Sr. and Ophelia LaGrone.
She attended Scott Community College, Bettendorf, and upon her move to Des Moines, worked in data entry for the fund-raising business.
She loved fishing, cooking out and watching the Chicago Bears and Bulls with her family. Spending time with her family was her greatest joy.
Her survivors included three daughters, Donnita (Tony Young) LaGrone, Juanice (Wendell) Freeman and Sheila LaGrone, nine grandchildren, her mother Ophelia LaGrone, and sisters, Elizabeth Tyson, Wilma LaGrone, and Helen (Fred) Thomas, all of Davenport; Mary Gardner of St. Petersburg, FL and Shirley Davis of Davenport; brothers, Millard LaGrone Jr. and Roosevelt Smith, and stepmother, Edna Smith, all of Davenport; and many nieces, nephews, cousins and an aunt who loved her dearly.
Those preceding her in death included her father, Millard LaGrone Sr., her brother, Sterling Buckingham, and a granddaughter, Azina Young.
If you have any information about Juanita Lagrone’s unsolved murder, please contact the Des Moines Police Department Detective Bureau at (515) 283-4864.