judith-pleas-bwCourtesy Council Bluffs Police Department
Judith Kaylene Pleas

Judith Kaylene Pleas


Judith Kaylene Pleas
17 YOA
Council Bluffs, IA
Pottawattamie County
Case Number: MP-73-226
Reported Missing: August 10, 1973
Body Found: October 14, 1973


Case Summary added by Jody Ewing

Judith Kaylene Pleas, 17, was reported missing to the Council Bluffs Police Department in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on August 10, 1973.

On October 14, 1973, a farmer located the remains of a female in a cornfield outside Council Bluffs’ city limits and contacted the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office, who in turn notified the Council Bluffs Police Department.

Pottawattamie County in Iowa
Pottawattamie County in Iowa
Council Bluffs in Pottawattamie CountyCouncil Bluffs in
Pottawattamie County

The victim was later identified as that of missing teen Judith Pleas, and an investigation concluded cause of death was strangulation.

Steven Lybarger — a False Confession?

Steven Lybarger, 22, was eventually arrested and charged with Pleas’ murder. Lybarger was found guilty, but the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the case in March 1975 after assertions that a trial judge acted illegally in suppressing oral admissions and a written statement by Lybarger. Download the PDF file: State vs. Cullison, Supreme Court of Iowa, March 19, 1975

Lybarger — a high school dropout who’d served a short stint with the Navy before being discharged after a marijuana bust — had moved to Omaha, Neb., in the summer of 1973 after separating from his wife. By September 1973, Lybarger had accrued a number of charges for writing checks with insufficient funds, and in September 1973 he fled to California with his girlfriend.

On December 28, 1973, the Pottawattamie County District Court issued a bench warrant pursuant to a county attorney’s information charging Lybarger with felonious false drawing of a bank check.

Lybarger was arrested in San Francisco on February 15, 1974. He waived extradition on the bad check charge on February 20, and on Saturday, February 23, three Iowa officers took Lybarger into custody. Lybarger acknowledged he understood his “Miranda Rights” as given, and signed a waiver of those rights before the four boarded a 1:55 p.m. San Francisco-Denver-Omaha flight.

During the flight, Lybarger conversed with the officers, while no mention was made to either Pleas’ murder or the bad checks. The plane landed in Omaha at 8:30 p.m., and the group arrived at the Pottawattamie County sheriff’s office in Council Bluffs about 9 p.m.

In a conference room, Lybarger again was read his Miranda Rights and signed another waiver. Once the questioning began, Lybarger learned officials were investigating Pleas’ murder, and that polygraph examinations had already been administered to other persons. All three officers would later testify that Lybarger asked to take the [polygraph] test that night, despite their suggestions it wait until morning.

James Babbitt, a polygraph examiner employed by the Pottawattamie County attorney’s office, administered the test, and results indicated some of Lybarger’s answers had been “deceptive.”

When investigators began interrogating Lybarger in earnest, he related how he’d beaten Judith Pleas into unconsciousness. Lybarger later stated he ‘started rattling off at the mouth more or less making statements that were not true, based on information obtained from the interrogators. At some point near the end of the interrogation, Lybarger began shaking and crying. The officers concluded he needed medical attention and took him to Mercy hospital.

According to State v. Cullison:

Lybarger’s hospital admission sheet stated ‘possible drug reaction or withdrawal and probable psychologic reaction to combination of drugs and situation.’ The hospital records show upon arrival at the hospital Lybarger complained of stomach pains and burning and strange mental feelings. He was very anxious and his pupils were dilated. He was given tranquilizers.

Lybarger had a history of drug use and claimed he had access to drugs in the San Francisco jail before his removal to Iowa. Lybarger was placed in bed with locked restraints on each ankle, his body, and left wrist, which were not removed. He slept much of February 24th. He was assigned to Dr. Mahoney, a practicing psychiatrist.

The doctor later testified he conversed with Lybarger about 10:00 A.M. on the 25th and ‘found nothing abnormal about him at all.’

Lybarger was eventually charged and convicted in Pleas’ murder, but the Supreme Court of Iowa overturned the conviction on March 19, 1975, in part due to Lybarger’s psychiatric evaluation at the Oakdale Medical Facility by Dr. Paul Loeffelholz from March 19, 1974, to April 25, 1974. In response to an extensive hypothetical question, Loeffelholz opined Lybarger did not have the ability at the time of either statement to make a voluntary choice between making the statements and remaining silent. In response to a similar hypothetical question, Dr. Mahoney testified in his opinion that Lybarger was ‘perfectly capable’ of making both statements voluntarily.

Iowa’s Supreme Court remanded the case to district court for further proceedings.

Records of a second trial were not found on Iowa Courts Online, and in March 2010, the Council Bluffs Police Department submitted information on Pleas’ case to Iowa Cold Cases, stating her offender is still unknown to law enforcement and that the case remains open.

judith-pleas-gravestoneCourtesy photo Dennis J. Bender, findagrave.com
Judith Pleas is buried at the Salem Lutheran Church Cemetery in Mills County, Iowa.
About Judith Pleas

Judith Kaylene Pleas was born May 2, 1956.

She was killed on August 10, 1973.

She was buried at Salem Lutheran Church Cemetery in Mills County, Iowa.

Information Needed

Anyone with information regarding this case is encouraged to contact the Council Bluffs Police Department Criminal Investigation Division at (712) 328-4765 or Crime Stoppers at (712) 328-7867.

Copyright © 2024  Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


17 Responses to Judith Pleas

  1. Kelly Wyman says:

    was this the same Lybarger – his father is listed as Steve….

    Zachary A. Lybarger, age 43, of Council Bluffs, passed away April 13, 2021 at CHI-Mercy Hospital.

    Zach was born June 10, 1977 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was a CNA.

    Zach was preceded in death by his wife, Misty Lybarger; son, Nickales Bywater; father, Steve Lybarger and his grandmother, Mary Lou Schroder.

  2. Alison Hicks says:

    Just FYI, I went to Harrison School in Council Bluffs in K through 2nd grade with Steve Lybarger (we were in the class of 1970). We were friends in 1st grade but not as much after that. I moved to another school for 3rd grade and later. I was surprised when I heard about the charges against him back then.

  3. Judy Brunow says:

    I think I went to school with Steve Lybarger he would have graduated 70-71 maybe not from AL

  4. Danelle Pleas says:

    Lybarger was living with his mother in Council Bluffs in 1985/1986 time frame. Some family members still believe he’s guilty of the crime.

  5. Jim says:

    Sorry to see Judi’s mother, Norma, passed away on 06-14-2017. I recognized the name and got on IA Cold Case Files to read up on the case. My heart goes out to her family and friends.
    I was interested in finding out whatever happened to this Lybarger character, mostly to see if he has killed again. I couldn’t locate him specifically but I did find this obit. Is this possibly him?

    • Kelly Wyman says:

      He court records show his name was Steven LYNN Lybager. Not the same – but thank you for looking.
      Norma lived a long life and has now been reunited with five of her children who preceded her in death.
      She will be missed.

  6. Cody says:

    Is Lybarger still alive? If so where and what else is on his rap sheet. Motive? Any other details that can be shared?

  7. Kelly Nadine Pleas Wyman says:

    That was not the end of the case! The DA failed to timely schedule the retrial so the defendant Lybarger (who is the killer) was allowed to be free!
    Only a cold case because the conviction was not allowed to stand and a murderer continues to walk the streets of CB.

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