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Judy Ann Corbin, 17, was stabbed to death at the Hotel Chamberlain in Des Moines on Wednesday, April 19, 1967. Corbin, a blonde, blue-eyed, part-time Go-Go dancer, was found dead in the bathroom of room 522.
Hotel maid Loera Frederickson, 60, discovered Corbin’s fully-clothed body just before noon Wednesday after going in to clean the room. The teen’s body was propped up in the corner of the bathroom. The room’s bed covers had been pulled down, though the room showed no other signs of a struggle.
Polk County Medical Examiner Dr. Leo Luka said Corbin bled to death from a stab wound to the neck.
Hotel records showed the room was registered to Curtis Chittenden, 21, of Des Moines.
According to a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated June 1, 1967, Corbin lived at the hotel but in another room (#401).
Chittenden’s brother, Daniel Chittenden of 1714 Des Moines Street, told police his older brother had dated the victim but had broken up with her some time ago.
Corbin was holding down three jobs at the time of her death; in addition to working part-time as a Go-Go dancer, she also worked as a Younkers Tea Room waitress and as a clerk in a men’s clothing shop.
A Gazette article dated April 20, 1967, said Corbin had been residing at the Hotel Chamberlain for several weeks. She was found dressed in a blouse, black stretch pants and go-go boots.
Corbin’s family had been living in California but had just moved back to Des Moines the month before. Corbin’s father, Norman Corbin, was in the Navy. In addition to Judy, there were three other siblings — a sister and brother, all younger.
Officials told the press the girl was involved in trouble at National City, Calif., about two years earlier, was on parole to Iowa authorities and had served time for parole violation at the Mitchellville State Training School for Girls.
On Wednesday, May 31, 1967, a Polk County grand jury indicted Ralph Ben Reynolds, 43, in Corbin’s stabbing death.
Reynolds was a Des Moines jail prisoner who’d been allowed to leave the jail during the days to work at his job in the Hotel Chamberlain’s boiler room.
Reynolds refused to be arraigned without an attorney, and broke away from 75-year-old Deputy Sheriff Howard Allgood while being returned to jail. According to the Gazette, he was captured several blocks away.
Reynolds — a 5-foot-7 African-American weighing 188 pounds — had gone to jail December 7, 1966, to serve six months for receiving and concealing stolen property. A court order dated December 15, 1966, allowed Reynolds, who had only a fifth grade education, to be released from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily in order to work at the hotel.
Like Corbin, Reynolds also had served time in a state training school. Reynolds was sentenced to the State Training School at Eldora in 1938 for breaking and entering, and served 10 years — from 1941 to 1951 — at the Men’s Reformatory in Anamosa on a rape charge. He later was incarcerated at the Fort Madison prison for aggravated robbery. He made attempts to escape from every facility, and by 1963 was back in jail for 180 days for bootlegging before being convicted in December 1966 on the stolen property charges.
Jury proceedings began Tuesday, December 12, 1967. Reynolds’ defense attorneys included Robert A. Wright, president of Iowa’s NAACP chapter, and William Katmus from Polk County Legal Services.
A district court jury of six men and six women deliberated for more than four hours on Monday night, December 18, 1967, before finding Ralph Reynolds innocent of Corbin’s murder.
According to an AP story published December 19 in the Gazette, “Reynolds put his head in his hands and sobbed when District Judge Waldo F. Wheeler read the jury’s decision. He then thanked the jurors as they filed from the room.”
Judy Ann Corbin was born July 22, 1949, in Des Moines to Norman Lee and Helen Louise (Sample) Corbin. In addition to her parents, Judy was survived by her three siblings: Bruce, Allen, and Nona.
She was buried at Highland Memory Gardens Cemetery in Des Moines.
Anyone with information regarding Judy Corbin’s murder is asked to contact the Des Moines Police Department at 515-283-4864.