Julie Bell Davis

Julie Bell Davis (Courtesy WHO-TV)

Julie Bell Davis

Homicide

Julie Bell Davis
33 YOA
613 E. 2nd
Des Moines, IA
Polk County
Case # 1997-37722
August 28, 1997

Case summary by Jody Ewing

On Thursday evening, August 28, 1997, Julie Davis, a 33-year-old Cedar Rapids, Iowa mother of two, was found brutally murdered inside Skyline Display’s satellite office on East Second in Des Moines where she worked.

Davis — who had a successful career selling trade show displays through her company’s Cedar Rapids and Des Moines offices — had been stabbed several times and her throat slashed.

Police immediately began questioning people Davis knew, starting with the man who said he’d discovered her body.

Courtesy photo WHO-TV Channel 13
Crime scene tape surrounds the Des Moines building where Julie Davis was slain.

Initial reports stated he was a passer-by who discovered the business’s rear door ajar shortly before 7 p.m. and then found Davis’ fully clothed body lying on the floor inside. The former lead detective in the case, however, spoke with WHO-TV‘s Aaron Brilbeck on August 19, 2010, and says the man who discovered the body knew Davis.

“When we did arrive at the scene there was an acquaintance of Julie’s there,” said Craig Hamilton, who retired from the Des Moines Police Department in 2007 and is now Chief of Operations at Prairie Meadows. “That individual was also interviewed. And nothing came of that,” he said.

Hamilton said it looked like the perpetrator came up behind Davis, grabbed hold of her hair, pulled her head back and cut her throat. Before she fell, he said, she was stabbed several times in the chest area.

There were signs Davis put up a struggle, though no signs of sexual abuse. There was no forced entry and robbery didn’t appear to be a motive. Rather, everything pointed to a crime of passion.

“There was no robbery. Nothing was taken. Jewelry was not taken from Julie. It was an up close crime,” Hamilton said. “In your face, so to speak.”

WHO-TV Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck reports on the upcoming 13th anniversary of Julie Davis’ unsolved murder. August 19, 2010

Davis had just posted one of her best months ever with the trade-show displays. She and her family resided in Cedar Rapids, but she routinely traveled to Des Moines once or twice each week to work at the showroom in the new business park office located between the Department of Economic Development and the Botanical Center. The Des Moines office was open only two days each week and by appointment only.

A Prairie High School graduate, Davis was married to Frank Davis, a Cedar Rapids firefighter whom police ruled out as a suspect early in the investigation. The couple had two sons, ages 3 and 5.

Police believe the last contact Davis had with anyone the day of her murder was an afternoon telephone conversation with a fellow Skyline Display employee from the Cedar Rapids office.

Investigators interviewed Davis’ co-workers, acquaintances and family members in Cedar Rapids in hopes of establishing a motive for the attack, but came up empty handed.

In an August 30, 1997 interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Davis’ brother, Christopher Bell, 35, of Cedar Rapids, said, “There was never any money there or anything where she worked. Just absolutely no motive or reason why. It’s just terrible. We’re just in shock.”

According to Kevin Eagleton — a Houston businessman who owned the Iowa Skyline Display franchises — Davis traveled to the Des Moines office Wednesday to pack materials for an upcoming move to a new Des Moines location. He said she returned to Cedar Rapids Wednesday night and worked in the Cedar Rapids office until late morning Thursday before heading back to Des Moines.

News of Davis’ death hit her co-workers with “absolute shock and sadness,” Eagleton told the Gazette. Four full-time workers and one part-time employee had worked together nearly five years in the Cedar Rapids office, and Eagleton described them as “almost like a small family.”

Cedar Rapids Fire Chief Brud Gorman described his organization as being “shell-shocked” after learning Frank Davis’ wife had been murdered.

Craig Hamilton Courtesy photo WHO-TV, Channel 13
Former lead detective Craig Hamilton – now Prairie Meadows’ Chief of Operations – says he thinks about the Julie Davis case almost daily.

“You know, we did everything we could do. We investigated every lead,” Hamilton said. “We went to Cedar Rapids. We went through her office. Contacted people at her office… people she had contact with. It went nowhere. A dead end. A brick wall.”

With the sheer volume of blood present at the scene, officials had hoped to find some type of print, but Hamilton said they discovered neither finger prints on the windows nor foot prints on the floors. It not only pointed to a crime of passion, but one committed by a pro.

“It seems like it was kind of a professional hit to a certain extent if you would say,” said Hamilton. “They did their homework.”

The homicide — the capital city’s 10th in 1997 — still weighs heavily on Hamilton, who said he thinks about the case nearly every day.

“You never forget what you’ve seen and unfortunately this young woman had two young boys. That plays a lot into your feelings,” he said.

Officials Offer Reward

On Tuesday, Sept. 2, authorities announced a $2,000 reward for information about the person who targeted and killed Julie Davis.

Courtesy Estherville Daily Times, Sept. 4, 1997

Courtesy Estherville Daily Times, Sept. 4, 1997

“This is a real whodunit, if you will,” Des Moines Police Lt. Kelly Willis told the Gazette in a article published the day of Davis’ funeral. “We’re not real optimistic. That doesn’t say we’re going to give up on it.”

Willis said Polk County Crime Stoppers and the police department each were posting $1,000 in reward money for information leading to an arrest in the “stifling” investigation.

According to the Gazette’s Sept. 3, 1997 story, Julie’s mother, Joanne Bell, read from a letter written by Tara Moorman, former manager and owner of Trade Show Marketing. The letter praised Bell’s hard work at the company, her leadership and strong relationship with clients.

Many Cedar Rapids Fire Department members attended the service.

About Julie

Julie R. Bell was born December 31, 1963, in Cedar Rapids, the daughter of Robert and Joanne Richardson Bell. She graduated from Prairie High School with the class of 1982. She married Frank Davis on September 26, 1987, at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Cedar Rapids. The couple had two young sons.

Julie Davis gravestone Courtesy photo Gail Wenhardt, findagrave.com
Julie Davis is buried at the Cedar Memorial Park Cemetery in Cedar Rapids.

In addition to her employment as a sales representative at Skyline Display, Julie was a member of St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids and volunteered with the seekers Sunday school class. She also volunteered at the McLeod Academy.

Memorial services were held on Tuesday, September 2, 1997, at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids, with a private family burial at Cedar Memorial Cemetery.

Survivors included her husband, Frank; two sons, Christian and Spencer, both at home; her parents, Robert and Joanne Bell of Cedar Rapids; two brothers, Christopher and wife Kathy of Cedar Rapids and Timothy and wife Brenda of Wellman; and her mother-in-law, Jan Davis, and a sister-in-law, Margaret Ann Davis, both of Des Moines.

She was preceded in death by her father-in-law, Frank Davis Jr.

Information Needed

Anyone with information regarding Julie Davis’ unsolved murder is asked to contact the Des Moines Police Department Detective Bureau at (515) 283-4864.

Sources:
  • Gone Cold: exploring some of Iowa’s unsolved murders: Julie Bell Davis,” The Estherville Daily News, January 18, 2016
  • Gone Cold: Julie Davis, killed in 1997,” Special to the Register, The Des Moines Register, Part of the GONE COLD: EXPLORING IOWA’S UNSOLVED MURDERS series, Saturday, January 16, 2016
  • COLD CASE: Julie Davis Murder, WHO-TV Channel 13 Des Moines, August 19, 2010
  • “In Memory of – Julie Bell Davis,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 28, 2009
  • Craig Hamilton, former DMPD Lead Detective in case
  • Des Moines Police Department, correspondence to Iowa Cold Cases, July 10, 2009
  • Find a Grave Memorial
  • Murder victim’s bosses sue for police records,” AP/Quad-Cities Online/Dispatch Argus, April 20, 2002
  • “Employer of slain Marion woman sues,” AP/The Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 20, 2002
  • “D.M. man still listed as suspect in Davis case,” by Rick Smith, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, January 22, 2000
  • “Tourney thrills withstand killer alert,” by Rick Smith, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 15, 1998
  • “Housekeeper found slain in West Des Moines motel,” AP/The Cedar Rapids Gazette, January 17, 1998
  • “Triumph, tragedy: Top news stories of year chosen by readers, Gazette,” by Dale Kueter, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, December 28, 1997
  • “Answers elusive on murders: 1997 cases involving Eastern Iowa women remain high priority,” by Steve Gravelle, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, December 28, 1997
  • “Police: D.M. area homicides likely not related,” by Rod Boshart, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 11, 1997
  • “No clues emerge in D.M. murder,” by Rod Boshart, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 2, 1997
  • “Murder cases increase: Roadside discovery adds another case to load of investigators,” by Dale Kueter, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 30, 1997
  • “Festival spotlights,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 27, 1997
  • “2nd D.M.-area stabbing death appears similar: Prosecutor asked if case linked to Marion woman’s,” by Rick Smith and Rod Boshart, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 6, 1997
  • “D.M. murder hits close to home for Waukon man: Marion woman’s death recalls his sister’s 1991 unsolved slaying there,” by Rick Smith, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 5, 1997
  • “Police offer reward in Davis slaying,” The Estherville Daily Times, September 4, 1997
  • “Police offer $2,000 for help on murder: Marion woman’s killing in D.M. ‘real whodunit’,” by Rod Boshart, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 3, 1997
  • Julie Davis obituary, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 31, 1997
  • “Marion woman slain in D.M. – Few leads in stabbing at small sales office,” by Rod Boshart, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 30, 1997

 

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4 Responses to Julie Davis

  1. Andy Shoafstall says:

    I worked for Kimco cleaning service in those days in the business park where this took place. I worked almost around the corner from where the crime took place. Department of Natural Resources was one of my accounts I cleaned and Nova Care just slightly up the parking lot. The day this happened I came in after the police were already there. What I found unusual was prior to this murder occuring I had often felt like I was being watched while cleaning. The building I cleaned had some front windows. It was a creepy feeling,however I dismissed it at the time as a over active imagination that is until the murder took place than I began to have second thoughts considering this might have been premeditated. Reason being is the fact their were obviously no witnesses or this individual would have been caught by now. In my opinion it wasn’t by chance this person wasn’t seen. Reading this site it tells me whoever did it was too cautious making sure no prints were left or any evidence. I think it’s possible the perp did their homework thoroughly even knowing others schedules in nearby accounts including cleaning people such as myself,which could explained why I felt watched some days before. One thing I do recall some days or months prior is seeing a truck with a man outside of it socially talking to a woman with dark hair by that building where this woman was killed. I think he too had dark hair and my memory is so so but I know for a fact it was either a red or blue truck. This is all I know. Hope it helps. It would be great if this case was solved to ease the pain her family must still feel after all these years.

  2. Andy Shoafstall says:

    I don’t recall being interviewed by police at the time. I figure they probably thought being I arrived after the fact I wouldn’t have any relevant information. Perhaps you could pass on my info to them. If they’re interested I’ll give you my cell or private email address for them to contact me. I work full time,therefore I’m unable to take time off to go to the police station. By the time I get downtown off bus it’s around 5:00pm during the week leaving me with mimimal desire to do much except take the bus from downtown to home. Fridays are my one day off during the week ,and I have Saturdays off.

  3. Brian Daly says:

    Has a bussiness competitor been considered as a suspect? I would think that in the profession Julie was in she would have occasion to have face to face encounters with the competition. She just had a very good month, maybe she scooped an account or two from a competitor. Somebody with a military background. A military background might explain the efficiency in which she was murdered.

  4. Jeff Beisker says:

    Julie was a sweetheart of a person, I sat next to her for many years in home room. We shared many smiles and laughs. 18 years it has been since she was taken from us and I hope they find the criminal that took her from her family and her friends…

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