Keara Lee Coshow

Keara Lee Coshow

Keara Lee Coshow


Name: Keara Lee Coshow
3 years, 10 months
Crime Location:
Hill Top Motel
1303 Summit St.
Red Oak, Iowa
Montgomery County
Case #:
Date of Death:
July 12, 1979
Cause of Death:
Neurogenic shock / burns to entire body


Case Summary credits: Janet Franson, Sandra Coshow, Bernadette Coshow, Jody Ewing

The following information is based on officially filed Investigation Reports from the State of Iowa Department of Public Safety, the State Fire Marshal Division / Arson and Explosives Bureau, a State of Iowa Certificate of Death issued for Keara Coshow on July 25, 1979 (Medical Examiner Dr. S. Rodmond Smith), Information Reports filed with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), Information Reports filed with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, telephone conversations with retired homicide detective Janet Franson, personal communications with Bernadette Coshow, The Johns Hopkins Health Library, and newspaper archives cited in the “Sources” section.

Many thanks go to Janet Franson, an honorably retired homicide investigator from the Lakeland, Florida, Police Department who went on to do volunteer work with the Doe Network and then spent five-and-one-half years with the Project ALERT® program of NCMEC, where she served with a team of about 170 retired local, state and federal law enforcement professionals donating time and experience to investigating unsolved crimes. For three-and-one-half years after that, she worked as a Regional System Administrator for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).

She continues to develop innovative ideas to find missing persons and give names to unidentified remains, and recently started the Indian Country Facebook Page, as well as an Unidentified Persons Jewelry page where she posts photos of rings, watches, necklaces, and other items found on the remains of unidentified persons.

Sandra CoshowSandra Coshow

Keara Coshow’s unsolved murder found its way to our site after Keara’s aunt, Sandra Coshow, went to a Wisconsin attorney in April 2007 with information about the then-27-year-old crime. The attorney contacted law enforcement, who in turn reached out to Janet Franson, who investigated the case and in turn reached out to ICC.

Sandra Coshow, who lost her battle with cancer and passed away in July 2013, made an incredible difference in her search for justice for her niece. Please help law enforcement complete the journey for justice that Sandra and Janet so earnestly began.

Abused, Broken, Burned

Montgomery County in Iowa
Montgomery County in Iowa
Red Oak in Montgomery CountyRed Oak in Montgomery County

Keara Lee Coshow, a blind 3-year-old Native American child living with her family in Red Oak, Iowa, died Thursday, July 12, 1979, in the Hill Top Motel’s laundry room after her stepmother allegedly set the room afire. Keara, unconscious from an acute spinal cord injury sustained the previous evening (also allegedly at the hands of the stepmother), was carried into the laundry room shortly before the fire erupted.

Keara and her 5-year-old sister, Bernadette, lived with their father and stepmother, Wayne and Karen Coshow, in a house 100 yards from the 1303 Summit St. Hill Top Motel, which Karen Coshow managed.

Karen Coshow said in one interview with local police that she took Keara with her to the motel around 1:30 or 1:45 p.m. Thursday. Keara, she said, played with an empty pop bottle on the laundry room’s doorstep while [Karen] removed sheets from rooms #6 and #8. The laundry room door was open, she said.

Karen said she’d returned to the house for a passkey she needed for another room, but “returned to the motel area about five minutes after last seeing Keara.”

Red Oak Express, July 16, 1979

Red Oak Express, July 16, 1979

Mrs. Coshow told local law enforcement she couldn’t see Keara anywhere but noticed the laundry room door now closed. She said she headed straight to the laundry room for some towels, but couldn’t push open the door due to smoke and flames, and that she’d immediately returned to her home to notify the fire department.

Documented reports by both police and the Iowa State Fire Marshal Division give conflicting accounts of what happened in the minutes immediately after the fire ignited.

According to records on file with the Iowa State Fire Marshal Division, the fire alarm call came in at 2:15 p.m., called in not by Mrs. Coshow but by the foreman of a construction crew working nearby.

Terry Sellers and Phil Harris, both of Red Oak, were doing construction work on a neighborhood house when they heard people screaming and smelled smoke. Both men ran to the scene but were unable to enter because of the intense heat and dense smoke.

Firefighters found the young, charred girl lying in the middle of the laundry room on her back, almost as if the child had gone to sleep that way.

Karen Coshow didn’t know the blaze had not destroyed evidence of injuries the tot sustained the previous evening. Mrs. Coshow also didn’t know three witnesses had watched her comings and goings from the laundry room just prior to when the fire erupted.

In a July 16, 1979 Red Oak newspaper article, Mrs. Coshow gave yet another version of what happened before the fire, stating she had Keara with her while doing laundry in the laundry room. This contradicts the reports where the stepmother said she’d been cleaning rooms #6 and #8 and saw Keara hanging around the laundry room door playing with a pop bottle. The Red Oak paper reported Coshow as saying she “left for about 5 minutes for an errand in the office, with the child staying in the laundry room.” She said by the time she returned with pass keys to other motel rooms, the laundry room was already engulfed in flames.

Perhaps just as importantly, when questioned about what she’d tried to do, Karen said that after she pushed open the laundry room door, that she’d “encountered heavy smoke and intense heat and flames” and immediately returned to her home to notify the fire department. Her words about encountering heavy smoke and intense heat were nearly identical to what the two construction workers told officials.

According to at least one witness who watched Karen Coshow take Keara into the laundry room and then walk at least several motel rooms away before the explosion took place, credited the construction workers for the ones who tried to save Keara.

Keara’s biological mother, Debra Lee (Bracklin) Butler, a full blood Lac Courte Oreilles (pronounced la-COO-der-ay) Indian, told Iowa Cold Cases in July 2016 that Karen and Wayne had kidnapped the two girls and did not have custody or approval to take them from her. She said search inquiries for her daughters were unanswered and minimized. Wayne’s family, she said, kept their location secret and that she had no idea where they were living until learning about her daughter’s death one month after the crime.

Drano ad from 1978Courtesy photo
A Drano advertisement from 1978 shows the featured child-resistant cap.
Stepmother suspected in blinding “Drano” incident

It wasn’t as if locals didn’t know the little girl; she’d already had numerous visits to the hospital in what social services suspected was child abuse by the stepmother. In recent months, Keara had spent an entire week in the hospital recovering from caustic burns to both eyes caused by Drano crystals and water. The Drano crystals came from a childproof canister that a 3-year-old could not possibly open on her own.

According to the National Institutes of Health‘s Household Products Database, the crystal form of Drano is composed of sodium hydroxide (lye), sodium nitrate, sodium chloride (salt), and aluminum.

Lye is highly soluble in water and decomposes most organic matter.

Drano adCourtesy photo
Drano, invented in 1923 by Harry Drackett, has always been sold with a childproof lid.

The Drano incident essentially left Keara Coshow blind in both eyes. Despite being prescribed glasses, the girl “couldn’t even see the silverware on the table” in front of her, according to Karen Coshow.

Dr. Rodmond Smith felt the Drano incident was suspicious and said the case had been turned over to Social Services and a case worker assigned.

Reports also alleged that Karen Coshow often locked her two young stepdaughters out of the house during the daytime hours and wouldn’t let them inside even to use the bathroom.

Rocking a badly damaged child

On Wednesday, July 11, 1979, Karen allegedly had once again locked both her stepdaughters outside. When Keara told her older sister she had to go the bathroom, the 5-year-old Bernadette banged on the door, hollering out to the girls’ stepmother that Keara really needed to use the bathroom.

The door remained locked, and Keara eventually soiled her clothes.

When Karen finally came to the door to let the girls in — after all, their father would be home soon — and discovered Keara’s accident, she became outraged and ushered both girls inside.

Red Oak Express, Aug. 9, 1979

Red Oak Express, Aug. 9, 1979

According to an ‘Information Report’ Det. Janet Franson sent Monday, June 11, 2007, to Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Investigator David Dales, Karen took both girls into the bathroom and prepared a bath. Karen put Bernadette into the bathtub first and then began undressing Keara, growing more angry as she removed the child’s soiled clothing.

Bernadette said her stepmother began to violently shake her 3-year-old sister, a fact that is consistent with the June 2007 report sent to the DCI. Karen continued to repeatedly shake the child, and by the time she finally put Keara into the bathtub, the child’s body had gone limp and she showed no signs of having any motor skills at all. She could not sit up, move or even respond.

When Karen let go of the child’s body and left the bathroom, Keara’s unresponsive body slid down into the bath water.

The 5-year-old Bernadette struggled to hold her sister’s head above water, and Karen soon arrived with a blanket, wrapped Keara in the blanket and took her out of the bathroom. When she returned, she got Bernadette out of the bathtub, dressed her in pajamas and put her in the girls’ room.

When the girls’ biological caucasian father, Wayne Coshow, arrived home from work, he had a surprise; he’d stopped by McDonald’s and picked up their dinner.

His wife sat in a rocking chair, rocking back and forth with a blanketed child. Bernadette came out of her room, and when her father saw her turned to Karen and asked “What’s wrong with Keara?”

Karen did not stop rocking or get up from the chair. “She’s sick,” she told her husband.

Keara never peeked out of the blanket or made a sound.

By nightfall, Bernadette lay wide awake in bed, waiting for her little sister to join her. The two shared the same room and slept in the same bed every night. No one ever brought Keara into the room to put her to bed all night long.

“I have told this story many times…”

Bernadette remembers well what happened the following afternoon.

bernadette-cousin-jeff-keara-coshowCourtesy photo Bernadette Coshow
Bernadette Coshow (left) and her sister Keara (right), sit with their cousin Jeff in happier days when Keara still had her eyesight.

“The next day I was outside on the swing set and Karen brought Keara out in training pants and no other clothes,” Bernadette said of the early Thursday afternoon. “She was carrying Keara and I asked if she could play and Karen said ‘no, she’s still sick.'”

Bernadette, along with Karen’s 16-year-old daughter, Kelly, and a longtime female motel tenant, watched as Karen carried Keara to the motel’s laundry room, centrally located within the motel. Karen opened the door, disappeared inside with Keara, and came back outside a few minutes later without the child.

“Karen went a few doors down and then the laundry room blew up,” says Bernadette.

Not surprisingly, her stepmother didn’t call 911. “It was the construction workers working close by that called 911,” Bernadette said on a Facebook memorial page she’d created to bring about more awareness in her sister’s unsolved death. Bernadette told readers:

They did not find my sister on time – she was burnt beyond recognition. I have told this story many times and for whatever reason it has been ignored and blown off. I was never questioned by authorities until my aunt tried to open the case and then only to find Iowa will not do anything because they messed up. I believe one day the truth will come out. I don’t know how but it will. Whether it is because we were just two Indian girls in a predominately white population and our life was less important … I don’t know but we were cast off and since I went away to my mother nothing was further asked.

“Many wanted to investigate but were put off,” said Bernadette. “Not only do I have my personal word and memories, I have other forms of proof, and nothing will ever change my mind [and make me believe] that this was an accident or that Keara did it to herself.”

Blaze stumps Iowa Fire Officials

Detectives with the Iowa State Fire Marshal Division and Arson and Explosives Bureau could not determine the fire’s point of origin.

In an Iowa Department of Public Safety, State Fire Marshal Division / Arson and Explosives Bureau “Investigation Report” — CASE # 7907361, dictated Aug. 1, 1979 and prepared by Special Agent Roy Marshall — Marshall described a sequence of events and what officials discovered at the scene.

The report included just some of the following details:

  • On Thursday, July 12, 1979, Fire Prevention Inspector Carroll Shissler contacted Special Agent Roy Marshall to advise of a fire that had just occurred in Red Oak, in which Fire Chief Tom Askey requested assistance.
  • Agent Marshall arrived in Red Oak around 3:30 p.m. and met Chief Askey at the Hilltop Motel.
  • There, the two learned the fire alarm had been received at 2:15 p.m. and upon arrival, the fire department found the fire in the motel’s laundry room.
  • They found the body of a little girl — later identified as 3-year-old Keara Coshow — lying on her back near the center of the room.
  • Chief Askey found a one gallon open container of DuPont brand paint thinner, type 3608S, sitting upright on the floor next to the child, with only 1-2 inches of paint thinner left in the gallon container.
  • The laundry room was centrally located in the building with sleeping rooms to both the east and west.
  • The room contained a washer and dryer and a natural gas water heater. The water heater was located in the room’s northwest corner.
  • The room sustained extensive damage, but there was no area found with deep charring or excessive low burning, and the appearance was of an extremely fast and even fire throughout.
  • The metal lid to the paint thinner can was found on the floor a few inches from where the body lay.
  • A pile of linens beside the body were picked up, and “an odor similar to that of the product in the can was very noticeable in these linens,” Marshall reported.
  • The stepmother told officials Keara had been playing on the doorstep of the laundry room with an empty pop bottle while [the stepmother] removed sheets from rooms #6 and #8 sometime between 1:30 and 1:45 p.m. Mrs. Coshow said she had then walked back to her home — located about 100 yards south of the laundry room — for a pass key to another room. She said Keara was still in the laundry room doorway at this time.
  • Mrs. Coshow said she was in her home less than five minutes, and that when she returned to the motel area she noticed the laundry room door shut and Keara nowhere in sight.
  • Mrs. Coshow said she went directly to the laundry room to get some towels needed for the room she was going to clean, but that upon opening the laundry room door she encountered heavy smoke and intense heat and flames.
  • Mrs. Coshow said she then ran back to her residence for the purpose of notifying the fire department.
  • More than one-half hour later, a construction crew working nearby spotted the fire, and at exactly 2:15 p.m., one of the construction workers phoned the fire department.
  • The State Fire Marshal Division’s official investigative report makes no mention of Mrs. Coshow ever placing a call to the fire department.
  • When investigators further interviewed Keara Coshow’s father and stepmother, they learned the child had suffered injuries to her eyes just a few months earlier — the result of the child’s eyes “coming in contact with a mixture of water and Draino [sic].”
  • “The details of exactly how this had happened were not given,” Agent Marshall wrote in the report.
  • Once Keara’s body was taken to the local funeral home, Agent Marshall went to the funeral home to view the corpse.
  • Dr. S. Rodmond Smith, the county medical examiner, was present and related incidents of alleged child abuse that had been inflicted upon Keara and her sister, presumably by the [step]mother, in the past.
  • The inferno, covering the length of the room, fully engulfed the child, who sustained third-degree burns over 57% of her small body.

Karen Coshow told investigators the [blind] 3-year-old must have reached up and pulled the gallon can of paint thinner from a laundry room shelf, somehow pried off the [child-proof] metal lid and spilled it all over herself before a “spark from the water heater probably” ignited the fire.

Fire officials referred to the fire as a conflagration — an especially large and destructive blaze that not only causes devastation, but can cover a vast amount of space almost instantaneously. Fires of this nature are often deliberately set, with arson employed as a cover for fraud, murder, sabotage, diversion, or a person’s pyromania. It may become extremely difficult to pinpoint where the fire began, which is exactly what happened in Keara Coshow’s case.

The State Fire Marshal Division’s “Investigation Report” dated 8/1/79 states in the first and second paragraph on Page 2:

In further questioning the parents it was learned that Keara had suffered an eye injury a few months ago. This injury was the result of her eyes coming in contact with a mixture of water and Draino [sic]. The details of exactly how this had happened were not given. As a result, Mrs. Coshow said Keara’s vision was very poor and that she even had difficulty finding her silverware at the table. She had glasses but was not wearing them at the time of the fire. Both parents were asked about the paint thinner but neither could recall having seen it, although they were not aware of what all was actually stored in the room.

After concluding the interview and taking additional photographs of the scene, this agent went to the funeral home and viewed the corpse. Dr. Rodmond Smith, the county medical examiner, was present and related incidents of alleged child abuse that had been inflicted upon Keara and her sister, presumably by the mother. Dr. Smith also felt the Draino [sic] incident was somewhat suspicious. He said the case had been turned over to Social Services and that a case worker had been assigned. Due to the circumstances the body was x-rayed and a blood sample was drawn in Red Oak. Dr. P.C. Ramon, Jr., of Atlantic was also contacted and arrangements were made for Dr. Ramon to perform an autopsy. The results of these examination are included in this report.

~ Excerpts from 8/1/79 Investigation Report by Special Agent Roy Marshall of the Iowa State Fire Marshal Division

Neurogenic Shock and “Clinical Pearls”

Keara Coshow’s autopsy report and certificate of death prove it would have been physically impossible for the 3-year-old to have started the fire; the violent shaking the previous afternoon had left Keara with an acute spinal cord injury and in neurogenic shock, receiving no medical attention for the life-threatening injury.

Neurogenic shock — in laymen’s terms — refers to severe autonomic dysfunction and interruption of sympathetic nervous system control in acute spinal cord injury above the 6th thoracic vertebra.

Courtesy Johns Hopkins Medicine

Courtesy Johns Hopkins Medicine

Medical Examiner Dr. S. Rodmond Smith ruled the official Cause of Death as “Neurogenic shock from burns entire body” (as reported on Certificate of Death).

After the violent shaking on Wednesday, neurogenic shock would have left the child with either paraplegia — a loss of movement and sensation in the lower half of one’s body — or quadriplegia, the loss of movement and sensation in all four limbs.

The coroner’s autopsy report and medical examiner’s death certificate substantiated what Keara’s sister,

Bernadette Coshow, said she’d witnessed the previous afternoon. She said Keara had been shaken so violently she was no longer able to sit up, walk, or speak.

The fully burned body made it difficult for Dr. P.C. Ramon, Jr., of Atlantic, to come to satisfactory conclusions with an x-ray of Keara’s body. The x-ray found no evidence of [regular] broken bones, but did find fractures in the spinal cord. Ramon also stated that the “rib cage x-ray was not satisfactory to exclude the possibility of fracture.”

Lawrence S. Chin, MD, Professor and Chair, Department of Neurosurgery, State University of New York Update Medical University, is one the world’s most renowned neurosurgeons. According to Chin’s May 12, 2016 clinical presentation on spinal cord injuries:

In all patients with spinal cord injury and hypotension, a diligent search for sources of hemorrhage must be made before hypotension is attributed to neurogenic shock. In acute spinal cord injury, shock may be neurogenic, hemorrhagic, or both.

The following are clinical “pearls” useful in distinguishing hemorrhagic shock from neurogenic shock:

  • Neurogenic shock occurs only in the presence of acute spinal cord injury above T6; hypotension and/or shock with acute spinal cord injury at or below T6 is caused by hemorrhage
  • Hypotension with a spinal fracture alone, without any neurologic deficit or apparent spinal cord injury, is invariably due to hemorrhage
  • Patients with a spinal cord injury above T6 may not have the classic physical findings associated with hemorrhage (eg, tachycardia, peripheral vasoconstriction); this vital sign confusion attributed to autonomic dysfunction is common in spinal cord injury
  • The presence of vital sign confusion in acute spinal cord injury and a high incidence of associated injuries requires a diligent search for occult sources of hemorrhage
The Spinal Cord - Johns Hopkins

Courtesy Johns Hopkins Medicine,

The distinction between Hemorrhagic shock and Neurogenic shock is essential in determining a plan of treatment for those who survive either of these two types of acute spinal cord injuries. Hemorrhagic shock must be ruled out before hypotension can be attributed to neurogenic shock.

Neurogenic shock and burns to the entire body, according to medical examiner Rodmond Smith, M.D., was the “IMMEDIATE CAUSE” of Keara Coshow’s death (Section 18, Part I). The child’s Certificate of Death, Section 18, Part II — OTHER SIGNIFICANT CONDITIONS [that contributed to the decedent’s death], included two words: Neurogenic shock.

With this type of acute spinal cord injury, Keara Coshow would not have been playing outside the day the fire occurred. Reports from witnesses confirm Keara had not, in fact, been outside except for when Karen Coshow carried Keara’s body to the laundry room.

Neither local nor state investigators questioned any of the three witnesses about the fire or any of the events leading up to it.

Keara’s biological mother said she got her daughter, Bernadette, back from Red Oak officials only after the attorney general got involved, yet no one would admit foul play in Keara’s death.

What is still not known today is why both the autopsy report and certificate of death dutifully cite neurogenic shock and full body burns as immediate factors in Keara’s death, yet cite the “manner” of death as accidental; each doctor’s report makes it clear Keara had no motor function prior to the fire. The “accidental” ruling directly defies all information that precedes it.

NOTE: All reports and documentation are available upon request to any official involved in this investigation.

About Keara Coshow
Keara Coshow gravestoneCourtesy photo Facebook
Keara Lee Coshow, 3, is buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in Red Oak.

Keara Lee Coshow was born August 15, 1975, in Spooner, Wisconsin, to Wayne E. and Debra Lee (Bracklin) Butler, a full blood Lac Courte Oreilles (pronounced la-COO-der-ay) Indian from Wisconsin. The parents later split up, and Wayne married Karen Parrott. While some reports state the father obtained custody of the girls, Ms. Bracklin Butler said Wayne and Karen did not have custody and had moved away and taken the girls with them during one of the girls’ visits.

Keara had moved to Red Oak with her father and stepmother two years prior to the fire.

In addition to her father and stepmother, Keara Lee was survived by her mother, Mrs. Debra Lee Bracklin, Spooner, Wis.; three sisters, Bernadette, Heather and Keidriane, at home: grandparents, Mrs. Dorothy Coshow of Earl, Wis., Mr. and Mrs. John Bracklin of Chicago; great-grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Everman of Earl, Wis., and Mrs. Bernadette Bracklin, Stonelake, Wis.

She was a member of Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.

Keara was buried in the Baby Land section of Evergreen Cemetery in Red Oak on July 14, 1979. Sellergren-Lindell Funeral Home in Red Oak handled arrangements.

Debra Bracklin Butler wouldn’t learn of her 3-year-old’s death until one month later. At that time, with the help of the Iowa Attorney General’s office, Bernadette was reunited with her mother and went to live with her.


In September 2009, Karen Coshow participated in the 2nd Annual Southwest Iowa Merit Badge College, part of the Boy Scouts of America Merit Badge Series, where scouts attend sessions and learn about subjects ranging from Architecture and Aviation to Engineering and Soil and Water Conservation.

Karen Coshow — who remains married to Keara’s father, Wayne — served as a Merit Badge Counselor for a class on Reptile and Amphibian Study. Her Counselor Profile page (dated September 2009), listed her employer field as a veterinarian technician, but the page relayed the following information about her certification status:

Youth Protection not completed within the past two years.

For the past 17 years, Karen Jean and Wayne Eugene Coshow — who together run Country Critters in Iowa — have raised wolves, tarantulas, boas, lizard and reptiles, and at one time had over 30 wolves. Since Keara’s death, they have moved around frequently, having lived in Red Oak, Iowa, Macedonia, Iowa, Imogene, Iowa, Emerson, Iowa, and Essex, Iowa.

In December 2009, The (Council Bluffs) Daily Nonpareil interviewed Karen Coshow for an article published December 19 about Pottawattamie County residents who, for about three weeks, had been finding their dogs and cats slain with arrows. Coshow, a clinic employee at the Carson Veterinary Clinic, recalled a recent attack where a cat had been wounded with an arrow. During that same time period, a man also called the clinic about his dog being shot with an arrow. Both the cat and the dog died before the owners could make it to the veterinary clinic.

“It’s just been a horrible thing,” Karen Coshow told the Nonpareil.

In April 2013, Wayne and Karen Coshow attended the Clarmar school for its annual Science Exploration Day, bringing with them a turtle, an iguana, a Chilean rose hair tarantula, a spike bearded dragon, a 1-year-old red-tailed boa and a Navajo lizard, sharing interesting facts about each of them. An Omaha World-Herald story dated April 27, 2013, said the hands-on activities included making and eating Shake It Up Ice Cream.

Wayne Coshow’s mother, Dorothy Coshow, passed away on June 8, 2014. Her life legacy obituary, which appeared online at, did not mention her granddaughter, Keara, in the list of family members preceding her in death.

An Atlantic Telegraph News article dated Thursday, July 3, 2014, cited a program Karen Coshow gave to children at the Atlantic Public Library on Monday, June 30, 2014, where she brought with her an 18-year-old Russian Red Tundra Wolf named Kellan. The Atlantic Rotary Club sponsored the event.

Information Needed

Wayne Coshow’s sister, Sandra, and Keara’s sister Bernadette fully cooperated in the very brief 2007 investigation, and said they were willing to make themselves available for interviews with the appropriate investigating agency or agencies.

Instead, the case quietly faded away. Keara’s aunt, Sandra Coshow, died in July 2013 after a brave fight with cancer.

If you have any information about 3-year-old Keara Lee Coshow’s unsolved murder, please contact one of the following:

It is not too late to reopen this case. There is no statute of limitations on murder.

  • Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation
  • State Fire Marshal Division
  • Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office
  • Red Oak Police Department
  • Personal correspondence with Bernadette Coshow, ongoing
  • Spinal Cord Injury,” JOHNS HOPKINS MEDICINE, Health Library, accessed on July 21, 2016
  • “Spinal Cord Injuries Clinical Presentation,” by Lawrence S. Chin, MD, FACS,, May 12, 2016
  • Telephone conversation between retired homicide detective Janet Franson and Iowa Cold Cases’ Jody Ewing, February 11, 2016
  • Learning about wolves,” The Atlantic News Telegraph, Thursday, July 3, 2014
  • “Life Legacy Obituaries: Dorothy Coshow,”, June 8, 2014
  • Chalkboard, April 27: FREMONT PUBLIC SCHOOLS,” The Omaha World-Herald, April 27, 2013
  • 2nd Annual Southwest Iowa Merit Badge College,”, September 14, 2009
  • “Information Report — Coshow Report #2,” Reportee, Janet Franson, Investigator, follow-up to 4-11-2007 report re Keara Lee Coshow, with other incident (investigative) reports dated:
    • May 25, 2007
    • May 30, 2007
    • June 7, 2007
    • June 8, 2007
    • June 11, 2007
    • August 22, 2007
  • STATE OF IOWA — CERTIFICATE OF DEATH for KEARA LEE COSHOW, State File Number 79-014167, issued by medical examiner Dr. S. Rodmond Smith, signed and certified July 25, 1979.
  • Autopsy Report for Keara Coshow, conducted by Dr. P.C. Ramon, Jr.
  • “Information Report,” Reportee, Janet Franson, Investigator, National Center for Missing/Exploited Children, report filed April 11, 2007
  • Kids see science first hand,” by Beverly J. Lydick, The Fremont Tribune, April 8, 2006
  • Iowans find pets slain with arrows,” The Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, Saturday, December 19, 2009
  • Janet Franson, ongoing correspondence with Iowa Cold Cases
  • Terry Klooster, Investigative Supervisor, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation
  • David Dales, Investigator, Iowa DCI
  • Roy Marshall, Special Agent, State Fire Marshal Division
  • Bernadette Coshow (sister of decedent)
  • Kelly Emerson (daughter of Karen Coshow)
  • Gerry Nance, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
  • Thomas Mulligan, attorney, Spooner, Wisconsin
  • Sandra Coshow (sister of decedent’s father)
  • Dennis Loghry (later bought the Hilltop Hotel)
  • United Group Insurance
  • Jon Waltz, Red Oak, Iowa, insurance agent
  • Sandra K. Coshow Find a Grave Memorial
  • Keara L. Coshow Find a Grave Memorial
  • “Complete Coshow death investigation,” Red Oak Express, Thursday, August 9, 1979
  • “3-year-old dies in motel fire,” Red Oak Express, July 16, 1979

171 Responses to Keara Coshow

  1. Nona says:

    Let’s pull together to convict her and wake up her husband Lord have mercy on there souls and don’t allow them into heaven palms 23 they are not wanted

  2. Stay Strong! says:

    Interesting article highlighting the unfortunate occurrences of tragedies impacting Native American Iowans including this case…

    ‘Where is she?’ Iowa Indigenous communities grapple with missing and murder cold cases
    (Via The Gazette)

  3. URKA says:

    Poor little girl…shame on Iowa police. They didn’t do anything to solve this case…☹

  4. Jennifer says:

    How is this woman not in prison? The death of this little girl needs to be investigated and the step-mother brought to justice. American Indian step-children and non-native Step-mother, the child’s death doesn’t matter and the woman not charged with murder, does this seem to be about race?

  5. Ana says:

    Its sad to think that there is such evil in this world and against children inocent children !! The creator will take care of the stepmom !

  6. Shirley says:

    I am amazed that the stepmother wasn’t investigated and charged!!!! Sounds like alot of people messed up.

  7. Teri Linda Encinias says:

    My dad burned me in a big trash bag when I was little. God release the child soul from all that abuse. Rebuke the child abusers pendants, and free the past from thy soul of thy witness. May St. Christopher, release bondage, from thy burns of thy past memory for life to go on and for others not to repeat the same mistake.

    • Stay Strong, Keep Fighting For Justice! says:

      I’m sorry to learn of the suffering you incurred at the hands of your father Teri. Stay strong!

  8. Aaron snipes says:

    I actually know the coshows! And Tom askey. Somehow alot of this has been so misconstrued to the point where it doesn’t even make sense anymore. I have personally sat and talked to these people numerous times. The coshows are wonderful people. Very kind and gentle with kids and animals. They’re humanitarians in their own right. I guess people just believe what they want to believe.

    • Stay Strong, Keep Fighting For Justice! says:

      Yes, I’m sure the step daughters that Karen very clearly abused with her husband turning a blind eye would agree.

      Keara who was blinded via Drano, forced to soil herself, and ultimately killed by that whack job step-mother Karen certainly will agree when they meet each other very briefly on judgement day.

      Keara will remain in heaven while that whack job Karen will be sent to the deep recesses of hell; exactly where she belongs.

    • deri gale says:

      wtf is wrong with you?? genuinely

  9. Robert Schwarz says:

    I hope the stepmother pays for the murder in this life. I know she will burn in he’ll for what she did.

  10. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    It’s frustrating that the authorities ignored this case. They should be ashamed. It appears that Karen, is a serial arsonist. How, is it that these previous and later fires did not provoke investigators to connect the dots. The State of Iowa needs to admit they failed and look at it again. The same with a full complete autopsy.

  11. Suem says:

    Any word on how this
    case is progressing ?

  12. Stay Strong, Keep Fighting For Justice! says:

    This case is infuriating to no end.

    I would like to say to Bernadette and other loved ones of Keara’s if they happen to read this. Justice will prevail and Karen (very evident based on reading through this page) will be held accountable, on this earth (hopefully) and for sure when she passes.

    There is no escaping justice on judgement day.

  13. Luna says:

    What kind of horrible people exist that can do something like that to a little girl… or anybody period.

    The spelling of the tribe is Lac Courte Oreilles, pronounced la-COO-der-ay. They’re a band of the Ojibwe .

    • Chet says:

      I have recently been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer……. I have about 6 months to live… Karen will be dead within the next 6 months…… that’s a promise

  14. linda says:

    and what about the dad ..he allowed this to happen to his poor baby and left Bernadette alone with her too omg he needs to be punched in the face also

  15. Amy Runyon says:

    heartbreaking…just heartbreaking that any child would have to endure violence like this. I still pray that justice will be served.

  16. Kim says:

    Dearest Bernadette,
    I lived in Red Oak right down the street from where you lived. I used to see you and your sweet sister swinging on the swings. I worked at the local grocery store called Hunt’s Super Value. I was a checker and you and your sister would always come in with your step monster. I remember you and your sister because you always held hands. I always would try to get you to smile, but there was always an unspoken fear in your eyes. I clearly remember the day when your sister’s “accident” with her eyes happened. You all came into the grocery store soon after and I remember seeing the salve on your sister’s eyes. The “story” was that it was accidental, but somehow I knew it wasn’t. My gut told me that something terrible had happened. After that, I always would watch more carefully at you two outside when I drove by. It would always break my heart because I would only see you swinging on the swing. The one thing I do remember, and you need to know this, is that I Always felt better after seeing you two in the store because you were always holding her hand as if you were protecting her. For as young as I was at the time, (17) even before some of the incidents, I knew things were wrong, but felt that you two had each other…that thought always comforted me. You were her angel, and I saw that every time I saw you two together. I wish there was something I could do to prove my gut was right, but there isn’t. I just wanted you to know that for a long time, I witnessed the love of an older sister, even at 5 years old. Don’t ever feel that you failed your sister…you were always holding her hand…I will always remember that…may justice be served and you find closure and peace.

  17. Debra L Bracklin Butler says:

    I am hoping this will not die and be forgotten. My heart breaks every day and every year from the time that Wayne and Karen kidnapped the girls. I tried and kept falling apart to get people to listen, to do something, to investigate. The day my daughter told me that some people have opened up concerns was overwhelming. I’m very thankful to Sandy for collecting this information and documenting. I am thankful for Jody Ewing and Janet Franson for waking up the media and pushing the issues that are and have been discovered.

    Karen’s fire involvements apparently were of issue, even before she came into the Coshow picture. I remember hearing Ken Gerner telling Sandy that his ex wife Karen was involved in something before the kidnapping of my children. I didn’t have the opportunity or maybe that was the least of my concern at the time.

    I so want to have all the Authorities to reopen this case as they all should be ashamed for ignoring my kids ongoing suffering. I want them to make my daughter’s murder recognized as what it was and is, aMURDER to the first degree. I want To see Karen get the harshest sentence possible for everything she has done to everyone, harshest punishment for my children!

    If exhuming my Keara is what it takes that is what should be done.

    Finally, I want my daughter to be taken away from Iowa and put to rest by my family.

  18. CSJ says:

    I think that this child’s Father is as guilty as the Step- Mother, perhaps he didn’t directly hurt this child, but it is very difficult for me to comprehend he did not know what was going on in his home. Did he not question how a 3 yr old would have opened a can of Drano by herself? Did he not check on this child when she was in a blanket? Did he not offer to hold her for a while that night or at least look at her? Did he not wonder how a child that was so “sick” the night before was able to start a fire the very next day? Did he not know what the autopsy report stated on how his child died? Did he not put two and two together -that every time something happened to his child, the Step- Mother was there? Did he not ask the witnesses to the fire what happened? And all of the other fires.
    I think he knew exactly what his wife was doing to his daughter and looked the other way. The fact that his child was not even listed in his Mother’s obituary, pretty much says it all. To him, his own child never existed.
    Playing ignorant is no excuse, He knew.

  19. Lorrie Murphy says:

    Jody, I was wondering if you got the word out about this case to the surrounding media like Omaha news stations and local radio stations in Red Oak ( KCSI 712 -623 -2584 ) and Shenandoah ( KMA 712 – 246 – 5270 ) it would motivate authorities to finally solve this case and put the murderer where she belongs, this would be a good day to start it rolling … Keara’s birthday.

  20. Lorrie Murphy says:

    Thanks Jody.

  21. Why don’t they arrest the stepmother .

    • I think if they exhumed the body, today’s technology would make it possible to further define Keara’s injuries. Not only that, especially after The Supreme Court’s ruling in State of Iowa vs. Hillary Lee Tyler, medical examiners may not testify as to his/her expert opinion regarding the cause and manner of death when the opinion primarily relies on hearsay as opposed to objective scientific medical evidence. This covers far more cases than one can imagine. (Or when autopsy findings clearly suggest/point to homicide but the M.E. rules the MANNER of death a suicide or accidental death because that’s what they were told happened.)

      • Jennifer Rose Miller says:

        I was a bit upset today when I went to grave site in baby land in red oak and always see my neice who is buried down the row from keara and I always walk down and check on keara wishing they would find justice for her but I don’t want to post on here how her grave looked but it was very disturbing to me

      • Patrick Kerrigan says:

        Jody, I agree that with today’s knowledge, that a trained medical examiners, would be able to provide a more scientific cause of death.

        However, there is a case in Pennsylvania where a woman was found stabbed to death, by her fiance in 200i orc2009. She had been stabbed about 8 times. Her cause of death was considered a homicide, then it was changed to suicide, because there were no signs of forced entry to her residence.

        Now, in 2022 after it was fought by her family, and a review by a,well known retured medical examiner, the case will be investigated as a homicide, almost 14 years later.

        I think that a panel of active & retired medical examiners should be brought together to review many of these disputes cases, to refine the cause and manner of death, also to possibly tighten the time frame of death.

        In one case on ICC, from 1976, the medical examiner changed the time of death, they originally provided investigators and what he testified to in court. This was based on a phone call the victim made and the food in her stomach.

        In a case out of Africa, a forensic pathologist stated that the state of digested food, should not be used as determining the time of death. The medical examiner in the original case, changed the time frame originally provided to investigators, to a 14 hour window.

        So, a review using known scientific standards, might hopefully provide a more tighter manner of death. This is something that the State of Iowa should request

  22. Jeff williams says:

    So this evil stepmother has been getting away Scott free? How, even after the abuse, drano, known fact that Keara could not have started the fire, all the other fires she had been involved with? What dad doesn’t question some of this, i mean drano, are f’ n serious just imagine the pain….who ever can in Iowa work this, must, the evidence is so clear, I think Karen and possibly Wayne belong in prison. Imagine if you will being treated so unfairly, being beaten, having drano put to you eyes so your changed to nearly completely blind, being locked out with no potty n them holding until no longet can and then being shaken violently until spinal cord injury and unconscious, then carried to a room, covered with flammable thinner n burned….this family n little girl deserve justice…

  23. Amy Runyon says:

    I read this article about 2 weeks ago, signed the petition and have cried and prayed for justice for these girls and their family every night since. I keep coming back to read the comments and gain a little more hope each time that Keara’s case will be re-opened and that disgusting excuse for a human being Karen gets what she deserves here on Earth and in Hell where I am sure she will be upon her death. I am planning on finding Keara’s grave site so that I can pray and lay flowers for her there as well. My heart goes out to you Bernadette, as well as your mother, Diane and all the friends and family who have lived this nightmare for far far too long. God Bless and I will keep praying and telling as many people as I can in Red Oak and the surrounding communities your story.

  24. Jordan Dmario says:

    Hi Jody, again I just want to thank you for your attention and time. Thank you for noting the bathtub incident, I will never take credit for something I don’t recall. I felt that made me look like a little hero but I wasn’t, just a scared kid that grew up wishing I would have done something. I see how smart and I afraid kids are today and wish I would have had announce of their nerve, just then maybe this story wouldn’t be written and many people wouldn’t be hurt but maybe remember me as a complete brat. As perfect as I try to be… I would take that “bad” title any day instead of losing my sister so horrifically.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Jordan, the only differences in the “bathtub” account were about whether you or Keara were put in first. The investigative reports (a lot of it info provided by your Aunt Sandra) make it clear that you were put into the tub first and then left to “handle” your unresponsive little sister. You have every right to feel like a little hero because even at 5 years of age, you knew enough to keep your sister’s head above water. The damage had already been done by then, and there was nothing you could do to save Keara.

      The fact that she was unable to speak seems to indicate that the violent shaking also caused traumatic brain injury. (Like shaken baby syndrome.) I do not understand why Karen wasn’t charged with first-degree murder back when this happened. What’s also truly awful is that investigators didn’t even think to interview you or the others at the time.

      Luckily, you conveyed all the information to your Aunt Sandra after it happened, and what you said even as a child matched up perfectly with the autopsy report and death certificate. You had the courage to speak up at the time it mattered most (right after the crime) when all the details were still fresh in your mind. You (luckily) survived, and because of that can be a voice for Keara even today. Every victim deserves a voice.

      It took me a little longer to rewrite the case summary than I thought, but I’ve double-checked every reference and there are no “opinions” in my writing — only facts that are backed up in documented reports. I hope either Sen. Ernst or Gov. Branstad get things moving on this case. Even without their help, I don’t see how the case can “not” be reopened now that the information has been put out there. I’m so glad Michelle Smith posted her comment about babysitting the two of you; even as a 4-year-old, you already had an innate sense that Keara needed your help. Rest assured, she knew you were there for her.

      • Bernadette/jordan says:

        Jody, I want you to know your efforts are appreciated. Maybe I no longer recall other details that I may have done it told Asa child. As I got older some things seemed so far fetched that I started doubting myself. The only thing I most deffinatly remember is the locking us out, be telling, Karen coming out in rage hurting my sister that she could not sit up in the tub, McDonald’s, the next day on the swing set, Karen bringing Keara to laundry room leaving her in there, and the laundry room exploding, then an elderly woman talking to me. Everything in between is black, no recollection until the day my mother picked me up from the police department.

        • Jody Ewing says:

          Bernadette, this is why I applaud you for having given the details about the fire to your aunt when everything was still fresh in your mind. Most of us can rarely remember all details about events that took place when we were five, but, if a 5-year-old child tells an adult about something right after it happens, all the details are still fresh and clear in the 5-year-old’s mind. The adult can then carry the information forward because they know few 5-year-olds will remember “everything.” In your case, confiding to your Aunt Sandra was like having your own personal diary or journal, and she literally became your “keeper of memories.”

          It’s only natural for us to sometimes “doubt” whether or not we remember traumatic childhood events correctly, even though we remember the most important details. Your Aunt Sandra wouldn’t have had all the specifics if you hadn’t shared them with her at the time. Your description of what happened actually mirrors what’s said in the autopsy report and on the death certificate.

          Your sister’s case is not the first on ICC where an autopsy report/death certificate provides a detailed analysis of fatal injuries but draws an “accidental” death conclusion because the M.E. often wasn’t told the truth about ‘how’ certain injuries were sustained.

          It would be like a medical examiner noting that the deceased person suffered “three gunshot wounds to the head at close range,” but then marking the Manner of Death as “accidental.” Yes, that’s TOTALLY ridiculous, but no more so than your sister’s death being marked accidental despite the M.E.’s previous explanation of a 3-year-old child deemed “immobile” from acute spinal cord injuries before the fire, and the same immobile child (who couldn’t walk, move, stand, or speak) allegedly walking into a laundry room and reaching up and pulling down a GALLON container of paint thinner and then prying off the child-proof lid and spilling the contents all over herself in such a clever way that not even the state fire marshal’s office could determine the fire’s point of origin.

          Amateur arsonists will often set two or even three separate fires within close proximity to throw off investigators as to point of origin. Serial arsonists (educated quickly by trial and error) soon learn how to create a destructive blaze causing intense devastation while covering a vast amount of space all at the same time. Hence: no identifiable point of origin.

          Damn, it’s so heartbreaking thinking about what must have been going through your dad’s head on the way home after he knew he’d surprise you all by having stopped at McDonald’s.

          • Donnie Bowerman says:

            Jody: I appreciate most of your sentiment and sympathy which is clearly present in your comments. Your anger over this tragedy is also very evident. We are definitely on the same sheet of music. This beautiful girl’s death should be cleared by a complete and thorough investigation. I agree. But I also read in your comments all the assertions you make about “this means this” and “that means that” and together this “evidence” proves this conclusion. You sound like a trained, experienced crime scene investigator. Is that the case? Where does this wealth of investigative knowledge come from? It would help me understand how you have formed your obvious conclusions about this incredibly sad case.

            My background is that of detective in the Criminalistics Division of the Kansas City, Mo, Police Department and the Jackson County, Mo, Sheriff’s for twenty-five years. I investigated hundreds of murders, suicides, and unknown DOAs during my time with those agencies. My training was through state, regional, and national academies, universities, schools, and seminars. I cannot ever recall when I was able to perform the kind of assessments and pronouncements, you seem to have made, from reading articles in the newspapers and comments on the Internet. Please correct me if I’m wrong. While I, too, may have a number of very strong, personal opinions about this particular case, I also know, having learned this from many years of courtroom testimony, that what I can prove in a court of law and what I simply cannot are two entirely different things.


            • Patrick Kerrigan says:

              Mr. Bowermann, I agree with your comments. However, the medical examiner as far as I know is supposed to determine the cause of death.

              I assume you attended a number of autopsies and documented their findings or attached a copy of the report to your case reports.

              So, I sort of appears that the M.E., in this case may have depended on information from the police, to support his opinion on the cause of death.

              But, then are a number of deaths across this country, that the cause of death is undetermined.

            • Jody Ewing says:


              Thank you for taking time to comment on this case (and I’m happy to answer your questions), though admit I’m confused at your assertion that I performed the assessments here based simply on “reading articles in the newspapers and comments on the Internet.” Respectfully, that could not be further from the truth.

              At the very top of Keara’s case summary, it clearly states that the following information on her case is based on official reports from the Iowa Department of Public Safety, the State Fire Marshal Division/Arson and Explosives Bureau, the State of Iowa Certificate of Death issued for Keara Coshow, official Information Reports filed with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), Information Reports filed with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, along with personal telephone conversations and communications with the highly respected retired homicide detective Janet Franson, who invested a great deal of time on Keara’s case after retiring from the Lakeland (FL) PD. (Her work with the Doe Network, NCMEC and NamUs is all cited in the case summary, which is how she learned about Keara’s case.)

              Keara’s late aunt, Sandra Coshow, and Keara’s sister Bernadette were instrumental in working with both Janet and then me insofar as poring through official investigative reports like the Arson and Explosives Bureau’s “Investigation Report — Case # 7907361, dictated Aug. 1, 1979, and prepared by [then-State Fire Marshal Division] Special Agent Roy Marshall.

              I have hard copies of every report cited here, which I did not just go “pull off the Internet” or get from reading newspaper articles. (I had to smile, though, at the thought of “Ohhh…If-only-it-were-that-easy.”) Keara’s case here reflects solid research through every official agency who played a role in investigating her death and is based on facts — not opinions.

              You asked about my training. I worked as a journalist before founding the Iowa Cold Cases website in 2005, and am an Iowa State University graduate with a Bachelor of Liberal Studies Degree with concentration areas in Communications, Social Science, and Criminal Justice Studies. I’ve attended my share of conferences as well, and from ICC’s outset have worked as a liaison between tipsters, victims’ family members, local, state, and federal law enforcement officials. (And, yes, you are absolutely correct in that there’s a vast difference in knowing who committed a crime and being able to prove it in a court of law.)

              Victim’s family members sometimes provide me with autopsy reports when unusual injuries are involved or complicated terms used, and, because I am not a physician or medical examiner but want readers to understand what role these injuries may have played in contributing to a death, I do more of what I’ve been taught to do: research. Do the fatal injuries always match up with the “this is what happened” decedent history needed prior to autopsy? Not always. M.E.’s do their jobs and report their findings, but it gets tricky when they get to Manner of Death. These people work together, after all. “Undetermined” is neutral. “Accidental” is something else entirely. Case over. Cleared. Closed. Suspicions arising later will sometimes face a tightly locked door. Still, these are exceptions. Not the rule. Every case is different. So are the different individuals investigating them.

              Jody @ ICC

  25. Carolyn Reubenking says:

    I posted the petition on Red Oak’s Facebook page…I am one of the administrator’s of the page…last I looked we needed 17 more signatures….we went from 195 to 17 in just a matter of a couple of days so I am certain we will be able to get the rest need to send the petition on to our senators…I am so sorry for Keara and what her family have been through…seems like someone dropped the ball…hope we can get some closure for this family with this petition.

  26. how did she get by with the drano incident in the first place. this is nuts. where is the justice.

  27. CSJ says:

    It is really, really a shame that the Statutes Of Limitation in Iowa for Wrongful Death is 2 years.

    • Michelle Maginn Smith says:

      Bernadette….don’t ever think for a second that you failed your sister. I know you and Keara. I babysat you and Keara when you were 4 and Keara was 2. I saw the abuse and reported it constantly. My husband and I wanted to keep you and Keara and not give you back. We assumed the ‘system’ would take care of you. The times and the system failed you. At my house at nap time you never napped. You would try to quiet Keara so she would sleep. You would hold her hand. You would help get her ready when it was time to leave. I’m sure this was done out of fear. And you were only 4 years old. My heart goes out to you and what you girls endured. I’m so so sorry I didnt or couldn’t have done more. You both are in my heart forever!

      • Bernadette says:

        Wow thank you Michelle, I would love the opportunity to text/ talk to you. I don’t remember you, but to be honest my mind only has limited memories but the night before and day of are vivid. A friend is helping me write my book. More information would be great, many have told me that I tried to protect her but unfortunaltly I think it was the other way around because she got the worst of it. My cell is 612-655-5982. Personal email is

        • Michelle Maginn Smith says:

          Thank you for reading my reply. I’ve haven’t even read the whole article yet. I get more and more upset. I thought that when I first saw it on my Facebook that maybe there had been an arrest or something that would be close to closure. I was wrong. You and Keara have never been out of my thoughts and heart. I’m somewhat deaf now and have a hard time talking on the phone but I will certainly contact you and help in any way I can. I know another person who may have imformation. She was friends with an older sister Kelli I think and always suspected something wasn’t right. I’ll get a hold of her. Hang in there. Somehow some way that evil person has to pay!

  28. CSJ says:

    There is a petition on for this child— not sure when it was created orif it is still active. “Re-open the case of Keara Coshow. 37 year old cold case in Red Oak, Iowa”

  29. Lorisa L Buckley says:

    When there is a fire of any kind then all the people involved names should go into a database. If any other fires come up, as soon as the person’s name is entered then everything prior would be able to come up as well.. If this can be done for criminals I don’t see why it can’t be done with fires reported as well. It would start putting pieces of the puzzle together. This database can be connected nationwide just as the criminal justice systems database’s are.

  30. Why is this nasty person not in jail for killing this 3 year old she should be on death row if I knew what she was going to go and beat up but

  31. Debra Bracklin Butler says:

    I’m so happy that there are people who are picking up the ball on this. I have gone unheard on this and wondered why so many people “Iowa” could continue to look away at all that happened throughout the years. Karen’s x husband Ken Gerner Stated prior to what happened to Keara there were incidents of fires and questionable death. Bernadette suffered greatly, she is so strong and so devoted to her children and grandson, as well as a fighter for others.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Debra, I am so very sorry for your loss. I am eternally thankful to Det. Janet Franson for alerting me to this case, and hope that something will come of it since the info is now out there for the general public to see. You’re right in that Bernadette is strong (probably more so than she even knows) and it’s reflected in her love for her children and grandson. Is Karen’s ex-husband Ken Gerner still alive? He may be able to provide a wealth of information.

  32. Ashley Brown says:

    Blind her ass with Drano burn her and shoot her let her bleed then when she is almost dead shoot her up with adrenaline and do it all over again for several days or weeks!!! This makes me sick!! No child deserves anything in this kind of sick nature!!!

    • Angie says:

      Exactly! Anything else would be too good for the psycho! I’m saddened at how law enforcement really messed this case up. Prayers to keara and her sisters, and mother.

  33. Sad says:


    My heart goes out yo your sister. Shame on social services for failing do there job. Abuse shud never be taken lightly. Hospital or Dr seeing and knowing abuse is present should be number 1 person to tell a social worker remove child now…
    Well, shame on your dad for stayi,g with this female for convience to babysit his kids so he cud work…he had to have known…
    A drunk person brags and a drunk person talks,i think you need to give that horrible woman booze and dump your hate and pretend, be wired, but allow her to think your her best Fd and dump your drinks, you need to be on ur game, you complain bout little children saying they little brats and I promise the words to a drunk person will strike up her interest she will agree and with your lies saying bad children hate brats bla bla she bring drunk will brag, about facts, she will say how great you were, and pain that sister was, you need hold back tears and rage, but trust me, you will get a drunk abuser to brag, you laugh, you tell her good job, you say what she wants to hear to get your confessions, drunk pp do brag, tell what they did, and unconciously say to much, thanks to alcohol I’ve solved lots of secrets…….
    If you can’t get her drinking find a woman who will be wired and do it for you… Trust me please she will confess. After you get your confession. Dig up her property, or a area she says she enjoys or always goes to, you will find dead and tortured animals as she enjoys the power of control and likes the fear pp and animals have she feels powerful and a ego built of stone due to never getting caught. Finding her burial grounds you will have all you need to close this case. And a drunk confession to put your sisters death at ease to rest. This woman, this abuser, has been doing it since she was a teen, Somethg happened to her ypung, and she committed a crime very young and got away with it, I since a family member she killed, she got away with it….it started her ego and her power trip of being and feeling unstoppable, she has been killing since a teenager… After her first kill of a person for whatever reason animals followed, talk to her town where she lived as a teen ask who died a family member or her best Fd maybe, someone close to her, and it wasn’t a death of abuse to her I since she was a best for nice choice of words, and she killed out of rage for not getting what’s he wanted, jealousy, teasing, someone raged her she snapped, killed, got away with it, and the cycle began….
    So on this said… You need to be wired or someone you Trust even undercover female cop, and lots of booze go truck up conversation animals you selling a Doberman or rotty, catch her attention, and keep shots coming, add in the conversing kids how they are fucking brats it will catch her but 1st 91st when she is sloppy drunk , don’t bring up sooner, and you tell a lie, say a secret you hurt a child broke a arm or somethg, then let her top your crime with gets its all about her remember … Fuel it with more booze and more lies from you or your helper whom is wired, recording everythg, a cop set up will help wear a wire and this is all you need… I hope you get her….

    • Dianna Kelly says:

      Interestingly enough she was interviewed about a bunch of animals in her area being shot with bow and arrow. My 1st thought was that it was her doing it.

  34. Amber L says:

    Could the point of origin be the child itself? The fire marshal couldnt tell but seems to me if the child was burned that bad and the cloths around her was still identified and still smelled like the thinner then maybe she was the point of the fire.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Amber, fire investigators didn’t believe the point of origin was the child. According to reports, the paint thinner had been poured from the corner of the room where the water heater was, all the way across Keara and then almost up to the laundry room’s door. That way, before leaving the room, a match or lighter set to the paint thinner near the door would have automatically flashed across the whole room at once, thus the “explosion” sound that Bernadette heard.

  35. Helen Ranney says:

    i would like to know who the social worker was?

  36. Are you kidding me with this?! They seriously just let that bitch walk away!! She needs some southern justice. Is the stepmother still alive?

  37. She should be known for what she did !

  38. Lorrie Murphy says:

    How could all of this evidence been ignored by so called ” experts ” I wonder what this beautiful little girl would have been like today if ” evil ” hadn’t have taken her precious life, I’ll be sharing this with my Iowa Families Against Violent Death group, this happened 24 miles from where I live now, hopefully someone in my group will be able to help. Prayers sent to all the family members.

    • Bernadette says:

      Thank you for sharing?

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Lorrie, I’m writing a blog post right now about that very thing (how cases like this slip through the experts’ cracks). Thanks so much for sharing this with your Violent Death group!

      • Lorrie Murphy says:

        Any time Jody, I talked to my cousin that’s lived in Red Oak for years, not her or anyone she’s talked to have ever heard of this case, this makes me wonder if it even made it to the newspaper.

        • Jordan Dmario says:

          It was in the red oak paper July 16th 1979 and August 9th 1979. Very brief but in the paper.

          • Lorrie Murphy says:

            Any way you can get the info. that was in the paper and post it on here ?

          • Jody Ewing says:

            Lorrie, I found the two articles and now have them posted on Keara’s page. If you click on them, they will open up and can be viewed on a larger scale. Jordan, thanks so much for providing the helpful dates!

  39. To think Mr Coshow stood by that garbage and still is with her, no man woman or creature comes before my child, I’m paranoid and I’ll kill whoever harm’s my child or any child in my presence for they are dependent on us for protection.
    My heart breaks for you Bernadette as your childhood was filled with so much pain and suffering, the helplessness you must’ve felt watching your little sister be murdered. God will have his way in the end. Please don’t let that evil monster take anymore from you.

  40. Steph says:

    How sad that the justice system and Social Services failed to protect and get justice for these girls. What a bunch of buffoons! Bernadette, you should carry no guilt–you were a child for God’s sake. I hope you will find peace sometime in your life. May be bad to say, but I hope that woman dies a painful death, as painful as what she put that little girl through.

  41. Carol Mason says:

    If it’s not to late to reopen the case why don’t they talk to the people who saw all the abuse an the facts that led up to the poor baby being left in the laundry room and then it explodes. Not calling the fire department to help her baby. I would try and go in and save her.

  42. she is 77 , I would still kick her ass if I lived by her.. What an unspeakable thing to do, this poor baby..Where is her real mom? And how on God’s green Earth did the father still stay with her? People amaze me, I would literally die without my kids.. I hope she gets a severe beating, she will pay.. Rest easy baby girl, there will be justice for you XXOOX <3

  43. April Spurlin says:

    I have no appropriate words. I am outrage and my heart physically hurt reading this. I can only pray that these people realize that God don’t like ugly and they will have to answer someday

  44. Please people come forward..and make wrong right. .and her pay.even if she just looses all her friends.dont be afraid. This. Baby did not deserve this.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Someone should look into the number of fires that Karen has been involved in. House fires, car fires, church fires I mean come on!

    • Laela Jones Williams says:

      Car and church? Can you give more information?

      • Jody Ewing says:

        I would also love more information about the car fires and church fires. Is this woman a serial arsonist? I can’t stand the thought of all the animals perishing in the Country Critters fire, but based on the “exotic” animals they kept, I’d be willing to bet those wolves and reptiles had insurance policies attached to them. Or, perhaps just the building was insured, and it would have looked too suspicious to “remove all the animals” before setting the fire.

        This makes me sick to my stomach.

      • Melissa Baldwin says:

        Our church had a fire in 2/94 extensive damage to the interior of the building and the Coshows were the ones to discover it and the last ones at the building as they did maintanance. This happened in Shenandoah Ia.

  46. Bernadette says:

    I’m at a loss For words…. My aunts love was great and she is on the other side still pushing this case. I gave up when the attorney blew me off. This is how I have learned to cope… Try to forget it and hope that a God really exists and brings this to light. It is unfair that Karen has gotten to live life and be viewed as a good woman. But it is what it is… She will get wind of this and either a fire or a heart issue will happen. I thank anyone who steps up, speaks the truth and brings this to light. Mostly I thank my aunt for having the nerve and balls to do this for my sister who I failed.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Dear Bernadette, I’m so glad you posted here and please don’t ever, ever blame yourself for what happened to your little sister! You were just a 5-year-old child at the time and no match for an enraged, violent woman. Knowing Keara’s case was passed off as an accidental death (even when the fire marshal’s office couldn’t find a point of origin for the fire and they *had* to know a blind 3-year-old couldn’t open a gallon of paint thinner), would be a traumatic thing to live with, and I can’t imagine the frustration you’ve faced over the years trying to get word out about what really happened.

      Your Aunt Sandra was an extremely courageous woman for pursuing justice for Keara decades after the crime. I can’t tell you how saddened I was when doing research and discovering your aunt had just recently passed.

      I am also forever grateful to Janet Franson, the retired homicide detective who first alerted me to this unsolved case. I could tell in our phone conversations and in the written documents she sent to me how much this case meant to her. I am going to do my very best to ensure Keara’s life is not forgotten and make every effort to convince the state fire marshal’s division that your sister’s death was anything but an accident. Do you remember the name of the long-time tenant who also witnessed what Karen did? Please let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to see included here on Keara’s page.

      By the way, I just finished doing an update to the page, adding in a section called “Postscript” at the end and telling readers about what Karen and your father have been doing for the past several years. I honestly don’t think your father understood the extent of what Karen did to you girls during the day while he was away at work. And, yes, she will quickly discover that this case is now online; during my searches, I came across some other news site that had “picked up the story” ( and Keara’s case is listed under a number of different categories. The site features many, many crimes, with the top 10 most popular listed in the sidebar. Keara is already included in that Top 10 list.

      A Google search using just three words — karen coshow iowa — brings up Keara’s case as the #1 result. There has to be investigators/detectives out there who’d be willing to take on the case and finally provide justice for Keara and all of you. There is no statute of limitations on murder, so despite the fire and Keara’s death both being ruled accidental, Karen could still be charged with first-degree arson and first-degree murder.

      I’m just so sorry for the suffering and pain both you and Keara endured at Karen’s hands, and for you having to grow up without your sister. There is still hope.

      There is also a Bible message from “Shawshank Redemption” that I often like to quote, only I add my own interpretation: “His judgment cometh, and that right soon … and he who cometh will be bearing handcuffs.”

      • Bernadette says:

        Thank you Jody, and great thanks to Janet as well. If one day I have the privledge to meet either of you, I could be so greatful. I do not know the elderly lady that was a “long term resident”. I only remember her coming to sit with me when all the commotion was going on. I don’t ever ren remember her prior to that day, I actually thought she was an Angel until my aunt told me she was a resident. I don’t want to sound like whoa as me, but truth is life has been hard, being ignored by those that could help. I’ve had many supporters that wish they could help… When my aunt started all this I gave up, she gave me hope but then we got shut down again so I gave up. That’s how I deal with life, it’s just a big injustice and all I can do is live day to day the best I can, treat people good and look for light in others. I have always seen death as a better option, but my attempts have failed so I choose now to just live as stated above.

        • Christopher philpott says:

          I would gladly look into the case but sadly I’m only a criminal justice student. I think this should be investigated and would love any and all information to be provided. I would look into this in my free time which I have alot of and would try to help at all costs.

      • Patti says:

        This is horrifying! These people live within a few short miles of me and to know this now really pisses me off! I think someone needs to investigate another fire in Pottawattamie County as well. The house they were living in with their animals caught fire and I believe some of the animals perished. I suppose this was an ACCIDENT too. Just saying, maybe an arsonist as well as a murderer.

        • Laela Jones Williams says:

          I was just thinking the same. I remember hearing about the Country Critters having a fire. This needs pursued….

          • Jody Ewing says:

            Oh my gosh! I had no idea that “Country Critters” also had a fire. Do you know what year this took place, and where they lived at the time? Anyone who’s watched Forensic Files has seen cases where the perp — as long and he/she isn’t caught the first time around — will continue committing crimes in the same manner.

          • Joe says:

            The fire took place in the winter of 08/09, and they lived outside of Macedonia.

    • Tracy Christensen says:

      I am so sorry you have had to endure this. Have you been able to get a second autopsy opinion from what evidence there is? With new technology maybe another coroner would be able to determine foul play so you could petition the courts to change her manner of death which would reopen the case. I pray you find justice for your sister. Maybe with enough publicity your stepmother will slip up in front of the wrong person.

    • CJ says:

      As you were a child at the time. I can’t imagine there is anything a child could do in this situation. Hopefully this petition gets the attention it deserves so at least your family has answers, if not justice.

  47. That’s horrible. Is the stepmother still around?

    • Yes, the stepmother still lives with Wayne and they operate some program called “Country Critters” where they attend schools with wolves and reptiles and other creatures they own. Karen has been involved in several “fire” incidents since Keara’s murder, including one that killed many of the country critter animals. They’ve moved around a lot, but I believe they currently live in Red Oak again.

    • Victoria MK says:

      It would be true justice for that monster to “accidentally” have the same thibg happen to her. If only Dexter Morgan was a real person and not a tv show character. RIP to the sweet angel that was tortured so viciously. The father deserves the same as well for not protecting his daughters.

  48. Idiots ask the 3 witnesses

  49. Tammy AckmanI had a wonderful Mother & I just can’t imagine this happening to any child.. I am so sorry for you having to go through this. Where was your father or other family members while this was going on. And I wonder if this poor little girl had sisters & brothers.. Someone surely saw her abuse going on. Someone needs to find this women & kick her ass in the dark!!!

  50. Tammy Ackman says:

    As I read this I trembled. Then I had flashbacks of when my mother poured boiling water on me, 70 percent of my body. And the house fire she started with me in it but I was saved. And how every night she would crank up water heater and then run straight hot water over my feet. Child services failed me but not as bad as this girl. R.I.P. sweety. God’s wrath and justice awaits those responsible.

    • I’m so sorry that happened to you.

    • Me too – that’s horrendous ?

    • Tammy Ackman says:

      Thanks for your kind words. So much more happened I just don’t talk about. I was clinically dead but brought back by EMT or drs at least 4 times. I was made to live with my horrible parents for 5 years before child service’s took me away..

    • Victoria MK says:

      I’m so sorry you suffered so horrifically and by those who were suppose to love and protect you. I desperately want to help children being absued and mistreated. I hope you have been able to find peace, joy and love in your life since then. ?

    • Tammy Ackman says:

      I have. I married and divorced two abusive men but have been blessed with 6 children and 7 grandchildren. My dad made amends before he died 8 years ago. My mother is alive but I have no contact. I just await the day I hear she has died. That will be my final closure.

      • Margaret says:

        May I suggest a really great read? It’s called “the emotionally abusive relationship, how to stop being abused and how to stop abusing.” By Beverly (?). You deserve to have good people in your life, whether romantic or otherwise. This book was a game changer for me.

    • Bernadette says:

      Oh my God, I’m so sorry to hear your short version story. I understand momentarily loosing contro but to do something so plotted out…. Sad. I am glad your here to share your story, I hope eventually you got justice?

    • Dianna Kelly says:

      Tammy I am so sorry that happened to you. No child deserves a sick monster for a mother. I will pray for you and hope you have found some peace in your life.

  51. I hope she burns in hell

  52. Horrific! My god, they must reopen this!

  53. Mary Carr says:

    Burned to death and a 3yo at that. RIP my dear baby. And wtf is anyone doing! Oh I pray for judgement day on this woman. This community let this poor baby down.

  54. it says she carried the child in laundry room at motel moments later it explodes odd an came out with out her odd she is only 3 yrs old

  55. This breaks my heart…. This person( I won’t call her a mother because she doesn’t deserve that) deserves to be held accountable. Too many times children fall victims to trash like this and nothing is ever done until it’s too late. I hope that the family finally will get some closure

  56. Anyone with info?!? Sounds to me like they had everything they needed the day it happened. Sickening. Heartbreaking.

  57. So scary for this little girl. So sad…

  58. This makes me so angry!

  59. Dear God in heaven…how could someone live with themselves after doing this or knowing about it and doing nothing? May all of them rot in hell. Each and every one of them.

  60. Wesley Ewing says:

    Yet social services will take kids for Marijuana.

    Just saying.

  61. How awful! Sick woman;

  62. Another child victimized by a caregiver and the protective agency that’s suppose to PROTECT HER!!!

  63. This is sick! Poor baby!

  64. Absolutely sickening. Law enforcement is sure dense.

  65. I get that the Step Mom probably won’t ever be brought to justice. But what about making sure that her friends/co-workers and acquaintances know what is lurking in her past. Someone should track them down and make sure they know that people haven’t forgotten what they have done.

  66. Find this monster and prosecute her. Someone say something.

  67. Stepmom is alive and well from what I have read..

  68. How. Much evidence so they need . God knows the truth and she will have to answer to God one day

  69. This just makes me sick to my stomach. What that poor little child must have gone through. There is a special place in heaven for little angels like Keara. And there is a very special place in hell for people like that animal that killed her!!

  70. Karma can’t come soon enough for this scumbag. I just hope someone can reopen the case.

  71. What happened to the step mother? Karma, I hope

    • Angie Kirk says:

      We can only hope and pray Karma kicked her a$$

    • Bernadette says:

      Nothing at all, she has lived her life free to see her family, go to church, lie to many with a few times being questioned but then again let alone to live her life.

      • Chris says:

        Bernadette, I am so sorry this happened to you n your sister. I am certain it has affected you all your life. God bless n keep you and HE will judge that woman in the end. I don’t get why your Dad stood by during all the events b4 and after?? I pray for justice n healing for you

    • Bernadette Coshow says:

      Nothing, she lives and breathes freely. I have come to the conclusion, it will take money to re-open this case, and get some type of resolution. Im working on that, but so much tome has passed.

  72. Nancy Danks says:

    This is so sad!!! How can someone do that to a baby???!!

  73. The State of Iowa, the City of Red Oak, the Fire Marshall, the people who knew about the abuse, as well as the hospital staff all failed this poor little girl! My heart breaks for her and her sister!

  74. Lae Wilson says:

    Interesting, that the case was never reopened and the witnesses talked to a stepmother charged.. Also a second opinion on death certificate

  75. Jotee Jo says:

    Is the stepmother not the murderer?

  76. Does Coshows still live in southwest iowa? I’d like to pay old Karen a visit.

    • Nancy Danks says:

      If you click on the actual link, the story has more details. It says Karen works at a vet clinic, or did a few years ago. I hope her life has sucked!!!!?

    • She probably treats the animals the same way

    • She is 77 years old and still lives in Red Oak. Why has this case not been reopened! If they have witnesses, why not interview them now? Why not be more aggressive in getting justice for this little girl? What a heinous thing to do to the little girl!

    • Audrey Haverkamp I’ve sent quite a bit of documentation about it to Iowa’s State Fire Marshal Division and am hoping they’re realizing the gravity of this situation. I hadn’t known (when I wrote the case summary) how many other “fires” Karen has been involved in. One led to the death of many of her “Country Critters.”

      • Sarah Rushton says:

        I can’t be the only person who is wondering if Karen was the person who was shooting cats and dogs with a bow and arrow.

  77. If I had know about it a few years ago i would of solved that crime. RIP Keara

  78. Shelly Lucas says:

    Seems there was a lot of proof the step mother did it, but everyone let the child down :( I can’t believe it was never investigated like it should of been.

  79. Diana Wilson says:

    I don’t have much faith in Social Services. The poor child. I can’t even imagine…..wasn’t there proof the stepmother did this????

    • Cindy Brady says:

      You don’t have much faith in Social Services? Take a guess how many cases each worker has in their file? Guess how many hours they work in a week? How many selfless social workers give up time with their own kids to protect others? How many have burned out due to extreme stress, constant criticism and budget cuts that leave them short-staffed? Maybe you should be lacking faith in your elected and appointed officials who control what Social Services can / cannot do.

      • Notelling says:

        Social services is not capable of thier title. They most certainly do take and sell babies. They offer no help whatsoever to the welfare of a family because in fact they are prescreening them to see if its going to be a challenge to get the kids adopted so tgey can double dip and get a permancy bonus and a adoption stipend.

    • Diana Wilson says:

      I’ve worked in the schools. I took home one of my students, a child of drug parents…Social Services begged me to take her….sped…the night before Christmas Eve. I got her potty trained at the age of 13 and off the baby bottle because I had just retired and the school in my home town worked with me. She was put back in her home. The parents have lost 3 rentals, are still on drugs and let the child sit.

    • Noel Meyer says:

      They take the kids tht dnt need to be taken but ignore the ones tht really need help . Or place them bck sit the ones tht are hurting the. .. I do not support social services

  80. Cat Vogel says:

    omg this is so sad

  81. Mike Byrne says:

    This is so sad. How can anyone murder a child? No one involved in this case cared enough to prove who the killer was. Unbelievable.

  82. anonymous says:

    And Karen also is allowed to work with scouts on their merit badges, according to this link.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Thanks so much, anonymous, for sharing these links. How deeply disturbing knowing this woman just went on living her life as if nothing ever happened. Keara’s sister, Bernadette, is still haunted by this case today. I will be forwarding this case summary to Iowa’s Fire Marshal Division. At least two of the eyewitnesses are still alive.

  83. anonymous says:

    And meanwhile the Atlantic Rotary Club has had the wool pulled over its eyes by this couple, and sponsored an event involving the Coshows’ animals and children

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