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On March 27, 1991, Keith Anthony Clayborne II, 20, and Jerry F. Cooper, 23, were shot execution style at 3205 Kingman Avenue #208 in Des Moines, Iowa. The deaths were believed to be drug-related.
In a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated Saturday, August 3, 1991, Des Moines police said they were studying evidence to see if the shooting deaths of Clayborne and Cooper were somehow related to the July 12, 1991 shooting deaths of two women in a central Iowa farmhouse.
Shari Exline, 29, and a friend visiting from Fort Dodge, Melissa Maharas, 35, were found shot to death in July in a farmhouse east of Adel, Iowa. Jeff Thomas, 32, was wounded in the shooting, according to the Gazette.
Harris Evans, 21, and Troy Mure, 25, were arrested in the Adel shootings and charged with first-degree murder.
“Our case [the Clayborne/Cooper double homicide] was execution-style and drug-related and if their case was similar, who knows,” Des Moines police Sgt. Robert Ervin told the Gazette.
Police were never able to connect the two double homicides.
In a Des Moines Register article dated May 8, 2006, reporter Jeff Bash presented a “deck” of Des Moines’ unsolved mysteries; the Clayborne/Cooper case was presented as “Case 1.” Bash wrote:
THE CASE: Jerry Cooper, 23, and Keith Clayborne II, 20, were found shot to death in their Kingman Boulevard apartment in March 1991. Police said the men died of multiple wounds, and that some shots had been fired at close range into tops or sides of the victims’ heads.
THE OBSTACLES: A teen-age girl was in the apartment at the time of the shootings but apparently did not see the intruder or intruders. Officers found a small amount of cocaine in the apartment.
THE DETAILS: The killings sparked outrage among black civic leaders who said city officials had failed to provide urban youths with alternatives to crime and violence.
The Des Moines police department, Bash wrote, had just hired two retired detectives to work exclusively on unsolved homicides.
In a separate Register article written by Tom Alex published the same day, Alex spoke with Keith Clayborne, Keith Clayborne II’s father, who said he supported the police department’s move to have the two retired detectives — Lt. Clarence Jobe and Sgt. Jerry Jones — look into the department’s 74 unsolved murders.
“If Des Moines is starting a cold case unit, even part time, then that’s better than nothing,” Clayborne is quoted as saying in the article by Alex. “My feeling is, people who kill each other usually know each other. Maybe now enough time has elapsed they can find out who the perpetrator was.”
The younger Clayborne, Alex wrote, was “atypical” of young men caught up in the drug trade at the time; Clayborne II had been to private prep schools, attended summer camp, and had gone to college. His father, wrote Alex, now a newspaper publisher in Florida, was corporate director of employee relations for the New York Times Co.
“I tended not to look at the case too closely at the time because I was too devastated,” Keith Clayborne told the Register. “Nothing will bring back my son, but I think I would find some closure if the people responsible for that hideous crime were brought to justice. We all want justice.”
Jobe had tried to get a cold case unit started while in charge of the department’s homicide unit in the 1990s.
“We couldn’t figure out a way to make it work within our budget back then,” Jobe told the Register. “I just didn’t want to look back five years from now and realize it’s something I should have done.”
It was Maj. Judy Bradshaw’s idea to bring Jobe and Jones on board, Alex wrote, and Bradshaw said [the department] wasn’t going to hire just “anyone” to work on the cold cases. “We decided who we wanted to get, who we thought would be motivated,” Bradshaw said.
Officials have continued to encourage anyone with information to come forward, but the Clayborne and Cooper murders remain unsolved.
Keith Anthony Clayborne II was born October 9, 1970.
Jerry F. Cooper was born December 4, 1967.
Both men were buried in the Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines.
If you have information about this double homicide, please contact the Des Moines Police Department at (515) 283-4864.