© 2005 – 2018
Iowa Cold Cases
All Rights Reserved
If you'd like to reprint a post or case summary, please contact us with the name of the requested post/article. Thank you in advance!
On Tuesday, January 12, 1999, Kimberly Ratliff, 22, was found in a car left in the parking lot of People’s Natural Gas at 1414 West Broadway in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She had been viciously mutilated and nearly decapitated.
A gas company employee clearing snow from the sidewalk spotted the 1988 Plymouth Sundance at about 10:40 a.m. and went to peer inside the vehicle, where he saw Ratliff sprawled across the front seat.
Ratliff, who worked at Airlite Plastics Co. in Omaha, Neb., was last seen alive when she got off work about 11:30 p.m. on Friday, January 8. She lived at 1806 Tostevin St. in Council Bluffs with her mother and stepfather, Joyce and Leslie “Les” Kennedy.
Police believe Ratliff was killed elsewhere because little blood was found inside her car despite multiple cuttings, and there also were indications someone else dressed Kim in different clothing — Kim’s own clothing — from what she’d been wearing when last seen alive. Authorities also believed the vehicle had been parked in the lot over the weekend.
More importantly, officials quickly concluded Ratliff’s murder was not a random crime. The brutal killing was personal in nature, and it wasn’t long before they had a prime suspect. Obstacles stood in the way of making an arrest, however, and they were big hurdles; the majority of evidence would have been left at the crime scene where the perpetrator killed Kim, and that crime scene was not the People’s Natural Gas parking lot.
Kimberly parents, Jacque and Joyce Ratliff, split up when Kimberly was five years old. Joyce moved in with Les Kennedy when Kimberly was six.
In January 2011, Les and Joyce spoke with WHO-TV Channel 13 reporter Aaron Brilbeck about Kimberly’s life and the upcoming 12th anniversary of her unsolved murder.
Kimberly had been trying to find her path in life, the couple told Brilbeck, after working hard to keep up her grades so she could graduate. It hadn’t been easy for her.
“She goes, ‘I did it. I’m the only one in the family,'” Joyce Kennedy said.
The couple alleged Ratliff then fell in with the wrong crowd and began hanging out with drug users and dealers. Les Kennedy said the last night they’d seen their daughter, he’d confronted her about what she was doing to her life.
“You might say it was like an intervention,” Les Kennedy said. “And when she left the house she kissed me and said, ‘Dad, I’ll be home tonight.'”
Kimberly’s biological father, Jacque Ratliff, and her brother, Matthew Ratliff, dispute what they call Les Kennedy’s “phony tears,” and told Iowa Cold Cases in a series of communications that Kennedy is a dangerous man not to be trusted.
Jacque Ratliff — who said he’d remained close to his daughter following his break-up with Joyce — told Iowa Cold Cases he found out about his daughter’s murder while at work at the Packaging of America box plant, a nationwide company specializing in constructing corrugated boxes.
Ratliff left work (the company has a plant in Omaha, Neb.) and headed to Council Bluffs to talk to officials and find out more about what happened to his daughter.
“When I got there, only the detective was there and I didn’t get to see my daughter,” Ratliff said.
Investigators had first gone to the Kennedy home, and Les Kennedy already had made the positive identification.
Ratliff said he’d known Kennedy prior to the time when Kennedy got together with Joyce, and had never trusted him. Kennedy, he said, was possessive with Joyce and also with Kimberly. And, Ratliff said, his daughter had confided in him long before her murder that Les “tried to get into her pants.”
Other individuals, who wished to remain anonymous in this case summary (names on file and available to law enforcement) contacted Iowa Cold Cases independently to express concerns about Kennedy’s alleged possessiveness with Kimberly as well as the alleged sexual molestation at the hands of her stepfather.
Also alleged was that Kimberly’s earlier drug abuse was brought about by Kennedy himself, who allegedly dealt in drugs and introduced them to Kimberly and others in order to gain control over them. Some believed Kimberly’s attempt to break free from the drug use and her stepfather’s dominance may ultimately have led to her death.
Kimberly’s older brother Matthew, who told Iowa Cold Cases he also had been abused numerous times by Kennedy — was more forthcoming with what he believed happened to his sister.
“Leslie Kennedy, our stepdad, had his hands in her murder,” Matthew Ratliff wrote in an Oct. 29, 2012 comment left on a Jan. 12, 2010 ICC blog post. “It was because she was going to tell the police about him dealing drugs. He is a very dangerous man.”
Les Kennedy insists he never saw Kimberly after she left the house to go out that night.
Mr. Kennedy spoke freely with media in the days, months, and years following Kimberly’s murder, and has given conflicting accounts of his whereabouts the night his stepdaughter disappeared.
Mr. Kennedy also had very specific details about the way in which Kimberly was killed — details that police had never made public. Kennedy routinely told the media his [step]daughter had been “slaughtered,” describing the manner of her death as “nasty” and even referring to how much blood would have been present at the crime scene.
Police said Kimberly’s murder was one of the most violent attacks they’d ever seen. She had been stabbed and cut repeatedly and her head almost severed. Her frozen body made it difficult for investigators to determine exactly when she died, though it’s believed she was killed sometime in the early morning hours on Saturday, January 9.
When Council Bluffs police arrived at the Kennedy home to break the news to Les and Joyce Kennedy, they stepped inside the home and immediately noticed the 22-year-old’s picture.
“One of them looked up at the wall and looked at his partner and he said, ‘that’s her,'” Les Kennedy told WHO-TV in the January 2011 interview with Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck.
Les Kennedy said he found it painful revisiting the details of Kimberly’s death, but eagerly offered up details of how she was “slaughtered.”
In one surprising statement, Kennedy said he believed if those who knew something about Kim’s death and “understood how much she suffered before she died,” that they might come forward with information.
Given the numerous traumas Kimberly sustained (many singular wounds, each of which would have been fatal), Kennedy didn’t explain just how he knew how much Kim suffered before she died. In ongoing media interviews, Mr. Kennedy brazenly went into further details of Kim’s slaying, reveling with precision all the particularities and bloody elements of her death — all but confessing to having been present as each visceral cut took place.
“Nobody has any idea how nasty our daughter died,” he told Brilbeck in the 2011 interview.
In 1999, Kennedy had placed a signboard outside his tire repair shop announcing a $10,000 reward for “solid evidence” in Kimberly’s death. He also told the press that more than $100,000 was available in a fund set up in her memory if the killer was found and convicted.
“Don’t believe him. He didn’t have any money…the liar,” Kimberly’s father, Jacque Ratliff said.
At the time of the WHO-TV interview, neither Iowa Cold Cases nor WHO-TV had the contact information for Jacque or Matthew Ratliff, though Jacque Ratliff later told ICC he is willing to speak to the media about what really went on inside the Kennedy home and wants the public to know the truth.
Les Kennedy’s sign is now gone, but he said the family hasn’t given up hope that someday, somehow, justice will be served.
WHO-TV’s Aaron Brilbeck reports on Kimberly Ratliff’s unsolved murder. Air Date: Jan. 6, 2011
Police told WHO-TV they have run out of leads, made all the more difficult by Ratliff’s body having been moved and later placed in her vehicle in the Council Bluffs parking lot.
“There wasn’t enough blood located in the car,” Council Bluffs Police Sergeant Chad Meyers told Brilbeck. “The crime scene where this probably happened — there would be an obvious large amount of blood there.”
More than one tipster later revealed to ICC the precise location of Kimberly’s slaying — information which ICC passed along to Council Bluffs detectives.
Officials remain convinced Kimberly Ratliff’s murder was not a random crime. They say the case was investigated but they haven’t gathered enough evidence to charge anyone with the crime.
“I carry her in my heart every day — think about her every day,” Kimberly’s mother told Brilbeck in one of the few opportunities she’d subtly been given by her husband to speak.
In addition to wanting closure in his daughter’s unsolved murder, Jacque Ratliff faced yet another showdown with his ex-wife and Les Kennedy; Kennedy, who for years allegedly had sexually abused his own daughter and sons as well as his stepchildren, was fighting for custody for all of his grandchildren.
Jacque Ratliff told ICC that Kennedy flat out lied in court about bruising on the ear of Matthew’s son — an injury that took place when the boy was under Les and Joyce’s care — and Kennedy told the judge his stepson had abused the child.
Jacque Ratliff told ICC’s Jody Ewing in late 2012 that when he contacted the Kennedys and told them he planned to fight for custody of his grandchildren, Les told him to back off or “he’d have him taken care of.”
“Like you did with my daughter?” Ratliff said he responded, at which point he said Kennedy hung up on him.
“I need your help, please,” Ratliff wrote in his letter to Iowa Cold Cases. “I want them with me and my wife.”
Ratliff said if his ex and Kennedy succeeded in adopting the young children, he feared he’d never get to see them or know them, and also feared that they, like Kimberly, would be introduced to drugs at a very early age to facilitate their inevitable sexual molestation.
“Please help me get them out of that house,” Ratliff pleaded. “Please help me get them.”
Les and Joyce succeeded in gaining custody of Matthew’s children, though failed in subsequent attempts to also gain custody of their other grandchildren under similar false pretenses.
Iowa Cold Cases has on file communications from friends and neighbors stating that Kimberly suffered years of abuse at the hands of her controlling stepfather.
PLEASE NOTE: While we at Iowa Cold Cases have made it clear to Mr. Ratliff that we are not a law enforcement agency, we felt including the above information in this summary may prompt someone — perhaps a close friend of Kimberly’s or another family member — to reach out to Council Bluffs Police Department investigators and share what they know. Regardless of how insignificant the detail may seem, it might provide the one missing puzzle piece needed to solve Kimberly’s murder, ensure innocent children are protected, and/or even clear an innocent suspect.
On May 4, 2016, Iowa Cold Cases received a lengthy packet of information on Kimberly’s case — documents dated from the day Kim was found dead until the present time — and ICC has found numerous inconsistencies in the information Les Kennedy provided to both investigators and the media over the years. From the beginning, law enforcement officials outright disputed/discredited many of the assertions Mr. Kennedy made, but felt they still lacked enough evidence to arrest and charge Kennedy in Kimberly’s slaying.
On July 13, 2016, ICC’s Jody Ewing spoke with Council Bluffs police Detective Haley Bloom, who stated that other investigators had already reviewed the case and that there was nothing they could do at this particular time. Ewing inquired about the tissue sample and boards recovered from a hotel room that officials recently submitted to the state crime lab in Ankeny for DNA testing, and Bloom said she could not confirm whether or not officials had received the reports from the crime lab or, if they had, that she could not comment on DNA results due to the case’s status as an ongoing investigation.
Kimberly was born Sept. 26, 1976, to Jacque and Joyce Ratliff. The couple divorced when Kimberly was five, and Joyce moved in with and married Leslie Kennedy, where they lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
After graduating high school, Kim accepted a position at Airlite Plastics Co. in Omaha, where she still worked at the time of her death.
Kimberly left work at 11:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 8, 1999, and is believed to have been slain in the early morning hours of Saturday, Jan. 9, 1999.
In addition to her father and mother, Kimberly’s survivors included two brothers, nieces and nephews, her stepfather, Les Kennedy, and Kennedy’s daughter and two sons.
Anyone with information about Kimberly Ratliff’s unsolved murder is asked to contact Det. Doug Mann at the Council Bluffs Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division at (712) 326-2507 or call Crime Stoppers at (712) 328-7876.
Copyright © 2015 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.