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Many thanks to Elizabeth “Beth” O’Hara, Lillian’s granddaughter, and Wendy Chalman-Holman, Lillian’s daughter, for sharing these photos with Jody Ewing for use on the Iowa Cold Cases website.
Lillian Elizabeth (Hedman) Randolph, 56, went missing from her rural Guthrie Center, Iowa, home on Mother’s Day, May 2, 1965.
On Tuesday, May 11, state authorities found her body stuffed in the locked trunk of her car at the Des Moines Municipal Airport. She had been stabbed 12 times in the chest and once in the back with a small pocket knife.
In a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated Wednesday, May 12, 1965, T.A. Thompson, chief of the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation, said the probable cause of death was the dozen or so stab wounds in the chest and “internal hemorrhaging.”
Locals had a pretty good idea who might have hired hit men to kill the farmwife and mother of four; her abusive and dominating third husband, Howard F. Randolph, a wealthy poultry and egg processor, was known as a mean-spirited, shrewd businessman who brought the brutal ways of organized crime to rural Iowa.
Lillian had obtained a separate-maintenance decree from Randolph in 1963, and he’d moved into a Guthrie Center apartment.
Authorities said Mrs. Randolph was last seen alive about noon Sunday, May 2 — her son Hank’s 27th birthday — when Randolph arrived at the house to pick up Lillian’s two daughters, Vicki, 14, and Wendy, 16, to take them to an ice show in Des Moines.
Lillian Elizabeth Hedman had grown up in West Duluth, Minnesota, and after graduation began working on her teaching certificate.
Her parents, Gustav “Gust” and Anna “Annie” (Magnusson) Hedman, had emigrated to the U.S. from Sweden and felt strongly about education.
Three years into her teaching career, Lillian married her lifelong love, Robert “Bob” O’Hara, and the couple had two children, Henry Robert “Hank,” and Ann Elizabeth.
Lillian was devastated when Bob died in a home accident April 12, 1945.
In 1950 Lillian married Roy Chalman in Duluth. They had two daughters, Wendy Alice and Vicki Marie, but divorced six years later after Roy’s return from the Korean War.
Lillian had known Howard Randolph around 20 years — he’d been known to keep a cache of female companions around the state — but he eventually convinced Lillian to marry him, promising to always provide for her and the children. They married in January 1958, made Guthrie Center their home, and Randolph adopted Lillian’s four children.
Not long into the couple’s marriage, however, Randolph began isolating his new wife, keeping her at home without a vehicle and separated from family members and friends. Howard continued traveling the state to see his female companions, often lavishing them with expensive gifts.
More than once, Lillian tried to leave the marriage, but Randolph somehow manipulated her into staying so they could be a family.
Over time, Randolph became more fixated on Lillian’s two youngest girls and began subjecting them to the same emotional and physical abuse he inflicted on his wife, and Lillian knew the best interests of her children could only be served by forcing Howard from the home.
After the Randolphs separated and Mr. Randolph moved into the Guthrie Center apartment, he paid Lillian $800 per month in alimony and resented not being able to see the girls, now young teens, on a regular basis.
In the days preceding her disappearance, police saw two swarthy-looking strangers cruising around Guthrie Center in a new white Cadillac.
On Sunday, May 2, witnesses placed the two men sitting on a golf course bench — a spot where the comings and goings at the Randolph home were within easy view.
The men left the golf course around the same time Howard Randolph picked up the girls to take them to see the Ice Follies in Des Moines.
The girls saw a white car approaching their home just moments after kissing their mother goodbye and pulling away from the house with Randolph. Despite Randolph’s possessive nature, he remained nonchalant and kept driving.
When the girls returned home that evening, they found the house in order but their mother had disappeared. Her 1965 Dodge Coronet also had mysteriously vanished.
Howard Randolph told Guthrie County Sheriff Lester Peterson that he’d returned the girls to the couple’s former home about 6 p.m. but did not go inside the house.
Peterson issued a missing person report, and for more than a week officials searched local areas and nearly every Des Moines parking lot in efforts to locate Mrs. Randolph’s car and determine her whereabouts.
On May 11, 1965, nine days after Lillian disappeared, a state agent discovered her vehicle parked at the Des Moines Municipal Airport. The car keys hung from the ignition switch inside the unlocked car.
Investigators found Lillian’s body inside the trunk, “wedged in to one side of the spare tire,” The Gazette reported.
She’d been stabbed multiple times.
Lillian’s purse — containing just $11 — was found on the floor beneath the driver’s seat.
Local officials described her murder as “the work of a professional.”
By May 26, 1965, police had questioned more than 850 individuals in Lillian Randolph’s homicide — some of them several times — while also investigating 17-year-old Janice Snow’s unsolved murder.
Snow, a popular high school senior, had vanished Monday night, April 13, 1965, after going Easter shopping with two girl friends.
Snow’s body was found April 15 in a densely wooded area in southeast Des Moines; she’d been stabbed 17 times.
Neither Snow nor Mrs. Randolph had been raped, and in late May 1965 police said there appeared to be no apparent connection between the two slayings.
The tyrannical Randolph immediately became the primary suspect in his wife’s brutal murder, but investigators struggled to prove he’d hired the two dark-skinned men for the hit.
Randolph would not, however, be allowed to return to the couple’s home to live happily ever after with adopted daughters Wendy, 16, and Vicki, 14. According to one family member, Randolph’s own mother had once told Lillian “don’t ever let Howard get those girls,” citing his alleged sexual perversion with little girls.
In the first year following their mother’s death, Wendy and Vicki lived with their brother Hank. While lawyers wrestled with custody issues, Wendy turned 18 years old, and a family friend — an attorney who knew but despised Randolph — was granted custody of Vicki.
In 1966, Des Moines attorney A.B. Crouch and Guthrie Center attorney, Robert Taylor, filed a lawsuit against Howard Randolph in the amount of $5,130 for legal services they said they provided for Wendy and Vicki in support and custody matters after Mrs. Randolph’s death.
On Aug. 4, 1967, The Gazette reported that Howard Randolph filed a $4 million countersuit against Crouch in district court, claiming Crouch alienated the affections of Randolph’s adopted daughters.
Taylor was not included as a defendant in Randolph’s counterclaim.
According to The Gazette:
Randolph’s petition said any compensation due Crouch and Taylor for services to his adoptive daughters is the obligation of Guthrie county.
~ Cedar Rapids Gazette, Friday, Aug. 4, 1967
Twenty-two years after Lillian’s still unsolved murder, her daughter, Wendy Chalman-Holman, received the call she’d waited years to get; the district attorney said the state believed they had enough evidence to charge Howard Randolph with first-degree murder in her mother’s death, and wanted to know if Wendy would be willing to testify in court as to the abuse she and her mother and sister suffered at Randolph’s hands.
Chalman-Holman, who now had a 1-year-old daughter, stated she would testify, and a follow-up letter from the district attorney explained how he expected the trial to play out and what would happen.
And then … silence. Months passed as Lillian’s grown children waited for Howard Randolph’s arrest. The months turned to years — with Randolph not yet charged — and word got out that he had cancer.
There would be no prosecution.
Howard Randolph died Feb. 9, 1994 at age 86 without ever being charged or brought to trial in his wife’s murder.
Did Howard Randolph’s death bring Lillian’s case to an abrupt close? It did not.
Though Randolph’s death forever precluded his prosecution, it’s never too late for forensic evidence to close (or “clear”) a case, and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) has not given up on solving Lillian’s murder.
When the DCI established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Lillian’s homicide was one of approximately 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s new website as those the DCI hoped to solve using latest forensic advancements in DNA technology.
Although federal grant funding for the Cold Case Unit was exhausted in December 2011, the DCI continues to assign agents to investigate cold cases as new leads develop or as technological advances allow for additional forensic testing of original evidence.
Iowans already have seen this in action.
Three decades after Justin Hook Jr., 20, his mother, Sarah Link, 41, and 19-year-old Tina Lade were slain in April 1984, DCI Special Agent in Charge Mike Motsinger announced in a Jan. 10, 2014 news conference that new DNA evidence linked Andrew Six to the three victims’ bludgeoning deaths.
Missouri authorities had executed Six by lethal injection in 1997 for the 1987 kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Kathy Allen of Ottumwa, Iowa.
In Lillian Randolph’s case, other unanswered questions still provide additional opportunities to track down answers:
The DCI remains committed to the resolution of Iowa’s cold cases and continue to work diligently with local law enforcement partners to bring the perpetrators to justice for the victims and their families.
Five decades after Lillian’s death, her family remains hopeful answers will be found.
“She will never, ever be forgotten by us, nor have [things] ever been the same since the day she was kidnapped, May 2, 1965,” her granddaughter, Elizabeth O’Hara, told Iowa Cold Cases.
Lillian’s daughter Wendy agrees, and utilizes Facebook to keep her mother’s memory alive.
“Facebook has allowed me to share her [stories] more with a couple of nieces in here,” Wendy told Iowa Cold Cases as the 50th anniversary of her mother’s death approached. “The effects of Mom’s murder continue to this day.”
Lillian Elizabeth Hedman was born in West Duluth, Minnesota to Gustaf and Anne (Magnusson) Hedman on August 5, 1908.
She married Robert “Bob” O’Hara after receiving her teaching certificate, and the couple had two children, Henry Robert “Hank” and Ann Elizabeth.
Bob died in a home accident April 12, 1945, and in 1950 Lillian married Roy Chalman in Duluth. They had two daughters, Wendy Alice and Vicki Marie, but divorced six years later after Roy’s return from the Korean War.
Lillian moved to Guthrie Center and in January 1958 married Howard Randolph. Randolph adopted Lillian’s four children.
Memorial services were held May 13, 1965 at Guthrie City Immanuel Lutheran Church, with interment in Oneota Cemetery in Duluth, Minnesota.
Lillian’s family chose to not include the name Randolph on her gravestone.
If you have any information about Lillian Randolph’s unsolved murder, please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or call the Des Moines Police Department Detective Bureau at (515) 283-4864.
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