Marie “Lisa” Peak (Courtesy Cedar Rapids Gazette)
Marie “Lisa” Peak
Case Summary compiled by Jody Ewing
On Tuesday, September 7, 1976 — the day after Labor Day — Marie “Lisa” Peak was found lying face down in a ditch in rural Bremer County, Iowa.
The 19-year-old Wartburg College sophomore had been sexually assaulted and, according to autopsy findings, died of suffocation and a broken neck.
None of Peak’s clothing was found at the scene.
Her nude and beaten body was located around 11 a.m. under a lone cottonwood tree beside a gravel road near the John Anhalt farm a quarter mile north of Waverly’s city limits.
Peak, the daughter of Knoxville veterinarian and former city councilman Dr. Frank Peak and Mary Peak, was majoring in journalism at Wartburg College in Waverly, where summer vacation had just ended. Peak returned to the campus on Sunday, September 5.
Bremer County in Iowa
Waverly in Bremer County
Friends last saw Peak the next afternoon when Peak said she was going shopping at the Willow Lawn Shopping Center in Waverly. When she didn’t return to her dorm to go on a scheduled date, the friends reported her missing.
Earlier in the year, Peak had provided information to authorities regarding a sensational sex and extortion scheme. The information led to the arrest of 40-year-old used car salesman John Joseph Carmody, Jr., of Mason City, Iowa. Carmody had blackmailed more than a dozen women into having sex with him, using threats of mafia retaliation if they refused.
FBI officials later proved Carmody’s claims to mafia connections were false. In May 1976 Carmody pleaded guilty to rape and extortion and was sentenced to 40 years at Fort Madison’s Iowa State Penitentiary. Peak had spent her May term working as a reporter for the Clarksville Star.
Peak and Iowa writer Chuck Offenburger had planned to write a book about the blackmail scheme, and on August 23 had written Carmody of their plans. The week before Peak’s murder, Offenburger received a letter from Ted Enabnit — a Mason City attorney who represented Carmody in the court proceedings — stating “Mr. Carmody and his professional writer associates are and will produce the appropriate literary work to tell Mr. Carmody’s story from the mass of accumulated materials” (Offenburger, The Des Moines Register, Sept. 9, 1976).
Offenburger said Peak had received threats after Carmody’s imprisonment from women who said they loved [Carmody] and wanted to marry him (Tri-City Herald, WA, Sept. 10, 1976).
Many wondered if Peak’s murder might be connected to two other Waverly homicides.
Julie Ann Benning of rural Clarksville disappeared from Waverly the day after Thanksgiving in 1975. In March 1976, a Butler County road maintenance worker found the 18-year-old’s nude and decomposed body in a roadside ditch just six miles from where Peak’s body would later be dumped. Benning had also been strangled.
A third unsolved murder occurred five years earlier when the partially clad body of Valerie Lynn Klossowsky, 14, was found south of Waverly. She, too, had been strangled.
On May 7, 2010, state and Bremer County officials exhumed Lisa Peak’s body with hopes of discovering new evidence by re-examining the body. Advancements in DNA technology had come a long way since Peak’s murder, and Bremer County Attorney Kasey Earl Wadding felt any further evidence collected might produce a DNA profile of Peak’s killer and possibly help close the case.
“You can recover evidence after a long period of time,” Wadding said.
Wadding couldn’t be certain whether the examination by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and State Medical Examiner’s Office would provide any new hard leads, but acknowledged the possibility that evidence could still exist.
On July 22, 2010, detectives announced that Peak’s coffin was too broken down and her body too deteriorated to preserve her killer’s DNA.
Lisa Peak’s murder remains unsolved.
Courtesy photo Ron Steenhoek, findagrave.com
Lisa Peak is buried at Graceland Cemetery in Knoxville, Iowa, in Marion County.
About Lisa Peak
Marie “Lisa” Peak was born December 10, 1956, to Dr. Frank and Mary V. (Scrivner) Peak.
She was named after her Aunt Ann Marie Scrivner.
Her father enjoyed calling her “Maria” because he had lived in Mexico for some time and, according to Lisa’s sister Meredith, enjoyed using Hispanic derivatives of his children’s names. This term of endearment is reflected on Lisa’s headstone.
In addition to her parents, Lisa was survived by four siblings: Peter (14), Carmen (12), Martin (10), and Meredith (7).
She was buried at Graceland Cemetery in Knoxville, Iowa.
Just two months after Lisa’s death, Carmen, a seventh grade student, died of head injuries after one of her riding horses fell on her.
In the years that followed, both of Lisa’s parents died without ever knowing who killed their daughter or seeing justice served in her death.
Dr. Frank “Doc” Peak passed away Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, at the West Ridge Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville.
Lisa’s mother, Mary Peak, died Dec. 8, 2014 in Knoxville at age 85.
If you have any information about Lisa Peak’s unsolved murder — or that of Julie Benning or Valerie Klossowsky — please contact Special Agent Jon Moeller at the Federal Bureau of Investigation at (712) 258-1920, or contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email email@example.com.
- Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- “GREENLEE: TIME’S RUNNING OUT TO SHED LIGHT ON WAVERLY’S COLD CASES: Who murdered Julie Benning and Lisa Peak over 40 years ago?” by Anelia K. Dimitrova, Waverly Newspapers, May 29, 2018
- “Living the Family Legacy: Sgt. Greenlee continued father’s, uncle’s, cousin’s service in law enforcement,” by Anelia K. Dimitrova, communitynewspapers.com, April 19, 2018
- “‘Gone Cold’: Lisa Peak,” The Northwest Iowa Review, nwestiowa.com, Friday, September 30, 2016
- “Exploring Iowa’s unsolved murders: Gone Cold: Marie “Lisa” Peak,” The Iowa Newspaper Association / Mason City Globe Gazette, Part of the GONE COLD: EXPLORING IOWA’S UNSOLVED MURDERS series, Sunday, July 31, 2016
- “GONE COLD: EXPLORING IOWA’S UNSOLVED MURDERS — MARIE “LISA” PEAK,” freemanjournal.net, Sunday, June 12, 2016
- “Cold Case: Who killed Lisa Peak?” by Nikki Newbrough, KWWL.com, April 28, 2016
- “Iowa Cold Case: Who murdered Lisa Peak?” by Nikki Newbrough, KWWL.com, April 26, 2016
- Remembering Marie “Lisa” Peak — Facebook page
- “40 years after ‘Waverly Stranglings,’ a renewed search for answers,” by Mike Kilen, The Des Moines Register, Part of the GONE COLD: EXPLORING IOWA’S UNSOLVED MURDERS series, August 2, 2015
- “Case of the Month: Lisa Peak – Julie Benning – Valerie Klossowsky,” a guest blog post by Jody Ewing, DefrostingColdCases.com, November 1, 2014
- Maria Lisa “Lisa” Peak (1956 – 1976) — Find a Grave Memorial
- Dr. Frank Allen “Doc” Peak (1927 – 2013) — Find a Grave Memorial
- Mary Virginia (Scrivner) Peak (1929 – 2014) — Find a Grave Memorial
- Carmen Dana Peak (1963 – 1976) — Find a Grave Memorial
- “United States Social Security Death Index,” index, FamilySearch.org, Maria Peak, Sep 1976; citing US Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).
- “Iowa murder mystery deepens,” KGAN CBS 2, July 22, 2010
- “Finding Lisa’s Killer,” by Ellen Kurt, The (Wartburg College) Circuit, May 17, 2010
- “Cold Case: Investigators hope to break 1976 murder of Wartburg student,” The Waverly Democrat, May 11, 2010
- “Homicide victim’s remains unearthed,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, May 9, 2010
- “COLD CASE: 34 years after her death, investigators hope DNA will help catch Lisa Peak’s killer,” WHOTV.com, Des Moines, May 9, 2010
- “Cold Case: Remains Of 1976 Murder Victim Exhumed,” WOWT.com, May 8, 2010
- “Eastern Iowa Cold Case: Lisa Peak,” Channel 7, KWWL.com, May 8, 2010
- “Unsolved mystery: Remains of 1976 murder victim unearthed for re-examination,” by Karen Heinselman, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, May 8, 2010
- Offender information on John Joseph Carmody, Iowa Department of Corrections
- “Peak body exhumed,” by Steve Woodhouse, The (Knoxville) Journal Express, May 7, 2010
- “Authorities reexamine remains of Marie “Lisa” Peak,” KWWL.com, May 7, 2010
- “Lisa Peak homicide remains unsolved today: Wartburg student’s murder still a mystery 30 years later; new leads emerge,” by Abbie Lichty, The Wartburg College Trumpet, December 5, 2006
- “Slayings may be tied together,” Oelwein Daily Register, April 27, 1979
- “Deaths Connected?” Cedar Rapids Gazette, Friday, April 27, 1979
- “Bremer plods on with Peak-Benning murder probes,” by Lawn Griffiths, The Waterloo Courier, Tuesday, August 30, 1977
- “Psychic Greta says she ‘sees’ murders but can’t explain why,” by Chuck Offenburger, The Des Moines Register, Sunday, June 5, 1977
- “‘Holiday Killer’ hinted in two Bremer slayings,” The Waterloo Courier, November 24, 1976
- “Could ‘holiday killer’ be responsible for 2 Waverly slayings?” by Jack Hovelson, The Des Moines Register, Wednesday, November 24, 1976
- “Obituaries: Lisa Peak,” Knoxville Alumni Association, October 1976
- “Bankers offer $5,000 reward,” The Telegraph-Herald, September 20, 1976
- “BCI tries psychology to find Waverly killer,” The Oelwein Daily Register, September 16, 1976
- “Deny finding death site at Waverly,” The Oelwein Daily Register, September 15, 1976
- “Denies Site of Coed’s Slaying Has Been Found,” by Jack Hovelson, The Des Moines Register, September 15, 1976
- “Use of ‘profile’ a first: BCI tries psychology to find Waverly killer,” by Dave Brown, The Waterloo Courier, Sunday, September 12, 1976
- “FBI assisting investigation of Waverly deaths,” by Jack Hovelson, The Des Moines Register, Saturday, September 11, 1976
- “FBI enters Waverly co-ed case,” The Oelwein Daily Register, September 11, 1976
- “Link Seen in Slaying of Coed,” Oxnard (CA) Press Courier, September 11, 1976
- “Girl who helped break sex ring slain,” The Tri-City Herald, Pasco, Kennewick, Richland, WA, September 10, 1976
- “Slain Coed Planned Book on Sex Ring,” The Charleston Daily Mail, Fri., September 10, 1976
- “Shoes a Link in Slayings of 2 Women?” by Jack Hovelson, Des Moines Register, Friday, September 10, 1976
- “Sex case tipster raped, strangled,” Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, CA, September 10, 1976
- “Sex-blackmail ring tipster murdered,” The Miami News, September 10, 1976
- “Shoes may be link to slayings,” The Telegraph-Herald, September 10, 1976
- “Services held for tipster in sex and blackmail ring,” St. Joseph Gazette, September 10, 1976
- “No leads in co-ed’s death,” Oelwein Daily Register, September 9, 1976
- “No New Leads In Coed’s Death: Other Murders,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Thursday, September 9, 1976
- “Nothing solid in Peak murder: Wartburg College planning memorial service,” by Dave Brown, Waterloo Courier, September 9, 1976
- “Wartburg Shocked by Coed’s Slaying,” by Jack Hovelson, The Des Moines Register, September 9, 1976
- “Probe of coed’s slaying under way,” (Continued) by Dave Brown, Waterloo Courier, September 8, 1976
- “BCI Examines Links to Death,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, Wednesday, September 8, 1976
- “Investigate death of Wartburg co-ed,” Oelwein Daily Register, September 8, 1976
- “Probe into Peak murder continues,” Muscatine Journal, September 8, 1976
- “Coed’s body found in ditch near Waverly,” by Jack Hovelson, Des Moines Register, Wednesday, September 8, 1976
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