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Photos Courtesy WHO-TV Channel 13
Marvin Brandland, 69, and his wife, Ethel, had spent Saturday evening, Oct. 30, 1982, handing out candy to trick-or-treaters when another person knocked on their Fort Dodge home’s door.
Someone wearing a pillow case with holes cut out for eyes stood outside.
“Trick-or-Treat. Give me your money or I’ll shoot,” the trick-or-treater said.
Ethel playfully tried to lift the pillow case, thinking it might be a relative playing a joke. After all, their granddaughter, Teresa Trueblood, had left the house just minutes before. But the trick-or-treater held it down.
When Ethel turned around and started for the candy, the hooded trick-or-treater followed her inside, then pulled out a gun. He ordered the couple to the basement where they kept a safe.
Marvin Brandland — a World War II Army veteran who owned a carpet service business — was not a wealthy man, though he and his wife of 46 years did have a safe in the basement.
Few knew it existed — mainly just family members.
When they got to the kitchen, Mr. Brandland, refusing to go along further with what he felt was a prank, reached for the gun.
The trick-or-treater shot him in the throat.
The shooter then tore off the pillow case and threw it down before fleeing from the couple’s home.
“I’d just told her ‘I’ll see you later’ and I almost went back into the house to tell her not to answer the door after 7:30 because that is what they said,” Trueblood said, fighting back tears in an interview with WHO-TV Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck that aired Oct. 28, 2010. “And it haunts me to this day that I didn’t.”
Mr. Brandland was rushed to Trinity Regional Hospital and then airlifted to a hospital in Des Moines, where he died on the operating table in the early morning hours Oct. 31, 1982.
The family remembers getting the news.
“You go numb,” Trueblood said. “And I had to take my grandmother back to the house to get medicines and you walk in and you’re just in disbelief that it’s happening till you see the blood. And then you know it’s real.”
“God works in mysterious ways,” said Brandland’s daughter, Jan Horton. “And you wonder why, you know, why would God allow this to happen?”
As the months passed and the killer remained free, the loneliness took its toll on Ethel. Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by family, she broke down. She died a few months later.
“She was eating and she just quit eating and she broke down and she cried and cried and cried,” Horton recalled. “And you know, I’ll never forget when they carried her out in her chair. We always say she died of a broken heart because she didn’t want to be by herself.”
What makes this case especially disturbing is that the family is certain they know who the shooter is — an acquaintance of the family. They say he bragged about it to them after the killing.
At the request of investigators, WHO-TV didn’t release the suspect’s name, though a Fort Dodge Messenger article dated November 15, 2009, reported that [immediately] following the shooting, Ethel Brandland told police the shooter had blondish hair and blue eyes, was about 5 feet 8 inches tall, and between 16 and 20 years old.
Police confirmed with Brilbeck that this individual “is” the prime suspect, but that there just wasn’t enough evidence to make an arrest.
“Everybody that was on the department… everybody in town wanted the case solved at the time it happened,” Assistant Fort Dodge Police Chief Kevin Doty said in the October 2010 interview. “And we wanted to get it to the point where not only can you charge somebody but you can take the case to trial and get a conviction and not leave anything to doubt.”
The detectives, Doty told Brilbeck, couldn’t get it to that point.
They still hoped to get it there.
A key piece of evidence — the pillow case — had been left behind at the scene. Family members wondered: if evidence was found, and police had a suspect in mind, why couldn’t the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) do a DNA test?
Brilbeck asked the DCI about it and discovered they’d submitted it for testing and hoped to have some answers soon.
“I don’t know exactly how long,” DCI Spokeswoman Courtney Greene said about the DNA sample. “I think they’re hoping in the next 30 days they might have some information. Then again, if it’s part of an ongoing investigation it could be confidential. So even though we know the results we may not be able to release the information.”
The information was exactly what family members had hoped for; perhaps after 28 years, they could finally have peace.
“When you take a tragedy like that and it’s just taken away from the family like that, it will always be with you,” Horton said. “You’ll never, never forget it.”
Less than two months following Aaron Brilbeck’s report, the DNA test results were in, bringing with them a whole new wave of disappointment; there hadn’t been enough material for a hit.
That could still change.
“Technology has evolved and today we were able to extract some information,” the DCI’s Jessica Lown told Channel 13 in a story airing Dec. 30, 2010. “We didn’t get everything we wanted, but who knows what will happen in the next couple of years.”
The family had hoped for some closure, and Trueblood called the findings a “real big letdown.”
The family said they planned to keep pushing for an arrest even though they’re afraid the killer may come after them.
“For the longest time we didn’t pursue anything because we knew in our stomach, in our gut, who it was. But there was fear,” Trueblood told WHO-TV. “And Grandma always lived in fear. But I know they would want it solved. They’d want us safe.”
And, Trueblood says, “We owe it to them.”
Marvin Brandland was born March 24, 1913.
When the DCI established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Marvin Brandland’s murder was one of approximately 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s new website as those the DCI hoped to solve using latest advancements in DNA technology.
Although federal grant funding for the DCI 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.
The DCI remains committed to resolving Iowa’s cold cases and will continue to work diligently with local law enforcement partners to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice for the victims and their families.
If you have any information about Marvin Brandland’s unsolved murder, please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010, e-mail email@example.com, or contact the Fort Dodge Police Department at 515-573-1426.
WHO-TV’s Aaron Brilbeck gives an update on the Marvin Brandland case. Air Date: October 28, 2010