Mary Ann Scovel in earlier years (Courtesy ancestry.com)

Mary Ann Scovel in earlier years (Courtesy ancestry.com)

Mary Ann Scovel

Homicide

Mary Ann Scovel
18 YOA
661 Seventeenth St.
Des Moines, IA
Polk County
Wednesday, April 14, 1976

Case Summary compiled by Jody Ewing

Mary Ann Scovel, 18, was strangled in her Des Moines apartment Wednesday night, April 14, 1976.

Investigators said Terry Lee “Butch” Lively, 26, who lived at the 661 17th Street apartment with Miss Scovel, told police he found Scovel’s body on the living room floor of her apartment about 12:45 a.m. early Thursday.

Des Moines police had gone to the building late Wednesday night after a man phoned in an anonymous tip around 10:20 p.m., stating a woman had been murdered at the apartment house. Officers went to the building and left after speaking with a woman in another apartment, but returned again early Thursday morning, the Des Moines Moines Register reported on Friday, April 16, 1976.

Polk County in Iowa
Polk County in Iowa
Des Moines map Des Moines in Polk County

Investigators found the fully clothed teen lying face down on her living room floor. The apartment showed no signs of a struggle and nothing was reported missing, but officials said water running from the kitchen faucet had overflowed onto the floor.

Deputy Polk County Medical Examiner Dr. Emmanuel Lacsina said Scovel died between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday, and that she was choked to death, possibly by some piece of jewelry.

“From indentations on her neck we believe a necklace or some type of jewelry chain was used,” Lacsina said Thursday, April 15, after performing Scovel’s autopsy.

Scovel’s time of death, the Register reported, was just one hour after neighbors said they saw the young woman in her apartment.

One Man Questioned, Released; Another Arrested

Police brought in a 19-year-old Des Moines man for questioning on April 15, but released him that night after questioning him in Scovel’s death.

Prior to the young man’s release, Police Sgt. William Fitzgerald told The Register the man wasn’t being called a “suspect,” but “we’d just like to talk to him about the case.”

On Friday, April 30, 1976, police arrested and charged 22-year-old Jeffrey Robert Calvert in Scovel’s slaying. Calvert and his wife had been Scovel’s next-door neighbors at the Seventeenth St. apartment house, but moved out of the building four days after the teen’s murder, investigators told The Register in an article dated May 1, 1976.

Calvert and his wife, Patty, had then moved in with Calvert’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lester E. Calvert, at 3213 Forty-eighth Place, where police had found and arrested Jeffrey Calvert.

At an arraignment held Friday afternoon, Assistant Polk County Attorney Donald Starr suggested a $300,000 bond. The judge originally set the bond at $7,500 in cash or $75,000 surety, but then released Calvert from jail that same afternoon under provisions of the pre-trial release program. The program required no posting of any bond money.

The judge scheduled a preliminary hearing for June 4, 1976.

A spokesman for the pre-trial release program said Calvert would be required to report to a counselor three to five times per week, and that several factors  — including stability within the community and past criminal records — are evaluated when determining eligibility for release.

Courtesy Des Moines Register, May 5, 1976

Courtesy The Des Moines Register, May 5, 1976

Calvert Last to see Scovel Alive

On Friday, April 30, 1976, police executed a search warrant for Calvert’s residence and confiscated a belt with a circular pattern, The Register reported Wednesday, May 5, 1976.  Police believed the belt may have been the one used in Scovel’s strangulation.

Detective Clarence Jobe, who’d obtained the search warrant Thursday, April 29, testified in Friday afternoon’s hearing, stating that “marks on (Scovel’s) neck show a design made by an apparent belt-like substance.”

The marks were in a “circular or octagonal pattern or design and are in a line extending around her neck,” Jobe said.

Jobe also testified “the only access to the apartment where the body . . . was found was through the apartment of Jeffrey R. Calvert.”

Register staff writer Paul Leavitt reported:

During the investigation, police said a major question was how Scovel’s slayer entered and left her apartment, because the front door was locked from the inside and the back door was locked from the outside. A door between the two apartments was locked from Calvert’s side, police said.

~ The Des Moines Register, May 5, 1976

In his testimony, Jobe said Calvert was the last known person to have seen Scovel alive. Calvert admitted to being with Scovel at 5:15 p.m., “within the time of death set by the medical examiner,” Jobe testified.

Calvert Indicted, Pleads Innocent

A Polk County grand jury indicted Calvert on murder charges Friday, May 6, 1976.

Assistant County Attorney Starr asked for a bond in excess of $100,000, but Calvert’s attorney, Keith Uhl, argued that his client had roots in the community and had not violated the terms of his release, The Register reported on May 8, 1976.

Uhl also cited Calvert’s employment at Meredith Publishing Corporation and his client’s pregnant wife, and the fact that the couple were now living with Calvert’s parents.

District Judge James P. Denato refused Starr’s request to revoke Calvert’s pre-trial release bond, allowing the suspect to remain free without a cash bond.

Calvert pleaded innocent and maintained his innocence.

Case Dismissed

The trial was over almost as soon as it began.

Courtesy Des Moines Register, Oct. 15, 1976

Courtesy Des Moines Register, Oct. 15, 1976

Polk County District Court jury members — seven women and five men — were sworn in Wednesday, Oct. 13, 1976. That day, Calvert’s mother-in-law, Eloise Ann Stewart, testified that Calvert and his wife “had attended church with her the night of April 14 and they had been with her from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. that day,” The Register reported.

The eleventh state witness, Assistant Polk County Medical Examiner Dale Grunewald, wrapped up his testimony Thursday morning, Oct. 14.

After a short recess, Starr asked District Judge A.B. Crouch to dismiss the murder charge “because of Dr. Grunewald’s testimony concerning the time of Scovel’s death.”

Grunewald had changed the time of Scovel’s death from around 5:15 p.m. on April 14 to sometime between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. or even as late as 9 p.m. after learning Scovel had telephoned her father about 5 p.m. April 14.

In his testimony, Grunewald said he’d changed the teen’s time of death because of that phone call as well as the large amount of undigested food in the victim’s stomach (eaten 30 to 45 minutes before she died), and other evidence. (Des Moines Register, Oct. 15, 1976.)

Shortly after Starr’s request Thursday to dismiss the charges, Judge Crouch promptly dismissed the first-degree murder charge against Calvert and sent jury members home.

The dismissal guaranteed Calvert could never again be tried for Scovel’s murder due to double jeopardy legal guarantees.

About Mary Ann Scovel

Mary Ann Scovel was born July 12, 1957 to Everett Ernest and Pat (Hill) Scovel.

She died April 14, 1976 in Des Moines.

She had two sisters — Susie Evans and Laurie Kay Scovel.

Memorial services were held at 1:30 p.m. Monday, April 19, at Hamilton’s Funeral Home with interment at Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Mary Ann’s father, Everett Scovel, passed away on January 10, 1994 without ever seeing justice served in his daughter’s death.

Information Needed

If you have any information about Mary Ann Scovel’s unsolved murder please call the Des Moines Police Department at (515) 283-4864.

Sources:

3 Responses to Mary Ann Scovel

  1. andrea says:

    can’t that belt now be tested for touch DNA?

  2. jenny says:

    Mary is my cousin.

  3. Old newspapers are a good source and NewspaperArchive.com seems to have a great number of them. Here is an article about the release of a man thought connected: https://newspaperarchive.com/christopher-gill-murder-clipping-oct-18-1976-192396//

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