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Mildred Adaline “Millie” Clemenson, 81, was brutally slain on Monday, Nov. 9, 1998, inside her rural Kensett, Iowa, mobile home — a home about seven miles west of Kensett and directly attached to the family farmhouse Clemenson owned at 3926 Ironwood Avenue.
Clemenson’s only child, adopted daughter Marcia Patton, had moved her own family — husband Ron Patton and the couple’s two children — into the main home and moved Clemenson out and into the mobile home next to the farmhouse.
Family members said they didn’t discover her body until Wednesday, Nov. 11, 1998, despite the fact Clemenson had a plane ticket and was supposed to fly out to Arizona on Tuesday, Nov. 10.
An autopsy indicated Clemenson died from blunt force trauma to the head and had been dead for two days before family members reported her death to authorities.
The attack was so violent that the elderly victim’s brain matter was found on the mobile home’s ceiling.
“She died as a result of a head injury caused by a blunt object,” said Doug Krull, (then) Worth County attorney, in a Mason City Globe-Gazette article dated June 27, 2010.
“It was not an accidental injury,” Krull said.
Clemenson had just recently become the executrix of the estate for Mabel Bitker, Clemenson’s late stepmother.
On Nov. 9, the day before Clemenson’s scheduled trip to Phoenix, she’d allegedly gone to the bank to cash in a large bond and was bludgeoned to death in her mobile home sometime after returning home from the bank.
Within one week of Clemenson’s death, her daughter and son-in-law spoke with Des Moines criminal defense attorney Montgomery Brown, whom they later retained as counsel.
The widowed Clemenson — who had two living and two deceased siblings and remained close to her in-laws — customarily spent winters in Phoenix. On Sunday, Nov. 8, the day before her slaying, Clemenson told one family member that once she got to Arizona, she wanted to “never return to Iowa.”
“But your family is in Iowa,” the family member said they told Clemenson.
Clemenson responded that all they wanted was to borrow money from her and never repay it.
The night before her scheduled flight to the Grand Canyon state, one of Iowa’s worst ice storms rolled through the county. Even after Monday night’s bitterly cold weather and storm — and knowledge of her mother’s next-day flight — neither Marcia Patton nor her husband admitted to ever having checked in on Clemenson Tuesday.
Clemenson had not cancelled her flight to Phoenix — nor did her daughter place any phone calls to those in Arizona to let them know her mother wouldn’t be arriving.
Clemenson’s friends waited all day at the Phoenix airport for her arrival.
Yet, another day would pass before officials received a call stating Mildred Clemenson was dead in the trailer next to the family farmhouse Clemenson once called home.
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) was brought in to help work the case.
After learning of Clemenson’s death, family members automatically assumed that the role as executrix of Mabel Bitker’s estate would pass on down to one of Clemenson’s two surviving siblings — brother Johnnie or sister Geraldine. Instead, Clemenson’s daughter Marcia immediately assumed the position.
Clemenson’s death “made her adopted daughter a millionaire,” the family member told Iowa Cold Cases.
As questions arose not just about Clemenson’s murder, but the status of the funds from Monday’s cashed-in bond, Marcia and Ron Patton lawyered up.
Some years before Mabel Bitker’s death, Ron Patton had asked her to co-sign a sizable loan for him to purchase a truck for long distance hauling. When things didn’t go as planned, Ron stopped making payments, and the elderly Bitker got “stuck” with paying off the loan, relatives said.
In life, “Millie” Clemenson made few requests, but two were extremely important to her.
Clemenson and her late husband, Gunder, owned the 80-acre farm where Clemenson would eventually be murdered, and upon their retirement had leased the full 80 acres of cropland to a friend. The Clemensons — good friends with the farmer who leased their land — had promised him that if they ever sold the land, he would have the first right to purchase it.
After Gunder Clemenson’s death in March 1997, Mildred Clemenson continued to lease the land to the couple’s friend.
After Mildred Clemenson’s November 1998 murder, Marcia Patton sold the land out from under the leaseholder, disregarding her adoptive parents’ wishes.
Betrayal surfaced yet again when it came to Mildred Clemenson’s burial.
Mildred and Gunder were in Arizona when Gunder died, and he was cremated there so his ashes could be taken back to Iowa for burial. Mildred, however, had made wishes about her own death quite clear to family members; she did not want to be cremated. In fact, two plots had been purchased in the Elk Creek Cemetery in Kensett so Mildred’s full casket could be buried in the plot right next to Gunder.
Marcia Patton had her adoptive mother’s body cremated, anyway.
Two months after Mildred Clemenson’s brutal slaying, homicide investigators raided the Patton farmhouse, where they seized an undisclosed number of financial records.
In a Globe-Gazette article dated January 23, 1999, attorney Montgomery Brown said his client firmly denied any involvement with her mother’s murder.
“No one has told me she’s a suspect, but there are community rumors,” Brown acknowledged in the article.
Worth County Sheriff David Gentz declined to comment about the case when interviewed on Friday, the day before the article appeared, except to say the investigation was ongoing and had been a complex case from the start.
In the years following Mildred Clemenson’s slaying, Marcia and Ron Patton relocated several times.
According to family members, a few years after Millie’s murder, Marcia Patton contacted Clemenson family members with hopes of gathering enough information to track down her biological mother. It is unknown whether or not Marcia Patton eventually found her birth parents.
When the DCI established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Mildred Clemenson’s murder was one of about 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.
Mildred (Bitker) Clemenson was born February 1, 1917, in rural Klemme, the daughter of John S. And Hattie (Weing) Bitker. She moved with her parents to Clear Lake and Hanlontown, and graduated from Manly High School in 1936.
Mildred moved to California and married Gunder Clemenson on March 11, 1940, in Reno, Nevada. They moved to Norfolk, Virginia, and in 1945 relocated to rural Kensett.
They retired in 1976 and spent their winters in Texas and Florida; beginning in 1983 they spent winters in Mesa, Arizona.
Mildred enjoyed playing five hundred and cribbage. She was a member of Elk Creek Lutheran Church, Kensett.
Mildred was survived by her adopted daughter, Marcia Patton, and Marcia’s husband, Ron, of Kensett; two grandchildren, Lacey and Brandon Patton, Kensett; one brother, Johnnie Bitker and his wife, Dolly, Tuscon, Arizona; a half sister, Geraldine Kalaplastos, Lowell, Arkansas; a sister-in-law, Karen Bitker; and several nieces and nephews.
Mildred was preceded in death by her parents; her stepmother, Mabel Bitker; her husband, Gunder; one sister, Gladys Dahl Urbatch; and one brother, Morrie Bitker.
Memorial services were held at 1 p.m. Wednesday, November 18, 1998, at the Elk Creek Lutheran Church in rural Kensett, followed by inurnment in the Elk Creek Cemetery.
Family greeted friends one hour before the service at the church. Ward-Van Slyke Colonial Chapel, 101 N. Fourth St., Clear Lake, was in charge of services.
Memorials were to be directed to the Mildred A. Clemenson memorial fund.