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On Thursday morning, July 10, 1969, 8-year-old Patricia Ann Veach was found dead in her bedroom at her Des Moines home. She had been sexually molested, and police said she either was strangled or smothered by her slayer.
On Monday, July 14, Polk County Medical Examiner Dr. Leo Luka said an autopsy showed Patricia had been smothered to death, but said he was uncertain whether it was accomplished “with a pillow or a hand.”
In an Associated Press story published July 15 in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Dr. Luka added that laboratory analyses of blood and hair found on the scene were incomplete.
Patricia’s father, William “Bill” Veach, told police he’d gone to check on his daughter about 7:25 a.m. Thursday morning after discovering the home’s front door screen slashed near the latch.
Mr. Veach said he found his daughter lying on her back, uncovered and clad only in her pajama top, and that there was blood on her body and on the bed.
Patricia lived with her parents, Bill and Etta Veach, and her older brother, Billy, at 805 S.W. Lally Street on Des Moines’ south side. Billy had spent the night with his paternal grandparents.
The Veaches told police they’d gone to bed around 2 a.m. and that their daughter was all right at that time. They said they’d heard no unusual noises in the house, and that their dog — who was kept in the basement overnight — had not barked.
Police canvassed the neighborhood in search of persons who might have seen someone or heard something near the Veach’s home.
In an Associated Press article dated Monday, July 14, 1969, Police Detective Capt. Cleatus M. Leaming said his men had questioned more than 500 persons by Sunday and that there were seven detectives and two identification officers assigned to the case.
Leaming also stated that neither he nor his department had any clues regarding the identity of Patricia’s killer.
On Tuesday, July 15, police questioned an alleged vagrant in connection with the young girl’s death, but the man pled innocent to the vagrancy charges and was jailed in lieu of a $100 bond.
On Thursday, July 17, 1969, an AP brief in the Waterloo Daily Courier announced lie detector tests would be given soon to suspects in the case. The brief appeared just below the Daily Courier’s page one story hailing Apollo 11 explorers Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. for having soared past the halfway point of their journey to the moon.
A poem by John G. MaGee, Jr. ran below the astronauts’ photo and parallel to the brief on Patricia Veach, and though meant to correspond to the space crew photo, the words seemed to capture the very essence of a young girl’s journey to a final resting place. It read:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
MaGee wrote the poem before being killed in action over Germany in December 1941 while serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Patricia Veach, like John MaGee, seemed to dance the skies on laughter.
She was a very bubbly, outgoing child, her brother said in an August 2010 email to Iowa Cold Cases.
According to Billy Veach, the family has few photos of Patricia where she isn’t making a funny face or sticking out her tongue.
“[She was] always making faces at a camera. Always teasing and laughing,” Veach wrote. “She could run like a deer. She loved school and was very smart.”
Two weeks prior to her murder, Patricia had served as the flower girl for her Uncle David and Aunt Mona’s wedding.
The young Midwestern girl could have soared, and today would just be reaching the prime of her life.
Her death came just seven months after the 1968 Christmas Eve slaying of 10-year-old Pamela Powers, a suburban Urbandale girl who had been abducted from the Des Moines YMCA.
In July 1977, 33-year-old Anthony Erthel Williams was convicted by a Linn County district court jury of first-degree murder for Powers’ slaying. On Friday, August 19, 1977, proclaiming his innocence and sanity to the end, Williams was sentenced for the second time to life in prison for the death of a child.
“Little children are walking the streets of Iowa in danger because of the limitations that have been placed on me and my attorneys,” the Gazette reported Williams as saying in an emotional statement to the court prior to his sentencing. Williams referred to Patricia Veach’s unsolved murder and molestation, and said her death showed that the person who took the life of Pamela Powers was free to commit the Veach killing in July 1969.
Patricia’s brother Billy remembers all too well the weeks, months, and years following his little sister’s murder — and the decades under which he felt his father lived under a cloud of suspicion. His father was questioned daily the first week after Patricia’s murder, and by month’s end the family could no longer make it through the night in the SW Lally St. home.
When the time came for Patricia’s maternal grandmother, Mrs. Thomas McFall, to return to Ballymena in Northern Ireland, Mr. Veach surprised his wife and son with tickets to go to Ireland with her. Etta and Billy spent August in Ireland away from the Iowa madness, and Bill Veach had another surprise when the two returned home; he was moving them into a new home he’d bought while they were away.
Community members in the new neighborhood still eyed the family with suspicion and passed around a petition trying to keep the family out. Billy told Iowa Cold Cases he lived in fear his father would never be fully cleared. Out of 81 pieces of evidence, the State Crime Lab had obtained only a few DNA markers — not enough at the time to run through the FBI database.
On July 26, 2010 — three days before what would have been Patricia’s 50th birthday — her brother and parents purchased a memorial plaque in her memory and had it mounted on the Grey’s Lake Memorial Walking Bridge.
It was a tough week, Billy Veach said, but despite tears there were also smiles as the family — which Veach says is close — remembered the good times.
On Tuesday, March 8, 2011, Billy said he received word the family had waited decades to hear; the State Crime Lab had resubmitted evidence to check for familial DNA. According to Sgt. Steve Woody, Billy said, they were “able to definitively exclude my dad, his brothers and myself from any suspicion.”
Billy said when he told his father about the results, they both broke down in tears.
“Patricia’s murder has left a huge hole in our hearts,” he said. “It has never made any sense to us who could do such a vile thing to someone so young and beautiful.”
The hardest part, he said, was still not knowing who did it, or why.
Patricia Ann Veach was born July 29, 1960, to William and Etta Veach.
Memorial services were held Monday, July 14, 1969, at Hamilton Funeral Home with burial at Sunset Memorial Gardens.
In addition to her parents, Patricia was survived by her brother, William T.; paternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Veach of Des Moines; and maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas McFall of Ballymena, Northern Ireland.
If you have any information about the murder of Patricia Ann Veach, please contact the Des Moines Police Department at (515) 283-4864.