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In February 2012, noted author Susan Taylor Chehak published an Amazon ebook, “What Happened to Paula: The Anatomy of a True Crime,” in an effort to crowdsource an independent investigation by posting there the entire police file, autopsy, FBI reports and other documents, as well as news articles, photographs, and interviews with people who were related to or knew Paula.
The ebook presented the website material in an accessible and easily navigational format and invited readers to join the collaborative investigation. Kindle readers were notified when Chehak made updates available for download, with all proceeds from book sales going toward funding the ongoing investigation.
Paula Jean Oberbroeckling, 18, disappeared after leaving her 116 10th St. NW Cedar Rapids residence in the early morning hours on Saturday, July 11, 1970.
Oberbroeckling — a recent Washington High School graduate who taught a class for developmentally disabled children at Younkers and shared the 10th street residence with her friend, Debbie Kellogg — had gone out on a date Friday night with boyfriend Lonnie Bell. The two returned together to the 10th St. residence, where they argued.
Kellogg said that after Bell left, Oberbroeckling said she needed to go out again and asked to borrow Kellogg’s vehicle, saying she’d be right back.
She never returned.
The following day, Kellogg’s car was found near the Eagle supermarket on 14th Street SE, two miles east of where Kellogg and Oberbroeckling lived.
Oberbroeckling’s grandmother, Vera Oberbroeckling, door-knocked in the neighborhood where Kellogg’s car was found, while police conducted extensive searches and involved the media in efforts to locate the teen.
Cedar Rapids police officer C. Smith spoke with Oberbroeckling’s mother, Carol Oberbroeckling, at about 5 p.m. on Wednesday, July 15, 1970, in reference to the missing person report Mrs. Oberbroeckling had filed.
Mrs. Oberbroeckling told Officer Smith that Paula had been somewhat upset because she thought she was about 1-1/2 months pregnant and felt Bell was trying to ditch her.
Mrs. Oberbroeckling also stated that her daughter had previously had a colored boyfriend by the name of Robert Williams, but that they’d broken up some time ago. She said a friend told her she’d seen Paula in “the loop” area shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday, and that Paula was having car trouble at the time. Paula was alone at the time, though a man was assisting her in getting the car going, Mrs. Oberbroeckling told Smith.
Lonnie Bell, who was present during the interview with Mrs. Oberbroeckling, told police Paula had been writing to a colored subject by the name of John Strayhorn, who lived at the Hawthorne Hills apartments. Officer Smith visited the Hawthorne Hills apartments that same day and was told by the manager that no one named John Strayhorn rented an apartment there. The manager said it was possible Strayhorn lived with someone else there.
Police followed up on hundreds of leads, and four months after Oberbroeckling’s disappearance, finally got a break in the case; it was not the break they’d hoped to receive.
Oberbroeckling’s remains — though not immediately identified due to advanced stages of decomposition — were found on Sunday, November 29, 1970.
According to a Gazette article dated November 30, 1970, George Junttila of 724 19th St. SE and his two sons, Dale, 14, and David, 11, found the skeletal remains while walking along the railroad tracks on Otis Road across from the sewage treatment plant.
Police said the body was found draped around a steel pin in the ground, which in the past probably had been used for a power pole guy wire. Had the body not been draped around the pin, it could have washed down to the road and been discovered sooner, police said.
The teen’s remains were found almost intact, her ankles tied and her wrists found tied behind her back with two separate types of flexible material — one a plastic clothesline and another kind of cord.
Her pelvic bones remained intact with no injury, and officials found no visual evidence to indicate a traumatic injury nor any fetal remains.
Some personal items found around the body, such as clothing, and earth around the body, were sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for examination, said Cedar Rapids Police Chief Frank Matias.
Dr. Earl F. Rose conducted the autopsy at University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City, and cited “Death due to (1) soft tissue injury, (2) poisoning, (3) asphyxiation, or (4) a combination of these, cannot be excluded from the examination of the remains of the body.”
Rose also stated that if the deceased was not dead when placed in this position, death would have resulted from: respiratory embarrassment, exposure, or a combination of respiratory embarrassment developing as exposure continued and she tired.
Despite a number of theories about Oberbroeckling’s death, her case remains unsolved.
Susan Taylor Chehak, who went to high school with Paula and obtained a court order from a local judge to gather the material for “What Happened to Paula,” continues her pursuit to find truth and justice for her friend.
Paula Jean Oberbroeckling was born in Cedar Rapids on February 25, 1952 to James Joseph and Carol (Burks) Oberbroeckling.
She graduated from Washington High School in 1970.
Survivors included her mother, Carol Oberbroeckling, 2025 G Avenue NE; her father, James J. Oberbroeckling, Grand Junction, Colo.; a sister, Lynn Marie Greve, Cedar Rapids; three brothers, Todd, Timothy and Christopher, all at home, and her grandmothers, Vera Oberbroeckling and Mrs. Frank Zachar, both of Cedar Rapids.
Services were held at 11 a.m. Monday, December 7, 1970, at St. Matthew’s Church, with the Rev. Louis V. McDonough officiating. Burial was at Mount Calvary cemetery. There were no visitation services. Stewart Funeral Home handled arrangements.
If you have any information about Paula Oberbroeckling’s unsolved murder, please contact the Cedar Rapids Police Department at 319-286-5375 or the Linn County Crime Stoppers Anonymous Tip Line at 1-800-CR-CRIME.