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Ramona Jean Cox, 24, was found dead in her first-floor apartment at 1526 Woodland Ave. in Des Moines on Sunday morning, April 22, 1962.
A stout woman about 5-foot-8 and weighing around 130 pounds, Cox fought back against her assailant before being beaten and slashed across the throat with a hook-billed linoleum knife.
The Moravia, Iowa native had moved to Des Moines in 1956 — the same year she graduated high school — and worked as a secretary for C.D. Wilcox Company and as a part-time cashier for Ardan, located then at 12th and Locust Street.
An 18-year-old neighbor and two girls told police they saw a man leap from Cox’s apartment window and flee into the darkness shortly after hearing screams. The man, whom they described as about 5-foot-9 and wearing dark pants and a white shirt — ran down an alley, they said.
Police questioned more than 3,000 individuals in their search to find Cox’s killer.
“You never really get over it,” said Cox’s mother, Hazel Cox, in a Des Moines Register article published September 8, 1974. “You think you would, but you don’t.”
Hazel Cox and her husband, Harold “Jocky” Cox, lived on a farm six miles east of Moravia. Ramona had left the farm and moved to Des Moines in search of meaningful employment. (Note: In both census and newspaper reports, Mr. Cox’s name is alternately spelled both Burdett and Burdette.)
“I just can’t think of any reason, excuse or anything why it happened,” Mrs. Cox told Register reporter Nick Lamberto in the telephone interview. “Ramona was the oldest.”
Mrs. Cox said crime stories always bring back memories and re-open scars, but one must still carry on and hope police catch the person responsible. In the 1974 interview — 12 years after her daughter’s unsolved murder — Mrs. Cox said she’d almost given up hope, but that prayer had helped a lot.
“Whoever did it should be caught and confined,” she said. “I don’t want revenge, just justice.”
Mrs. Cox said she’d always get a terrible feeling when reading about current crimes taking place, and sometimes would write and send cards to families of other victims.
“Do you think you or anyone else would really get over it?” she asked.
In July 2015 the Iowa Newspaper Association launched a new statewide cold case project after partnering with Iowa Cold Cases and participating newspapers to highlight some of the state’s unsolved murder cases in hopes they might still be solved.
The Daily Iowegian’s Michael Schaffer published a story Nov. 22, 2015, about Ms. Cox’s unsolved homicide and spoke with the decedent’s family members about the loved one they lost more than a half-century ago.
First cousin Francis Bennell, of Moravia, said Cox had been active in sports during high school playing basketball, worked on the family farm and was well liked in Des Moines.
“As far as I know. She was always very well liked. I liked her very much,” Bennell told the Iowegian. “And I felt bad when I heard that. Because you grow up with somebody and you really get to care for them, especially in our family. Everybody wants to help each other.”
Bennell said his golden red-haired cousin got involved with a rough crowd and said he’s convinced she knew her killer. Whenever she’d come home to visit, he said she’d talk about her job and partying in Des Moines, but never mentioned any acquaintance by name.
According to the Iowegian, published reports indicate Cox went to area bars like Tommie’s and the Woodland Tap. Wrote Schaffer:
Following Cox’s murder, Des Moines was filled with rumors and accusations concerning her case, published reports indicate. The then Polk County attorney, Harry Perkins Jr. and the then Des Moines police chief, Vear V. Douglas, appealed for information from the public but no one has ever been charged with Cox’s murder.
— The Daily Iowegian, Nov. 22, 2015
When the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Ramona Cox’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 the resolution of 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.
Ramona Jean Cox was born December 7, 1937, the first child born to Harold Burdette “Jocky” Cox and Hazel Cox. She had moved from her hometown of Moravia, Iowa, to Des Moines, where she worked as a secretary.
In addition to her parents, she was survived by three siblings: Dale Arthur, Rowena, and Nyle Burdett.
Memorial services were held May 1, 1962, at the Methodist Church in Moravia with burial in the Hillcrest Cemetery in Moravia, Appanoose County.
Hazel Cox passed away in 1999. Ramona’s brother Dale and her father both died in 2005.