Rhonda Knutson

Rhonda Anette Knutson
(Courtesy Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Rhonda Anette Knutson


Rhonda Anette Knutson
22 YOA
Phillips 66 Convenience Store
U.S. Highway 63
Williamstown / New Hampton, IA
Chickasaw County (Jurisdiction)
DCI Case Number: 92-07040
September 7, 1992


Case Summary compiled by Jody Ewing


Early on Monday, September 7, 1992, Rhonda Anette Knutson was murdered while working the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. shift at the Phillips 66 convenience store in Williamstown, Iowa, in Chickasaw County.

Chickasaw County

Chickasaw County in Iowa

The store manager found Knutson’s body Monday morning around 4:45 a.m. in a room near the back of the store.

The Williamstown store was open 24 hours a day and located six miles south of New Hampton on U.S. Highway 63 and one-quarter mile north of highway junctions 63, 18, and 346.

An autopsy concluded Knutson died after being bludgeoned to death, and there were no signs of sexual assault.

According to the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Office, Knutson suffered severe traumatic head injuries from a beating with a blunt object. Robbery was not considered a motive in the slaying.

Knutson seemed to thoroughly enjoy working the overnight shift at the store and had met her current boyfriend, Al Wolf, three years earlier while working there. The couple had moved in together two years before Knutson’s death, and lived in rural Tripoli, about 16 miles southeast of the Phillips 66 store.

Wolf drove a local creamery truck, and Rhonda enjoyed accompanying him to motocross racing events and local demolition derbies.

The investigation into her death included hundreds of interviews by deputies and agents from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), along with employing a private investigator and several psychics.

Reward and Hunt for Two Suspects Hits Dead End

A Cedar Rapids Gazette article published the day after Knutson’s murder identified a suspect — a trucker — sought for questioning in the case.

1992-9-11-CRG-Fri-knutson-seek-suspectsCourtesy The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Sept. 11, 1992
The Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Department released these composite drawings of the two men seen in the Williamstown convenience store the morning Rhonda Knutson was found murdered.

Three days later on Sept. 11, the Gazette published composite sketches of two suspects — both believed to be truckers — whom witnesses allegedly saw in the convenience store the morning Knutson was killed.

The Gazette described both men as heavy-set Caucasians with dark hair, and between the ages of 35 and 45. Witnesses described the first suspect as having a beard and mustache and pulling a white and silver trailer behind a conventional tractor.

They described the second suspect as clean-shaven, though couldn’t link him to any specific vehicle.

Chickasaw County Sheriff Tom Bernatz printed and mailed out over 1,500 news bulletins about the case to truck stops throughout the US in an effort to generate more leads.

The Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Office distributed this flyer in hopes of getting leads in Rhonda Knutson’s unsolved homicide.

By December 21, the reward for information leading to an arrest in the case had reached $9,000; the Gazette reported that eight banks in northeast Iowa had pledged $7,500 toward the reward, with another $1,500 coming in from private citizens.

Special Prosecutor assigned to review case

Seven years after Knutson’s murder, Chickasaw County Attorney Rich TeKippe assigned Thomas H. Miller, assistant attorney general, as a special prosecutor to review information in Knutson’s murder investigation.

In a Mason City Globe-Gazette article published September 3, 1999, Robert Brammer, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said Miller — who’d successfully prosecuted many murder cases in the state — was one of the most experienced homicide specialists working in the AG’s office.

The article also noted:

Chickasaw County Attorney Rich TeKippe said in a news release that he sought assignment of a special prosecutor to the case to oversee the continued reanalysis of facts accumulated to date from the original investigation and more recent emphasis on the case.

Forensic evidence accumulated at the crime scene has been re-analyzed during the past year. Laboratory tests of any unknown substances found at the scene, including fingerprints, have been in review to see if they can produce leads not formerly identified, TeKippe said. Those tests are continuing. Hundreds of interviews have also been conducted.

TeKippe said local law enforcement’s interest in solving Knutson’s murder has never waned, but that the lack of progress had frustrated them.

Still, TeKippe expressed hope that a “particularly damning piece of evidence might still be found that would allow the complexion of this investigation to change for the good.”

Rhonda Knutson memorialCourtesy photo New Hampton Tribune
A memorial about six miles south of New Hampton serves as a reminder of how Knutson’s murder affected her community.
20 Years, No Justice

On the 20th anniversary of Knutson’s death, family members lovingly remembered the young victim known for her creative, free spirit.

“She was just a great person. She would do anything for anybody,” Knutson’s sister Renae Engel said in a New Hampton Tribune article dated September 7, 2012.

Engel said the anniversary of her sister’s death is always a difficult reminder.

“It’s one of those days when you have no ambition and you don’t want to do anything,” she told the Tribune.

The convenience store no longer exists, and the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Office continues to seek information related to Knutson’s death.

Iowa Cold Cases website founder Jody Ewing said when she began researching Iowa’s unsolved murders for inclusion on the site, the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Office was one of just a handful of law enforcement agencies that listed unsolved homicides on its website.

Rhonda’s case remains listed there today.

When the Iowa DCI established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Knutson’s murder was also one of approximately 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s new website as those the DCI hoped to solve using the 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.

About Rhonda Knutson (Obituary Waterloo Courier, Sept. 26, 1992)

Rhonda Anette Knutson, 22, of Tripoli, Iowa, and formerly of New Hampton and Alta Vista, Iowa, died Mon., Sept. 7, 1992, at the Williamstown Convenience Store, six miles south of New Hampton, where she was employed; her death has been ruled a homicide by the state medical examiner.

Survivors include her parents, Nels and Mary (Marvin) Knutson of Charles City, Iowa; two sisters, Renae Engel and Rochelle Lewis, both of New Hampton; four brothers, Robert Knutson of Charles City, Roger Knutson of Kensett, Iowa, Richard Knutson of Minnetonka, Minn., and Rodney Knutson of New Hampton; her fiance, Alan Wolf of Tripoli; and maternal grandfather, Irvin Martin of Alta Vista.

She was preceded in death by her maternal grandmother, Katherine Marvin, and paternal grandparents, Alvie and Alice Knutson.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Trinity Lutheran Church, New Hampton, with burial in New Hampton Cemetery; visitation after 3 p.m. today at Conway Funeral Home, New Hampton, and an hour before services at the church.

Source: Waterloo Courier, Thur., Sept. 10, 1992.

Rhonda Knutson's funeralCourtesy photo Val Swinton, Cedar Rapids Gazette
Rhonda Knutson’s memorial service drew more than 500 mourners who wished to pay tribute to the friendly young woman.

Rhonda was born October 19, 1969, in New Hampton, Iowa.

She attended school in New Hampton and graduated from New Hampton High School in 1988.

She enjoyed working with people, loved art and had many friends.

Rhonda’s sister Renae described her as a “great aunt” who always seemed to have something going on.

More than 500 family members and friends attended the Sept. 11, 1992, memorial services at Trinity Lutheran Church to pay tribute to Rhonda.

Nels Knutson passed away on Nov. 28, 2006, without ever seeing his daughter’s killer brought to justice.

  • Note: Some articles spell Rhonda Knutson’s middle name as “Anette,” while other sites have spelled it “Annette.”
Information Needed

Anyone with information about Rhonda Knutson’s unsolved murder is asked to contact the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Office at 641-394-3121 or the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email dciinfo@dps.state.ia.us.



Copyright © 2024  Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

26 Responses to Rhonda Knutson

  1. Carrie Larson says:

    Rhonda’s brother Bob attends the same church that I do. It would be really nice for Bob and his family to finally get some closure by finding their loved-one’s killer.

  2. Andrew says:

    The guy looks like Harry Edward Greenwell who was just identified as the I-65 Killer/Days Inn Killer in Indiana he died in Iowa in 2013

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Andrew, yes, there’s definitely a very close resemblance to the third sketch from the Chickasaw County Sheriff sketch. I’ll be watching closing to see if answers are forthcoming in Rhonda’s case.

    • Cody says:

      But the I-65 killer had a specific M.O. that doesn’t appear to match this case, right?

  3. Cecilia Eichenberger says:

    what happened with the psychic who was hired? or didn’t that happen?

  4. MikeD says:

    Trucker Clark Perry Baldwin of Waterloo, IA who was recently arrested for 4 more unsolved homicides is being investigated for this one as well as Tammy Zywicki’s. Very interesting.

    • Matt P. says:

      Do a side by side comparison of the composite sketch from 1991 to a picture of Clark Perry Baldwin today. It’s literally a dead ringer.

      • Jody Ewing says:

        Matt, yes, the original composite sketch is literally a dead ringer to Clark Perry Baldwin. By the way, I’d noticed that under the Cedar Rapids Gazette clipping, I’d inadvertently written the year 1991 when it should have been 1992. I’ve corrected the date, and also added the flyer that officials mailed out to over 1,500 news bulletins shortly after the crime. Thanks for your input!

  5. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    I wonder if they ran their truck driver information through the FBI. They created a database on over the road truckers involved in various crimes. If not they also ask them to add their description information to the system.

  6. Jim john says:

    I’m sorry but the guy you’re looking for has been long dead since 1997 I won’t go into details because he was a distant relative but I’m pretty sure if you look in the police file your notice that her panties were stolen from her

  7. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    The other question is whether any other similar crimes have taken place under similar circumstances. That’s why it’s important that these cases get entered into the FBI’s VICAP system. There is no mention of any signs of struggle, at the store, such as displays knocked over.

    What about the boyfriend, was he ever ruled out as a possible suspect. Also, was it normal for the manager to show up that early. Also, I would have made sure the authorities were be aware that a woman, was working alone at the store, so that they would check her on a routine basis. It also could have been accomplished by a phone call. If no response, then a unit would be dispatched.

  8. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    It could that he had an interest in her, and most likely she blew him off. There was no signs of sexual assault, and no money was missing from the store. So this points to someone who was upset with her. Maybe her family can think of someone who expressed an interest in her, or someone who attended her services that was overly distraught.

  9. Chris Covington says:

    Like others, I’ve heard rumors for years that the killer is or was a police officer. Does anyone know, or has anyone heard, it it was a New Hampton cop or from somewhere nearby?

    • N.E. says:

      I’ve also heard that. I’ve been told that investigators know or have high suspicions of who did it, but there has never been enough evidence.

  10. Lori C Harvey says:

    We lived just to the west of the gas station. Rhonda always held my son for me while I used the phone. Rhonda deserves justice, it’s hard to believe her killer hasn’t been caught yet.

  11. Melanie Wood says:

    What disturbs me about this Case is the seemingly lack of motive. It seems without that there is nowhere to start. My deepest condolences to the Family and Friends of this poor young Woman. But I believe the Greatest Judge is God. And the ones responsible WILL PAY IN THE END MORE THAN ON EARTH!

  12. Wanda Batchelder says:

    I think of Rhonda almost evertime I go by the memorial. I remember her from scholl.- such a sad loss as she was a wonderful person and came from a very nice family.

  13. I’ve read somewhere that there was a suspect in this case and he was a law enforcement officer.

  14. yes closure..least we know she is physically deathd…the missing ones are worse..and knowing that a murderer is still out there is real creepy

  15. no closure…it’s so sad.

  16. rengel says:

    As a member of Rhonda’s family….thank you so much to all of the individuals whose care and concern help us get thru this. We miss her daily and appreciate the support of all of you. Hopefully one day we will be able to know what truly happened and justice is served.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words. The “never knowing for certain” what really happened (or why) is one of the hardest things to live with over the years. Rhonda will not be forgotten and I still feel confident the truth will emerge one day. My thoughts are with you and your family.

    • LakeLife says:

      Praying for justice for her & peace for all of you!

  17. SW says:

    I remember hearing the same thing, that it was a cop, but they could never prove it. Blessings to Rhonda’s family.

  18. FL says:

    This case is so disturbing, I grew up in Fredericksburg and was in High School at the time. I always felt it had to be someone she knew because of the way she was killed. All kinds of rumors then and today. One was it was a cop. Recently I heard they knew who it was but couldn’t do anything about it because this person was dead. If true that is stupid because Rhonda deserves justice no matter what.

    Anyways, I have nothing to add but wish Rhonda peace & justice.

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