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Robert Huntbach, 85, and his wife Goldie, 77, were bound, gagged and tortured in their modest Waterloo home before someone shot each of them twice in the head sometime late Sunday night, Jan. 12, 1981.
Friends contacted police after no one responded at the couple’s two-story home at 311 W. 10th Street in Waterloo.
Officers found Robert Huntbach in the dining room, blindfolded and a dish towel in his mouth. He’d also sustained injuries caused from a blunt object, and the killer had used an electric cattle prod on his chest and wrists. The cattle prod was discovered in the master bedroom.
Goldie Huntbach’s body lay in an upstairs hallway. She, too, had been blindfolded, and the killer had clipped a clothespin on her nose.
According to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, the Huntbachs were in the process of moving to Independence to be closer to their children. Their Waterloo home was scheduled to be torn down in 1984 when the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) moved forward with plans to widen U.S. Highway 218. The Huntbachs had received an advance on the buyout so they could start the relocation process to Independence.
They’d never get the opportunity to move elsewhere.
Police interviewed dozens of people after the murders, and despite a $5,000 reward for information, officials made no arrests and the case eventually went cold.
Thirty-one years after the crime, Jack Wendell Pursel — a 66-year-old former Waterloo resident who’d been living in South Gate, Calif. — walked into the Waterloo Police Department and confessed to the double homicide.
Pursel, a truck driver who in 1981 knew one of the Huntbachs’ relatives, was one of several individuals questioned immediately after the slayings, but then he fled the state and headed west.
Just months after moving to California, Pursel was charged and convicted of two counts of oral copulation with a minor and began serving a 21-year sentence in a California prison.
Pursel served only 11 years before being paroled in 1992, and was completely discharged from his sentence in September 1995, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported.
Waterloo Police Captain Tim Pillack said that when Pursel came in to confess to the 31-year-old Iowa cold case, he offered information about the crime that only the killer would have known.
Pursel told police he was a born-again Christian and wanted to take responsibility for the killings.
He was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and taken into custody Wednesday, May 9, 2012.
The following day, Pursel appeared in Black Hawk County District Court and pleaded guilty to both counts.
During the initial Thursday morning appearance May 10, 2012, Judge Joseph Moothart raised the bond amount to $2 million — $1 million for each count — at the request of Black Hawk County Attorney Thomas Ferguson, who cited the brutal nature of the killings and the fact Pursel had prior convictions in California, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported May 10, 2012.
“He just wanted to get it off his mind,” Pillack told ABC News in a story also released May 10, 2012. “He knew of the family. He said his intention was to go in and rob them and kill them.”
It wasn’t the first time Pursel showed up out of the blue, the Courier reported May 11, 2012.
Days before his confession, Pursel called a brother he hadn’t seen in years and told him about the killings. The brother wasn’t familiar with the crime, but agreed to help his brother get back to the Midwest, said the Courier.
Courier reporter Jeff Reinitz covered the June 7, 2012 sentencing, Judge Brad Harris presiding. Wrote Reinitz:
Pursel — a truck driver who had known a relative of the Huntbachs in 1981 and then fled the state after the slayings and spent time in a California prison for a sex crime — said he is a born-again Christian and threw himself on the mercy of the court and his victims’ family.
“I was forgiven of the sins of murder because I repented and was remorseful,” said Pursel, who entered the courtroom dressed in a suit and carrying a Bible among loose sheets of paper.
When he spoke, it was in hushed tones that frequently meandered into Scripture. Harris interjected three times to keep him on track.
“I’m not the same person today that I was,” said Pursel, who said he denied any role in the killings when approached by Waterloo police in the 1980s but found God while behind bars.
“In 1992, I was about to be paroled, but two months before that happened, God spoke to me. I didn’t hear voices in my head, but he spoke to my heart, and he said go and preach the word of God,” he said.
He said he rebelled after he was let out, but later picked up his dust-covered Bible and began reading.
— Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, June 8, 2012
Harris sentenced Pursel to life in prison without the possibility of parole — the mandatory punishment under Iowa law.