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Twelve-year-old Roger Warren — the son of Herbert and Joyce Warren of Davenport — disappeared on Sunday, August 19, 1979, near the Crescent Bridge in the city’s Division Street and West River Drive area. Six days later on Saturday afternoon, August 25, officials recovered his body from the Mississippi River about a mile downstream from the bridge where he’d last been seen playing with his younger brother.
Cause of death was listed as strangulation.
In a Cedar Rapids Gazette article published Monday, August 27, 1979, Scott County Medical Examiner Dr. R.M. Perkins said a rope had been wrapped once around the boy’s neck. Following the autopsy, Perkins stated he was unable to determine exactly how long the partially-decomposed body had been in the water, but said it was at least “several days.”
Perkins told the Gazette he’d discovered no other injuries, but could not determine whether the boy was sexually assaulted because of the body’s condition. According to the Gazette, two of the boy’s uncles made the identification.
Authorities initially believed the youth had been kidnapped, and news reports described the 12-year-old as a white male, 4-feet-6, 90 pounds, and having short brown hair. He’d been wearing a yellow T-shirt, blue jeans, and red and white tennis shoes. His tennis shoes were found on Thursday, April 23, four days after he’d gone missing.
Officials were able to piece together Roger’s last moments based on information provided by Roger’s 7-year-old brother, Gary.
Gary Warren told police the two had been playing near the bridge late Sunday afternoon when a man in a blue shirt approached them and offered to buy Roger a 10-speed bicycle and take him to a baseball game.
Gary Warren described the man as wearing blue jeans, having black hair and missing several front teeth, and being in his mid- to late 20s. Gary told authorities that both his brother and the man told him to go home, and that he’d last seen his brother walking across the bridge with the man. It was only after they’d gone that Gary Warren went home.
In a Gazette article dated Aug. 23, 1979, the boys’ mother, Joyce Warren, described Roger as an avid fisherman who liked to make new friends. She said she didn’t worry until Roger failed to return home that Sunday evening.
In the days following Warren’s disappearance, his relatives and friends joined police, firemen and sheriff’s deputies in a search that encompassed areas from both sides of the river.
Once the youth’s body was discovered — a light-colored sash-type cord wrapped once around his neck — police changed his classification from a missing person to a homicide.
Five months later on January 24, instead of celebrating their son’s 13th birthday, Roger Warren’s parents awaited an arrest in his murder.
Nine months after finding Roger Warren’s body, Davenport police expressed frustration with the investigation; they believed they knew who killed Roger, but because they lacked concrete evidence, felt little could be done.
“It makes you feel like your hands are tied,” Lt. James Van Fossen, head of nightside detectives, said in a Quad-City Times article published in May 1980. “You reach a point where you’re relatively certain you know who did it, but due to the laws of the land you cannot arrest him.”
Van Fossen told the Times police were “keeping track” of the suspect — a married man with children — who still lived in the area.
“He is considered dangerous, and might very well do the same thing again,” Van Fossen said, noting that the suspect had not been involved in any subsequent cases since Roger Warren’s murder. The newspaper reported the man as being in his 30s.
Police and an unnamed private citizen offered a $1,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible, but the reward went unclaimed.
“You are always searching for the guy,” Joyce Warren told the Times. “You never know if he will come back for the one who was with Roger. You wonder if he will get someone else before he is caught.”
Police learned through an informant that they might find Roger’s shirt and a piece of the sash at one of two properties the suspect owned, but the searches — conducted with a warrant, according to the Times — produced no results. Hypnotizing Gary Warren in attempts to gather further information also proved unsuccessful.
If you have any information regarding Roger Warren’s unsolved murder, please contact the Davenport Police Department at 563-326-7979.