Ronald Lee Novak

Linn County in Iowa
Linn County in Iowa
Center Point in Linn CountyCenter Point in Linn County


Ronald Lee Novak
24 YOA
Rolling Acres Road
Rural Center Point, IA
Linn County
December 23, 1983



Investigators have DNA match for likely suspect

In a special KCRG-TV report on Dec. 26, 2013, Col. John Stuelke of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office revealed the steps his department has taken to show the latest layer in Ron Novak’s 30-year-old homicide investigation. Stuelke told Channel 9’s Chris Earl:

“In the last ten years, the biggest development in investigating crimes has been DNA,” said Stuelke. “Two years ago, we sent the evidence we had back to the (State Crime Lab) and requested they check for any DNA evidence they could find. They did find a DNA match to an unknown individual that didn’t match the victim. It was on the victim’s clothing and it most likely was the suspect that we’re looking for.”

KCRG’s Chris Earl reports on Ron Novak’s unsolved murder. Airdate: Dec. 26, 2013

Case Summary compiled by Jody Ewing

Ron Novak stayed home on the deadly cold night. With the gusting winds, wind chills plummeted toward 40 degrees below zero on Friday, December 23, 1983. Christmas Eve would arrive the following day, and Novak hoped to spend some time with his large family and girlfriend.

His girlfriend, as well as his best friend, Dale Laver, were supposed to stop by later in the evening, and the 24-year-old bachelor — who usually thrived on privacy — found himself looking forward to their visit.

ron-novak-farmhouse-kcrgCourtesy photo KCRG TV-9
In search of solitude, Ron Novak purchased this rural farmhouse on Rolling Acres Road in Center Point, Iowa. He was found slain there — his three dogs huddled around his body — on Christmas Eve Day in 1983.

Novak had graduated from Jefferson High School in 1978, and a few years later, in search of solitude, bought the farmhouse on Rolling Acres Road about three miles north of Center Point in Linn County, Iowa.

For now, anyway, he at least had the company of his three golden retrievers, Ruff, Candy and Crystal. Despite their friendly nature, they still made him feel somewhat safer; he suspected he was being watched.

His instincts proved to be true.

At some point late Friday night or in Saturday’s early morning hours, a vehicle drove up to the house. Footprints in the snow indicated someone had gotten out and gone to the home’s back door, while a second person went to stand and wait behind a tree.

In town, Novak’s girlfriend went out to start her car about 8 p.m., but the ignition wouldn’t turn over in the frigid cold. She’d just hung up from talking to Novak, and now would have to call him back to tell him her car wouldn’t start. She went back inside and phoned him, but there was no answer.

Crystal, Candy and RuffCourtesy photo Mary Novak Whitehead
Ron Novak enjoyed spending time at his rural Center Point home with his three golden retrievers, Crystal, Candy, and Ruff.

Near 9 p.m., Laver — who’d met Novak in the first grade and been his best friend ever since — went out to start his vehicle and had the same problem. The dead battery guaranteed he wasn’t going anywhere that night. He, too, tried to phone Novak to let him know he couldn’t make it, but his repeated calls went unanswered.

Both knew Novak rarely left his home for long, and while troubled about not being able to reach him, they felt certain that if something happened, Ron would be able to fend for himself. Nicknamed “Tarzan,” Novak stood 6 feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds. He also kept three guns in his home.

Novak would never know why the two failed to arrived.

Christmas Eve Day, 1983

Shortly after noon December 24, 1983, one of Novak’s brothers, Jon Novak, went out to Ron’s house. He would never forget the horrific scene he found.

His brother’s bloody and frozen body lay face down in an unheated storeroom near the home’s back door. Ron’s hands had been bound and tied behind his back. He’d been beaten about the head and body with two hammers and a golf club — the weapons still lay nearby — and shot once in the upper right arm with a .22-caliber handgun.

Huddled closely around him, Ron’s three faithful dogs shivered in the cold as they struggled to keep their slain master warm.

A violent struggle left blood splattered throughout the room, and Novak’s cordless telephone lay near the hammers and golf club.

Ron Novak at Sandy Beach on Coralville LakeCourtesy photo Mary Novak Whitehead
In happier days, Ron Novak (center) at Sandy Beach on Coralville Lake with friends.

Novak’s wallet — where he usually kept several hundred dollars for “walking around money” (according to another brother, Don Novak) — was missing. A broken window in the adjacent kitchen door suggested at least one attacker attempted to gain entry there; Novak kept a loaded shotgun near the door.

The door, however, stayed shut that night.

Most puzzling was what officials found in Novak’s bedroom: a small suitcase holding $32,000 in cash and $7,650 worth of marijuana in a green duffel bag.

“At first, we thought the motive probably was robbery,” said Capt. Dennis Fiser of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office in a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated March 21, 1992. “But then when we found the drugs and cash out in the open like that, we weren’t sure.”

While investigators worked the crime scene, strong winds outside blew snow across the footprints of Ron Novak’s killers. No fingerprints were found, and neighbors said they hadn’t seen or heard anything.

Fiser said there was little doubt the murder was drug-related. He could only speculate about the phone’s presence near Novak’s body. He might have been on the phone when he let the person in, Fiser said, or perhaps someone had pretended to be a stranded motorist and Novak was taking the phone to them.

That night, while watching television, Laver learned his best friend had been shot and bludgeoned to death with the hammers and golf club.

“We were practically brothers,” Laver told the Gazette. “To have somebody snatch a brother away from you like that, it hurts.”

ron-novak-chilling-with-friendsCourtesy photo Mary Novak Whitehead
Ron Novak with friends and one of his three golden retrievers at his rural Center Point home.

Laver said he knew Novak sold marijuana but had never known to what extent. He said Novak loved it out where he lived but had expressed some concerns to him six months earlier about a car he’d seen parked overnight near his house.

Novak’s autopsy listed three causes of death: the beating, the gunshot and the cold.

Detectives interviewed some of Novak’s known associates and developed a list of what they called “good” suspects, but never got enough physical evidence to charge anyone.

Family and Friends Wait for Justice

“It’s always bothered me deeply that I didn’t go out there that night,” Laver said in the 1992 interview with the Gazette. “But if I had been there, would I have been able to prevent the murder, or would I have been laying there with Ron?”

Novak’s sister Mary Novak Whitehead told Iowa Cold Cases in March 2010 that because her brother was not a “sympathetic” victim, the family has suffered for 26 years with no information.

Cedar Rapids Gazette Cold Case Feature
On March 21, 1992, the Cedar Rapids Gazette featured Ron Novak’s murder in their week-long series, ‘MURDERED, MISSING. UNSOLVED.”

“We have no idea what or who has been considered,” Whitehead said. “We hear rumors from time to time, but again nothing that gives us any peace.”

Whitehead said a former DCI agent told her they’d waited two days to be called [to assist with the investigation] but the call never came. She said the agent also told her someone in possession of the gun had been arrested, but that the family had never been told why officials never filed any charges.

Another sister, Patti (Novak) Wilson, told ICC she felt her brother’s murder had always been ignored and that he was treated like just another drug dealer.

“Murder is murder, no matter who the victim is,” Wilson said in an e-mail to Iowa Cold Cases. “Ronnie had a mother and siblings and nieces and nephews and friends, and we have all been affected in a life-changing way due to his murder and the apparent inaction of the legal/justice system.”

The slaying of his lifelong best friend also altered the way Laver viewed the world.

“When I think about the murder, all I see is darkness,” Laver said. “The facts are clouded, the clues are few and I don’t know who to trust anymore.”

About Ronald Novak

Ronald Lee Novak, the youngest of seven siblings, was born November 11, 1959, to Robert and Marguerite Novak in southwest Cedar Rapids, where he was raised. Survivors included his mother; two sisters, Mary and Patti; three brothers, Robert “Bob,” Donald, and Jon; and his faithful dogs, Ruff, Candy, and Crystal.

After Novak’s death, Ruff and Candy went to live with Ronald’s sister Patti; Crystal went to live with Novak’s brother Jon, just down the road from her former home.

Ron’s brother, Donald, spent many years trying to find justice in his brother’s unsolved murder. Donald passed away in Cedar Rapids on May 2, 2012.

Information Needed

If you have any information about Ronald Novak’s unsolved murder, please contact the Linn County Sheriff’s Office at (319) 892-6100, or contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email



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36 Responses to Ron Novak

  1. Kim Giannetti says:

    I didn’t read anything about “Goose” or Therese Miller in this particular artical, where can I learn more about Ron Novak’s case? Please send me any link(s) with more details @ Please & Thank you ahead of time.

  2. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    In regards to the cold weather, I remember my late father used to put an old army blanket on the engine, in the cold weather. I remember doing that myself while working at the VA, especially working nights. The only problem is that I would forget to remove the blanket, until about have way home. At least the engine stayed warm.

    So, it appears that these two friends decided to not warm up earlier their cars until they were going to visit the victim.

  3. deb gatewood says:

    did his girl friends car always have problems or just on that day ..just wondering

  4. MikeD says:

    It seems like the family has their ideas already, but there has always been this weird drug scene between Cedar Rapids, Center Point, Urbana, Palo, Shellsburg, and Vinton that has claimed lives. He might have just been involved with the wrong people and that’s it. Just because he made some poor life choices it doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve justice though.

  5. Stay Strong, Keep Fighting For Justice! says:

    Based on Cheryl and Gregory Williams comments, which I find very credible, it seems to me the best chance of the family receiving justice is if the DNA matches Goose and he implicates Therese Miller. This scenario assumes that Miller’s DNA isn’t a match if her role was actually limited to luring Ron Novak to the door.

    The fact that Goose is under the Witness Protection program may be an asset. Leverage may exist (again if his DNA is a match) that he will be charged and his Witness Protection revoked. Goose wouldn’t last long in prison in the general population as he already “snitched” once, he would have little choice but to talk. Offer him a deal with less time to implicate Miller and put him in protective custody in prison and then back in Witness Protection program upon his release.

    If the DNA matches the other deceased killers, there is little chance the leverage exists for Goose, Miller, or other members of The Chosen Few that may know something to have them talk.

  6. Josh says:

    Samething is happening with my brother in law brother’s case, he was murdered in Cedar Rapids. Beat to death and left by the side of the road a year ago. The Cedar Rapids cops have been horrible to deal with and they know who did it. Hell there have been other instances in that area of town where people have almost been beaten like that. To many unsolved cases in Iowa. I know how the procedure goes, but its frustrating and sad to see others having similar issues when trying to find answers in this state especially at the local level. We do feel your pain and I am sorry it’s been that long with no real answer.

  7. carolkean says:

    Time to call on Parabon Nanolabs for a “Snapshot” based on the DNA?
    “In 2013, the Linn County Sheriff’s Office announced that they had sent the evidence from Ron’s case for testing and there was a DNA profile from an unknown person found on his clothing. The sample was run through CODIS (the Combined DNA Index System). No match was found. Ron’s case again is at a standstill.” –Marlene Florang Chramosta, guest columnist, The Gazette,

  8. Deby Morgan says:

    What a horrendous crime. And for law enforcement officials to treat your brothers murder as if it weren’t a priority is a slap in the face. Ron deserves justice, regardless of what some keystone cops found in a duffel bag in his bedroom. This family has suffered enough. It’s time the self rightious, lazy bastards behind the badges do their jobs and put an end to this families nightmare

  9. Lorrie says:

    I know it was cold the night this happened but … it’s strange both the girlfriend and friends cars wouldn’t start, sounds like someone might have tampered with them. I hope this family finds justice soon. It doesn’t matter what your lifestyle is, murder is murder, I think ” law enforcement ” dropped the ball here, if they can’t do their job right … find another line of work.

  10. Ang Eckley says:

    This is a very sad story. I pray that his family finds the answers they need to find peace.

  11. Thank you Carmen Clay and Stephanie Gugliemo Lynch, most people just don’t understand that no matter what else a victim of homicide is they are someone’s son/daughter, brother/sister, niece/nephew lover/friend. My brother meant so very much to a lot of people & 3 very special golden retrievers.

    • carolkean says:

      Mary, I’m totally with you on that! It got to the point that I’d wince at every mention of how “beautiful” and innocent so many female victims were, as if being pretty makes her loss that much greater.

  12. It makes me so sad to read that because of the marijuana, he wasn’t considered a “sympathetic” victim. All murder victims are sympathetic. I hope his family receives justice.

  13. Gregory Williams says:

    Extened information….This is “Conjecture” for legal purposes. I do not intend to slander anyone. The statement above is in no way derected at any single person or persons,for legal purposes. Had to add this B.S for legal purposes.

  14. Gregory Williams says:

    I am Cheryl’s Brother. We now live in the same apt. complex so,I see her everyday. I have some of the information but,not all of it. I will just enter here a couple things. Cheryl will contact you soon. (The Chosen Few. All killers died a “Horrible” death. Except 2. “Goose” under witness protection. The woman that got Ron to open the door : Terese Miller. Her parents live in Manchester. Whereabouts unknown,that I know of. Cheryl seethes with anger when she speaks her name. E-Mail coming soon. She wants to get everthing out in the open. But understand the CF took care of business. Women are not to be touched,this is why T.M. is free to walk free.

  15. Amanda says:

    I’m so sorry for your lose n hope you find who ever did this. Stay string n positive it will all come out. Kinda sounds like someone scorn. One went to the door n the other behind a tree. Someone from his past maybe a old girlfriend, make him hurt like she did n found a Patsy to do her dirt.

  16. Lori says:

    I agree with Jody that the cops know who did it but don’t have enough evidence to convict.

    Timothy Mammon of Pymouth, IA was murdered and what happened in his case was horribly sad. Eric Esse, Albert Lea, MN. killed him. If you want to read what happened goggle Esse’s name.

    I am so sad you lost Ron and that no one has ever had to suffer for what they did. Maybe new forensics could be used on whatever evidence the police have. I pray for justice for Ron and a sense of calm and closure for his loved ones.

    • Mary Novak Whitehead says:

      The Linn County Sheriff”s department probably does not know who killed my brother, they never cared enough to try and find out! My mother, grandmother and another brother have all died without seeing justice for Ron, I don’t intend to become a member of that list. Cheryl, if you still check this site please contact me at—-I would love to compare notes with you, I think from what you said on here earlier that we have both heard the same or at least similar stories as to who set Ron up and who shot him, beat him while his hands were tied behind his back and then left him to freeze. Did you know that his 3 dogs were there with him, trying to keep him warm the whole time he laid there and died? No one ever even tested the dogs to see if they were drugged or not. Ruff would not have let anyone touch a hair on Ron’s head without going straight for their neck! I am tired of waiting, tired of deputies telling me that I have no right to know anything about their supposed investigation, tired of being dismissed like my brother didn’t matter. PLEASE, anyone with any information or just rumors contact me at the email address above. I WANT ANSWERS NOW & RON NEEDS JUSTICE!

  17. Barbara Frondle says:

    I have a brother who was friends with Ron, I always thought he was such a sweat nice all around good guy. He was always so kind to me. I prey that the evil people who took such a good man away are in ever lasting HELL!!!!!!!! This should be looked into again and with Gods help Ron’s case will be solved.

  18. Cheryl Ann Williams says:

    My name is Cheryl Williams. Ronald’s brother,Don was commen law married to me for 11 years. Don past away May 2nd 2012. For many years he told me exact information of the details of his brothers murder. I know eveything that happend and who was involved. There are only two people alive that have direct involvement in the murder. One person is under witness protection. The other is free and living their life. I know her name. When Don was alive,he called the Linn County Sheriff’s Office 3 times,with no repsonse. They never called back. Don missed his brother so much,he would cry about it often. Every Christmas Eve,he was always devistated. Don is gone now and with his brother. One person is walking free,and I know her name and whereabouts. Anyone wishing to reply,please do. I loved Don VERY much and miss him dearly. At least he is at rest with Ronald. This one person needs to be brought to justice. Please E-Mail me at . Thank you for the cold case site.

    • Jody Ewing says:


      Thanks so much for writing, and please accept my sincerest condolences on Don’s passing. I’ve just sent a more detailed response to you via regular e-mail. Thank you so much for doing the right thing! I admire your courage.

      All best,
      Jody, ICC Administrator

  19. Dale Laver says:

    i would still do anything to help find his killers,i think linn cty could have done more.

    • Mary Whitehead says:

      My brother could not have asked for a better friend Dale. Bless you, I know it was as hard on you as it was on us!!!!

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Dale, many times LE officials pretty much know who’s responsible, but fear making an arrest if they haven’t enough “rock solid” evidence to basically ensure a conviction once the person has been charged. As you know, they get no second chances to retry the killer(s). I know it sounds like an age-old platitude, but it’s so true it really bears repeating; that is, just “one little tiny detail that’s seemingly so insignificant” is often all that’s needed to tie all the other small threads together with a firm knot at the end. Please accept my condolences on the loss of your friend. We won’t give up.

      • Dale Laver says:

        i know all that but they have the gun .and i know whos it was,and so do they,and. and an attack like that had to leave d.n.a.ron didnt go down with out a fight!!!

        • Jody Ewing says:

          Wow! I knew they had the hammer and golf club but didn’t know they also had the gun! Yes, there definitely should have been some DNA somewhere after all that struggling. A while back, Aaron Brilbeck with WHO-TV Channel 13 in Des Moines was trying to get interviews arranged with Ron’s sisters for a story on Ron’s murder. Aaron’s weekly cold case series got scaled back, but he still tries to cover cases whenever he can. I’ll check with him to see if he can still get this one in. There are plenty of people he could interview, and getting Ron’s story “out there” could do a world of good. Thx for the info!

  20. Betsy Carll says:

    Thank you so much for writing this article. Ronnie was my uncle. We miss him everyday.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Thank you, Betsy, for taking the time to write. If there are any special memories you’d like to share about your Uncle Ronnie, I’d be more than happy to add them to our blog as a “guest post” or else include the info on his case summary page. All the family members are welcome to share whatever info they like. Thanks again, and know how sorry I am about the loss of your uncle.

  21. Mary Whitehead says:

    Thank you for your non-judgemental and accurate article. One thing missing is the name of our oldest brother Bob. We did learn that the evidence box did not float away in the 2008 flood, so there is still hope.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Thanks for writing, Mary. I’ve added Bob to the list of Ron’s survivors, and am relieved to hear officials still have the evidence box. Would it be possible for you or any of your siblings to scan and send me some better pictures for Ron’s page? Photos tell so many stories, and it would be nice to have one that does Ron justice. (Pix with family members/siblings are welcome, too.) You may e-mail them to — let me know if there’s anything else I can add to Ron’s story.

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