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Ronald F. Lipsius, a 30-year-old Iowa City grocer, was shot to death on Monday, May 16, 1966 as he chased a woman bandit who’d just scooped $35 from a cash register in his 812 South Summit Street store.
According to published reports, a young woman entered the Clover Farm Food Market at about 8:30 a.m. and asked for some sliced ham. While Lipsius began slicing the meat, the woman snatched the money from the cash register and then fled north on foot.
Lipsius — a married father with three young children under age three and a new baby on the way within two weeks — chased the woman down the sidewalk. At the corner, she turned and fired a shot at Lipsius but missed.
When she began running east, Lipsius followed. He’d almost caught up with the scarf-wearing bandit when she turned and fired two more shots — at close range — with a .22-caliber pistol. According to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, one shot tore through Lipsius’ right forearm and the other hit him in the chest, severing his pulmonary artery.
Sheridan street resident Beatrice Schwab heard the pops of what she thought was a toy gun, and after seeing Lipsius on the ground, went to his aid. She yelled for another woman to call police.
Several people who’d witnessed the robbery-shooting described the female bandit as being in her early twenties, 5′ 09″ and weighing around 175 pounds. They said she wore jeans, a headscarf and horn-rimmed glasses. The woman and an unknown male got into a 1957 Pontiac, white over black, shortly after the woman shot Lipsius.
The Iowa City Police Department developed a composite drawing based on eyewitness reports, and released the sketch in hopes that someone in the area might recognize the woman and notify authorities.
Police brought in for questioning at least two women who matched the description, and though one submitted to a polygraph test, neither woman was ever arrested.
The case eventually went cold, until an anonymous tip gave investigators renewed hope. A mistake in another state would soon leave Iowa authorities without a suspect to extradite, and a case still unsolved.
Ten years after Lipsius’ slaying, Iowa City police received an anonymous letter from a person in the Quad Cities who said they recognized the woman from the composite drawing previously released in their newspaper. The writer said the knowledge had eaten at her conscience for 10 years, and she provided police with the name of a woman who resembled the woman in the sketch.
According to a Press-Citizen article published Nov. 5, 1976, the anonymous tipster also said the woman had been placed on probation by a Scott County judge in 1962 following a conviction on an attempted murder charge. The letter writer believed the woman’s probation was subsequently revoked, but said the woman had never been recaptured.
The letter writer said she knew the woman had relatives in Norwalk, Calif., and believed she might have gone to live with them. According to the Press-Citizen story:
An Iowa City police detective and an assistant Johnson County Attorney went to Davenport and obtained court records that verified the anonymous writer’s story.
They also obtained a booking photo of the woman, which closely resembled the composite drawing of the murder suspect, and had the 1963 probation violation fugitive warrant for the woman reactivated on the National Criminal Information Computer.
The renewed fugitive warrant was issued Sept. 24, and on Oct. 29, fugitive warrant deputies in Norwalk, Calif., apprehended the woman on a traffic violation.
The woman paid a $65.50 fine on the traffic charge, and was then arraigned on the fugitive warrant from Iowa, the Press-Citizen said. Bond on that warrant was set at $10,000.
On Monday, Nov. 1, 1976, the woman posted 10 per cent of that figure through a bail bondsman — and was released.
Officials back in Iowa didn’t understand why the suspect had been released since she’d been sought on a fugitive warrant, which normally directs that the person arrested be held without bond.
Johnson County attorney Jack W. Dooley told the Press-Citizen he’d be contacting California authorities to seek the suspect’s whereabouts and said he might ask Scott County authorities and Iowa Bureau of Adult Corrections extradition officers to return the woman to Iowa if she could be found.
“The problem is, we can’t extradite the woman as a suspect,” Dooley said. “We have to seek her return on the fugitive warrant [from Scott County]; then we could question her.”
That wasn’t going to happen any time soon; Norwalk, Calif. deputies said they had no address for the woman.
In a December 12, 2006 article published in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine said Johnson County agencies were considering forming a part-time cold case unit to tackle unsolved murders. Investigators normally worked old cases when time allowed, and the new approach would rely on blending resources without taking time away from emerging new cases.
“We need partners. We can’t do it by ourselves,” Hargadine told the Gazette. “All of the departments are committed to it. It’s just a matter of when we’re going to be able to do it.”
Hargadine proposed assigning one investigator from each involved Johnson County department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) to a team that would work for a set time…perhaps three months. In order to avoid distractions, the investigators would be assigned to work in a rented office away from their regular departments. There, they could review evidence and crime scene photos, reinterview officers and investigators, revisit witnesses and see whether evidence, such as blood, can be reviewed for DNA or other forensic clues, reported the Gazette.
“Whatever it takes to shake new leads loose. Most of the cases I’ve seen go this route were pretty close to the guy all along. It turns out they did interview the guy, they just didn’t have enough to focus in on him. It’s amazing how close you come sometimes, but don’t realize it.”
Other Iowa law enforcement departments also recognized the state’s need for a team of cold case investigators, and by early 2009 — through federal grant funding — the DCI had a new Cold Case Unit up and running. Special agents pored over more than 150 case files — some whose documentation filled several thick binders — tracked down individuals still living and began the re-interviewing process. They also began re-submitting original evidence for additional forensic testing.
The Cold Case Unit’s arduous but potentially rewarding journey was just hitting its stride; advanced DNA testing methods were producing profiles and being entered into CODIS (the Combined DNA Index System). Federal grant funding was exhausted by December 2011, and the DCI was forced to close down the Cold Case Unit.
The DCI remains committed to resolving Iowa’s cold cases. They continue to assign agents to investigate cases as new leads develop or as technological advances allow for additional testing.
Ronald F. Lipsius was born September 14, 1935, in Williamsburg, Iowa, to Mae Ruth (O’Brien) and Frederick A. Lipsius.
He married Rose Marie Cortimiglia on December 27, 1961 at St. Mary’s Church in Iowa City.
The couple had three children, all under age three, and Rose — a lifelong Iowa City resident who worked as an orthoptic technician at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics — gave birth to the couple’s fourth child two weeks after her husband’s death.
Prior to opening the Clover Farm Food Market in Iowa City on April 1, 1965, Lipsius worked for five years as a meat cutter for the A&P supermarket.
In addition to his wife, Rose, Ronald Lipsius’ survivors included his [four] children, Susan Marie, 3, Richard James, 2, Daniel John, 1, and the yet-unborn infant, Carol; his parents; two brothers, Robert and Gerry; and two sisters, Joyce and Donna.
Ronald Lipsius was buried at Saint Joseph Cemetery in Iowa City in Johnson County.
Rose Lipsius passed away July 13, 2011, without ever seeing her husband’s killer brought to justice. She was buried in Saint Joseph Cemetery next to her husband.
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.
If you have any information about Ronald Lipsius’ unsolved murder please contact the Iowa City Police Department at 319-356-5275 or email the Investigations Division at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email email@example.com.