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Ronette Lynn (Peterson) Burton
DOB: July 14, 1963
Went Missing from: Madrid, IA
Body found: May 7, 1986 in Lakeland, Florida
Identified as Ronette Peterson in January 2005
On January 20, 1986, Ronette Lynn Peterson, 22, left her Madrid, Iowa, home and stopped by to visit her grandparents. She said she was headed to Alabama with a male friend.
In March 1986, a family member received a letter from Peterson, postmarked March 1, 1986, from Georgia.
Her family would never hear from her again.
On May 7, 1986, an unidentified female’s body was found floating in a water-filled pit off Highway 33, approximately three-fourths of a mile north of Combee Road in Lakeland, Florida. An investigation revealed the victim had suffered multiple blows to the head and body and then been put into the water and left to drown.
One of the victim’s tattoos seemed especially foretelling; she had a question mark (?) on her right hip.
Officials ruled the death a homicide but couldn’t make a positive identification.
For the next 19 years, “Jane Doe” remained without a name on both the Polk County (FL) list of unsolved homicides as well as the state’s missing persons list. She was buried in the Polk County Board of County Commissioners Shady Oaks Gardens Cemetery.
Back in Iowa, Peterson’s younger sister, Danielle Buxbaum, had grown increasingly frustrated after nearly two decades of unsuccessful searches for her lost sibling. She’d even called Florida before, but neither she nor anyone else knew for certain if Peterson had even made it to the state.
In a Des Moines Register article dated January 29, 2005, Buxbaum said relatives decided as a last resort to call Madrid authorities, and earlier that month had filed a missing persons report with the Boone County Sheriff’s Office. Based on the report, the Boone County Sheriff’s Office — with the assistance of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation — launched an investigation.
They began by searching Florida’s missing persons website, www.fluiddb.com, where they learned Florida officials had been attempting to identify an unknown homicide victim’s remains. The description matched that of Ronette Peterson.
Iowa investigators contacted Polk County, Florida officials, and forwarded to them a set of Peterson’s known fingerprints. The match positively identified the 19-year Jane Doe as Ronette Lynn Peterson, and officials notified Ms. Peterson’s family.
On Wednesday, January 26, 2005, investigators from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Florida arrived in Iowa to meet with investigators from the Boone County Sheriff’s Office and Iowa DCI agents.
Officials subsequently sought assistance from the public, asking anyone with information regarding Peterson’s activities to contact them. They were particularly interested in hearing from anyone who may have had contact with Peterson prior to May 7, 1986.
“This is good information, good renewable information that is going to generate some new leads hopefully and the investigators will pursue all those leads aggressively until they come up with the information needed to find a close to this case,” said Jim Saunders, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, in an interview with the Quad Cities’ Dispatch-Argus published Jan. 27, 2005.
Detectives learned that Peterson had traveled through Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida (possibly the Clearwater area) during the time period leading up to her death.
Ronette Lynn Peterson was born in Boone, Iowa, on July 14, 1963, to Byron Kenneth and Rita Carol (Rich) Peterson. She grew up in Boone and Madrid, Iowa, and attended Madrid Community Schools.
On June 27, 1981, she was united in marriage to Donald Burton at the Ledges State Park near Boone, Iowa.
Ronette was last seen by family members when she stopped at the home of her grandparents on January 20, 1986. She was headed for Alabama with a male friend. She was last known to be in Georgia when she mailed a letter to her family postmarked March 1, 1986. Family members never heard from her again.
In January 2005 her sister contacted Iowa authorities, which eventually led to the Florida Jane Doe who’d been found May 7, 1986, but never identified.
The “Jane Doe” had been interred in Shady Oaks Gardens Cemetery in Polk County, Florida, where Ronette’s family decided to let her remain in peace.
Survivors included her mother and stepfather, Rita and Mark Polson of Lake City, Florida; sisters, Laurie Anderson of Minnesota and Danielle Buxbaum of Phoenix; an uncle, Roger Peterson, of Madrid, Iowa; nieces and nephews, Kaylin Jones, Aaron Anderson, Rita Steele, Antony Steele, Cole Buxbaum, and Ashtin Buxbaum; cousins, Roger Peterson, Jr., Deborah Hurley, David Peterson, Laurie Brown, Noelle Purdy, Shannon Mullen, and Shelley Kelsey.
Ronette was preceded in death by her father, Byron, in 1982, her paternal grandparents, Reuben and Mabel Peterson in 1987, and her uncle, Richard Peterson, in 2001.
She was a beloved daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, and friend, Ronette’s family stated in her obituary. Her memory, they said, will live forever in the hearts of those who knew and loved her.
Anyone with information regarding Ronette Peterson’s unsolved homicide is urged to contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the Boone County Sheriff’s Office at (515) 433-0524. You may also contact the Polk County (FL) Sheriff’s Office Homicide Unit at (863) 298-6379.