Rose Burkert (courtesy Tammy Howard Burkman)

Rose Burkert (Courtesy photo Tammy Howard Burkman)

Rose Z. Burkert and
Roger E. Atkison


Double Homicide

Roger Atkison

Roger Atkison (Courtesy St. Joseph News-Press)










Rose Z. Burkert, 22
Roger E. Atkison, 32
DCI Case # 80-06274
Amana Holiday Inn
Room 260
Williamsburg, Iowa
Iowa County
September 12, 1980



marcella-shat-roger-atkisonMarcella Shat and her late husband, Roger Atkison. (Photo courtesy Marcella Shat and the St. Joseph News-Press)

Sept. 10, 2016 — Roger Atkison’s widow, Marcella Shat, shares with the St. Joseph News-Press information about her marriage to Atkison, the painful yearly anniveraries, and how after 36 years she still hopes the case will be solved.

“There is a key person that knows what happened,” Shat said. “If that key person would just step forward and give us some information, I think it could be solved.”

Sheriff Robert Rotter with the Iowa County Sheriff’s Office said detectives returned to St. Joseph last month to get a full grasp of the case. They revisited witnesses and collected blood samples to compare against any new discoveries. He said evidence was sent to a lab in the winter for an initial touch DNA test, which can analyze skin cells left on an object. They are awaiting results.

Full Story

Case Summary compiled by Jody Ewing


Iowa County in Iowa
Iowa County in Iowa
Williamsburg in Iowa CountyWilliamsburg in Iowa County

On Friday evening, September 12, 1980, Rose Burkert, 22, and Roger Atkison, 32, arrived at the Amana Holiday Inn along I-80 near Williamsburg, Iowa, hoping for a romantic weekend getaway. The on-duty attendant told them the hotel was booked solid due to an area morticians’ conference, but double-checked the register. They were in luck; there’d been a cancellation.

The couple received a key to Room 260 at 7:40 p.m.

Shortly after noon the next day, a housekeeper arrived at Room 260 — a room only accessible from inside the building — and knocked several times. She got no answer. She tried the door, but found it locked.

The housekeeper went to get a passkey from the hotel manager and returned to the room.

“She opened the door and first saw feet. Thinking they were asleep, she peered in further,” Iowa County Sheriff William Spurrier said in a Cedar Rapids Gazette article published September 19, 1980.

What the housekeeper saw — blood splattered all across the bed’s headboard, the walls and the carpet — caused her to “slam the door shut and run for the manager,” wrote Gazette staff writer Gary Peterson.

Once the manager saw the grisly crime scene, he immediately called the Iowa County Sheriff’s Department.

Both Burkert and Atkison lay face down on the bed, the back of their skulls slashed and caved in by repeated blows from either an ax or hatchet. Atkison also had several severed fingers, indicating he’d tried to protect his head from the blows.

Both victims resided in St. Joseph, Missouri.

The married Atkison worked as a telephone installer-repairman for General Telephone Co. in Savannah, Mo., and Burkert was a nurse trainee at St. Joseph Hospital.

Officials found Burkert fully clothed, whereas Atkison wore only his shorts.


In a Gazette article dated September 18, 1980, Iowa County Medical Examiner Dr. Stacey Howell of Amana said both Burkert and Atkison died of acute blood loss and brain injuries.

Courtesy Cedar Rapids Gazette

Courtesy Cedar Rapids Gazette, Thursday, Sept. 18, 1980

Howell said Atkison suffered lacerations to the scalp, skull and brain, and that Burkert suffered lacerations to the scalp and skull and a brain contusion. Both suffered bleeding under the brain covering, Howell said.

The room showed no signs of forced entry.

Two chairs sat next to the bed, indicating the killer or killers may have carried on a conversation with the couple prior to the slaying.

Evidence also indicated the killer had at one point put his feet up on the desk. He’d carved a piece of soap and written one word on the bathroom mirror: ‘This.’

The television had never been turned off.

Buchanan County Sheriff’s Department Captain Howard Judd, who worked the case for the St. Joseph Police Department, described the scene as “pretty gruesome” and “overkill.”

Rumors run rampant

Rumors swirled in both Missouri and Iowa.


Courtesy Cedar Rapids Gazette, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 1980

Some suspected Burkert’s ex-boyfriend, Danny Burton, whom she’d kicked out of her home due to his alleged drug use. He’d allegedly been stalking her in the weeks before the murder, and Burkert had filed a complaint with the Andrew County (MO) Sheriff’s Department and told them if she ended up dead it would be “because of her ex.”

A single mother, she’d gotten a dog for protection.

She later found the dog hanging — butchered — in front of her home.

Burton had an alibi and passed a polygraph.

Rumors also circulated that the killer may have been Roger’s uncle, serial killer Charles Hatcher, who’d recently escaped from a Nebraska mental health center.

In a Cedar Rapids Gazette story published Tuesday, Sept. 16, 1980, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) supervisor Tim McDonald said teletypes were being sent out to other states in an effort to locate any similar crimes. He said about 400 people — including guests and Holiday Inn employees — had already been questioned.

State investigators said neither guns nor drugs were involved in the deaths.

“We are not going to give up,” DCI Director Gerald Shanahan told the St. Joe News-Press in a September 24, 1980 interview about the case.

Gerald ShanahanCourtesy photo Spencer Daily Reporter
Gerald Shanahan, a 25-year FBI agent, took over as DCI director in August 1977.

In a Gazette story published the following day, Shanahan said there’d been no headway in the case, but that agents from Missouri and Illinois were assisting in the case.

According to the Gazette’s Sept. 25 story, agents were in Galesburg, Ill. to investigate a similar murder committed less than three months earlier on June 25. Authorities said a hatchet-like instrument was believed to be the weapon in both cases.

On December 21, 1980, Gazette writer Peterson scribed about the “little optimism” in eastern Iowa murder probes. In the article, Iowa County Sheriff Spurrier referred to the Burkert/Atkison slayings as “the most perplexing in his 32 years of law enforcement.”

Shanahan left the DCI in 1983, and cited the Amana hatchet slaying and the disappearance of Des Moines Register paperboy Johnny Gosch as the two unsolved cases he would think about most after his departure.

“Those kinds of things will always remain with you,” Shanahan said in a Spencer Daily Reporter story published June 28, 1983. “Hopefully as time goes on they will be solved.”

DCI and Burkert’s close friend resurrect interest in case

When the Iowa DCI established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, the Rose Burkert /Roger Atkison double homicide was amongst approximately 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s new website as those the DCI hoped to solve using latest advancements in DNA technology.

In a St. Joseph News-Press story by R.J. Cooper published Sept. 20, 2009, Tammy Burkman said solving the case became her obsession. Wrote Cooper:

She compiled stacks of articles, stories, tips and files. It’s all Ms. Burkman thought about. She called detectives, dissected forensics shows on TV, calling officers afterward to suggest a new technique that could break the case. When she received threats, Ms. Burkman pushed harder, hoping to force the culprit out of hiding. When a fire destroyed Ms. Burkman’s files five years ago, she didn’t concede. She merely started over.

Her obsession, however, came at a cost; it led to a divorce.

tammy-burkman-at-roses-gravesiteCourtesy photo Jessica Stewart / St. Joseph News-Press
Tammy Burkman sits at the gravesite of her friend, Rose Burkert, in 2009.

Burkman kept asking questions, wouldn’t give up.

Federal grant funding for the DCI Cold Case Unit was exhausted in December 2011, though the DCI continues to assign agents to investigate cold cases as new leads develop or as technological advances allow for additional forensic testing of original evidence.

The DCI remains committed to the resolution of Iowa’s cold cases and continue to work diligently with local law enforcement partners to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice for the victims and their families.

Tammy Burkman remains committed as well. Given the “wonderful times” she and Burkert spent together during Burkert’s pregnancy, it only seemed appropriate she launch the new Facebook page — Justice for Rosie — over Mother’s Day weekend.

rose-burkert-gravestoneCourtesy photo Kelly,
Rose Burkert is buried in St. Joseph Memorial Park Cemetery in Buchanan County, Missouri.
About Rose Burkert

Rose Burkert was born May 21, 1958, and at the time of her death was a nurse trainee at St. Joseph Hospital in Missouri.

She was buried at Saint Joseph Memorial Park Cemetery in Saint Joseph, Missouri, in Buchanan County.

About Roger Atkison

Roger Edward Atkison was born May 30, 1948, in Saint Joseph, Missouri, to James Hiram and Ruth Elizabeth (Todd) Atkison.

roger-atkison-gravestoneCourtesy photo Theresa Hernandez-White
Roger Atkison is also buried in St. Joseph Memorial Park Cemetery in Missouri.

He served as an HM3 with the US Navy during the Vietnam War, and later worked as a telephone installer-repairman for General Telephone Co. in Savannah, Mo.

He was buried in Saint Joseph Memorial Park Cemetery in Saint Joseph, Missouri, in Buchanan County.

His father, James, passed away in 2004, and his mother Ruth died in 2012.

Information Needed

If you have any information regarding the unsolved double slaying of Rose Burkert and Roger Atkison, please contact the Iowa County Sheriff’s Office at (319) 642-7307 or contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email



Copyright © 2018 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


66 Responses to Rose Burkert and Roger Atkison

  1. Robert Lucht says:

    I wonder if the killer was influenced by the movie “The Shining” 1980 Stephen King.

  2. Don says:

    I would look at her ex-boyfriend again. Even his wife.

  3. Makysa says:

    Roger Atkinson was the nephew of serial killer Charles Hatcher. Charle’s Hatchers neice was working at a Taco Pico in Iowa, I would definitely look at her. If anyone has any other information on this case please email me.
    -thank you

  4. jmc says:

    “”due to an area morticians’ conference, but double-checked the register. They were in luck; there’d been a cancellation””” — Or perhaps a mortician did it, because they never went through the whole process life-to-death… Or maybe the muderer’s target was the people that originally rented the room (before the cancellation”? So, perhaps the killing was premeditated.

  5. so sad, I hope they can find who did this! prayers to their family and friends.!!

  6. Lisa Andrews says:

    I live in MN. What a very sad and disturbing case. Hopefully, someone is still out there alive who knows something. The article mentioned Roses daughter. I hope she is doing well. I will click like on her friends page to keep updated.

  7. Diane Vickers Oliver says:

    Could there possibly be two suspects? One of the articles say that there were “two” chairs facing the bed. Also, could the suspect have already been in the room when they checked in? Have the detectives ever questioned the original people that had rented the room? Just a couple of thoughts.
    I pray that this case is solved soon, she was blessed to have you as a friend.

  8. Brandy Ann says:

    SpencerandTiffany Madsen this is what I was telling you about when u were here

  9. Tammy Burkman says:

    Thank you, Alicia.

  10. Creepy!! Ive stayed there a couple times i think

  11. I’m wondering if they ever interviewed his wife….if I read it right, it said he was married. Just a suggestion and maybe I missed something (it’s early). Either way, I hope they find something. Cold cases are so sad; waiting for justice

  12. Ms. Burkert was married, too? She married in 1979, according to the update at the top of the article.

  13. mcbrainder says:

    Danny Burton seems like a legit suspect according to the info in the article. Why was he never pursued further?

    • mcbrainder says:

      I just saw he had an alibi and passed a polygraph, so disregard the previous comment. I wonder who the alibi was. That’s not always reliable and polygraphs can be beat. Interesting that there may have been a conversation and there was no forced entry. If these two were targeted and it was personal, who would even know what room to find them? It’s hard to believe a stranger, or even someone they knew, carried an axe into the hotel, knocked on the door, and was let in.

      • Tammy Burkman says:

        I totally agree, it makes no sense. It also makes no sense that they just laid their on their stomachs and let someone kill them like that. They weren’t tied up, or they couldn’t have grabbed their heads after the first blow. How would you get them both to just lay there and do nothing. Was there two killers? Did they strike them at the same time? So many things don’t make sense!!!!! The questions just drive me crazy!!!

        • mcbrainder says:

          Since you’ve looked into this so much, based on what you know, do you think it was personal or random?

          • Tammy Burkman says:

            I truly believe it was personal. I’ve heard that most of the detectives believe it was personal. But I am open to them checking everything out. Wish one of them would just take the case and start at the beginning again. New eyes might see something no one else did. This case was so horrific that it shouldn’t be let go. The killer or killers should not be free on public streets!

        • Herb Hunter says:

          Perhaps he was asleep and was killed first while she was out making her phone call(s) and then unexpectedly decided to have a few drinks down in the bar. Maybe they only had one key, and he left the door slightly ajar for her so he didn’t have to get up when she returned to the room. This could explain why she was fully clothed and he was only in his shorts.

  14. mcbrainder says:

    This case has my intrigued, and it even happened right before I was born. If you ever want to shoot around ideas/theories, feel free to send me an email to I’m not any kind of law enforcement. Just someone interested in details. Incidents like this don’t seem like they could happen today, with cameras all over the place and better forensics, but this case seems to have a lot of strong angles and evidence. It seems to me that it would be solvable if they put the man power into it.

  15. Theresa says:

    Here’s a thought. Marcella uncharacteristically broke down crying the day before the murders. Had her husband called and told her he was staying to finish his job by that point? Some bible thumping discussion about staying married to such a sinful man could have been discussed by Marcella, and inspiring someone to protect Marcella from one so unholy as to have an affair. Her new last name is not allowed to be printed, so where did she meet her new hubbie?

    • Roxanne Martin says:

      Tammy I agree with this idea. He was hit more times than Rosie from what I can tell makes me think it was about him, she was just the wrong affair when someone had enough of him. just a thought

  16. Joao says:

    Don’t give up Tammy, persistence pays off sometimes. Amazing and baffling case. How your files ended burned? Why threatening your quest?

  17. Jodi says:

    This is a very tragic and horrific crime! The question keep nagging at me about them laying flat on their stomachs. Could they have possibly been tied up? After they were killed, they were untied and evidence taken with the killer? Possible. And whoever did this had to of asked the front desk ….better reinterview employees at the hotel. Somebody out there knows something, so don’t give up!

  18. Trish says:

    I would like to know if the ex boyfriends alibi could be someone that was there with him to do the deed! Could it have been a lamp or towel bar from the room that was the weapon? Was there no fingerprints? Footprints? Did Marcella know her husband was having an affair? Could she have recruited the serial killer uncle? Did he ever get found and questioned? How does the hotel employee’s not know who was let into that room? Do they think the couple let the intruders in?

    • S says:

      The supposed weapon used to kill these two people was decor from the hotel as there are lots of old farm tools and such hanging on the walls of the hallways..

      • Theresa says:

        Did the police test any of the items matching the description hanging on the walls of the hallway, or were any of them missing? There are just too many unanswered questions!

  19. Joao says:

    Did the police or investigators checked who was the people that cancelled the room? Can we assume the killer was already inside the locker room awaiting for this people? Killed Burket and Atkinson by mistake? Even if the killer saw them as not the targets he would must probably carry out the killings because they saw his face. And the word THIS were to meant THIS WAS A MISTAKE but some noise or else prevented him to write it and escape? Maybe he sat and carve in desperation after the murders to think about the blunder he had made? Very intriguing story indeed.

  20. Theresa says:

    I believe their were two perpetrators, and at least one that Rose did not know who gained initial entry into the room. I believe Rose answered the door because she was dressed. I also believe it was probably a random act because no one asked at the front desk for their room number, unless Rose called, and gave the room number to the sitter of her child. Then it would be looking at who visited the babysitter to obtain that information.

  21. Theresa says:

    I find it interesting that the fire at Burkman’s residence implies someone may have felt that she could have been getting close with all of the information she had.

  22. David Hanus says:

    that is so sad they didnt get there romantic get away

  23. This horrible can’t believe it happened in Iowa

  24. Scot Korte says:

    Lindsey Meier & Kim Wilkin Korte you need to read this.

  25. Gary Lillis says:

    My sister was working the front desk at the Amana Holiday Inn that day. She called me that night, very shook up. Will always remember.

  26. Theresa says:

    From Rumors: “Roger was in his undershorts but Rose was fully clothed, the killer was someone whom Roger knew well.” I don’t know Roger, but I don’t necessarily believe that a guy would get dressed if a man he didn’t know was entering the room. Especially if he didn’t feel the man was a threat. Additionally, Rose may have let the person in the room while Roger was already sleeping, since evidence suggests they had been drinking. I think it is imperative to understand why Rose would let someone in the room at the time she did. True it could be somone that Roger trusted, but the bartender may have urged Rose to let him in to apologize, or discuss their argument, but what the argument was about would be important because maybe he left town thinking the job just wasn’t worth it anymore, or he knew who did the deed, or maybe he did the deed himself. Information seems to suggest that the police never talked to this guy.

  27. Theresa says:

    They should run the partial print again, maybe that will net something now.

  28. Theresa says:

    I wonder if the partial print was run again if it might come up with a match, and did the police print all of those they interviewed?

  29. mcbrainder says:

    I’ve been obsessed with this case since I read this about a year ago. I wish there was more information about it or a way to track down some of the people involved back in the day.

    There are so many elements to this that make it seem more than just another random killing. It’s frustrating when cases like this go unsolved.

  30. chris l says:

    They checked in at 7:40. I’m curious what the time of death was. Also, she was dressed: did the autopsy determine if she had had sexual intercourse? Did she dress after? Why? It’s faster for a guy to get dressed than a female, especially if it was to answer the door. Did she leave to go back to the bar? They ordered room service: what time was it ordered? Was the cutlery and food still in the room, or had it been placed outside? Toothpaste all over the bathtub: what can toothpaste be used to clean better than soap and water?

    • Theresa says:

      Toothpaste is good for cleaning carpet stains, clothing stains (lipstick/ink), leather scuffs, rubber parts of tennis shoes, tar, helps pimples, bruises, bug bites, burns, can be used as hair gel, hand deodorizer, mirror defogger, skin rashes (like poison ivy/oak), as a goggles defogger (I’m thinking of construction workers, welders, paint ballers, and divers), resolves scratches in glass and plastic, and more.

    • chris l says:

      Thanks, Theresa. I did some Googling, and apparently toothpaste has been recommended to remove bloodstains that haven’t been set. These murders were brutal and violent. Perhaps the murderer had blood on him after, the only thing available was the toothpaste Rose and Roger brought, so the killer used that, water and their toothbrush to clean his stains. Then, he had to sit around for his clothes to dry, maybe in a chair watching TV and carving a random bar of soap.

      If the murder weapon wasn’t something in the room, the killer brought it with him and took it when he left.

      The serial killer uncle: his crimes were largely involved with the killing of homosexuals. I doubt he was involved in this, different MO.

      Tammy, I know you lost most of your stuff in the fire mentioned. Would you be willing to contact me and share some of what you do have?

      • Theresa says:

        I think you have made very viable assumptions with the information that has been offered in this case. I suspect you are right that the murderer cleaned up himself/axe-like weapon, and then carved the soap with the same weapon in hopes to ensure it was as clean as possible before leaving. The sitting around in the room makes a great deal of sense. Then while waiting to dry off, needed something to do for entertainment (carving the soap/writing on the mirror/watching tv/looking for money). I believe the word “This” written on the mirror says a great deal about the person who did this, and I no longer believe the perpetrator sat, and had a conversation with them unless they had already been attacked.

  31. John Machado says:

    My mother is the housekeep that found the bodies.

    • Joao says:

      Can you share any information about it? Surely it is still difficult to your mother to remember this odious fact, but did she ever told you what she saw?

  32. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    Maybe he needed proof, that the job had been completed. Also, the part about the dog being found hung and butchered. The dog was purchased for protection. So, who was able to get close to the dog, that they could have hung it and then butcher it. The question, is whether an autopsy was done on the dog, to see if it was drugged.

  33. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    I agree this murder was personal. Also, the theats to Tammy and her files were destroyed in a fire. Also, what about the incident in Galesburg, Illinois on June 25th. Anyone know more details on that incident.

  34. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    Well, here are the details from Galesburg. A Peoria salesman, Willia, Ross Kyle, was found dead in his room at the Sheraton Motor Inn, at Iinterviewedterstate – 74, and East Main Street, on June 25, 1980.

    He died from a dozenzblows from a sharp heavy object to his head, neck and shoulders. He was found face down on the bed, knees on the floor, with his head covered in a blanket. There was no signs of forced entry, and very little taken from the room.

    The authorities determined that a Raymondo Esparza, (50’s), a drifter, transient, drug addicted veteran as the offender. He was actually picked up by the police earlier and dropped off in the same area. He entered the motel, seeking something to eat. He carried a tool belt from his work on a sugar cane farm in Mississippi.

    On the blanket, police found the bloody outline of the murder weapon was found. It matched the size and shape of a sugar cane knife. Also, they found a leather case with a metal fingernail clipper made in Europe. The manufacturer told authorities that the finger nail clippers had been only sent to a blood bank in California, which gave them out over a two week period. Esparza had been in the area receiving treatment for his mental health issues.

    According to one of the lead investigators said that Esparza had a violent background, according to interviews with his girlfriends. They interviewed him, but could not get a confession. He later died of liver cancer at the Iowa City VA Medical Center in March 1983. This is not to far from Williamsburg. Authorities obtained a DNA sample from the VA, to compare, but the material from the crime scene was degraded to be useful.

    I don’t see it mentioned in regards to the murder of Roger and Rose, but they appeared to be covered with a blanket. Also, they were face down in bed. These two crimes scenes should be reviewed by a criminal profiler, to see if they might be linked.

    Raymund or Raymond Esparza was born on January 7, 1931 in Morgan City, Louisiana, and died March 26, 1983, per VA & SS records on Ancestry. Also, his SSN, was issued in California. He served in the U.S. Army as a Corporal in Korea, (1948-1952). At some point in time he lived in Rock Island, Illinois. This information is listed on his VA headstone in California.

    At some point in time his family moved to California. His mother died in LA, on 9/17/1937.

  35. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    I looked at Rock Island and Moline, Illinois area on a AAA Road Atlas. Interstate 74 passes through the area, and noticed a Interstate – 280, that runs from I-74, and by passes Rock Island and Moline and ties into Interstate – 80, after crossing the Mississippi River. Also Interstate – 80, passes just north of Rock Island and Moline.

Comment Policy

We encourage thoughtful discussion here but ask that comments remain civilized and constructive … i.e. without personal attacks or name-calling. Be respectful of others and remember that victims' family members visit these pages, too. If you'd like to provide us with information regarding a suspect or have other sensitive details to relay, please email us directly. Thank you in advance.

Share Your Thoughts