Sarah Ann Ottens (Courtesy Waterloo Courier)

Sarah Ann Ottens (Courtesy Waterloo Daily Courier)

Sarah Ann Ottens

Homicide — Guilty Verdict Overturned

Sarah Ann Ottens
20 YOA
University of Iowa Campus
Rienow Hall, Room 429
Iowa City, IA
Johnson County
Case # 73-00179
March 13, 1973


Original Case Information provided by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Cold Case Unit; additional case information provided by local news media and The New York Times

Sarah Ann Ottens, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student from Morrison, Illinois, was assaulted and suffocated in her Rienow Hall room in Iowa City on Tuesday, March 13, 1973.

Student Brenda Simpson of Waterloo discovered Ottens’ body in room 429 just before midnight.

James HallCourtesy The Gazette
James Hall in 1973

Six months after the murder, University of Iowa student and football player James Wendall Hall, 20, of Toledo, Ohio, was charged in Ottens’ murder based on fingerprints and DNA evidence found at the crime scene.

In May 1974, he was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison at Fort Madison.

Daily Reporter story

Courtesy the Daily Reporter, Nov. 14, 1973 (Click image to enlarge in PDF format)

The defense began a number of appeals, though the Iowa Supreme Court upheld Hall’s conviction and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Hall’s conviction was overturned in November 1983 after it was learned the prosecution withheld evidence in the case, and he was released from prison.

Ten years after his release, Hall was convicted in the 1992 strangling death of Susan Hajek.

No one else was ever charged in Ottens’ murder.

DCI Still Pursues Answers

Though officials strongly believe they arrested and charged the individual responsible for Ottens’ homicide, they continue to review any new evidence and follow up on all leads.

When the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Sarah Ottens’ murder was one of 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.

Courtesy the Bryan Times, May 24, 1974Courtesy the Bryan Times, May 24, 1974 (Click image for full story)

Although federal grant funding for the DCI Cold Case Unit was exhausted in December 2011, 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 resolving 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.

About Sarah Ottens

Sarah Ann Ottens was born February 9, 1953, in Morrison, Ill., to Robert W. and Myra (Schaut) Ottens.

Sarah Ottens gravestoneCourtesy photo Pam and Dave Jindrich
Sarah’s gravestone in Grove Hill Cemetery in Morrison, Illinois.

Memorial services were held March 16, 1973, at Morrison’s Emmanuel Reformed Church, with burial following in Grove Hill Cemetery.

Information Needed

Anyone with information regarding Sarah Ann Ottens’ murder is asked to contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or call the University of Iowa Police at (319) 335-5022 or email

Sources and References:
  • Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, former Cold Case Unit, December 6, 2009
  • University of Iowa Police
  • Iowa City Police Department
  • “Iowa Victims of the State,”
  • Cold Case of Sarah Ottens,” by Anna Cardamon,, November 13, 2013
  • IC HISTORY: REEXAMINING THE COLD CASE FILES,” by Marlin R. Ingalls, Little Village Magazine, October 25, 2013
  • Top Stories — University of Iowa Police Hoping for New Information in Nearly 40 Year Old Murder,” KGAN/KFXA, May 10, 2012
  • “Hall’s lawyer asks for mistrial,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 14, 1993
  • “Witness’ ‘ambush comment’ condemned by Hall attorney,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 10, 1993
  • “Hall murder trial goes to Davenport,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, February 17, 1993
  • “Hall knew finding body would put focus on him,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 26, 1992
  • GRAND JURY FREES MAN CONVICTED IN MURDER ,” The New York Times, September 2, 1984
  • “Convicted killer’s attorneys say another confessed to the crime,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 7, 1983
  • “Iowa City killer seeking new trial,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, July 29, 1983
  • “Supreme Court rejects Hall’s murder appeal,” The Waterloo Daily Courier, October 4, 1977
  • GROUPS BACK HALL IN NEW TRIAL BID,” by Staff Writers, The Des Moines Register, June 9, 1974
  • Former university football player convicted of murder,” The Bryan Times, Friday, May 24, 1974
  • “Additional Charge Filed Against Hall,” The Waterloo Daily Courier, December 4, 1973
  • “State Sets Forth Evidence In Sarah Ottens Murder Case, The Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 14, 1973
  • Find fingerprint in coed’s murder,” AP / The Daily Reporter, November 14, 1973
  • Judge Orders Release of Hall Case Evidence,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Friday, October 12, 1973
  • “Fingerprint, Samples of Hair Are Evidence in Ottens Case, The Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 4, 1973
  • “Plea Seen In Slaying of UI Coed,” The Waterloo Daily Courier, September 27, 1973
  • “Evidence Emerging In Slaying, The Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 27, 1973
  • “Jury to Study Coed’s Death,” The Waterloo Daily Courier, August 15, 1973
  • “Grand Jury To hear Evidence In Sarah Ottens Murder Case, The Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 20, 1973
  • No Prime Suspect in Coed’s Death,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Friday, March 23, 1973
  • “Probe Into Slaying of Coed To Be Widened,” The Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 17, 1973
  • “Slain UI Co-ed Remembered as ‘Outgoing,’” The Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 16, 1973
  • “Suffocation Seen in UI Coed’s Death,” The Waterloo Daily Courier, March 15, 1973


22 Responses to Sarah Ottens

  1. Melanie Wood says:

    He was released only to kill again. Typical of the justice system. More rights for the criminal and not for victims and future victums.

  2. Chris Parmenter says:

    I would like to know what the evidence was that the county attorneys withheld.

  3. Curious what makes them believe he DIDN’T kill her too?

  4. Mystery addict says:

    I think that it could be possible that James Wendell hall could be our very own Steven Avery.
    I just googled him. There a number of factors that contributed to his conviction on Sarah often. Here is a NYC article from before the Susan Hayek murder, re his overturned conviction.
    Also he has published most of his court documents and they are available on Amazon. I found a few transcripts on him,however my device will not open them. This very well could have been a totally race based accusation. I’m intrigued to research more.

    • Mystery addict says:

      I find little to nothing in regards to Susan’s murder. Could you possibly piggy back links to Wendell hall and hajek on this page?

  5. Diana Wilson says:

    At least he’s in prison now……after he killed someone else.

  6. Exactly, Jodi Frye, it sounds like it was Botched, and much more.

  7. Jodi Frye says:

    What evidence? Sounds like he did it and it was a botched trial.

  8. Kris Starks says:

    Sounds like the makings of a serial killer to me. Is he still living?

    • Yes, James Wendell Hall is now 62 years old and serving a life sentence at the Anamosa State Penitentiary for Murder in the First Degree. Commitment Date: 6/11/1993

    • Dave Fesler says:

      Ottens was murdered shortly before I graduated from college with a BA degree in Law Enforcement. Like many, I wound up working road construction until I figured out where I was going next. One of the guys I worked with, had attended the University and the story he told, has always bothered me. While the finger was not pointed at Hall for the actual murder, Hall was the reason Ottens was murdered in a violent way to send a message. Others who served in law enforcement during my time have similiar sentiments. Could the actual “killers” still be arrested and tried? Absolutely. However the nightmares they have suffered will be the same punishment and worse than prison.

  9. Chris Parmenter says:

    Back then there was no set Crime Scene Procedure, and the officers were in the wrong for doing that, but there is far more evidence to go on if it could be relased to the public or someone who can dedicate more time to the case

  10. Jodi Frye says:

    Bc it was overturned. Which is a polite way of sayinf we screwed up so ur verdict is t true

  11. Jack Toomey says:

    If he was arrested and convicted how is it a cold case?

    • Jack Toomey, I have Sarah listed as a cold case because James Hall’s conviction was overturned so Sarah thus far has never received justice in her murder. It may not be a cold case per se (because there’s no active investigation taking place) but we’ve received emails from family members of other victims who felt it was important his/her loved one was recognized on the site b/c justice was never served. Same with the recent Terri Supino trial in the Copper Dollar Ranch murder; Terri was acquitted, but there’s no proof she committed the crime, so the killer(s) could very well still be out there.

  12. Too bad he got out and killed again. :(

  13. Double jeopardy, can’t be recharged but sounds like they got it right the first time. :(

    • Brian F Lockett says:

      Is that the case here? I thought that if the conviction was overturned, they could re-try him if they still think they have a case (i.e. evidence and stuff). He wasn’t really found “not guilty” in a trial.

  14. Lia Wendt says:

    Sounds like James Hall needs recharged!!

  15. tim says:

    One of the problems with the investigation was that the murderer defiled the body with a broomstick and the cops brought all their buddies into the crime scene to see it, trampling the evidence in the process.

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