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On Wednesday, February 19, 1992, Teri Lass claimed that her 6-day-old newborn son, Shane, was kidnapped from her unlocked car outside the Norwalk, Iowa, post office while she went inside to buy stamps. The infant’s body — clothed only in a diaper despite the frigid winter temperatures — was discovered the following afternoon inside a garbage bag found in a cardboard box dumped in a rural ditch just south of Norwalk.
The tiny infant — born only the previous Thursday, the day before Valentine’s Day — had been killed by blows to the head.
An October 1991 edition of True Story magazine located near the infant’s body bore a subscription label. The addressee: “Teri L. Lass.”
Lass, 29, told police she’d left the baby in a car-seat on the passenger side of her 4-door Chevrolet Corsica’s front seat and entered the post office about noon. She said when she returned to the car — parked just down the street from the police station — only moments later, she discovered her son missing.
Patrolman Doug Metzger would later testify that Lass exuded no sense of grief or even panic when she told police someone had stolen her infant. She appeared calm, looked straight ahead or down, and never made eye contact, Metzger said.
It wasn’t the first time one of Mark and Teri Lass’s babies met an untimely death; less than four years earlier on March 1, 1988, their 10-day-old infant daughter, Tamara Lynn Lass, died of what officials initially thought was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), but what State Medical Examiner Thomas Bennett ruled as an “undetermined” cause of death.
Nor was Shane’s disappearance and murder the first — or even the second or third, or fourth or fifth — time Teri Lass had told an incredulous tale of having fallen victim to a nightmarish crime or event most could never imagine enduring.
In addition to her infant daughter’s unexplained death and then her infant son’s brutal murder, Lass also contended that on October 7, 1991 — while five months pregnant and while her husband Mark was away in Japan with the Iowa Air National Guard — that she’d been raped in her home by a masked intruder.
The Warren County sheriff’s office said investigators found no physical evidence at the scene of the alleged assault. Approximately two weeks later, Lass claimed she’d found a threatening letter in her car after grocery shopping.
Lass also alleged someone had been stalking her in the two years prior to her son’s murder.
Other reports included two fires at the Lass home — both of which occurred in 1990. And a burglary, just the day before her son was kidnapped, Lass said, even though police found no evidence of a break-in or forced entry into Lass’s home.
For a small town of only 5,700 people, it seemed like a lot to believe.
Was Teri Lass a calculating liar and killer? Did she suffer from Münchausen syndrome and/or Münchausen syndrome by proxy whereby obvious symptoms were somehow missed or overlooked? Or was it really possible that the escalating series of atrocities in her life were in fact circumstantial and remarkable coincidences?
Hard evidence pointed to anything but an ill-fated young woman, and on Tuesday, February 25, 1992, Teri Lass was charged with first-degree murder in the death of 6-day-old Shane.
Jurors in two additional counties would be seated before Lee County jury members reached a shocking verdict. An abbreviated timeline follows of what led up to that day.
Tuesday, March 1, 1988
The day breaks with below freezing temperatures. Sometime during the day, Teri Lass claims she’s found her 10-day-old infant daughter, Tamara Lynn Lass, unresponsive. The child is later pronounced dead.
Showing no visible injuries, authorities first believe the infant has died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
State Medical Examiner Thomas Bennett, however, finds no signs of disease during the baby’s autopsy or any other underlying health problems that might have factored into death from SIDS, and doesn’t feel comfortable listing SIDS as cause of death.
He rules the baby’s cause of death as “undetermined.”
Approximately two years later, Mark and Teri Lass become parents of a son, Steven.
The following year, Teri becomes pregnant again, with what would have been the couple’s third child.
Monday, October 7, 1991
Teri Lass — five months pregnant — reports that she’s been raped at her home.
Her husband Mark is away at the time in Japan with the Iowa Air National Guard.
Teri is interviewed by Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent David Button after reporting the sexual assault.
No suspects’ names are ever mentioned and no arrests are ever made in the alleged rape.
Wednesday, Feb. 19, 1992
Just after noon on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 1992, Teri Lass claims her 6-day-old son, Shane, has been kidnapped from her idling car while she was inside the Norwalk post office buying stamps. She says she was inside the post office for only “about a minute,” and that when she got back inside her car and looked over at the car-seat, Shane and both his blankets were gone.
Lass runs from her car to John’s Bar, where, instead of calling police, she uses a pay phone to call her husband instead.
The Hawk Eye on Feb. 20 reported Mark Lass’s call to the 911 emergency operator at the Warren County sheriff’s office, based on tapes of the call, as follows:
“My wife was just down at the Norwalk Post Office, walked inside, our week-old boy was just taken out of the car.”
Teri Lass is taken to the Norwalk police station, where she is interviewed by two investigators, including Special Agent David Button. She says the baby was wearing a pink and blue terry-cloth sleeper decorated with footballs and was wrapped in two blankets.
Inside Lass’s vehicle, police find a note in the baby’s car-seat. The message — a page torn from a magazine — has been assembled with cut-out letters taped to the page.
The FBI and state and local law enforcement agencies join in the search for the 6-day-old infant. By nightfall, a group of Des Moines auto dealers have offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible in the newborn’s kidnapping.
Thursday, Feb. 20, 1992
Volunteers from the National Guard and rescue units from the Des Moines airport fan out across Norwalk shortly after dawn Thursday. Helicopters and volunteers aboard horses check outlying areas.
At approximately 3:30 p.m., a search team discovers a cardboard box in a ditch under a stand of juniper trees about five mouths south of Norwalk. Inside the box is a garbage bag, which contains the infant’s diaper-clad dead body. The baby also is wearing cords for a chest monitor, but the monitor (for SIDS) is not attached.
A magazine is located near the baby’s body. Affixed to the magazine is a subscription label — it bears the name “Teri Lass.”
Norwalk Police Chief Mike Richardson announces the case is being considered an abduction and homicide.
The baby’s body is taken to the DCI laboratory in Des Moines where an autopsy will be performed.
Friday, Feb. 21, 1992
Medical Examiner Thomas Bennett announces he will pull the file of the couple’s first child for review to make sure there are no changes to be made in his earlier cause of death ruling. He states:
“When we first did the autopsy, I remember we had considered the fact that a 10-day-old infant is rather young for SIDS. In any of these cases of a sudden death for a very small child, anyone less than three weeks of age, you have to be very suspicious because usually SIDS doesn’t occur in that first two- or three-week period of life. It can, but it’s very rare.”
Bennett makes no effort, however, to petition the district court for permission to exhume Tamara Lass’s body. He admits it is because he found no signs of “injury” on the infant, and changes nothing in his report regarding her unexplained death.
The Lass family’s minister, the Rev. Dwayne Madsen of the United Methodist Church in Norwalk, says the parents of Teri Lass “believe that she’s been stalked for some time.”
No one offers an explanation as to why — if truly concerned about someone stalking her — Lass would leave her unattended infant in an unlocked vehicle.
Saturday, February 22, 1992
Assistant Polk County Medical Examiner Francis Garrity reports that Shane Lass died of head injuries, but declines to say how long the infant was dead before being found.
Monday, February 24, 1992
Six-day-old Shane Lass is buried in a white casket at Norwalk Cemetery, right next to the grave of his 10-day-old sister.
Tuesday, February 25, 1992
The day after Shane Lass’s funeral, Teri Lass is arrested and charged with first degree murder in his death. She is held on $100,000 bond, and her preliminary hearing set for March 5.
Teri’s husband, Mark Lass, is also taken to the courthouse but is not charged.
In a “probable cause,” statement officers have filed with the court, Teri Lass is charged with trying to fake a kidnapping. The statement references the kidnapping note with the cut-out taped letters police found in the baby’s restraining seat, and says that DCI criminalist Jerry Brown will testify that tape removed from the Lass residence positively “fracture matches” the tape found on the note. Brown is also prepared to testify that both the page and letters making up the note came from the same magazine found near the child’s body.
The Department of Human Services takes protective custody of Steven Lass, 2.
Thursday, February 27, 1992
Teri Lass is released from the Warren County Jail after posting bond. Her preliminary court appearance is scheduled for the following Thursday.
Thursday, March 5, 1992
Lass’s preliminary hearing is rescheduled for the following Monday at 8 a.m.
Friday, March 6, 1992
A juvenile referee says he will issue a ruling later on what should be done with 2-year-old Steven Lass. After a five-hour, closed-door custody hearing, juvenile referee Larry Eisenhauer announces he will issue a ruling at a later date on what should be done with Steven Lass. The 2-year-old has been in a foster home since his mother’s Feb. 25 arrest.
Monday, March 9, 1992
At her preliminary hearing in Warren County District Court, Teri Lass pleads innocent to the charge of first-degree murder in Shane’s death.
A May 27 trial date is set.
Thursday, April 16, 1992
A Juvenile Court referee grants temporary custody of Steven Lass to Diane and David Spieker of Norwalk; Diane Spieker is Teri Lass’s sister. Warren County Attorney Kevin Parker says Mrs. Lass may only see Steven during supervised visits.
Due to pretrial publicity, the Warren County homicide case is moved to Jasper County.
Friday, December 4, 1992
The day of opening arguments, defense attorney Alfredo Parrish of Des Moines — known for his ability to secure acquittals for those charged in the state’s most heinous crimes — motions for a mistrial, stating jurors already have made up their minds about Lass’s guilt.
District Court Judge Darrell Goodhue grants Parrish’s motion, and a second trial is scheduled to be held in Keokuk in extreme southeast Iowa.
Tuesday, March 9, 1993
Teri Lass shows no emotion as attorneys interview prospective jurors.
When Harlan Dean Bickel of Keokuk is asked if he feels he can be fair, he tells the courtroom he will take the testimony of “law enforcement officials” over “civilian experts” any day. “They’re probably lying anyway,” he says of the civilians before being rejected as a possible juror.
Wednesday, March 10, 1993
Nine women and three men are chosen in Lee County District Court to hear evidence and decide Teri Lass’s fate. Two of the three alternate jurors also are women.
The judge admonishes jurors for a second time not to discuss the case among themselves or with others.
The case will be prosecuted by assistant Warren County Attorney John Criswell. Criswell says he expects to call at least 20 witnesses in what is expected to be a two- to three-week trial.
After opening arguments, the state will present its evidence first.
Thursday, March 11, 1993
Iowa DCI Special Agent David Button says in the first day of testimony that Lass had considered an abortion while pregnant with her son, Shane.
“I told her I didn’t feel she ever wanted to have that child,” Button said. “I asked her if she ever considered having an abortion and she said she had.”
Throughout cross-examination, Parrish tries to paint investigators as inexperienced and insensitive, and alleges they didn’t follow through on obvious leads.
Friday, March 12, 1993
Division of Criminal Investigation agent Robert Harvey testifies that an October 1991 edition of “True Story” magazine was found near the location where state investigators found Shane Lass’s body.
The magazine appeared to have been mutilated, “consistent with cutting out words or letters from the text,” said Harvey.
The magazine, he says, was addressed to Teri Lass.
Monday, March 15, 1993
DCI Chief Document Examiner Jerry Brown testifies that the kidnap note found in Lass’s car was constructed with tape confiscated from the Lass home, and that the magazine used was addressed to Lass.
No fingerprints were found on the note.
Brown testifies that the tape found on the note matched the edges on the roll taken from the Lass’s home.
Parrish contends a stalker may have snatched Shane from his mother’s idling car and also taken physical evidence from the Lass home in a scheme to make it appear Teri Lass killed Shane. He does not address the fact that the stalker would then have had to return to the Lass’s home to return the roll of tape investigators found there.
Tuesday, March 16, 1993
On Tuesday, Tim Hildreth, 43, testified that he saw Teri Lass in the post office minutes before she reported Shane missing. Hildreth said he met Lass at the post office door. When asked to describe Lass’s expression, Hildreth said she “looked to be distressed.”
Asked about fingerprints found on the car seat, Iowa DCI investigator John Kilgore told the jury that although the prints were “not made by the known fingerprints of Teri Lass,” that they’d been found under the padding of the seat. (Putting an infant into or removing an infant from a car seat does not put one’s fingertips in contact with the back side of the seat’s padding.)
The prosecution rests its case.
Wednesday, March 17, 1993
Lass’ mother-in-law testifies that she saw Shane alive about 15 minutes before Lass reported the infant missing.
Susan Davis, a nurse at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines who helped deliver Shane, testifies that she saw no unusual behavior from the infant’s mother.
Thursday, March 18, 1993
Teri Lass’s older sister Diana Spieker testifies that her sister was raped two years ago and that the man threatened to hurt Teri’s son Steven if she told police.
Spieker’s testimony draws an objection from prosecutor Criswell, who argues that there is no legal foundation to support the rape comments; hospital records from Lass’s examination the day of the alleged rape did not support Lass’s claim that she’d been raped.
The judge instructs the jury to ignore Spieker’s remarks (a directive commonly known as trying to “unring a bell”), but the reasonable doubt bell had already been rung. Teri Lass had never been able to prove she’d been raped and no one — ever — had seen or even glimpsed the alleged “stalker” in the small community.
Monday, March 22, 1993
Defense attorney Parrish calls Lass as his last witness. Throughout her 40-minute testimony, Lass clutches a white handkerchief or Kleenex but shows no emotion as she describes the final morning spent with her infant son. Once Parrish finishes his questioning, Lass then doubles over to sob into her handkerchief.
After a 10-minute recess, Criswell begins his 15-minute cross-examination.
Lass testifies she’d planned to take Shane to the bank where she used to work so she could show him off to some friends. She says she had to buy stamps from a machine inside the post office because it was noon and the teller window had closed for lunch.
She also says she was stalked by the person who allegedly assaulted her and that she’d found a note inside her car that said, “Rougher next time.” (No such note was ever produced or provided to law enforcement officials.)
When Parrish asks if she knows who abducted and killed her child, Lass responds, “Other than to say it was the same person who assaulted me, no.”
Tuesday, March 23, 1993
In his closing argument, Parrish introduces a “King George” theme, stating that jury trials are the best way to determine a person’s innocence or guilt.
Warren County Assistant District Attorney John Criswell uses his closing arguments to remind jurors about the inconsistencies in Teri Lass’s testimony and the inconsistencies in defense witnesses’ testimony, including:
When Criswell also makes reference to King George by stating, “Defense counsel Parrish is not King George,” Parrish responds with not only an objection, but three requests for a mistrial.
In the end, not even a jury could sort the facts from fiction.
On Wednesday, March 24, 1993 — after deliberating just 5-1/2 hours — the Lee County jury returned a not-guilty verdict.
Lass, perhaps most surprised of all, buried her face in her hands before jumping up and running to her husband, Mark.
Lass’s sister, Diana Spieker, immediately criticized police and investigators, who she said “victimized” her sister.
Spieker made no mention of the factual victim — the bludgeoned-to-death 6-day-old infant, Shane Alex Lass — and instead went on to criticize Newton jurors, accusing them of already having made up their minds [as to Teri Lass’s guilt].
Spieker then professed her love for the people of Keokuk.
On April 1, 1993, a Warren County District Court judge ordered 3-year-old Steven Lass be returned to his parents, Mark and Teri Lass.
Dennis Hoffman, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, wrote:
“When the jury found Lass ‘not guilty,’ many Iowans were stunned. They wanted to know how a jury could reach this verdict when it seemed so obvious that the defendant was guilty. The answer is ‘good lawyering.'”
The Associated Press reported on April 11, 1993, that the tabloid TV show, “A Current Affair,” would be doing a story on Teri Lass and were coming to Iowa that week to tape interviews with several people, including Lass.
Defense attorney Alfredo Parrish told the media he couldn’t comment as to whether the tabloid was paying Lass for the interview.
Eight months after her acquittal in her 6-day-old son’s murder, Teri Lass announced she was pregnant again — with twins.
She has yet to be charged in her 10-day-old daughter Tamara Lynn’s undetermined death.
Shane Alex Lass was born to Mark and Teri Lass on Thursday, February 13, 1992. He died of blunt force trauma injuries to his head six days later on Wednesday, February 19, 1992.
In addition to his parents, survivors included a brother, 2-year-old Steven Lass.
He was preceded in death by an infant sister, Tamara Lynn Lass.
Memorial services were held at 11 a.m. Monday, Feb. 24, 1992, at Norwalk United Methodist Church, with burial at Norwalk Cemetery.
If you have any information regarding Shane Lass’s murder or that of his sister, Tamara Lynn Lass, please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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