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Steven Barrette, a 20-year-old Army veteran, was killed in early June 1976 during a weekend camping trip. On Tuesday evening, June 8, 1976, Clinton police arrived at the Barrette’s family doorstop to notify them Steven’s body had washed ashore and been found near the Mississippi River.
Officials originally ruled Barrette’s death an accidental drowning, though in late 2000 announced they’d developed new information that suggested foul play may have been involved. The hospital and Barrette’s attending physicians hadn’t kept old X-rays or other medical records from his case, and the veteran’s autopsy records couldn’t be found.
Armed with the new information, investigators exhumed Barrette’s body in October 2000 from his grave at St. Irenaeus Cemetery near Eagle Point Park in Clinton so a new autopsy could be performed. The second autopsy proved valuable and shed new light on Barrette’s death.
Dr. Dennis Klein of the Iowa State Medical Examiner’s office in Des Moines led the autopsy, and said results showed Barrette suffered some “focal areas of blunt force trauma” in addition to drowning, the Quad-City Times reported.
Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf and Clinton Police Chief Brian Guy said the death was now considered suspicious and classified as ‘undetermined’ rather than accidental.
The case was reopened in December 2000, and officials made a public plea for those with information to come forward.
In a Quad-City Times article dated Jan. 24, 2001, Guy said the department had received several good tips since reopening the case, but there were no new developments.
“We really will work hard to bring all cases to justice,” Guy said.
In a Quad-City Times article published April 13, 2003, Clinton Police Capt. Randy Meier said law enforcement officials remained in contact with the family every step of the way.
“We never drop a death case,” Meier said. “Those are always a high priority for us.”
Barrette’s sisters, Jamie Dornbush and Jill Pearson of Clinton, told Times reporter Kay Luna they believed someone out there held crucial information about what happened to their brother during the weekend camping trip 27 years earlier.
The questions, they said, still haunted them.
“I know there have to be people out there who know something, or the police wouldn’t have the case open still,” Dornbush told Luna. “Someone knows what happened.”
Luna also reported in her April 2003 story:
Clinton Police Sgt. Tom Bohle said the case remains open and actively under investigation by his department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
He declined to reveal any new details in the case, but again urged the public to call authorities if they have any information about Barrette’s death.
“We are still actively investigating it,” he said. “We want to solve this as much now as we did when we opened it a couple of years ago.”
— Quad-City Times, April 13, 2003
“We still have no closure on it,” Barrette’s sister Jill told the QC Times. “To know there’s somebody out there who knows about this … My brother could have had a life.”
Steven Barrette was born December 16, 1955, the son of Francis and Dolores (Luher) Barrette. He was one of eight siblings.
His family described him as a free spirit who was living on his own in the summer of 1976 before his fateful camping trip.
Steven had dropped out of Clinton High School as a junior and left to join the Army soon afterward, returning home in about 1974.
He fathered a daughter, Melissa Ann Barrette, who was eight months old when he died.
In addition to his daughter, survivors included his parents, both of Clinton; sisters Jill, Nancy, Joan, Jamie and Phyllis; and two brothers, Jerry and John.
Steven was laid to rest in the St. Irenaeus Calvary Cemetery in Clinton.
Steven’s father passed away in September 1990. His sister, Joan Keown, died in June 2003. His sister, Nancy Mariscal, passed away in September 2008, and Jill Pearson died in May 2011. Sister Phyllis Chambers is also deceased.
If you have any information about Steven Barrette’s death, please contact the Clinton Police Department at (563) 243-1458.