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Steven Eugene Gardner, a 27-year-old John Deere employee, was shot three times sometime between midnight and mid-morning on Saturday, April 8, 1978, near the intersection of 23rd Street and Cottage Grove in Des Moines.
Around 11:00 a.m. Saturday, 19-year-old David Delvin, a resident of New Life Center at 1079 23rd Street, looked down from the building’s second story and saw a man lying across the seat of a Chevy pickup truck that had come to a stop against a small wall in the yard of the former Grant Elementary School. One door stood open.
Thinking someone might need help, Delvin approached the pickup with another resident, Thomas Jewett, who told the Des Moines Register they just glanced in and saw a body. Blood dripped from the truck’s seat down to the ground, the men said.
The truck’s transmission remained in gear with the ignition switch on, though the engine wasn’t running.
When Des Moines police arrived, they discovered Steven Gardner lying across the front seat, shot three times in the head with either a .32 or .38 caliber handgun. Two bullets were found in Gardner’s skull, and a third “through and through” bullet had lodged inside the truck.
No weapon was recovered at the scene.
Robbery didn’t appear to be a motive, as Gardner’s wallet — still in his pocket — contained 24 dollars.
Polk County Medical Examiner R.C. Wooters conducted the autopsy, and said the shooting likely occurred at the crime scene because nothing indicated Gardner’s body had been moved.
Though in close proximity to the heavily-travelled MacVicar Freeway (I-235), the area remained somewhat isolated with a vacant lot nearby and neighboring homes facing the opposite direction. Bushes and brush up against the school yard’s six-foot fence would have made it difficult for anyone at street level to have witnessed the crime.
Gardner’s wife, Shari — a Des Moines Public Library clerk — told officials she last saw her husband on Friday, April 7, around 6:30 p.m. Investigators said they knew Gardner’s whereabouts after that, but did not make the information public.
Gardner’s murder shocked his co-workers at the John Deere plant in Ankeny where the victim worked. “He’d do just about anything for anybody,” one friend told the Register. Neighbors described Gardner as “friendly and happy.”
Steven Gardner was Des Moines’ 13th homicide victim in 1978. His murder remains unsolved.
Steven Eugene Gardner was born in Des Moines on September 4, 1950 to Martha Aline Lamb and Donald Edgar Gardner.
He married Sandra Lynn LeCocq and they had one son, Scott. The couple later divorced, and at the time of his death, Gardner resided at 4007 55th St. in Des Moines with his second wife, Shari.
Gardner was buried near his parents in Des Moines’ Masonic Cemetery.
If you have any information about Steven Gardner’s unsolved murder please contact the Des Moines Police Department at 515-283-4864.