Susan Kersten

Susan Kersten

Susan Pearl Kersten

 

ARREST MADE IN 20-YEAR-OLD HOMICIDE

 

The Victim:

Susan Pearl (Bollinger) Kersten
38 YOA
Iowa City, Iowa
Johnson County
Case Number: 95-11388
September 24, 1995

 

LATEST UPDATES

Updated July 25, 2016: Steven Klein’s pre-trial conference has been set for 1:30 p.m. on March 10, 2017. His first-degree murder trial has been scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. March 27, 2017.


PREVIOUS UPDATES

Murder Trial Delayed

The first-degree murder trial for Steve Klein of Mount Vernon — charged with killing Susan Kersten of Iowa City 20 years ago — has been delayed.

At a pretrial hearing held Friday, March 18, 2016, Klein’s public defender and Johnson County attorneys agreed to a joint motion to delay the trial, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported Friday in an online story.

Judge Chad Kepros of Iowa’s Sixth Judicial District suggested the trial be pushed to July 25, and the defense and prosecution agreed. The trial is expected to last 10 to 15 days, Assistant County Attorney Dana Christiansen and Kepros said. Read the full story.


Arrest made in 20-year-old Johnson County murder

Steven Klein

Steven John Klein

Susan Kersten’s former boyfriend, Steven J. Klein (now 54), was arrested in Muscatine around 11 a.m. Friday, July 17, 2015, and charged with first-degree murder in Kersten’s nearly 20-year-old unsolved homicide.

His arrest came at the conclusion of a visit from the cable television program Cold Justice, which investigates cold murder cases with local authorities. Klein was arrested on July 17, 10 days after the TV crew arrived in Johnson County.

Klein, described as Kersten’s former boyfriend, most recently lived in Mount Pleasant and worked in Muscatine, and was taken into custody at his workplace Friday by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office. He now faces a first-degree murder charge.

Kersten’s death came just three weeks before a scheduled child support hearing for the couple’s 1-year-old twin daughters.

Klein is being held in the Johnson County Jail on a $1 million cash-only bond.

He has pleaded not guilty, and his trial originally scheduled to begin November 3, 2015.

On Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, Judge Chad Kepros noted with the amount of work attorneys have yet to do in the case, the November trial date wouldn’t work. Kepros said the trial won’t happen until the “spring” at the earliest. More at the Gazette


Case summary by Jody Ewing

Susan Kersten was finally coming into her own. The 38-year-old gifted artist and divorced mother of four — including 1-year-old twin daughters — was getting her life together and selling her artwork in eastern Iowa.

She likely shared her dreams for the future with those closest to her during a family reunion she attended in Davenport, Iowa, on Sunday, Sept. 24, 1995.

Johnson County in Iowa
Johnson County in Iowa
Iowa City in Johnson County Iowa City in Johnson County

Those dreams would vanish by day’s end.

Sometime after returning to her Iowa City home that evening, someone would beat her severely, place her body inside her vehicle, roll the car down an embankment into a field and then set the car on fire with her inside.

The burning vehicle was found late that night in a farm field off Highway 923 about one mile south of the Regency Mobile Home Village in rural Iowa City where Kersten lived in Lot 130.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a car on fire at approximately 11:45 p.m., and the Hills Fire Department responded to the scene. Only after extinguishing the flames did firefighters discover the body inside, which later was identified using dental records.

Kersten was last seen at her mobile home earlier that evening. She allegedly had left the twins, Andrea and Patience, at the residence with Steve Klein, the twins’ father and Kersten’s ex-boyfriend. Klein resided in Tiffin.

According to Johnson County sheriff’s detectives, Klein was the only person known to have had access to Kersten’s home.

Kersten was divorced from Roy Kersten of Williamsburg the year before.

Johnson County Medical Examiner Dr. T.T. Bozek and State Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Bennett conducted the autopsy. Bennett’s final report concluded Kersten died from blows to the head prior to her vehicle being set afire.

Zeroing in on a Suspect

Earlier in the year, Klein had denied being the twins’ father. In early July 1995, however, blood tests confirmed his paternity, and a conference to set a civil trial to determine child support was scheduled for October 16 — just three weeks away from the date of Kersten’s death.

Susan Kersten's painting Courtesy Jason Kersten
Susan Kersten sketched “Whispering Secrets” eight years prior to her murder.

In a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated Oct. 4, 1995, Johnson County Sheriff Bob Carpenter said his office treated the incident as a homicide from the beginning because they had questions that weren’t answered, including how the car ended up so far from the highway and how it caught fire.

“The car went through two fences. We didn’t have the answer as to how in the world it got there. It just didn’t add up,” Carpenter is quoted as saying in the article.

Investigators were also perplexed by the position Kersten’s body was in when discovered. In a Gazette article published Oct. 5, State Fire Marshal’s Office Special Agent Dana Wipperman said Kersten’s legs were in the driver’s side of the vehicle but her torso was stretched across the passenger’s side.

“It seems unusual to us for her to be laying in that location in the car,” Wipperman said.

Items discovered inside the vehicle included burned fireworks, a paper towel soaked with an unidentified liquid and a seat cushion that appeared to have blood on it.

Detectives filed an application to search Klein’s mobile home as well as a car and a pickup on his property, and said they were looking for blood, hair and other body specimens, a tire iron, possible weapons or means of inflicting blunt trauma, clothing and other items.

The search warrant was executed Wednesday, Oct. 4, and a Gazette article published Oct. 7 said officials seized a number of items including a cotton rag, a pair of brown cotton gloves, five matchbooks, a lighter, and a large plastic bottle of paint thinner.

“Wanted: Clues to murder”

Kersten’s family members started a reward fund two years after her murder in hopes of reminding the public her case was still unsolved. In a Gazette article dated Sept. 17, 1997, Kersten’s sister, Debbie Woodburn of Solon, said the family hoped the money would help them put someone in jail for her sister’s September 1995 murder.

“We want to bring attention back to her case,” Woodburn stated. “We’re not letting anybody forget about her. There’s a murderer among us.”

The twins had remained in their father’s care since Kersten’s murder, and Woodburn said neither she nor the rest of Kersten’s family had seen them since the murder. Woodburn also had twin daughters.

The family planned a vigil for Sept. 23 near the Black Angel in Iowa City’s Oakland Cemetery where Kersten was buried.

Six years later, Sheriff Carpenter told The Gazette his department’s two open cases — which also included the 2001 death of Timothy Becker, 42 — were “actively being worked on.”

“They are difficult, but our guys are reinterviewing, and I think we are close (to filing charges) on one or both of them,” Carpenter said in the Sept. 21, 2003 story. Larry Babcock would eventually be convicted of second-degree murder in Becker’s case on April 2, 2007.

Have prime suspect, not enough evidence for arrest

In a story airing Sept. 22, 2006 on KCRG-TV9 in Cedar Rapids, Kersten’s son Jason — 17 years old when his mother was killed — said the family was still trying to move forward 11 years after having lost a loved one.

Jason Kersten said the moving forward wasn’t about finding out who killed his mom; he believes he knows. He simply wanted to stop flipping through his murdered mother’s art and be able to move on with his life.

“It’s been hard to truly see a positive future but day by day,” he told KCRG.

“It’s crazy how many different lives one person can ruin.” 

— Elizabeth Stutzman, talking in 2006 about her sister Susan Kersten’s unsolved 1995 murder.

Kersten’s sister Elizabeth Stutzman said she was sad it was taking so long for police to get the evidence they needed to get the person responsible.

“It’s crazy how many different lives one person can ruin,” Stutzman said.

Johnson County officials acknowledged they’d lost time during the investigation’s first critical hours when police initially believed Kersten’s car had simply veered off the road, fell into a ditch and burst into flames.

Johnson County Sheriff’s deputy Mike Scheetz, who has since retired, said the department questioned the prime suspect but there had not been enough evidence to make an arrest.

Jason KerstenCourtesy Robin Svec, Daily Iowan
Jason Kersten at the November 2007 news conference.

During the summer 2007, a University of Iowa law student, Mollie Buzzard, worked full-time on the case, reviewing investigative reports and conducting more than 100 interviews. She accompanied Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Detective Kevin Kinney as he re-interviewed people questioned by investigators after Kersten’s death.

In November 2007, Susan Kersten’s family announced a $7,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her killer. The announcement came at a news conference where several of Kersten’s relatives pleaded for the public’s help in solving the case. The Carol Sund/Carrington Foundation donated $5,000 for the reward fund and Iowa City Crime Stoppers donated the other $2,000.

In a November 15, 2007 interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Kersten’s son Jason Kersten said he’d prayed for a long time that his mother’s killer would be brought to justice. He said he was working with local businesses to display his mother’s artwork to help keep her murder in the public mind and that he’ll keep fighting for a resolution to the case.

“It would give me closure and put a lot of things to rest in my mind,” he said.

Susan Kersten painting of old manCourtesy Jason Kersten
Susan Kersten was a gifted artist whose subjects often included nature and people in reflective moments.

Family and investigators encourage anyone with information to come forward.

When the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Susan Kersten’s murder was one of about 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s new website as those the DCI hoped to solve using latest advancements in DNA technology.

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.

According to Roy Kersten, one of his ex-wife’s paintings hangs in the Williamsburg, Iowa, post office.

Her paintings, said son Jason, often included nature and people in reflective moments.

The family has now had nearly two decades to reflect on a life that could have been.

Former Boyfriend Arrested

On Friday, July 17, 2015, Kersten’s former boyfriend, Steven John Klein, 54, was arrested in Muscatine and charged with first-degree murder in her death.

steven-klein-initial-court-app-KC-McGinnis-GazetteCourtesy photo KC McGinnis/The Gazette
Steven Klein walks into his initial court appearance at the Johnson County Jail in Iowa City on Saturday, July 18, 2015.

Klein, formerly of Mount Pleasant, was taken into custody at his workplace around 11 a.m. by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office.

He is being held in the Johnson County Jail on a $1 million cash-only bond, and made his first court appearance inside the jail early Saturday morning.

A Gazette article dated July 18, 2015, said District Associate Judge Deb Minot did not set additional court hearings but that Klein was given an application for a public defender.

During the hearing, the judge informed Klein of the charge filed against him — first-degree murder, a Class A felony — and if found guilty will face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Due to the charge’s severity, Klein is allowed representation by two attorneys.

In an Iowa City Press-Citizen article published July 18, 2015, Lt. Doug Gwinn of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office said Klein was the original person of interest in the case, and that there was “overwhelming evidence” that pointed to Klein.

Gwinn declined to go into any details about what led to the breakthrough in the case, but did say Klein was not the only person of interest over the years.

“We were able to get new information, and it was enough new information where we were confident the person was guilty, and we made the arrest,” Gwinn told the Press-Citizen.

About Susan Kersten

Susan Pearl (Bollinger) Kersten was born July 27, 1957, the daughter of Carol Ann Moeller and Alex Bollinger, Sr.

She died September 24, 1995.

Susan Kersten gravestoneCourtesy photo HC Hughes, findagrave.com
Susan Kersten is buried at the Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City next to her young daughter, Erin, who died in 1982.

Memorial services were held at 1:30 p.m. on  Thursday, September 28, 1995, at the George L. Gay Funeral Home. Burial was in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City.

Survivors included three daughters, Sandra of Williamsburg and twins Patience and Andrea, both of Iowa City; a son, Jason of Williamsburg; her father, Alex Bollinger Sr. of North Liberty; three sisters, Debbie Woodburn of Solon, Elizabeth Stutzman of North Liberty and Tina Sullivan of Coralville; and three brothers, Nolan and Scott Stutzman, both of Iowa City, and Alex Bollinger Jr. of Wisconsin.

Her mother, Carol Ann (Moeller) Stutzman, and a daughter, Erin, preceded her in death.

Information Needed

If you have any additional information about Susan Kersten’s murder, please contact Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek at (319) 354-3729, or contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or e-mail dciinfo@dps.state.ia.us.

Sources:

 

Copyright © 2017 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

64 Responses to Susan Kersten

  1. Aaron says:

    Everyone is so quick to point the fingers and say that he did it, my question is why didn’t Susan’s cousin say something about the phone call back in 95 when all of this happened and also how in the hell can anyone remember what happened on a phone call over 20 years ago!! Its all BS!!! You guys that are so quick to judge and point fingers and say I’m glad they caught him are stupid!!! You all have no right to judge anyone, plus you have no clue as to if he did it or not, if you guys no 100 percent that he did it then holly hell you all are freaking awesome and you need to go solve all the other cold cases in the world, then you can become everyone’s hero’s!!!!! They didn’t have any proof 20 years ago, they don’t have any proof now, except for they phone call that Susans cousin said she was involved in, so there is a very good chance that he will be found not guilty due to lack of evidence!!!

  2. CSJ says:

    Steve Klein’s trial date has been set; Order for Continuance
    Comments: PTC 3-10-2017 AT 1:30 PM. TRIAL 3-27-2017 AT 9 AM.

  3. Mystery addict says:

    I am curious as to the twins position in this. Do they or did they even know about thier motger at all? Have they reunited with thier siblings.

  4. Linda Hall says:

    Why intolater time.hasn’t it been long enough?

  5. Vicki Harris says:

    Tammy Howard Burkman..never give up!

  6. Kris Starks says:

    Of course! If you read some of these old cold cases, it is pretty clear that the boyfriend or husband had something to do with it. There was no DNA back then….not enough evidence, they were questioned and let go. I bet some of these would be solved today by going back and revisiting the initial theories. There are people out walking the streets who shouldn’t be!!

  7. Aaron says:

    Cold justice is a joke, they do it for rateings, they make the suspect look back, they interview people that only have bad things to say about the suspect. They don’t interview friends or family or people that truly know the suspect. Cold justice is just like all the other media, they tell you what they want you to hear, then people are dumb enough to believe it. Steve is my friend and he is an awesome caring human being, he would help anyone out that would need help. I have been freinds with him for over 6 years. He did not murder anyone. Cold case did not interview me, they didn’t interview his fiancée, they interviewed people that were neighbors of steve that steve had called the police o, so of course they are going to say bad things about him. People are so quick to judge someone, when they don’t even know that person! There is only one true judge and that is God!!!

    • Tina says:

      Thank god he is away he lived next door to me and my kids he was a nice person and then he turned to the point I hat to get a restraining order against him and I had to get the cops involved a lot so for any one who says they knew him they didn’t he would stock me and my family so I am thank full he is put away and I feel back for the lady he was with she is so sweet yes u think u might know some one but u really don’t

      • Bob says:

        Let me guess your the neighbor with all the dogs, that are going onto others yards?Tina you are a liar! Your dogs kept going into his yard and he kept asking you to keep them in your yard. You are trash and have 10 people living in your tiny house. I know who you are so don’t play games.

      • Aaron says:

        your a lying bitch!!! your probably the nasty bitch with all the dogs and 20 people living in the same house, hes called the cops on you and your pissed off at him!!!!

  8. Sandy Kayl says:

    Yay for the show Cold Justice!! Great work!!

  9. Sally Gard says:

    Love cold justice!!

  10. April Morrison says:

    Is her artwork available for sale

  11. DeeAnn says:

    I just KNEW this guy did it the very first time I read this story here! Thank God another cold case solved!

  12. great news! now.. lets hope justice prevails!

  13. Many more case like this are in the same process-Amen.

  14. fantastic!!! justice will finally b served n this poor woman can finally rest in peace and her poor family now has closure !! and can hopefully start the healing process.

  15. Awesome news, may she rip n her family have closure now.

  16. Lu Eggers says:

    Great News! Now they have closure and can rest easy now…

  17. So glad to hear. Cold Justice is such an amazing show…it’s the real deal and not just “for show.” I’m glad they could investigate this case.

  18. that is wonderful news on her case.. I was told he was the one and glad they finally got him .

  19. Mary Carr says:

    I am so glad for the family to have answers. My brother is an Iowa Cold Case since 1975.

  20. Alli Smith says:

    I watch that show a lot, thought about writing them about another case on here. Abbie Kay Woodburn prayers for you and yours. This gives me hope for justice for Amber.

  21. I don’t know how a person can kill someone and live with their self.

  22. This is the best news!!! Karma catches up…..

  23. Great news I’m hoping someday I hear the same

  24. My aunt will get her justice, Happy Birthday Sue

  25. Thank you lord, for guiding this family. Prayers and my heart sent to you and yours.

  26. The Gazette
    July 17, 2015 | 1:25 pm

    IOWA CITY — An arrest has been made in a nearly 20-year-old homicide investigation.

    Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Doug Gwinn confirmed Friday that 54-year-old Steven J. Klein has been arrested in the murder of 34-year-old Susan Kersten. Kersten’s body was found in her car in a farm field southeast of Iowa City on Sept. 24, 1995. Her body was severely burned and authorities said she died as a result of several blows to her head.

    Klein, who lives in Mount Pleasant and works in Muscatine, was taken into custody at his place of employment Friday morning. He faces one count of first-degree murder, Gwinn said.

    Gwinn said Klein has been a person of interest in the case since 1995. He would not say what led authorities to make an arrest now in the decades-old case.

    “I can tell you this has never been a closed case,” Gwinn said. “This has been an open case for our department. … The end came as a result of a lot of hard work from a lot of people.”

    According to past coverage in The Gazette, Klein is the father of Kersten’s twin daughters. Authorities searched Klein’s mobile home and two vehicles on his property. A search warrant application said investigators were looking for blood, hair and other body specimens, a tire iron or other potential murder weapon.

    Gwinn said authorities haven’t spoken to Klein since 1995.

    Gwinn said he took another look at the case in December 2014 when it was assigned to him.

    “As with any cold case, you go back and re-interview witnesses, look at evidence and just hope you find something new,” he said.

    Joining him in the investigation was retired Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Kevin Kinney, who is now a state senator. Kinney previously worked the case.

    “He was extremely helpful with the case,” Gwinn said.

    Check back for updates on this developing story.

  27. she was a wonderful Artist,!! my hearts and prayers to her friends and family. hope you someday find justice..

  28. Prayers to the family . This is so heart breaking. Someone please come forward to help this family get justice. My prayers and thoughts are with this family.

  29. I can’t believe another year has gone by with no answers for this family…I’m thinking about all of you!!!

  30. Wish there were some answers in this case…..So sad for the family! Prayers to her children and family!

  31. Holly Slye says:

    I pray for peace and justice! <3

  32. This is my aunt, there is still no justice for our family. Please help us!
    Jason Kersten Sandra Rohrer

  33. That’s a good question, as Sue’s niece we have our suspects but who’s to say a stranger isn’t the killer?

  34. andrea says:

    The Iowa court search engine shows that on 09/30/2013, in the twins’ guardianship case, the old exhibits were destroyed by the court. Why is that??? If you look at the earlier filings in the case, among the exhibits were:

    Exhibit 04/30/2003 04/30/2003 04/30/2003
    Comments: PUT IN EXHIBIT ROOM, HEARING 04-22-03
    PLTF EXHIB. A-CONSENT TO MEDICAL CARE
    B&C-FRIDAY FOLDERS
    D-CRIMINAL RECORD
    E-FIREARMS LOG BOOK
    F-FIN & FEATHER RECEIPT
    G-NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL REPORT

    It should be in the public interest to retain Steve Klein’s neuropsychological report. Also, in the guardianship, Dawn Klein and Julie Music (which you can see from Steve’s mother’s obituary are members of the Klein family) were appointed as permanent guardians/conservators of the twin girls. Why is that? Why should the family of the murderer be able to raise the children as opposed to the family of the victim? Something stinks in Iowa.

    • Aaron says:

      Where is the proof that he did it? I am his friend and I know he didn’t do it!

      • andrea says:

        The police must have some evidence, otherwise there would have not been any criminal charge issued. Ted Bundy’s friend Ann Rule also initially thought he was such a nice guy and must not have done it.

    • Mystery addict says:

      I know it. But innocent until proven guilty. He was the surviving parent. He gets to make all the calls until somehow he is deemed unfit.
      What really stinks, is this is a case that hadn’t gone to trial. It should have. A long time ago.

  35. Elizabeth says:

    I hope some day that Steve will be convected of this murder!

  36. Jody Ewing says:

    Thanks so much, John. We feel the same; every one of these victims mattered to many.

  37. John T. Moeller says:

    Thank God for the technology that lets this page be displayed for all of America to read.

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