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There has never been a question as to who killed 29-year-old Thomas DeWayne Adkins of Fairfield, Iowa. His best friend, Robert Alan Tisor, 24, also of Fairfield, shot Adkins in the head at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, 1985, after the two had gone to hunt squirrels at the Van Buren Wildlife Area — a 480-acre state-owned wilderness area 2-1/2 miles northwest of Douds, Iowa.
Tisor allegedly fired his .22 caliber Ruger four separate times before the fifth shot hit Adkins in the head. Tisor said he’d mistaken Adkins — who had a long ponytail and wore a ball cap — for a squirrel.
Tisor provided conflicting accounts of what happened that morning and in the hours immediately after the shooting, including one version where he told Van Buren County Sheriff Hugh Hardin that after he’d shot Adkins, Adkins had “patted his pocket” to indicate where Tisor could find the keys to Adkins’ vehicle.
Tisor’s allegations proved inconsistent with a report filed by Johnson County Medical Examiner Dr. T.T. Bozek, who described in detail the craniocerebral trauma to Adkins’ brain and skull caused by the gunshot wound to Adkins’ head.
Adkins would be dead by early afternoon.
Thomas Adkins worked as a molder for Dexter Foundry in Dexter, Iowa, and lived in Fairfield at 608 W. Adams with his wife, Sherri, and the couple’s two children, 2-year-old daughter, Kaylea, and 6-year-old son, Christopher.
Family members still recall the shocking aftermath in the hours, days, and months following Adkins’ death.
In the hours following Saturday’s shooting, Adkins received emergency treatment from Douds First Responders and Van Buren County Memorial Hospital before being transferred by Air Care Helicopter to University Hospitals in Iowa City where he died.
Dr. Bozek lists Adkins’ actual time of death as 2:26 p.m.
Immediately following Adkins’ transportation to Van Buren County Memorial Hospital, Tisor took off in Adkins’ car and stayed gone for several hours. During that time, he thoroughly cleaned out Adkins’ vehicle.
Adkins had kept a small amount of marijuana in his car, but when Tisor finally returned with the vehicle, both the marijuana and Adkins’ wallet were missing.
Sherri Adkins eventually began a relationship with her late husband’s co-worker.
Adkins’ daughter, Kaylea Adkins, told Iowa Cold Cases she contacted the sheriff’s office for reports on her father’s death and was told the death had been ruled accidental and that the files had been thrown out since it had been longer than 10 years.
Kaylea Adkins obtained a copy of her father’s preliminary death certificate* (dated Sept. 25, 1985) and a 2-page autopsy report (dated Dec. 3, 1985), but said her brother, Christopher Adkins, told her he’d seen additional paperwork and photos accompanying the autopsy report. Kaylea told Iowa Cold Cases she’d recently spoken to the medical examiner’s office, who told her she couldn’t get “the rest of it” without a court subpoena.
NOTE: Under Iowa Code Sec. 22.7(41), “…autopsy reports shall be released to the decedent’s immediate next of kin upon the request of the decedent’s immediate next of kin unless disclosure to the decedent’s immediate next of kin would jeopardize an investigation or pose a clear and present danger to the public safety or the safety of an individual. Information regarding the cause and manner of death shall not be kept confidential under this subsection unless disclosure would jeopardize an investigation or pose a clear and present danger to the public safety or the safety of an individual.
There is a twist of irony here: if a local jurisdiction (i.e. the city or county investigating agency) considers a death “accidental,” there is no ongoing investigation to “jeopardize” and no reason to believe the release of autopsy reports to the decedent’s immediate next of kin would pose a clear or present danger to the public safety or the safety of an individual.
*The “Certificate of Death” noted above clearly states the cause of death as a) Craniocerebral Trauma, b) Gun Shot wound to the head, but under manner of death (e.g. to specify ACCIDENT, SUICIDE, HOMICIDE, OR UNDETERMINED) the certificate states: Pending.
Furthermore, the short 2-page (12/3/85) autopsy report, while focusing on “Gross and Microscopic Findings” and “Postmortem Laboratory Results,” seems to subtly hint foul play may have played a role in Adkins’ death.
One possible explanation for the medical examiner office’s [legal] refusal to comply with Iowa Code Sec. 22.7 may be that the medical examiner’s official ruling on manner of death differed from how the local investigating agency chose to classify the death (e.g. Homicide vs. Accidental death).
The SPECIMENS section in Adkins’ autopsy report (listed under POSTMORTEM LABORATORY RESULTS) states that a temporal lobe bullet fragment was released to “Hugh Hardin from the Van Buren Sheriff Department.”
Thomas DeWayne “Ernie” Adkins was born March 2, 1956 in Fairfield, Iowa, to Lowell and Doris Medaris Adkins. Reared in Lockridge, he’d lived in Fairfield since graduating from Fairfield High School in 1975.
Ernie worked as a molder at the Dexter Foundry and belonged to the Free Methodist Church.
He married Sherri Shondel in Fairfield on Nov. 24, 1981.
He died at University Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 14, 1985, from a gunshot wound to the head sustained earlier that day.
Johnson County Medical Examiner Dr. T.T. Bozek ruled manner of death as “Pending.”
The Raymond Funeral Home in Fairfield handled arrangements.
Services were held at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18, 1985 at Free Methodist Church with the Rev. Charles Kaufmann and the Rev. Andrew Daub officiating.
Visitation was held from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Raymond Funeral Home.
In addition to his wife, Tom’s survivors included two children, Kaylea, 2, and Christopher, 6; his parents of Phoenix, Ariz.; two brothers, Mike of Lockridge, Roger of Germanville; one sister, Linda Daub of Vinton, and his maternal grandparents, Stanley and Dorothy Medaris of Farmington. His maternal grandmother and paternal grandparents preceded him in death.
Tom Adkins is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Fairfield in Jefferson County.
If you have any information about Thomas Adkins’ suspicious death, please contact the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office at (319) 293-3426.