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Willard Woodring, the 42-year-old owner of the former Hawkeye Hotel in Keokuk, Iowa, and Richard G. Buchanan, 42, of Colona, Illinois, were taken into the hotel’s kitchen on Sunday, October 9, 1960, where they were bound, gagged, and then shot in the back of the head.
Keokuk police discovered the bodies that evening after someone phoned authorities to report a shooting at the well-known house of prostitution.
Police Chief George Jones said police immediately launched a 3-state search for a youthful-looking man and woman.
In a Cedar Rapids Gazette article published October 10, 1960, Jones said an alarm for a young couple had been issued after witnesses reported seeing them leave the building shortly before the double slaying was reported.
Witnesses described the man as about 25 years old with black hair and clad in a black leather jacket. The woman, about 22-23 years old, was described as having short red hair and wearing a lavender dress.
According to The Gazette, authorities said they thought the pair were armed with an automatic pistol and driving a car with Illinois license plates.
“We are satisfied robbery was the motive,” Jones said, although $600 was found in one of Woodring’s pockets. Officials believed around $200 had been taken from Woodring’s desk.
Jones said there were “few signs of a struggle” in the room where Woodring and Buchanan were shot and that the murderers “seemed to know what they were doing.”
The slayers may have panicked after shooting the victims, Jones said, and overlooked searching the bodies for more money before fleeing.
Buchanan, who operated a service station in Moline, Illinois, was visiting Woodring when the shootings occurred.
Police held four women from the brothel for questioning, but Jones said authorities didn’t believe the women knew anything about the crime.
The day after the murders, police found $44,500 in a strong box in the trunk of Woodring’s car and another $1,000 in his room at the hotel, The Gazette reported Oct. 11, 1960. (Later reports describe the latter amount as $1,500.)
Police called state officials into the investigation two days after the killings.
“We were called in by Keokuk police,” said a spokesman for the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation. “We consider it a routine homicide investigation.”
Also on Tuesday, authorities altered some of the slaying’s details for further clarification.
Jones said it appeared as if both men had been tied up and gagged, but worked loose and were shot as they tried to run or during a fight with their assailants. Woodring had been shot twice.
The finding of the $44,500 — in $50 and $100 bills — made the motive “seem even more like robbery,” Jones said. “We don’t know what the money represents or whether it was collected over a long period of time.”
The Gazette reported that Woodring had a record in both Peoria and Quincy, Illinois.
Woodring’s three Peoria arrests included:
- A 1948 arrest for disorderly conduct; the charge was later dismissed;
- A 1951 arrest during the investigation of a murder; he was released by a coroner’s inquest;
- A 1953 arrest in another investigation; Woodring again was released.
On Oct. 6, 1957, Woodring was charged with being the keeper of a disorderly house (of prostitution) in Quincy. He was fined $200 and cost, said The Gazette. Quincy police officials said Woodring left Quincy after that time.
Officials said they’d found no records on Buchanan.
In a Gazette article dated Oct. 12, 1960, police said they were working on the theory that the slayer was an acquaintance of the 42-year-old Woodring, who’d kept the vast amount of cash in a strongbox.
Four women who stayed in the former hotel-turned-brothel were held Wednesday, Oct. 12, under a $2,000 bond each on charges of inhabiting a “disorderly house.” After their Tuesday arraignment, the women waived a preliminary hearing and were bound over to the grand jury, The Gazette reported.
The Oct. 12 article identified the four women as:
Police said the four women told this story of the Sunday night incident:
A man and woman came to the house, asked for Woodring, and were admitted. Woodring invited the couple to the kitchen, where the man drew a pistol.
Buchanan and the 4 women were rounded up by the gunman, who asked where they kept their money.
A cigar box on the kitchen table contained $200 and was taken by the man.
Woodring, Buchanan and one of the women were bound and the gunman then left the kitchen to go to the front of the house.
Woodring was able to free himself and attacked the man when he reappeared. Buchanan also worked himself free and apparently was shot as he tried to run out a kitchen door.
~ The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Oct. 12, 1960
Two .38 caliber slugs were removed from Woodring’s head during an autopsy; one bullet was found in Buchanan’s head.
The women were not hurt.
When Keokuk police learned of a service station holdup-killing in Indianapolis, they asked authorities for pictures of the man and woman being sought there in connection with the crime. The couple had been identified as Michael W. Layton, 21, and Nancy Fordyce, 19, both of Indianapolis, and a murder warrant had been issued for Layton’s arrest.
When Keokuk police received a photo of Layton, they showed the picture to the four women from the Hawkeye hotel, but they all said the man in the photo was not the one who shot Woodring and Buchanan, the Ames Daily Tribune reported on Oct. 14, 1960.
No one was ever charged in the Keokuk double homicide.
When the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Woodring’s and Buchanan’s murders were included in approximately 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s website as those the DCI hoped to solve using latest advancements in DNA forensic 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.
If you have any information regarding the unsolved murders of Willard Woodring or Richard Buchanan, please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010, email email@example.com, or contact the Keokuk Police Department at (319) 524-3131.