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Oxford Junction, IA (Jones County)
Case # 63-00430
March 22, 1963
On March 22, 1963, Henry Hults was found dead in the back yard of his Oxford Junction home with extensive burns on his body.
Police Officer Neal Robert Townsend
Lifelong Anamosa, Iowa, resident
Killed in Lava Hot Springs, ID
Investigating Agency: Bannock County Sheriff’s Office, Lava Hot Springs, ID
End of Watch: Sept. 2, 1975
Neal Townsend spent most of his life in Anamosa, Iowa, working with city industries to help people overcome alcohol addiction so they wouldn’t lose their jobs. In 1972 alone, the Citizen’s Committee had referred 179 industrial workers to him, and only three of them, after counseling, lost their jobs.
In late June, 1975, Townsend spoke with former Cedar Rapids police officer Thomas “Tom” Childs, a close friend who’d recently moved to Idaho to work for the Pocatello Police Department. Childs’ family remained in Iowa, but said things were heating up in Idaho as the FBI’s massive, agent-intensive manhunt for Patty Hearst moved into western states. Rumors were that Symbionese Liberation Army and publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst‘s daughter may even be hiding out somewhere in Idaho.
The idea of being involved with the Patty Hearst case enticed Townsend to give up his Iowa job, and in early July 1975 he went to work as a police officer for the Lava Hot Springs Police Department in Bannock County, Idaho. He, like Childs, left his family behind in Iowa while waiting to see how things worked out. Nothing in Idaho was as it seemed; nor was Townsend aware Police Chief John C. Burris was about to be charged with embezzlement by a public officer as well as illegally selling handguns belonging to the city and other crimes.
On September 2, 1975 — just 16 days before FBI agents captured Patty Hearst in San Francisco — Townsend would be shot dead with the second .38 caliber pistol issued to him by local police. Bannock County deputies visited Townsend’s apartment around 1:30 a.m., roughly the time Townsend was shot in the stomach, and the Lava Hot Springs department began processing Townsend’s alleged “suicide before anyone even called in the death. There would be no investigation, no contacting the county medical examiner for an autopsy. A suicide, Bannock County sheriff’s deputies said before shipping the body back to Iowa for burial in the Anamosa Riverside Cemetery.
Back in Iowa, Townsend’s family never believed for a moment he’d committed suicide. Their own search for answers took them from local inquiries to the county and state and gubernatorial level, and from the FBI and US Department of Justice to US President Bill Clinton.
The answer proved more elusive than what happened to Patty Hearst.
* We are including Neal Townsend’s case on Iowa Cases in the hopes that Iowa officials may somehow come together with the Lava Hot Springs PD and Bannock County Sheriff’s Office to finally determine why this dedicated Idaho officer from Iowa was so quickly singled out in a small Idaho community fraught with secrets and corruption. This case was pursued all the way to the White House.