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GONE COLD: EXPLORING IOWA’S UNSOLVED MURDERS

An ongoing series, published statewide, as part of a partnership between Iowa Cold Cases, the Iowa Newspaper Association, and participating newspapers.

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Day not wanted: Huisentruit’s sister says attempt to honor Jodi ‘tacky’

June 23, 2017 | by John Skipper, GlobeGazette.com

MASON CITY | The sister of Jodi Huisentruit says she is not in favor of a former state legislator’s push for Mason City to have a “Jodi Huisentruit Day” in remembrance of the local TV anchor who disappeared 22 years ago.

John Kooiker of Boyden, who served in the Legislature from 2014 to 2016, has repeatedly asked Mason City officials to declare a “Jodi Huisentruit Day” in her memory. His latest request came last week.

“I think its tacky,” said JoAnn Nathe of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, “and I think Jodi would think it was tacky, too.”

Nathe pointed out that Huisentruit only lived in Mason City for about two years. “The intention is nice,” she said, “but I just don’t think it’s proper.”

Nathe said there have been many missing persons in Iowa without a day named in their memory. “I’m sure we would get a lot of flak,” she said.

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Tait Purk seeks new trial in murder conviction

June 22, 2017 | by John Speer, TamaToledoNews.com

A motion for a new trial for Tait Otis Purk was filed on June 19 in Tama County District Court in Toledo on his 1st degree murder conviction. A hearing on the motion has been set for July 14 by Judge Mitchell E. Turner.

Purk’s sentencing on the murder charge has now been reset for July 28 at the Tama County Courthouse. It had orginally been scheduled for July 10 at the Iowa County Courthouse in Marengo.

Purk, 50, was found guilty of murder by an Iowa County Grand Jury on May 10 following trial proceedings lasting eight days. He was found guilty in the death of his fiancee, Cora Ann Okonski, then age 23, in mid-April, 2000. Okonski has never been located following her disappearance at that time.

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Former legislator calls for naming June 27 as Jodi Huisentruit Day

June 22, 2017 | NorthIowaToday.com

MASON CITY – It’s been 22 years since Jodi Huisentruit tragically vanished, and some aren’t willing to merely forget the missing anchorwoman, as a former state legislator is calling on Mayor Eric Bookmeyer to declare June 27, 2017, as Jodi Huisentruit Day.

Back in December of 2016, now-retired State Rep. John Kooiker, who represented District 4 in the Iowa House of Representatives, sent a letter to a newspaper reflecting on his time serving in Des Moines. Much of his discussion gravitated to his work on the House Public Safety Committee and cold cases and – most specifically – the 1995 Jodi Huisentruit disappearance. He described in his letter how Mayor Eric Bookmeyer “begged” him to back off and other “strange” reactions to his quest to help solve the tragic case while in Des Moines.

Now, Mr. Koiker is again shedding light on the case of Jodi Huisentruit, who remains missing from Mason City.

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Burlington police refocus investigation after missing man’s foot found

June 20, 2017 | by Jeff Brown, TheHawkeye.com

A human foot found last summer at Lake West in Burlington has been identified as belonging to a Burlington man whose family reported him missing more than two years ago.

Lt. Greg Allen, commander of Burlington’s criminal investigations division, said Monday federal criminalists have identified the foot as belonging to Steven Leasure, who was reported missing in May 2015 in Burlington.

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Nine years later, Cedar Rapids murderer yet to be found

June 15, 2017 | by Forrest Saunders, KCRG.com

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) — Nine years, still no arrest
June 15th, 2008, someone shot and killed Aubrey Young near Redmond Park in Cedar Rapids. He was 35 years old leaving behind two kids. Police have yet to identify a suspect and file charges.

Aubrey Young’s body was found lying face down between two parked cars with a bullet wound to the head. His family says the shooting came just as Aubrey Young was turning his life around. He was out of gangs and going to college.

“He was a hard-working person,” said Aubrey Young’s son, D’Andre Young. “He did have his problem with gangs. But, when I was born, he gave all that up.”

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Villisca Axe Murder House focus of new movie on Netflix

June 12, 2017 | by Krystal Sidzyik, Nonpareilonline.com

The familiar story of Iowa’s Villisca Axe Murder House is now playing on a screen near you.

A new fictional horror film on Netflix, “The Axe Murders of Villisca,” was recently released this month on the popular streaming site after it saw a limited theatrical release earlier this year.

Netflix describes the film as, “Three ghost-hunting teens get more than they bargained for when they break into a historic home where eight people were murdered over a century ago.”

Director Tony E. Valenzuela said he’d gotten the idea for the movie after staying the night in the house in 2010, according to an interview with Robert Sims of lightscameraaustin.net.

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Supreme Court denies Green appeal: Justices say he didn’t have right to counsel in interview

June 10, 2017 | The Fort Dodge Messenger

SAC CITY — A man convicted of the 2009 murder of his roommate in Sac City had his appeal denied by the Iowa Supreme Court.

John David Green, 57, formerly of Sac City, was convicted of second-degree murder in 2015. He is serving a 35-year prison sentence at Anamosa State Penitentiary.

Green killed his roommate, Mark Koster, 58, in June 2009 at the Sac City home where Koster lived and Green, a former coworker of his, had been staying.

Koster’s mummified remains were found buried in his basement in November 2012.

Green was charged with murder in March 2014.

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Lyric & Elizabeth Memorial Ride set for next month

June 5, 2017 | KWWL.com

EVANSDALE (KWWL) — The Memorial Ride and Drive in memory of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins is set for next month.

It will be the 5th annual ride for the Evansdale cousins. The two went missing nearly five years ago while riding their bikes near Meyers Lake in Evansdale. Their bodies were then found about five months later at Seven Bridges Park in Bremer County.

The ride is set for July 15th at 8 a.m. It begins and ends at Lofty’s Lounge in Evansdale. The cost of registration is $20, with proceeds going towards Angel’s Memorial Park and Cedar Valley Crimestoppers.


Editorial: Are you under arrest? In Iowa, it’s unclear

May 31, 2017 | The Des Moines Register

In June 2012, the Waterloo police picked up three individuals suspected of raping two 15-year-old girls in the basement of a known gang house on Adams Street.

The suspects, Deantay Williams, Taevon Washington and Cordarrel Smith, agreed to be interviewed and they provided the police with DNA samples for testing. Within an hour or so, they were released without being booked, jailed, fingerprinted or charged with a crime. They were allowed to leave the police station with no conditions or limitations placed on their release.

The police then sent the DNA samples to the Criminalistics Laboratory of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. But just a few weeks after the alleged rapes, two young cousins — 10-year-old Lyric Cook and 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins — vanished while taking a bike ride near their grandmother’s house in Evansdale. Five months later, their bodies were discovered in a park 25 miles from where they were last seen, and their murders remain unsolved.

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UPDATE: Tips coming into CRPD since Martinko press conference

May 30, 2017 | KCRG-TV9

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) — Earlier this month officials with the Cedar Rapids Police Department held a press conference to discuss a new piece of technology they have utilized in an effort to solve a 37-year-old cold case.

Michelle Martinko was killed in 1979. Her body was found in the family’s Buick outside the Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids. The killer has yet to be identified.

The technology used by police took DNA collected at the crime scene to develop a composite of what Martinko’s murderer may have looked like.

Since they released the image at the press conference officials with the police department tell TV9 they have received around 70 tips.

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Des Moines to offer money for information on unsolved murders

May 22, 2017 | by Dar Danielson, RadioIowa.com

Des Moines Police and the capital city’s leaders held a news conference this morning after the city recorded its 15th homicide of the year over the weekend.

“Today’s conversation is about violent crime,” Mayor Frank Cownie said, “and violent crime needs to be punished.” The city and private groups are providing additional funding to create an incentive for the public to cooperate with police.

Cownie says the ultimate goal is to reduce instances of violent crime. “We have put together a group here in Des Moines that is committed to working together to try to make that happen,” Cownie said. Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert said the unnamed program will provide police with money to offer to witnesses of violent crimes to testify.

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Police hope new technology can solve 1979 murder

May 16, 2017 | by Jalyn Souchek, KWWL.com

CEDAR RAPIDS (KWWL) — Cedar Rapids Police believe they’re much closer to solving the 1979 murder of Michelle Martinko with the help of the new technology.

At only 18 years old, Martinko was found dead in her car in the parking lot of Westdale Mall. She was stabbed multiple times in the face and chest.

“When someone is taken from our community and it’s in a crime where it’s a murder or it’s something that’s in a negative way, we’re not going to give up on it. It doesn’t matter how old,” Cedar Rapids Police Captain Brent Long said.

A new forensic DNA analysis service is able to predict an unknown person’s physical appearance through DNA. DNA of the suspect was discovered in 2006.

Now, police believe they have an idea of what the suspect looks like. The service, called Snapshot DNA Phenotyping, determined the man is likely to have fair to very fair skin color, blue or green eyes and blonde hair.

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Harassing messages from person claiming to be missing woman kept coming for years, man testifies at murder trial

May 16, 2017 | Omaha World-Herald | by Alia Conley

For roughly four years, David Kroupa was harassed daily by a steady barrage of texts and emails, seemingly from a woman he had dated for just two weeks. Some threatened him or the people he knew. Others would claim that the woman was outside his apartment or workplace, with photos to prove it.

The intimidation affected him physically. He gained 30 pounds and drank every night.

It affected him at work. One day someone called the business phone at his Jensen Tire store every minute, but said nothing. No one could work, and his boss was aggravated.

It affected him emotionally. The mother of his two young children and the other women he started to date were also scared. He would circle his home or work, looking for any trace of the alleged harasser, Cari Farver.

“It made it very difficult to be social,” said Kroupa, 40, in a calm and unwavering voice during his daylong testimony. “I couldn’t even use my phone, it’d be beeping all day long.”

Kroupa unwittingly had found himself at the center of an obsession. But it wasn’t Farver who had become obsessed. It was another woman he had dated, authorities allege, Shanna Golyar.

Full Story at Omaha.com


Cedar Rapids police use DNA technology to create suspect composite in Michelle Martinko killing: Images unveiled Tuesday could help solve 37-year cold case

May 16, 2017 | The Cedar Rapids Gazette | by Lee Hermiston

CEDAR RAPIDS — For the first time since Michelle Martinko was stabbed to death 37 years ago, her sister and brother-in-law can look the killer in his eyes.

Using the services of a Virginia-based company that uses DNA to predict the physical features and ancestry of a suspect, the Cedar Rapids Police Department has produced images of a man believed to have killed Martinko in Cedar Rapids on Dec. 19, 1979. Those images were shared with Martinko’s sister and brother-in-law, Janelle and John Stonebraker, earlier this month and were shared with the public during a news conference on Tuesday at police headquarters.

“It’s very sobering and disturbing at the same time,” John Stonebraker said, as he stood just feet away from the images. “But, it is also hopeful.”

Added Janelle Stonebraker, “It’s very personal. It brings it to a person.”

Police said Martinko, 18, a Kennedy High School student, was found dead in her family’s 1972 Buick Elantra outside Westdale Mall on Dec. 20, 1979, after being reported missing by her parents. Police said there was no sign of a sexual assault, but she had wounds that indicated she fought her attacker.

Full Story at TheGazette.com


Jury selection begins in Tama County cold case disappearance

May 1, 2017 | The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

MARENGO — Jury selection has started in the case of a former Tama man accused of killing his fiance in 2000.

Tait Otis Purk, 50, is charged with first-degree murder in the disappearance of Cora Ann Okonski, a 23-year-old mother who went missing April 16, 2000.

Okonski’s body has never been found, and Purk wasn’t charged until December 2016, about a month after the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation announced it had classified Okonski’s case as a homicide.

Purk’s trial was moved from Tama County to nearby Iowa County earlier this year because of pretrial publicity.

The Iowa County Clerk of Court called in 65 to 70 people for jury selection on Monday, and court officials interviewed prospective jurors about their knowledge of the case and media exposure.

Responses ranged from people who had passing media exposure of the case to a woman who said she had been following news of Okonski’s disappearance for years through newspapers, TV and the Iowa Cold Cases website.

The judge struck the woman from jury service in the case.

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Murder trial for Iowa woman whose body was never found begins Monday

April 30, 2017 | The Des Moines Register

Winning a conviction in a decades-old killing presents challenges for prosecutors: Memories wane, witnesses can be hard to find or dead.

On Monday, in Iowa, a trial starts with a rare, extra hurdle: The body of the victim, Cora Ann Okonski, has never been found.

Okonski was 23 in 2000 when she was reported missing from her Tama home. In December, a Tama County grand jury indicted her boyfriend, Tait Otis Purk, 50, on a first-degree murder charge.

Prosecuting a murder case without a body is almost unheard of in Iowa.

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Slain woman’s daughter: Klein deal ‘a twisted form of justice’

Feb. 17, 2017 | Iowa City Press-Citizen

A Mount Pleasant man will spend 15 years in prison for the 1995 death of an Iowa City woman, but some in her family were critical of his plea deal, her daughter calling it “a twisted form of justice.”

Susan Kersten‘s body was found Sept. 24, 1995, in her burned out car two miles south of Iowa City, near her home at the Regency Mobile Home Village. She was 38. Nearly 20 years later, Steven J. Klein, 56, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Friday morning at the Johnson County Courthouse, Klein entered an Alford plea on charges of second-degree arson, willful injury causing serious injury and suborning perjury in the death. In an Alford plea, the defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges that prosecutors likely have enough evidence to secure a conviction.

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Anderson, Messer families release statement on murder verdict

Feb. 16, 2017 | Ottumwa Courier

OTTUMWA — The families of Seth Anderson and Nathan Messer released a joint statement Thursday morning, two days after the conviction of Christopher Yenger in the deaths of their sons.

Yenger and Zachary Dye were arrested in early 2016, nearly 10 years after the fire that claimed Anderson’s and Messer’s lives. Jurors found Yenger guilty of first degree murder for setting the fire that killed them. Dye took a plea bargain in the case, admitting to arson.

Dennis and Marty Anderson and Mell and Jolynn Messer expressed their thanks to law enforcement for their work and effort to crack the case, as well as to Victim Service Coordinator Charlotte Kovacs and Chris Cruz.

“These are the people that help you when you are having one of the worse experiences in your life. We would never have been able to cope without them,” they said.

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Yenger guilty in double murder case

Feb. 14, 2017 | Ottumwa Courier

OTTUMWA — Though the guilty verdict won’t bring back two young men killed in an arson fire, said the Wapello County Attorney, perhaps it is a little justice for family members.

Gary Oldenburger was co-prosecutor in the case of the State v. Christopher Yenger. On Tuesday, after the defense rested without calling any witnesses, the jury deliberated roughly three hours before coming back with a verdict: guilty on both counts, murder in the first degree.

They found Yenger guilty in the 2006 deaths of Nathan Messer and Seth Anderson. Both died of smoke inhalation, investigators said, after Yenger set the house on fire; one witness account says he used a bottle of gas with a flaming wick stuck in it: A Molotov cocktail.

The state says Yenger was mad that he got his nose bloodied in a fight at a house party in rural Wapello County. He talked to his roommate about wanting to get back at the partiers.

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Iowa woman accused of killing romantic rival, then posing as her in texts and emails to cover it up

Jan. 20, 2017 | Omaha World-Herald — www.omaha.com

Cari Farver

Cari Farver

It had been four days since anyone had seen Cari Farver. Then her mother received text messages from Farver’s phone number saying her daughter had sold her furniture to a woman named Shanna Golyar. The texts asked the mother to let Golyar into Farver’s home and turned angry when the mother refused.

Prosecutors argued Wednesday that Golyar — not Farver — had sent the text messages in an attempt to conceal that she had killed Farver days earlier. Detectives think a possible motive was that Golyar grew jealous of Farver because they had dated the same man.

Shanna Golyar

Shanna Golyar

In a nearly four-hour preliminary hearing, three investigators unraveled a tangled web of texts and emails that they say can be traced to Golyar since Farver’s disappearance on Nov. 13, 2012.

Not only did Golyar pose as Farver in the hours, months and years after her disappearance, Golyar continued to pose online as other people to cover up the apparent killing as late as last year, officials testified. Golyar sent 11 emails to authorities in February acting as another woman and confessing intimate details about Farver’s slaying, a sergeant testified.

Read the Omaha World-Herald’s Full Story


Purk pleads innocent to 1st degree murder charge

Jan. 4, 2017 | Tamatoledonews.com

Tait Otis Purk entered a written plea of not guilty to 1st degree murder of Cora Ann Okonski in Tama County District Court in Toledo on Wednesday, Dec. 28.

Judge Mitchell E. Turner set a pre-trial conference for Feb., 9, 2017 and a jury trial to begin on Feb. 21, 2017. Bond for Purk was continued at $1 million and he is now being held in the Marshall County Jail.

Purk, 50, was indicted by a Tama County Grand Jury on Dec. 2, 2016. Okonski, then age 23, vanished in April of 2000 from Tama. Okonski and Purk planned to be married in May of that year.

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