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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.

Click or tap on any story title to read the full referenced article.


Judge overturns murder conviction of Tama County man in fianceés death: New trial to be set for Tait Purk, accused of killing Cora Okonski

Aug. 16, 2017 | by Trish Mehaffey, TheGazette.com

TAMA — A 6th Judicial District judge overturned the first-degree murder conviction of Tait Purk on Monday, ruling the verdict was contrary to the evidence and based on a lack of evidence presented at trial.

Judge Mitchell Turner granted a new trial to Purk, 50, who is accused of killing his fiancee, Cora Okonski, 23, of Tama, on April 16, 2000. Although Okonski’s body was never found, prosecutors argued, based on witness testimony, that she and Purk argued about their upcoming wedding and during a struggle he killed her by breaking her neck. One witness said Purk confessed that he buried the body.

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New bridge sought for Evansdale park

Aug. 16, 2017 | by Pat Kinney for the Globe Gazette

EVANSDALE | The city and community members are making a push to fill a final gap to construct a handicap-accessible bridge at Meyers Lake to Angels Park so the park, dedicated to two young cousins abducted and murdered in 2012 and other child murder victims, can be more accessible to the general public.

Currently an earthen causeway connects a park on the lake’s north shore with the park, on an island in the lake. Mayor Doug Faas said the plan is to replace that with a 10-foot wide boardwalk bridge that would be about 150 feet long shore to shore.

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Iowa woman sentenced for killing her romantic rival

Aug. 15, 2017 | by Camila Orti, KCCI.com

UPDATE: Shanna Golyar was sentenced to life for first-degree murder Tuesday morning.

Golyar was also given an additional 18 to 20 years for arson. She will serve the sentences consecutively.

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Slain Des Moines police officer endures ‘a century of waiting to be remembered’

Aug. 10, 2017 | by Daniel P. Finney, DesMoinesRegister.com

This is the passion with which Anthony Garza speaks of George Mattern, a Des Moines police officer killed in the line of duty nearly a century ago.

“Mattern was sworn in as a police officer in March 1916. On the day he was sworn in, what his parents, wife, children and siblings didn’t know is that he had just a little over two years left to live — and a century of waiting to be remembered,” Garza said.

Mattern was the third Des Moines officer to fall in the line of duty. The number stands at 24 today, with two of the capital city’s protectors falling in two terrible incidents last year.

But due to an unusual confluence of events, including the oddities of early 20th-century medicine and other violence that killed police near the time of his death, the sacrifice Mattern made is unrecognized.

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1892: Remembering prohibition crusading minister on the anniversary of his murder

July 30, 2017 | by Lynn Zerschling, The Sioux City Journal

125 Years Ago
Never forget: Aug. 3 will be the sixth anniversary of the murder of the Rev. George C. Haddock, prohibition crusader. He was shot to death at Third and Water streets about 10:15 p.m. as he was returning a carriage and horses to a livery stable after he had been in Greenville on one of his mission to close saloons. John Arensdorf, foreman of a local brewery, was charged in Rev. Haddock’s murder. In a second trial he was found not guilty despite testimony from eyewitnesses. Perhaps no tragic event, save the assassination of two presidents, has attracted more widespread attention nation-wide than Haddock’s death.

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Sentencing for Tait Purk, convicted of killing fiancee, reset to Aug. 11: Defense lawyers asking court for new trial

July 27, 2017 | by Trish Mehaffey, TheGazette.com

Sentencing for Tait Purk, convicted by an Iowa County jury for killing his fiancee in 2000, has been reset to Aug. 11 in Tama County District Court.

6th Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner reset the sentencing, previously set for Friday, court documents show. He hasn’t ruled on the defense’s motion for new trial, which may be reason for the delay.

Purk’s lawyers have asked the court for a new trial, arguing there was lack of evidence, unfair prejudice and possibly jury misconduct during the trial.

An Iowa County jury found Purk, 50, guilty of first-degree murder in May for killing Cora Okonski, 23, of Tama, on April 16, 2000. The trial was moved from Tama based on pretrial publicity. Although Okonski’s body was never found, prosecutors argued, based on witness testimony, that Purk buried her body in a remote area.

The defense argued at trial there was no evidence to suggest Okonski was even dead, since a body was never found.

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Discovering firsthand the realities of law

July 26, 2017 | Upper Iowa University, uiu.edu

FAYETTE, Iowa (July 26, 2017) – The average citizen hopes he or she never has to step into a courtroom, but a team of Upper Iowa University students has relished the opportunity over the past two school years to take an active part in a pair of murder trials.

UIU faculty look to engage their students in their education through hands-on experiences, so it should come as no surprise that UIU Associate Professor of Business Christopher Kragnes Sr. and UIU Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Tiffany Kragnes have employed their professional experience as attorneys to provide students a unique opportunity to assist in a pair of actual cases.

The initial case was a first-degree murder trial linked to a shooting that occurred in August 2015. The attorneys filed a notice of self-defense and the client waived his right to a trial by jury. The case went to trial on July 28, 2016, and concluded on August 19, 2016. As of May 2017, the Kragnes’ and their client were still awaiting a verdict from the trial judge.

The second case concerned a drive-by shooting in Waterloo, Iowa. One victim in the shooting died, while two others were injured. Four individuals were charged in the case. One of those four, the Kragnes’ client, was charged with Murder in the First Degree and two counts of Attempted Murder. The defendant pled guilty to Intimidation with a Weapon, a Class C felony, and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution. He will be sentenced when the trials of the co-defendants are complete.

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Johnny Gosch’s red wagon to be displayed at Iowa State Fair

July 20, 2017 | by Pat Curtis, RadioIowa.com

A red wooden wagon, a piece of one of the most infamous cold cases in Iowa history, is going to be on display at this year’s Iowa State Fair.

Ron Sampson of Des Moines has possession of the wagon – which was being used by Johnny Gosch on the morning of September 5, 1982 to deliver newspapers. The wagon was left behind when the 12-year-old boy vanished.

So, why does Sampson want to showcase the wagon at the Fair? “We’re certainly not trying to commercialize anything,” Sampson says.

Gosch’s apparent kidnapping remains unsolved 35 years later — despite countless news reports, a documentary, and books about his disappearance. Sampson says he wanted to put the wagon on display for all fair-goers to see as a “tribute” to Gosch’s parents. “John and Noreen went on a crusade to make things safer for young children, for parents, and helping law enforcement with getting things done and reported,” Sampson said. “I guess I would reach back and say they were the very beginning of the Amber Alert. They were the first people to have a child on milk cartons.”

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Johnny Gosch’s red wagon will be displayed at state fair

July 19, 2017 | by Todd Magel, KCCI.com

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — A special display at the Iowa State Fair will mark 35 years since 12-year-old Johnny Gosch, a West Des Moines newspaper delivery boy, disappeared without a trace.

The little red wooden wagon that Johnny used to carry those newspapers hasn’t been seen since that Sunday morning he disappeared in 1982, but now Des Moines Realtor Ron Sampson will put it on display at the Iowa State Fair.

“This is the last thing that Johnny touched,” Sampson said. “It’s what John (the father) found when Johnny hadn’t delivered his papers.

“Think of the significance of that wagon. I’m getting the chills sitting here and it’s 105 degrees.”

Sampson got the wagon from Johnny’s father, who is retired and lives in Florida but doesn’t have any room to store it.

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UPDATE: Names released in accident during motorcycle ride for Evansdale cousins

July 17, 2017 | by Forrest Saunders, KCRG.com

STANLEY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) — Police have released the names of the people involved in the crash.

Mitchel Lee Tyler, 67, of Waterloo is in serious condition at University of Iowa Hospitals after the accident.

The other driver of a motorcycle was Jerry Lee McNamee, 63, of Waterloo had minor injuries and was released.

The third driver of a motorcycle was Brian Wade Sampson, 56, of Waterloo and he had no injuries.

The accident is still under investigation.

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Hundreds ride in memory of Lyric and Elizabeth

July 17, 2017 | by Tim Jamison, WCFCourier.com

EVANSDALE — Hundreds of motorcyclists served loud notice they haven’t given up seeking justice for Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins.

The fifth annual “Memorial Ride and Drive for the Girls” rolled out of Lofty’s Lounge Saturday to raise awareness about the unsolved murder of the two cousins who were abducted July 13, 2012, and whose bodies were found Dec. 5, 2012.

Drew Collins, Elizabeth’s father and Lyric’s uncle, was overwhelmed by the large turnout — organizers ran out of T-shirts for riders — especially given the loss of some key volunteers this year.

“We’re sending a message to whoever did this,” Collins said. “We’re not giving up. If you mess with our kids, we’re not going to give up until we catch you.

“This community has said they’re behind this until we find out,” he added. “It is important to a lot of people that we solve this case.”

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Gone but not forgotten: Memorial ride honors two cousins

July 15, 2017 | KCCI.com and KCRG.com

EVANSDALE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) — People in eastern Iowa got on their motorcycles to remember two Evansdale cousins who died five years ago this weekend. Lyric Cook, 10, and Elizabeth Collins, 12, were last seen near Meyers Lake in July 2012. Hunters found their bodies five months later near a wildlife park in Bremer County.

To this day, no arrest have been made.

Lyric’s mom, Misty Cook, said she took the loss pretty hard.

“After we buried the girls in December, I started using drugs again,” Cook said. “I got in trouble for that. I suffered some severe consequences for that. And during that time I just went through a lot of depression.”

That’s all changed. Cook is clean and sober and recently gave birth to a daughter, who is now 5 months old. She appreciates the support the community has given her through events such as the motorcycle ride.

“The feeling that I got outside when all the motorcycles took off, it was just an overwhelming feeling of unity and power, and I really appreciate it,” she said.

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Lyric & Elizabeth Memorial Ride helps keep case active

July 15, 2017 | by Taylor Bailey, KWWL.com

EVANSDALE (KWWL) — Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins were killed five years ago, but their memory lives on through hundreds of people in eastern Iowa and the annual Ride and Drive for the cousins does just that.

The main purpose of the Memorial Ride and Drive for the girls is to keep the case active. Doing events like the Ride and Drive keeps the names of Elizabeth and Lyric out there, and organizers say it helps the case from going cold.

“It has always been about those two little girls, that’s what we have to keep in mind, it’s always got to be about those two little girls,” said Shawn Murphy. organizer.

It’s been five years since the the two girls were killed…their death shook a community and a family.

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‘I still don’t believe it happened’: Evansdale cousins remembered on fifth anniversary of disappearance

July 13, 2017 | by Amber Rottinghaus, The Globe Gazette, globegazette.com

EVANSDALE | While Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of the disappearances of Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins, the pain and fear within the community has gradually faded — but will never be forgotten.

The girls’ memory, along with those of others whose lives ended too soon, will always remain in Angels Park, where brightly-colored flowers and other vegetation, gazebos, benches and a new painting allow those in the community to honor them.

The painting was created by Florida artist Jeff Sonkes, who visited the area after his father died last December. He completed the artwork in his basement before assembling it in the park earlier this summer.

On one side of the mural are the girls’ faces, on the other side a pair of angel wings. They face out to Highway 20 for all to see driving by.

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THIS WEEKEND: 5th Annual Ride and Drive for Lyric and Elizabeth

July 13, 2017 | KWWL.com

EVANSDALE (KWWL) — A big story today.

Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins went missing now five years ago today.

They went for a bike ride in Evansdale and never came home. Their families reported them missing in the afternoon.

Authorities found their bikes and Elizabeth’s purse on a bike trail near Meyer’s Lake.

Their bodies were found five months later in Bremer County.

Elizabeth’s father says he keeps waiting for justice.

Their killer still has not been found.

Today, the family is still hoping to find the killer.

That is one of the many reasons for this weekend’s 5th Annual Memorial Ride and Drive event.

The Ride and Drive will be this Saturday, July 15th. Registration starts at 8 in the morning.

The ride will both begin and end at Lofty’s Lounge.

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5 YEARS LATER: Multiple leads and confessions in the Lyric and Elizabeth case

July 13, 2017 | KWWL.com

It’s now been five years since two little lives were taken too soon. Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins went missing near Meyers Lake in Evansdale now five years ago.

“I just figured they were, took longer, they stopped at somebody’s house or a park or something like that,” said Drew Collins, Elizabeth’s father.

But Lyric and Elizabeth never came home. Shortly after they went missing hundreds of people came together to search for the two cousins.

“It feels like just yesterday. It’s hard to believe it’s been five years,” said Collins.

Elizabeth’s father, Drew isn’t the only one looking for answers. It also bothers Evansdale Police Chief Jeff Jensen.

“I would like to know what happened. I want to know,” said Jensen.

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5 years later: New leads in devastating case bring family hope

July 12, 2017 | by Laura Terrell, KCCI.com

DES MOINES, Iowa – Investigators are looking into new leads in the abduction and murder of two Evansdale cousins that garnered national attention.

Elizabeth Collins, 8, and Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10, went missing five years ago this week.

Authorities say new leads still trickle in and that they are following up on every single one.

“Just the thought of not having your sister here when you wake up — it’s just terrifying,” said Callie Collins, Elizabeth’s sister.

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Who killed Ronnie Novak? Someone must know

July 10, 2017 | Gazette columnist Marlene Florang Chramosta

If there were an answer as to who killed Ronnie Novak, his family and friends could get some closure. So far, the answer to that question has eluded authorities for almost 34 years.

But we, family and friends, have not given up. We, in fact, are more determined than ever to get this case solved and closed so Ron and his family get justice and some closure.

The murderer(s) needs to be held accountable. And we want Ronnie to finally be able to rest in peace.

So what led to his tragic death? How could this happen to a nice, fun guy who grew up in my neighborhood? How and why did he get involved with drugs and bad guys?

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Near fifth anniversary of Lyric and Elizabeth disappearance, kids get safety tips

July 10, 2017 | by Amie Steffeneicher, WCFCourier.com

EVANSDALE — As 5-year-old Landen Wolff of Waterloo got assistance adding each of his fingerprints to his chart, his mother, Aimee Wolff, said that was exactly why the pair had come to Evansdale’s Child Safety Awareness Day.

The prints — as well as a swab of the kindergartener’s cheek — would be given to Wolff for safekeeping at home. Should Landen go missing, she would immediately have something to give to police investigators.

“It’s a good idea, especially with the way things are nowadays,” Aimee Wolff said. “If anything ever happens to him, we have it.”

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Family remember Black Hawk County cousins on 5th anniversary of disappearance

July 9, 2017 | by Jordee Kalk, KCRG-TV9

EVANSDALE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) — This summer is the five year anniversary of the disappearance of two Black Hawk County cousins. And the father of one of those little girls is asking anyone who knows anything to please step forward.

Police say someone kidnapped Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins on July 13th, 2012. They had been riding their bikes near Meyers Lake in Evansdale. Lyric was just 10 and Elizabeth was 8.

Five months after the disappearance, hunters found the girls bodies in a wooded area of the Seven Bridges Wildlife area in Bremer County. Police have yet to arrest anyone in the girls’ murder.

Finger print identification cards only take a couple minutes to complete.

It’s a couple minutes that could potentially be instrumental to law enforcement if the unthinkable ever happens. The fingerprint cards are also paired with DNA swabs.

“It’s for parents to take home and have on file,” Evansdale Police Chief Jeff Jensen said. “Hopefully it never becomes a needed thing.”

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Safety event held in memory of Lyric and Elizabeth

July 9, 2017 | KWWL.com

EVANSDALE (KWWL) – A safety event in memory of Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook was put on today.

The cousins were abducted near Meyers Lake in Evansdale five years ago.

Community leaders taught parents and children about safety.

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The pain of 2 Iowa girls’ killings remains, but resolve in Evansdale only grows

July 8, 2017 | by Linh Ta, The Des Moines Register

BREMER COUNTY, Ia. — Drew Collins silently points to a single, rusted sign as he enters the 125-acre Seven Bridges Wildlife Area.

He drives his pickup truck over a long stretch of gravel road and into the Bremer County park. A canopy of trees extinguishes the sun.

He parks his car in a clear area by the Wapsipinicon River. Nearby, angels are nailed into two trees in honor of Collins’ daughter, Elizabeth, and his niece Lyric Cook-Morrissey. Five years ago this month, they were abducted from an Evansdale park where they were playing. Elizabeth was 8, Lyric 10. Thousands of volunteers searched for them. Seven months later, about 20 miles to the northeast, their bodies were found here at Seven Bridges.

Collins is on his way to the site where hunters stumbled upon Elizabeth and Lyric, resolving part of the mystery of the girls’ fates but leaving unknown who took them and what happened. The case made national news and forever changed the lives of the girls’ families, neighbors and Iowa law enforcement officers involved in the case. In just the past few months, authorities began a new approach in their investigation of the killings.

Collins doesn’t like to make this trip.

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The genetic fingerprint and what it can do for law enforcement

Saturday, July 8, 2017 | by Jason Mosher, NevadaDailyMail.com

Of all the different investigating techniques and technology available to law enforcement, I have always found DNA analysis to be the most interesting. There are more than 7 billion people in the world today, and each one has a unique strand of DNA that makes them who they are.

Not long ago we were notified that a DNA match was found from evidence that investigators had collected at a burglary out in the county. When we get a match like this, our next step is to collect a sample from the suspect of the possible match so the lab can confirm it is indeed the DNA of that person.

The ability to collect and analyze DNA has come a long way over the years, and for the law enforcement world it has helped dramatically when it comes to identifying evidence relating to victims and suspects. The process for getting DNA results from the lab can take a very long time, but the results can make all the difference when it comes to those cases where there is no other evidence to go on.

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Family, friends hold vigil for man killed outside Walmart

July 5, 2017 | KCRG-TV9 News Staff

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) — Family and friends held a vigil in Redmond Park Wednesday night to remember Andrew Meeks, who died after being shot Sunday night.

Police are still looking for the person who shot Meeks and another man.

The shooting happened outside the Walmart on Edgewood Road in southwest Cedar Rapids. Police found Meeks and the other wounded man inside a car that had crashed near a loading dock. Meeks died at the hospital hours later.

Originally, friends and family wanted to do this at Walmart. Instead they decided to have it at Redmond. The family grew up around there and they have a lot of wonderful memories playing with Andrew at the park…

…As if this heartbreak wasn’t enough, in June 2011, the family lost Andrew’s brother, Dexter, in a Cedar Rapids shooting. He was killed near the front door of his apartment building.

That case has been deemed an Iowa Cold Case.

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Lyric & Elizabeth Memorial Ride set for this month

July 3, 2017 | KCCI.com

The Memorial Ride and Drive in memory of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins is set for this 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 Crime Stoppers.


Police chief in Mason City expects to solve disappearance of TV anchor Huisentruit

June 30, 2017 | RadioIowa.com

Mason City’s police chief says he’s confident the mystery behind the disappearance 22 years ago of former KIMT television anchor Jodi Huisentruit will be solved someday in the near future.

Jeff Brinkley says he’s hoping one of those final pieces of the puzzle can be found soon. He says, “I hope it’s this year. I think it’s really close. I think when we can get it going, it will pick up steam and I think it will come together pretty quickly when we can do that.” Brinkley says they continue to get information and tips about the case.

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Chief: Huisentruit abduction still solvable after 22 years

June 27, 2017 | KARE11.com

MASON CITY, Iowa – We are once again at the dawn of yet another anniversary of the disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit. Tomorrow, Tuesday, June 27th will be 22 years since the anchorwoman disappeared from the parking lot of her apartment complex while on her way to work at KIMT-TV in Mason City, Iowa.

Since 2002, members of the FindJodi.com, Inc. team have analyzed thousands of leads. We’ve taken the most sensitive and important leads to the Mason City Police Department as part of our protocol to ensure that they have the information to assist them in their investigation. Over the years, we’ve worked and spoken with many MCPD investigators. Most recently, FindJodi.com team member Caroline Lowe chatted with Chief Jeff Brinkley.

It’s somewhat of a follow up from the interview she conducted when he was new to the position in early 2016.

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RELATED: Check out more on the continuing effort to find Jodi


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


Des Moines homicides

May 10, 2017 | desmoinesregister.com

The number of homicides in Des Moines in 2017 so far is higher than in years past. View homicides annually for 2015, 2016 and year-to-date 2017 in the map links here.


11 Des Moines homicides remain unsolved in past 2 years

May 10, 2017 | by Charly Haley, The Des Moines Register

As Des Moines police deal with an unusually high number of homicides so far this year, 11 homicide cases from the past two years remain unsolved.

Police have largely pinned this lack of answers on uncooperative witnesses — meaning people who police say know what happened but won’t provide that information to detectives.

Police ask anyone with information about ongoing homicide investigations to call the Des Moines Police Department at 515-283-4811 or Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa at 515-223-1400.

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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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COLD CASES: Iowa woman is seeking answers for the forgotten

Friday, April 28, 2017 | by Jetske Wauran, SiouxlandNews.com | KMEG 14 and FOX 44

Ashley Okland, Layne Schneider, Breiton Ackerman. These are just a few of names of the homicide victims and missing persons whose cases have gone cold.

“People in small communities often know exactly what happened but bodies aren’t found,” said Jody Ewing, founder of Iowa Cold Cases.

And though the memories of their dark past could have faded away, their stories are saved and documented by Iowa Cold Cases.

It is to be the most trusted database as well as the first of its kind in the state of Iowa, featuring over 600 cold cases in the state.

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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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