Cold Cases in the News — 2016 Archives

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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.

Witnesses stay quiet, Des Moines killings stay unsolved

Dec. 23, 2016 | by Charly Haley, Des Moines Register

Des Moines police said they had enough evidence to close the cases for all 21 homicides committed in the city in 2015.

This year, though, six of 13 homicides remain unsolved — including at least two cases in which investigators don’t think the victims were the intended targets of gunfire.

The primary reason, police say: uncooperative witnesses.

There are “people who refuse to cooperate with police by sharing information that they have, information that in many cases would help the police with solving these cases,” said police spokesman Sgt. Paul Parizek.

Calvetta Williams, founder of Mothers Against Violence in Des Moines, said people who won’t come forward in criminal cases are often scared of retaliation from other community members.

Full story at The Register

2016 Des Moines Homicide Total Down from 2015’s Two-Decade High

Dec. 16, 2016 |

The number of homicides in the City of Des Moines hit a two-decade high last year. But one year later, it appears 2015 is an anomaly and not the start of a trend.

Last year Des Moines saw 21 homicides and this year has had 13 so far, which Sgt. Paul Parizek of the Des Moines Police Department says it about average for a city the size of Des Moines.

“When we look at numbers,” says Parizek about 2015, “it seems to be just a weird situation.” Full Story

RELATED: On March 2, 2016, U.S. News & World Report Launched the Best Places to Live Rankings for the United States. The new list ranked the country’s 100 largest metro areas based on affordability, job propsects and quality of life. Of the Top 100 list, Des Moines, Iowa, came in at #11. It was the state’s only city to make the list.

See the Complete 2016 List Here

Iowa City homicide cold case going to trial after 21 years

Dec. 16, 2016 |

IOWA CITY — A 21-year-old homicide case remains on track to go to trial in the spring.

During a conference Friday afternoon, both prosecutors with the Johnson County Attorney’s Office and defense attorneys for 56-year-old Steven J. Klein said they saw no reason for delaying proceedings.

Klein is scheduled to go to trial on March 27. His final pretrial conference is scheduled for March 9.

Klein is accused of killing Susan Kersten in 1995, but he wasn’t arrested until July 2015. Authorities have said Kersten’s body was found in a field southeast of Iowa City on Sept. 24, 1995. The body was severely burned, but an autopsy revealed she died of several blows to her head.

Full Story

Editorial: Victims not forgotten

Dec. 10, 2016 |

To lose a loved one in a violent act would produce unimaginable grief. To have that loved one’s case unresolved would only add to the pain.

This issue of The N’West Iowa REVIEW marks the final installment of the series, “Gone Cold: Exploring Iowa’s unsolved murders,” which was designed to be “a yearlong collaborative effort by Iowa newspapers to revisit some of the most brutal and mystifying homicides in Iowa’s history.”

The main goal of the project was obvious: To produce more tips that might help revive an investigation or push it forward in one of the state’s 438 unsolved murders.

But the impact went beyond that. It reminded the family members of those who were killed that Iowans have not forgotten their loved ones, despite the passage of time.

Full Story

Man Charged with Murder in Tama County Cold Case

Dec. 9, 2016 | Iowa Department of Public Safety

TAMA COUNTY, Iowa – In March of 2015, the investigation into the April 2000 disappearance of Cora Okonski, 23, was reopened by the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).

Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agents with significant experience working cold cases, working in conjunction with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, Tama County Sheriff’s Office, Tama Police Department and Tama County Attorney’s Office concluded Okonski’s disappearance was not voluntary.

Through interviews and additional discoveries, the case was classified as a homicide investigation. Agents traveled extensively throughout the country conducting multiple interviews of key witnesses relevant to the investigation. Their findings were submitted to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and the Tama County Attorney’s Office.

Upon review of the report, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and the Tama County Attorney’s office convened a grand jury to review evidence and testimony. A grand jury returned a True Bill indictment on Tait Otis Purk, 50, for the crime of Murder in the First Degree in violation of Section 707.2(1) of the Code of Iowa.

If convicted, Murder in the First Degree carries a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Media contact: Iowa DCI Special Agent in Charge Richard Rahn at (563) 370-5109

Read More about Cora Ann Okonski case

Waterloo man shot in 2001 dies 15 years later

Nov. 21, 2016 | Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

Shawn Michael North

Shawn Michael North

Shawn Michael North, 30, was shot in the 1200 block of Doreen Avenue in Waterloo, Iowa, around 1:35 a.m. on May 21, 2001. The shooting left Shawn a paraplegic, and 15 years later on Aug. 30, 2016, Shawn died at UnityPoint Health-Allen Hospital from complications arising from the 15-year-old gunshot wounds.

Waterloo police shifted his case from an aggravated assault to a homicide.

Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier reporter Jeff Reinitz describes the series of events leading up to Shawn’s death.

Des Moines Murder Rate Almost Double the Nation’s

Nov. 2, 2016 | 24/7 Wall St., by Thomas C. Frohlich

Two Des Moines police officers were gunned down early this morning in what was described as an ambush killing.

This follows a deadly weekend in Chicago, the most recent indication of the soaring violence in the city. There have been 614 murders in the city so far this year — more than in New York and Los Angeles combined and the highest number in over a decade.

Law enforcement workers are well aware of the risks of being a police officer, and injuries or deaths are not unheard of in the line of duty. According to preliminary statistics from the FBI, 41 officers were killed feloniously and an additional 45 were killed in accidents in 2015, down from the year before. Only four of these police killings were the result of premeditated ambushes.

The Des Moines metro area is not an especially safe place for residents either. The region’s violent crime rate of 714 per 100,000 people is considerably higher than the national rate of 373 per 100,000. The metro’s murder rate of 9.0 per 100,000 is close to double the national murder rate of 4.9 per 100,000.

Full Story

Abuse victims share emotional stories at Phoenix House vigil in Bluffs

Oct. 7, 2016 | The Daily Nonpareil by Tim Johnson

heather-richardson-cbnpCourtesy photo Joe Shearer / The Nonpareil
Heather Richardson of Elkhorn, Neb., talks about her sister, Holly Durben, murdered by Brian Davis in Shenandoah in 2009.

Three survivors of domestic violence shared their stories in an emotional ceremony Thursday at Catholic Charities Phoenix House.

It was part of the organization’s candlelight vigil for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which was attended by Phoenix House clients and staff, family members and friends. Since the weather pushed the event inside, only one candle was lit.

Phoenix House held the vigil annually for 20 years before a long hiatus, said Diane McKee, director of the domestic violence and sexual abuse program.

“We haven’t had a vigil for seven years, and it’s good to bring it back and remind people,” she said.

Half of the front hallway at Phoenix House was lined with 10 wooden figures – silent “witnesses” – each with a sign that told the story of a southwest Iowa person killed by an abuser. The other half had a string with hanging T-shirts that were painted by abuse victims as part of the shelter’s Clothesline project.

Full Story

Editorial: Police files kept secret decades after cases are closed

Sept. 27, 2016 | The (Des Moines) Register’s Editorial staff

Ask most people, and they’ll tell you that government is not just too big, but also too powerful and too intrusive.

They’ll also tell you that they’re frustrated with government’s lack of accountability and the fact that government is rarely responsive to the needs and concerns of citizens.

Those are all legitimate concerns, particularly when it comes to law enforcement. State, local and federal police have the power — absent any sort of criminal charge — to search your home and detain you for questioning. They can also seize your bank accounts and your property. But nowhere is the power of the police more extreme, and the lack of accountability more egregious, than in the use of deadly force. A police officer can shoot and kill you and the information surrounding the case can be forever sealed from public view.

Read Full Story

New interpretation forever seals police investigative records

Sept. 25, 2016 | The Des Moines Register

Monica Speaks wants answers about her father’s death 30 years ago.

But like dozens of other Iowans this year, she was shut down by the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

The reason is a controversial and relatively recent interpretation of a 45-year-old Iowa law in which the department claims any document created or collected as part of an investigation can be considered confidential forever.

That includes records involving the apparent 1986 suicide in Oskaloosa of Rick Lynne Davis, Speaks’ father.

Davis was found shot to death in a car. Speaks believes it’s possible the death was related to her father’s involvement in the drug trade.

The agency gave Speaks a synopsis of its work but refused her access to the records.

“It’s impossible. It’s literally impossible” to know without the records what was reviewed or investigated, Speaks said. “I’m not looking to arrest anybody. I just want to know what happened with my dad.”

Full Story

Cracking Iowa’s Cold Cases

Sept. 22, 2016 |

WHO Radio News recently had a conversation with Jody Ewing, the woman behind a website that tells the stories of victims of crimes here in Iowa that have not been solved.

She is a passionate person for the families of victims who have not had closure or the resolve of knowing the responsible person or persons have not been held accountable.

She believes there are many ‘out there’ who know something and they’re afraid to tell authorities.

Could that be you?

Have a look through her front page and go deeper at her website.

Maybe you will see something that jogs your memory and perhaps be the key that solves a mystery.

Judge: Suspect in 1985 Iowa City death to be released pending trial

Burtch will be monitored with GPS device, will live at friend’s home

Sept. 20, 2016 | The Gazette | By Trish Mehaffey

IOWA CITY — Anthony Burtch, recently accused of killing his wife’s boyfriend three decades ago, will be released from jail with GPS monitoring and other conditions until his trial after a judge learned new testing on DNA evidence doesn’t implicate Burtch.

Burtch, now 58, is charged with first-degree murder in the Aug, 12, 1985, death of Lance DeWoody, 22. DeWoody was found shot at a picnic shelter on the University of Iowa’s Oakdale Campus. Investigators also recovered DNA at the crime scene, but have not elaborated on it.

Full Story

Iowa Woman Going to New lengths to Help Solve Cold Cases

Sept. 15, 2016 |

An Iowa woman who’s spent 30 years trying to solve cold cases plans to get even more involved.

Jody Ewing launched the Iowa cold cases website in 2005. The site includes details of hundreds of unsolved cases, some dating back more than 100 years.

Ewing is now working to get her private investigators license, hoping to keep some of the cases from forever remaining cold.

WHO-TV, Sept. 15, 2016

“There are so many cases that I feel could use a private investigator,” she said. “The current law enforcement department, there are so many crimes happening every day, it’s not that they don’t want to look at these cases, they just don’t have the time. I think these private investigators could play a major role in going back and reinterviewing some of the witnesses and sometimes people are willing to talk after a few years.”

Full Story

Widow hopes to defrost cold case after 36 years

Sept. 10, 2016 | by Eppie Pallangyo | St. Joseph News-Press

Monday marks the 36th anniversary of the unsolved double homicide of two St. Joseph residents in Williamsburg, Iowa.

On Friday evening, Sept. 12, 1980, Rose Burket, 22, and Roger Atkison, 32, of St. Joseph checked into the Amana Holiday Inn along Interstate 80 for a romantic getaway, but they never checked out, according to the Iowa cold cases website.

The next day, shortly after noon, a housekeeper discovered the crime scene. Blood was splattered across the wall, headboard and carpet, according to a 2009 News-Press article.

“We’re coming up on a time of the year when it’s painful to reminisce, but God’s seen me through what time I’ve had without him and that’s how I’ve gotten through,” said Marcella Shat, Atkison’s widow.

Full Story

Day after last man is sentenced for her husband’s murder, Tony Canfield’s wife speaks

Sept. 8, 2016 |

Just a day after the last of Tony Canfield’s killers were sentenced to prison, Canfield’s wife is saying how appreciative she is of the efforts of law enforcement.

Dana Canfield now lives in Tennessee but says the work all levels of law enforcement and the US Attorney’s office here in Sioux City makes her feel a little safer for her family knowing Devery Hibbler, Robert Beaver and Courtland Clark are now serving time for her husbands murder.

“They’re off the streets that’s what the best thing for me knowing that they can’t hurt anybody else like they’ve done my family I don’t think there’s ever closure. I don’t think there’ll ever be closure it,” said Canfield.

Canfield mentioned that Jody Ewing who runs the Iowa Cold Cases website really helped her through this difficult time. She went on to say that Tony was a family man who was always willing to help others.

Full Story

Man sentenced to 21 years for 2011 Sioux City shooting death

Sept. 7, 2016 | by Nick Hytrek,

SIOUX CITY | For five years, Courtland Clark was able to come and go as he pleased and enjoy his freedom.

In those same five years, the family of Tony “T-Bone” Canfield mourned his loss.

“You had five years of living your life. We’ve had five years of emptiness,” Canfield’s cousin Jenae Sides told Clark on Wednesday.

Shortly before receiving his sentence, Clark apologized to Canfield’s family and asked for their forgiveness.

“We planned to rob Mr. Canfield, but nobody was supposed to get hurt,” Clark said.

Clark, 30, of Flowery Branch, Georgia, was sentenced to 21 years in prison for his role in the May 1, 2011, shooting death of Canfield. Clark pleaded guilty in June in U.S. District Court in Sioux City to interference with commerce by robbery and use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death.

Full Story

2 sentenced for roles in 2011 Sioux City shooting death

Sept. 1, 2016 | by Nick Hytrek,

SIOUX CITY | Dana Canfield shook the wooden box holding her husband’s ashes in Devery Hibbler’s direction.

It had been five years since Hibbler and two other men robbed and shot Tony “T-Bone” Canfield on the front porch of his home. Five long years, Dana Canfield said Thursday morning at Hibbler’s sentencing in U.S. District Court in Sioux City.

“Here he is. Here he is right here,” Canfield said, waving the box toward Hibbler, who was seated a short distance away. “This is what I wake up to every day and go to sleep to.”

Hibbler, 26, of Dumas, Arkansas, was sentenced to 35 years in prison on charges of interference with commerce by robbery and use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death.

Robert Beaver, 35, of Sioux City, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, the statutory maximum, for interference with commerce by robbery.

Full Story

‘I will met you at the gates of hell,’ victim’s brother tells killer

August 17, 2016 |

Joseph “Jo-Jo” White resentenced to life with the chance for parole for Drake Diner shooting & robbery that occurred in 1992. A new sentence and chance at parole offer Joseph White Jr. hope that he might someday get out of federal prison. But a prosecutor and relatives of one of the people he killed on Nov. 29, 1992, during a robbery at the Drake Diner promise to fight any chance the Iowa Board of Parole gives him for release.

“We are going to do everything in our power to make sure that Mr. White never gets out,” Assistant Polk County Attorney Frank Severino told a judge Wednesday. “He may have hope, but he’s never going to have freedom.”

Full Story

Funnel cakes and murder at the State Fair

August 15, 2016 |

DES MOINES —Tens of thousands of people are flooding the Iowa State Fair this week to celebrate one of Iowa’s grandest traditions. They stand in long lines to eat corn dogs, view 1,100-pound boars and glimpse a life-size statue of a cow sculpted entirely from butter.

Twenty years ago, the annual fair was interrupted by a crime so grisly that it still shocks Iowans. Bobie and Marilyn Blewer, Missourians who ran a popular funnel cake stand, were gunned down at the fairgrounds as part of a cold-blooded murder plot fueled by envy and lies.

Full Story

Judge Overturns Conviction of ‘Making A Murderer’ Subject Brendan Dassey

Aug. 13, 2016 |

A federal judge in Wisconsin has overturned the conviction of Brendan Dassey, who was found guilty of helping his uncle kill a young woman in 2005. The story rose to national prominence when it was chronicled on the Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer.”

Now, U.S. Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin has ordered that Dassey should be released from custody within 90 days, unless prosecutors file an appeal against him.

Dassey was 16 years old when he confessed to helping his uncle, Steven Avery, carry out the rape and murder of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach.

Full Story

3 resentenced for ‘brutal’ 1994 murder

July 25, 2016 |

MARSHALLTOWN, Ia. — Josh Hauser showed a photo of his children sitting next to their grandmother’s gravestone as he told a courtroom in Marshalltown on Monday about all the experiences his family has missed, and all the pain they have felt, since his mother was murdered 22 years ago.

For his six children, visiting their Grandma Becky has always involved visiting the cemetery, he said. His loving mother has missed weddings, graduations, Christmases and other meaningful family events with her four children and her grandchildren, he said.

“My mother will never get her life back,” Hauser said during one of several emotional testimonies by members of his family at the courthouse Monday.

Full Story

RAGBRAI riders visit Villisca Axe Murder House

July 25, 2016 |

VILLISCA, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) — The scene of an infamous Iowa murder was a popular stop for RAGBRAI riders along the route Monday. Riders posed for photos outside the Villisca Ax Murder House.

In June of 1912, someone killed 8 people inside the home. The murder remains unsolved. The house is restored to what it looked like before the murders and was open today for RAGBRAI riders to take a tour.

“RAGBRAI riders like to see little things in each town what they’re famous for, this is kind of a stranger case, so of course were going to open our doors,” tour guide Johnny Houser said.

He says everyone who comes through the house likes to hear to the story and come up with a theory. Tour guides passed out buttons to riders who stopped by to visit.

Police scour Iowa lake where human foot was found in June

July 14, 2016 |

BURLINGTON, Ia. — Police are scouring a small eastern Iowa lake looking for additional human remains, weeks after a decomposed human foot was found near a spillway.

The Hawk Eye reports that Burlington police searched Lake West by kayak this week looking for additional body parts.

Police Major Dennis Kramer says investigators have been using various techniques to search the lake in northwest Burlington, including pumping water from the five-acre lake.

The foot was found on June 8 by people clearing brush around the lake. Authorities say it was discovered where a missing 53-year-old Burlington man’s bicycle was found last summer. Police say Steven Leasure has not been seen since May 2, 2015.

Fourth memorial ride for abducted cousins unites Evansdale

July 9, 2016 | | By Christinia Crippes

EVANSDALE — The roar of nearly 200 motorcycles Saturday morning was the sound — and a symbol — of a community coming together to support its own.

The fourth annual “Memorial Ride and Drive for the Girls” marked the anniversary of the still unsolved abduction and murder of cousins Elizabeth Collins, 8, and Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10.

It began at Lofty’s Lounge in Evansdale.

A short ceremony preceded the 170-mile ride to remember the girls and to raise awareness about missing and exploited children.

“The ride has become more than just a ride for Elizabeth and Lyric. It’s about our community that has come together,” said Drew Collins, Elizabeth’s father. “We are not just here to drink some beer and take a ride. We have come together to take a stand against anyone who would harm our children.”

Convicted teen Iowa killer leaving prison on work release

July 8, 2016 | | By Grant Rodgers

For the first time in almost 28 years, convicted murderer Yvette Louisell soon will live outside the walls of prison.

The Iowa Board of Parole voted Friday to move her to an Ames work-release program, ending years of legal wrangling that overturned an earlier sentence of life without parole.

Louisell was convicted of first-degree murder in 1987 for the killing of Keith Stilwell inside his Ames home. She was a 17-year-old college student at the time of the murder.

She is one the first Iowa inmates convicted of first-degree murder as a teenager to be granted conditional parole after a 2012 Supreme Court ruling declared that mandatory life-without-parole sentences are an unconstitutional form of cruel and unusual punishment for those who committed their crimes before turning 18.

Full Story

Klein cold case murder trial delayed until spring 2017

July 8, 2016 | | By Stephen Gruber-Miller

The trial of a Mount Pleasant man charged with a 1995 murder has been pushed back until spring 2017, a judge said Friday.

At a pretrial conference held at the Johnson County Courthouse on Friday afternoon, 6th Judicial District Judge Chad Kepros said the trial of Steven Klein, 55, will begin in late March or early April 2017. The trial had originally been set to begin this month.

Klein is accused of first-degree murder in the death of 38-year-old Susan Kersten, whose body was found Sept. 24, 1995, in her burned-out car 2 miles south of Iowa City, near her home at the Regency Mobile Home Village. He was arrested last July, almost 20 years after Kersten’s death.

Full Story

‘Ghost bike’ holds hope for cold case

June 29, 2016 |

Dinner will be waiting for you.

Those were the last words Kay Snopek heard from her husband before he pedaled his bicycle into the Boone County countryside the night of Aug. 8, 2007.

Mark Snopek, 53, was struck from behind and killed while riding on a rural county road. The driver of the vehicle has never been identified.

Twenty-four cyclists have been killed in collisions with motor vehicles on Iowa roads since 2011.

His wife gathered with friends this week to erect a memorial near the site of the fatal crash. These “ghost bikes” — riderless bicycles painted white and sometimes adorned with flowers and decorations — mark the scenes of cycling crashes. They have become more common along Iowa roadways.

Full Story

Shakopee Man to be Sentenced in 1999 Murder of Iowa Woman

June 24, 2016 |

An August sentencing has been scheduled for a Minnesota man accused of killing a woman in Iowa in 1999.

Court records say 37-year-old Deshaun Phillips, of Shakopee, Minnesota, entered an Alford plea to a voluntary manslaughter charge Thursday in Linn County District Court in Cedar Rapids. In an Alford plea, a person doesn’t admit guilt but acknowledges there is enough evidence for a likely conviction. His sentencing is set for Aug. 29.

Phillips originally was charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Judith Weeks. Weeks’ partially clothed body was found April 5, 1999, outside a vacant Cedar Rapids apartment. An autopsy concluded the 44-year-old woman had been struck in the forehead by a sharp object.

Full Story

Man enters Alford plea in 1999 death outside Cedar Rapids home

June 23, 2016 |

CEDAR RAPIDS — The daughter of Judith Weeks said Thursday she was relieved DeShaun Phillips will be “held accountable for my mother’s death” outside a Cedar Rapids home in 1999.

“I feel like we can move on now,” Kristin Twilla, of West Liberty, said after Phillips’ hearing in Linn County District Court. “We have been prisoners for 17 years (waiting for a conviction).”

Phillips, 37, of Shakopee, Minn., originally charged with first-degree murder, entered an Alford plea to voluntary manslaughter on Thursday. In making an Alford plea, a defendant doesn’t admit guilt but admits the prosecution could likely prove the charges based on evidence.

Phillips faces up to 10 years in prison and will be required to pay victim’s restitution. He has been in an Iowa jail since 2013 after fighting extradition from Minnesota, where he was being held on a domestic abuse charge.

Full Story

3 plead guilty to 2011 shooting death in Sioux City

June 10, 2016 |

SIOUX CITY | A press release announcing the guilty pleas of three men involved in the 2011 shooting death of Tony “T-Bone” Canfield announced “Cold Case Murder Solved.”

Courtland Clark, 26, of Flowery Branch, Georgia, Robert Beaver, 35, of Sioux City, and Devery Hibbler, 26, of Dumas, Arkansas, each pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Sioux City to one count of interference with commerce by robbery. Clark and Hibbler also pleaded guilty to one count of use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, plea agreements call for Hibbler to serve 35 years in prison, and Beaver will serve 20 years. Neither will have the possibility of parole or the right to appeal his conviction. Clark faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison. His sentence will be determined by a judge at sentencing.

Sentencing dates have yet to be set.

Full Story

No answers 2 years after Waterloo veteran found beaten

May 30, 2016 |

Today is a day we remember those who served our country. One veteran, now gone, is not forgotten. His family is still trying to find answers about how he was injured — before he died.

It’s an Iowa cold case involving veteran Dennis Washburn. On Memorial Day two years ago shortly before 1 a.m., someone found Dennis near former Longfellow Elementary School in Waterloo. The vet was lying on the ground, unconscious with a beat up face and a broken neck. He died a few days later.

Family members tell KWWL they think Dennis was beaten up and left for dead, but the state medical examiner ruled his cause of death as undetermined. Police are still looking for answers.

Full Story

Rugland: Always on alert

May 29, 2016 |

Over the last few months, I have read a handful of stories on social media about people acting suspiciously in stores in Iowa and, more specifically Mason City.

One story in particular really grabbed my attention. It was written by a woman who, while shopping at a store in Mason City with her husband and young son, was followed around by two men and a little girl.

They followed her into every aisle. When the woman and her family checked out, the men grabbed a bag of candy as their sole purchase and checked out, as well.

Full Story

Court: Juvenile killers can’t get life without parole

May 27, 2016 | | By Grant Rodgers

Iowa teenagers convicted of murder can no longer receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole, after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that the sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Locking away young convicted killers for good is simply too “speculative” when they have not been given any chance to show rehabilitation in prison, Justice Brent Appel wrote in a majority opinion.

The ruling forbids the sentence under a provision of the Iowa Constitution that bars cruel and unusual punishment. It will be up to the Iowa Board of Parole to make individual determinations about whether to release a juvenile convicted of murder.

The split 4-3 ruling makes Iowa the 19th state to institute an outright ban on the punishment, said Joshua Rovner, a state advocacy associate with The Sentencing Project, a group that hopes to end life without parole for juveniles.

Most of those states ended the practice through legislation, after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said life without parole could not be a mandatory punishment for teens convicted of first-degree murder.

“This is not a blue state or a red state thing,” Rovner said. “It’s quite clear the direction the country is going on this.”

Grassley cites ‘notorious’ Johnny Gosch, Jetseta Gage cases in support of legislation

May 25, 2016 |

CEDAR RAPIDS — Citing the 34-year-old disappearance of Des Moines newspaper delivery boy Johnny Gosch and the 2005 kidnapping, rape and murder of 10-year-old Jetseta Gage of Cedar Rapids, Sen. Chuck Grassley said U.S. Senate action this week will help protect children from sexual predators.

“Too many kids fall prey to sexual predators,” Grassley said Wednesday.

“The names Johnny Gosch, Eugene Martin and Jetseta Gage, for example, still bring heartbreak to all Iowans,” he said, noting that Gosch and Martin, who disappeared in 1982 and 1984, respectively, have never been found. Gage, was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender.

Full Story

Trial postponed in Liggins murder case

May 19, 2016 |

A Scott County judge has postponed a July 5 retrial of Davenport murder defendant Stanley C. Liggins, due to his attorney’s illness.

Chief Judge Marlita Greve also postponed a three-day hearing on pretrial hearings that was slated to begin May 25, according to an order filed May 10.

Liggins, 54, will be back in court June 24. A new trial date has not yet been set.

He is charged with first-degree murder, willful injury causing serious injury, first-degree sexual abuse, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree arson.

Prosecutors say Liggins strangled Jennifer Ann Lewis, 9, of Rock Island, and burned her remains on a Davenport school playground in 1990.

Liggins was tried twice in the girl’s death in the 1990s, once in Scott County and the second in Dubuque after he was granted a change of venue.

Baby drop boxes? God help us.

May 5, 2016 |

There are times when you just have to wonder what has become of the world.

This week, I received a press release about a new innovation – the baby drop-off box – which is being used in Indiana and will soon probably be available across the country.

Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.

If you don’t want your child, you toss it in the drop box, like last week’s library books or DVD movies you decided you don’t really want to see after all.

It’s even drive up, like a fast food joint. Because goodness knows we’re too lazy to get out of the car to abandon our babies these days.

I honestly couldn’t believe it when I read it. I thought it was a sick prank or something. It’s not.

Full Story

Dye Returns to Jail After Pre-Trial Release Violations

May 4, 2016 |

OTTUMWA—Zachary Allen Dye, 27, is finding himself back in the Wapello County Jail after having posted bond on March 1st. Dye is currently facing two counts of 1st Degree Murder in the deaths of two Ottumwa men. Seth Anderson, 22, and Nate Messer, 20, both lost their lives in a house fire in Wapello county on March 5th, 2006. The cause of the fire was initially ruled as undetermined. However, after nearly 10-years new information became available that the fire was started intentionally and led to the arrest of Dye and Christopher Joseph Yenger, 28.

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Law enforcement relics: evidence room techs showcase ‘pieces of history’

May 4, 2016 |

A 1940s Colt semi-automatic pistol, an Iowa driver’s license from 1933 and an Iowa State Sorority sweatshirt from 1968 all sound like items one would find at the Ames Historical Society or any other museum in central Iowa. But these relics are not in a museum, or any antique store.

They are all pieces of evidence in the Story County Sheriff’s Office.

According to Story County Sheriff’s Office Investigations Sgt. Rodney Bunn, items such as these are not usually kept for this long. But they are unique in the sense that they are all evidence in three separate murder cases.

“We keep the homicide stuff not only if (the case) is unsolved — because it could be solved some day — but also because people have a chance to appeal,” Bunn said. “We’ve all seen TV shows where people get released from prison because evidence is found later to prove that they didn’t commit the crime, so that’s why we keep all that stuff on homicides.”

The Colt pistol was used to kill Henry Chavis, who owned the former Ames Canning Company. Chavis was gunned down just outside of the porch to his home on the morning of Nov. 8, 1948. The prominent businessman was shot three times — in the arm, back and neck. The gun was discovered years later in Squaw Creek by two young boys. To this day, the case remains unsolved.

The 1933 Iowa driver’s license came from the wallet of Fred Hollingsworth, who in 1934 was shot in his car just east of Ames. A suspect was arrested and taken to trial, but was acquitted due to insufficient evidence, and to this day, that case, too, has never been solved.

Full Story

Law enforcement relics: evidence room techs showcase ‘pieces of history’

April 30, 2016 |

A 1940s Colt semi-automatic pistol, an Iowa driver’s license from 1933 and an Iowa State Sorority sweatshirt from 1968 all sound like items one would find at the Ames Historical Society or any other museum in central Iowa. But these relics are not in a museum, or any antique store.

A 1940s Colt semi-automatic pistol, an Iowa driver’s license from 1933 and an Iowa State Sorority sweatshirt from 1968 all sound like items one would find at the Ames Historical Society or any other museum in central Iowa. But these relics are not in a museum, or any antique store.

They are all pieces of evidence in the Story County Sheriff’s Office.

After acquittal in death of cab driver, Johnathan Mitchell indicted in cab robbery: Mitchell was acquitted in death of cab driver in 2013

April 26, 2016 |

The man acquitted in the 2011 homicide of a local cab driver has now been charged in federal court for robbing her at the time of her death.

Johnathan Dewayne Mitchell, 38, of Cedar Rapids, was indicted Tuesday of one count of robbery affecting commerce in U.S. District Court. The indictment states Mitchell obstructed commerce — the cab company service — by “violently” robbing Catherine “Cathy” Stickley, 54, who was driving a Century Cab on April 29, 2011.

His initial appearance in federal court hasn’t been set. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

Iowa Cold Case: Who murdered Lisa Peak?

Lisa Peak

Lisa Peak at age 19 (Courtesy photo KWWL and Meredith Van Benthuysen)

April 26, 2016 |

WAVERLY (KWWL) — “It’s been 40 years. It’s about time for it to just be resolved,” said Meredith van Benthuysen, Lisa Peak’s sister.

Peak was a sophomore journalism student at Wartburg College. As a Wartburg college journalism alum, perhaps, that’s why I was so interested in her story.

Heck, I even lived in the same dorm as Peak lived in. When speaking with Peak’s sister, she even mention to me that I’m living the life maybe her sister would have been living.

It’s a case that has stuck with me for several years, but I’m not the only one bothered by this cold case.

Peak was last seen leaving campus and walking toward the shopping center. Her body was later found in a ditch outside of town. She was naked, raped, and murdered.

Still no answers 5 years after Ashley Okland murder

April 8, 2016 | The Des Moines Register

Ashley Okland

Ashley Okland

Five years after the murder of 27-year-old real estate agent Ashley Okland in West Des Moines, the case still remains unsolved.

Friday was the five-year anniversary of Okland’s death, and West Des Moines Police issued a news release to ask anyone with information about the murder to come forward.

“Even with the passage of time, investigators assigned to this case are confident that someone has important knowledge about the time leading up to her death and the identities of those involved,” police said.

A reward of up to $150,000 is available for information leading to the arrest of Okland’s killer.

Magistrate denies supervised release for Anthony Burtch: Bond set at $1 million cash

March 25, 2016 | The Cedar Rapids Gazette

IOWA CITY — Anthony Burtch will remain in custody on a $1 million cash bond after a request to be placed on supervised release was denied. During an initial appearance Friday morning, Burtch’s attorney Lei Bei, said his client fit the criteria for a lower bond or supervised release. Burtch, 57, has lived in Iowa City continuously since 1976, working for a time as a parking cashier before retiring due to disabilities.

“Even after he was investigated,” Bei said.

Bei said his client has diabetes and has suffered from a stroke. He has a pacemaker, shunts in his heart, dietary restrictions and requires a special medication he receives from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Burtch is a single father to two sons, one of which still lived at home at the time of his arrest, Bei said.

“He’s not a flight risk,” he said. “He’s not a danger to the community.”

Cold Case murder suspect makes initial court appearance

March 25, 2016 |

Thirty years after a murder case goes cold, suspect Anthony Burtch is arrested. His bond is set at one million dollars at his initial court appearance. Burtch’s attorney argues the amount, saying Burtch should have a lower bond.

“He’s not a flight risk,” attorney Lei Bei said. “He has ties to the community, he’s not a danger to society.”

But due to the nature of the charges, the bond remains. The 57-year-old is suspected of shooting and killing Lance DeWoody in 1985.

Burtch has lived in Iowa City for years, but neighbors find it hard to believe the man on their street could be a murderer.

New Mason City Police Chief optimistic about solving Jodi Huisentruit case

March 25, 2016 |

In a recent telephone conversation with FindJodi’s Caroline Lowe, Mason City Police Chief Jeff Brinkley reflected on what it will take to solve the case and what he thinks that resolution would mean to the Mason City community.

Brinkley took over as chief in January 2016 after 20 years with the Ames, Iowa, Police Department.

He’s the fourth Mason City Police Chief since Jodi Huisentruit disappeared on her way to work at KIMT TV on June 27, 1995.

Cold case arrest raises hopes for success in other unsolved crimes

March 25, 2016 |

Law officers are hoping they can solve more of state’s cold cases following this week’s arrest in a three decades old homicide in eastern Iowa.

Iowa DCI Assistant Director Mitch Mortvedt says reviewing cold cases is “very labor intensive” and his agency does not have people dedicated solely to the effort.

“All of our agents out in the field across the state of Iowa, there are 29 or 30 of them, they carry case loads of all the current homicides, kidnappings, sexual assaults, and everything else that we get requested to assist with — and almost everyone of those agents also carry two or three cold cases as part of their case load,” Mortvedt said.

Cold Case Murder Suspect’s Bond Set at One Million Dollars

MARCH 25, 2016 | KCRG.COM

Authorities say Burtch, 57, shot and killed Lance DeWoody in Coralville in August of 1985. Workers at the University of Iowa Oakdale campus found DeWoody suffering from gunshot wounds to the head and neck.

Burtch’s attorney argued that his client should not be subject to such a high bond because he is not a flight risk. Burtch is retired from working for the city of Iowa City in the parking department, his attorney said.

Unsolved Mysteries of Cedar Rapids

March 15, 2016 |

With relatively little violent crime to speak of, Cedar Rapids nonetheless has its share of unsolved murder mysteries!

Consider these five most intriguing cold cases from our own neighborhood compiled from Iowa Cold Cases. This organization helps keep these cases open by using the resources of citizens like you offering tips and new information, and the police and journalists who investigate and report on developments.

Read More: Unsolved Mysteries of Cedar Rapids!

Trial delayed for Iowa man charged in 1995 death of woman

March 19, 2016 |

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The trial for a man charged with first-degree murder in the 1995 death of an Iowa City woman has been delayed.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen reports ( that Steven John Klein, of Mount Vernon, now faces trial on July 25, and the trial is expected to last 10 to 15 days.

Murder trial delayed for man charged in cold case

March 18, 2016 | Iowa City Press-Citizen

The trial for the man charged with first-degree murder in the death of Susan Kersten in Iowa City 20 years ago has been delayed.

Steve Klein of Mount Vernon was arrested in July on homicide charges for the death of Kersten. At a pre-trial hearing Friday afternoon at the Johnson County Courthouse, Klein’s public defender and Johnson County attorneys agreed to a joint motion to delay the trial.

Judge Chad Kepros of Iowa’s Sixth Judicial District suggested the trial be pushed to July 25, and the defense and prosecution agreed. That trial is expected to last 10 to 15 days, Assistant County Attorney Dana Christiansen and Kepros said.

Top 10 Iowa City area news stories of 2015

Jan. 3, 2016 | Iowa City Press-Citizen

From the turnover in the University of Iowa’s president’s office, to development battles over historic and future buildings, to the Hawkeye football team’s stunning run to Pasadena, there was no shortage of banner headlines in the Iowa City area in 2015.

#8: Arrest made in 20-year-old cold case

In the two decades since Susan Kersten‘s body was found in a burned-out car in a field 2 miles south of Iowa City, her death had remained a mystery.

Authorities reached a major breakthrough in the case July 17, when Johnson County sheriff’s investigators announced they had arrested 54-year-old Steven John Klein in Muscatine and charged him with first-degree murder.

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