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Iowa Cold Cases, Inc.
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The cases listed below represent Iowa cold cases where arrests have been made since we first began tracking the state’s unsolved cases in December 2005. It includes cases where suspects have been convicted or acquitted, cases solved by exceptional means, and cases currently making their way through the criminal justice system.
This page is dedicated to the many past and present investigators who never gave up on seeing justice served for the victim and his or her family.
Home Residence: Macedonia, Iowa
Went Missing From: Pottawattamie County
Last Seen Alive Nov. 13, 2012, in Omaha, Neb.
Arrest Made: Dec. 22, 2016
Cari Lea Farver, 37, of Macedonia, Iowa, was last seen alive in Omaha the morning of Nov. 13, 2012. Her mother, Nancy Raney of Carson, Iowa, reported her as missing to the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Nov. 16, 2012. Officials found Farver’s vehicle in Omaha on Jan. 10, 2013.
The case went cold, but in February 2016, Pottawattamie County detectives asked the Omaha police cold case unit to assist in the investigation. On Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016, Omaha police announced they’d arrested 41-year-old Shanna Goylar at her home in Persia, Iowa, and charged her with first-degree murder in Cari Farver’s death. Persia is located about 35 miles northeast of Omaha.
Police believe the slaying took place Nov. 13 or 14, 2012, in west Omaha, according to a police report.
Date of Crime: April 16, 2000
Arrest Made: December 9, 2016
Cora Ann Okonski, a 23-year-old young mother engaged to be married the following month, left her Tama, Iowa, home around 9 p.m. on Sunday, April 16, 2000, and headed to the store to buy cigarettes. She was never seen again. Tait Otis Purk, 33 — Okonski’s live-in companion and the man she planned to marry — told police he had stayed home to care for Okonski’s two-year-old son, Austin, and that he’d last seen his fiancée walking west on 5th Street in Tama.
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 DCI 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.
Media contact: Iowa DCI Special Agent in Charge Richard Rahn at (563) 370-5109.
1401 George St.
Sioux City, Iowa
Killed: Sunday, May 1, 2011
Arrests Made: June 10, 2016
Sentencings: Sept. 1, Sept. 7, 2016
At 11 p.m. Sunday, May 1, 2011, three men – Courtland Clark, 26, of Flowery Branch, Georgia, Robert Beaver, 35, of Sioux City, and Devery Hibbler, 26, of Dumas, Arkansas – entered the 1401 George St., Sioux City apartment belonging to Dana and Tony Canfield in order to rob Tony of his marijuana and cash.
Authorities said Beaver beat and held Canfield’s wife while Clark and Hibbler struggled and robbed Canfield. Canfield fought back and managed to escape by running out the front door. At this point Hibbler then shot Canfield in the head on the front porch.
The three robbers fled the scene, and evaded capture for five years as the Sioux City Police Department, Woodbury County Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation worked together to build a solid case against all three men. Because his business was illegal and involved interstate commerce, Sioux City police and the Woodbury County Attorney’s Office referred the case to the United States Attorney’s Office, and federal prosecutors were able to claim jurisdiction in the case.
Sioux City police announced on Friday, June 10, 2016, that they’d arrested and charged all three men in Canfield’s homicide and that all three individuals entered guilty pleas.
Clark and Hibbler each pleaded guilty 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.
On Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, Hibbler was sentenced to serve 35 years in prison; Beaver was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison. Neither will have the possibility of parole or the right to appeal his conviction.
On Sept. 7, 2016, Courtland Clark was sentenced to 21 years in prison for his role in Tony Canfield’s death.
University of Iowa
Date of Crime: August 12, 1985
Arrest Made: March 24, 2016
Lance Lee DeWoody, 22, of North Liberty, Iowa, was shot in the head and neck at a picnic shelter on the north side of the University of Iowa’s Oakdale campus in Coralville sometime between late Monday night, August 12, 1985, and early Tuesday morning.
Oakdale campus employees found DeWoody’s body shortly after sunrise Tuesday near the campus’ general hospital parking lot. He lay face up on the floor of an open-air park shelter, dressed in blue jeans, a blue jacket and tennis shoes. His pickup was found parked about 70 yards away.
More than 30 years later, The Iowa Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), in cooperation with the Coralville Police Department, arrested Anthony Burtch, 57, of Iowa City, on March 24, 2016, and charged him with Murder in the First Degree, a Class “A” Felony, in DeWoody’s slaying.
Throughout the investigation it was determined that DeWoody was dating the wife of Burtch. DeWoody and Burtch’s wife spent the evening of August 12, 1985, together and then Burtch’s wife returned home to Burtch. Shortly after her return, Burtch left for approximately an hour-and-a-half. Investigators believe that Burtch killed DeWoody during this time. Burtch is scheduled to face trial Feb. 7, 2017.
11612 140th Street
Date of Crime: March 5, 2006
Arrest Made: March 24, 2016
At approximately 6:33 a.m. on March 5, 2006, a neighbor observed smoke and flames coming from the residence of 11612 140th Street. Wapello County Rural Fire and Rescue and the Hedrick Fire Department were called and responded to the scene.
Arriving emergency personnel found two individuals outside of the home. The residence was fully engulfed in flames and sustained major fire damage. Seth Anderson, 22, and Nathan Messer, 20, who were sleeping on the second floor of the home, never made it out and died from smoke inhalation.
The investigation in 2006 was closed and the fire was ruled undetermined. In January 2016, the case was reopened after information came to light that two individuals started the fire after a physical altercation at the residence shortly before the fire was discovered.
On January 25, 2016, Christopher Joseph Yenger, 28, of Ottumwa, and Zachary Allen Dye, 27, of Council Bluffs, were arrested and each charged with two counts of Felony Murder. A trial date has not yet been set.
Iowa City, Iowa
Case Number: 95-11388
Date of Crime: September 24, 1995
Arrest Made: July 27, 2015
Susan Kersten, a 38-year-old gifted artist and divorced mother of four — including 1-year-old twin daughters — was killed in Iowa City on Sunday, Sept. 24, 1995, sometime after returning home from a family reunion. She’d been beaten severely, put inside her vehicle, and the car then set afire after being rolled down an embankment.
Kersten’s former boyfriend, Steven J. Klein (now 54), was arrested in Muscatine July 17, 2015, and charged with first-degree murder in the nearly 20-year-old unsolved homicide.
Kersten’s death came just three weeks before a scheduled child support hearing for the couple’s twins. Klein is being held in the Johnson County Jail on a $1 million cash-only bond. His trial is scheduled to begin March 27, 2017.
Former John Doe 2005
Approx. 40-45 YOA
Case Number: 05-43363
Body Found: 800 block W. Riverside Drive
Des Moines, IA
Approx. Date of Death: Oct. 18, 2005
Body Found: Oct. 25, 2005
Body Identified: November 2014
On Oct. 25, 2005, the body of a white male was found floating in the Des Moines River near the west bank in the vicinity of the 800 block of W. Riverside Drive in Des Moines. The victim, believed to be somewhere between 40 and 45 years old, had brown hair with a goatee, was shirtless, wore size 36 tan shorts beneath size 38 blue trousers and wore a yellow and white Relic brand watch.
In 2010, WHO-TV Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck ran a story about the case as part of an ongoing cold case series with Iowa Cold Cases. A woman thought she recognized the picture of the victim shown on TV as her ex-husband and called Des Moines police, but was incorrectly told the body was that of a Hispanic male.
WHO-TV eventually removed the story and video and from its website, but the case summary and video remained on the Iowa Cold Cases site. In November 2014, the woman checked out the story again on the iowacoldcases.org website, and was sure the body belonged to her ex-husband, Robert Bryan McMahon. She contacted the medical examiners office, and Polk County Chief Medical Examiner Gregory Schmunk was able to positively identify the body as that of McMahon. The cremains were presented to McMahon’s ex-wife Nancy and family Nov. 12, 2014, and Dr. Schmunck credited both WHO-TV and Iowa Cold Cases for helping to solve the case.
“It was absolutely crucial,” Dr. Schmunck told Channel 13’s Brilbeck. “Had you not done your work, and Iowa Cold Cases not put it out there, he would have been never identified.”
2492 Highway 59
Date of Crime: July 18, 2009
Arrest Made: Oct. 29, 2014
Conviction: Feb. 16, 2015
Holly Rae Durben, 29, was shot to death on Saturday, July 18, 2009, in the Shenandoah home she shared with her boyfriend, Brian Heath Davis. Davis told authorities Holly had committed suicide.
Brian Davis was arrested Oct. 29, 2014 and charged with first-degree murder in Holly’s death.
On Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, Fremont County District Court Judge Timothy O’Grady found Davis guilty of first-degree murder in Holly’s death.
610 N. 5th Street
Sac City, IA
Reported Missing: July 4, 2009
Declared Legally Dead: Oct. 10, 2011
Remains Found: Nov. 5, 2012
Suspect Arrested: March 25, 2014
Conviction Date: April 3, 2015
Mark Koster disappeared from Sac City, Iowa, sometime during the summer of 2009 and reported missing to the Sac City Police Department July 4, 2009. He’d been “last seen with a friend from Florida,” and a search warrant served on Koster’s house revealed all his clothes and possessions still in the home. His vehicle remained parked in the garage.
On Nov. 5, 2012, a new homeowner renovating Koster’s former Sac City home discovered human skeletal remains concealed in the basement and immediately notified Sac City police. Officials later identified the remains as Koster’s.
On March 25, 2014, officials with the Sac City Police Department and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation arrested 54-year-old John David Green in Orange Park, Florida, and charged him with first-degree murder in Koster’s death. On April 3, 2015, a Boone County, Iowa jury found Green guilty of second-degree murder in Koster’s death.
1613 S. 13th St., Apt. 1
Council Bluffs, IA
Case Number: 03-004354
Date of Crime: July 31, 2003
Arrest Made: March 4, 2014
Date of Conviction: July 1, 2014
In the early morning hours on July 31, 2003, Nelson “Selena” Alvarez-Hernandez, 33, was stabbed to death in front of an apartment building at 1613 So. 13th St. in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Thomas J. Sanchez was arrested Jan. 23, 2014 after DNA evidence linked him to Alvarez-Hernandez’s murder, and on March 4, 2014, authorities also arrested 36-year-old James Cain Harris of Council Bluffs on suspicion of first-degree murder in the case.
Charges against Thomas Sanchez were dismissed June 24, 2014.
Harris was held at the Pottawattamie County Jail on a $1 million bond, and his trial began June 24, 2014. On July 1, 2014, jurors found Harris guilty of first-degree murder. On Aug. 20, 2014, Fourth District Judge Greg Steensland sentenced Harris to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Copper Dollar Ranch
Case # 83-1119
Date of Crime: March 3, 1983
Arrest Made: March 3, 2014
Verdict: Feb. 20, 2015 — Theresa Supino acquitted
Steven Fisher and girlfriend Melisa Gregory were found bludgeoned to death at the Copper Dollar Ranch northwest of Newton, Iowa, in Jasper County on March 3, 1983. The attack’s sheer brutality initially led police to believe the pair had been shot in their heads. It later was determined the two were bludgeoned to death.
Jasper County Attorney Steve Johnson acknowledged there was some known drug activity in the area, but said he personally believed the murders were “up close and personal.”
On Monday, March 3, 2014 — exactly 31 years to the day when Melisa and Steven’s bodies were found — the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference to announce they’d arrested Fisher’s estranged wife, Terri Supino, and charged her with two counts of first-degree murder.
During a pretrial conference Wednesday morning, Aug. 27, 2014, Judge Terry Rickers said there would be “substantial prejudice” against 54-year-old Theresa Lynn “Terri” Supino if her trial were held in the Newton or Des Moines areas, and the trial was moved to Black Hawk County.
On Feb. 20, 2015, Black Hawk County jurors acquitted Supino in both counts of first-degree murder.
Jasper County Attorney Mike Jacobsen said his office would not have brought charges against Supino if they didn’t feel they could get a guilty verdict.
Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty said that while the case is now considered closed, his office would leave the door open to entertain new leads if they become available.
Drakesville, IA (Davis County)
Eldon, IA (Wapello County)
Case Number: 84-01854
Date of Crime(s): April 13, 1984
Case Solved: January 10, 2014
On Friday, April 13, 1984, the body of 20-year-old Justin Alfred Hook Jr., was found outside near his burned-out mobile home in rural Drakesville in southeast Iowa. Firefighters discovered Hook’s body about 4:30 p.m. after they’d extinguished the fire. He’d been killed by blows to the head.
Officials were unable to locate his mother, 41-year-old Sarah Lee Link, to inform her of her son’s death, but discovered her body the following Monday, April 16, in a hilly wooded area north of Eldon. She, too, had died from blunt force trauma to the head.
Authorities then launched an intensive search for Hook’s fiancée, 19-year-old Tina Marie Lade of Ottumwa, to whom he’d recently become engaged. On Wednesday, April 18, trained police dogs discovered Miss Lade’s body in a ravine about a half-mile from where they found Mrs. Link’s body. Lade, like the others, had died from blows to the head.
On Jan. 10, 2014, nearly 30 years after the triple homicide, DCI and Wapello County authorities announced that Andrew Wessel Six was responsible for the murders. Missouri authorities executed Six in 1997 for the 1987 kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Kathy Allen.
38 Wakefield Ct.
Iowa City, IA
Date of Crime: Sept. 20, 1997
Arrest Made: Nov. 26, 2013
Husband, John Bloomfield, Arrested/Charged: Nov. 26, 2013
John Bloomfield dies while awaiting trial: Nov. 6, 2014
Frances Bloomfield was reported missing on September 22, 1997, by her husband, John, who had returned from a business conference in France.
Mrs. Bloomfield’s body was found three days later, bound with pantyhose and wrapped in plastic bound with duct tape, in a ditch along a highway about a half-mile south of Rockford, Illinois. She’d been strangled.
Investigators believe she’d been killed in her home on Sept. 20.
John Bloomfield was arrested in November 2013 and charged with first-degree murder in his wife’s death. He died Nov. 6, 2014 while awaiting trial.
1319 Second Ave. SE
Cedar Rapids, IA
Date of Crime: April 4, 1999
Arrest Made: August 16, 2013
Alford Plea Entered: June 23, 2016 for Voluntary Manslaughter
Judith Kay Weeks, a 44-year-old mother of two, was last seen alive on Sunday morning, April 4, 1999. The following day, her body was discovered in the back yard of a vacant apartment house at 1319 Second Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The only apparent injury was a wound to Weeks’ forehead caused by a bladed object, according to a police affidavit filed with an application to search her apartment at 1002 Fifth St. SE.
Deshaun Lamonte Phillips, 34, was arrested in Shakopee, Minn., on Friday, August 16, 2013, and charged with First-Degree Murder in Weeks’ death. On June 23, 2016 he entered an Alford plea to voluntary manslaughter. He faces up to 10 years in prison and will be sentenced Aug. 23, 2016.
20 months old
10 S. Adams Ave., Apt. 1
Mason City, IA
Cerro Gordo County
Date of Crime: July 20, 1994
Arrest Made: July 15, 2013
Suspect Acquitted: July 14, 2014
Twenty-month-old John Joseph Snyder Jr., the son of John Snyder Sr. and Lisa Sellman, was reported as missing from his father’s 10 S. Adams Avenue Mason City apartment on Wednesday morning, July 20, 1994.
Police searched surrounding areas and that same day found the toddler’s blue pajama bottoms and his diaper by Willow Creek about two blocks south of the Snyder home. Thursday morning around 10 a.m., searchers using dogs discovered the young boy’s body snagged on a tree stump near Willow Creek’s north bank, about one-half mile downstream from where the tot’s clothing had been found.
On Monday, July 15, 2013, Mason City police and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation held a press conference stating that Michael Jason Cisneros, 37, formerly of Mason City, had been charged with first-degree murder in John Snyder Jr.’s death. Investigators had linked Cisneros to the crime via solid DNA evidence found on the toddler’s pajama bottoms.
On July 14, 2014 — just six days before the case’s 20th anniversary — Cerro Gordo County jurors acquitted Cisneros, despite the DNA evidence, after public defender Letitia Turney based her entire defense not on her client’s innocence but by defaming the boy’s father to make him appear responsible for the crime. Two weeks after the verdict, a judge found Turney in contempt of court over her handling of the Michael Cisneros murder trial. Turney was fined, though Cisneros cannot be tried again due to double jeopardy.
Case # 74-00243
April 9, 1974
Arrest Made: Nov. 13, 2012
Mary Jayne Jones, 17, of Ottumwa, Iowa, was found slain in a farmhouse near Blakesburg, Iowa, on Tuesday, April 9, 1974. She had been shot once in the head and once in the heart at close range with a high-powered rifle.
On Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014, Robert “Gene” Pilcher, 68, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Mary Jayne’s death. Under the plea deal, both sides recommended a 10-year sentence, which Judge Richard Meadows imposed on Pilcher.
Pilcher will receive credit for the two years served since his arrest, and also will quality for reductions for good behavior. He may be out of prison in as little as five years.
1781 Quarry Road, Apt. #4
Date of Crime: July 1, 2005
Date Charges Filed: Sept. 27, 2012
Conviction Date: March 10, 2015
Five-year-old Evelyn Miller was reported missing on July 1, 2005, from the Floyd, Iowa apartment her mother, Noel Miller, shared with her fiancé, Casey Frederiksen. Evelyn’s body was found in the Cedar River five days after she went missing.
On Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, Casey Frederiksen was charged with first-degree murder and first-degree sexual abuse in connection with Evelyn’s death.
On Tuesday, March 10, 2015, a Hamilton County jury found Frederiksen, 35, guilty on both charges. Frederiksen is currently serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison for receiving and possessing child pornography, but will now spend the rest of his life behind bars without the possibility of parole.
Home Residence: Sabula, IA
Found: Area of Rock Creek cabins at 2829 U.S. 67
Date of Crime: October 7, 2008
Arrest Made: July 27, 2012
Conviction Date: July 11, 2013
Alysia Kay Marburger, 27, was last seen alive leaving a friend’s apartment with Andy Cole of Clinton about 2:15 a.m. October 7, 2008. The next day, her parents, John and Leone Marburger, filed a missing persons report with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. At 11:08 a.m. on Friday, October 24, 2008, Marburger’s partially nude remains were discovered in a ditch in the Rock Creek Cabin area at 2829 U.S. 67 in Camanche.
The Iowa State Medical Examiner’s Office in Ankeny conducted an autopsy but were unable to determine an exact cause or manner of death but called it “highly suspicious of a homicide.”
On Friday, July 27, 2012, the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office announced they had arrested Cole and charged him with first-degree murder in Marburger’s death. Cole, 48, entered an Alford plea and on Thursday, July 11, 2013, was sentenced in Clinton County District Court to 10 years on one count of voluntary manslaughter and 5 years for assault with intent to commit sexual abuse.
1101 10th Avenue
Fort Dodge, IA
Crime Date: May 8, 2011
Date of Death: January 22, 2012
Arrest Made: July 12, 2012
On Sunday, May 8, 2011 — Mother’s Day — Brandyn Preston of Fort Dodge was shot in the neck while attending a bonfire party in the back yard at 1101 10th Ave. SW in Fort Dodge. Preston, 19, was taken to Trinity Regional Medical Center just after 4 a.m. and then transferred to Iowa Methodist Hospital in Des Moines.
The bullet lodged in Preston’s spinal cord and left the basketball enthusiast paralyzed from the neck down and dependent on a ventilator to breathe. On Sunday, January 22, 2012, he passed away in Tampa, Florida, where his family had taken him for longterm care.
On Thursday, July 12, 2012, Derrick J. McElroy, 26, of Fort Dodge, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in connection with Preston’s death.
On Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, a Webster County jury found McElroy guilty as charged.
311 W. 10th St.
Black Hawk County
Crime Date: January 12, 1981
Arrest Date: May 8, 2012
Conviction Date: June 7, 2012
Robert Huntbach, 85, and his wife Goldie, 77, were bound, gagged and tortured in their modest Waterloo home before someone shot each of them twice in the head sometime late Sunday night, Jan. 12, 1981. Police interviewed dozens of people after the murders — including Jack Wendell Pursel — but never made any arrests and the case went cold for 31 years.
On Tuesday, May 8, 2012, Jack Wendell Pursel, a 66-year-old former Waterloo resident who’d been living in South Gate, Calif., walked into the Waterloo Police Department and confessed to the double homicide. Police said he offered information about the crime only the killer would have known.
On Wednesday arrested and charged Pursel with two counts of first-degree murder.
On June 7, 2012, Judge Brad Harris sentenced Pursel to life in prison without parole, which is the mandatory punishment under state law.
Case # 07-01804
Est. Date of Death: January 11, 2007
Body Found: January 13, 2007
Arrest Made: June 8, 2011
Conviction Date: April 17, 2012
On or around January 11, 2007, Angela Hennes, 41, was strangled to death, her body set on fire and then dumped in a farm field off Seven Sisters Road in rural Scott County. Toxicology reports showed no drugs or alcohol in her system.
On June 8, 2011, Scott County authorities announced they had charged Chad Michael Lee Welsh, 33, with Angela’s murder. Investigators linked Welsh to Hennes’ murder through DNA. On April 17, 2012, a Scott County District Court jury found Welsh guilty of first-degree murder.
1500 block alley between Second and Third avenues SE
Cedar Rapids, IA
Date of Death: April 29, 2011
Arrest of Johnathan Dewayne Mitchell: May 3, 2011
Story County jury acquits Mitchell of all charges: Oct. 23, 2013
Federal prosecutors charge and indict Mitchell April 26, 2016, in U.S. District Court for “violently” robbing Stickley on April 29, 2011. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
On Friday, April 29, 2011, someone stabbed Cedar Rapids cab driver Catherine Ann “Cathy” Stickley 18 times in the neck and head before stealing the cab fare money from the 54-year-old mother of four children and five grandchildren.
On Tuesday, May 3, 2011, nearly 20 officers in SWAT gear approached the 416 15th St. NE home of 33-year-old Johnathan Dewayne Mitchell, located a half-block from Polk Elementary School and just five blocks from where Stickley had been killed. Armed with shields, rifles and crowbars, officials arrested Mitchell at the home without incident, and later charged him with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in Stickley’s homicide.
The trial — moved from Linn County to Story County based on pretrial publicity — eventually began jury selection on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, in Nevada, Iowa. On Oct. 23, 2013, Story County jurors acquitted Mitchell on both the murder and robbery charges. The story did not end there.
On Tuesday, April 26, 2016, federal prosecutors charged and indicted Mitchell in U.S. District Court for “violently” robbing Stickley on April 29, 2011. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.