7 of Iowa’s Most Infamous Cold Cases

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Over the past 30 years, around one in three Iowa homicides has gone unsolved.

As time ticks on, law enforcement and the loved ones of those involved hope for breakthroughs, but no answers come. Some of these unsolved mysteries happened more than a century ago. We’ve compiled a bone-chilling list that runs chronologically from oldest to most recent.

The Villisca Axe Murders

9 Iowa Cold Cases to Send Chills Up Your Spine
Photo courtesy of Died in House via Facebook

Few Iowans are unfamiliar with what became known as the Villisca Axe Murders, as it remains one of the most heinous crimes in the state’s history.

The crime took place overnight on June 9, 1912, in the home of Sarah and Josiah Moore. Sometime around midnight, someone came into the house wielding an ax that had been in the backyard and proceeded to brutally murder the couple, their four children, and two young girls who were visiting. The slain family was found in the morning.

The murderer(s) left a few bizarre mementos behind—a 4-pound piece of bacon near the ax, a plate of uneaten food and bowl of bloody water in the kitchen, and the family’s clothes covering all the mirrors and reflective glass in the house.

The most promising suspect was the Rev. George Kelly, who left on a train that morning and reportedly told fellow travelers that there were eight dead souls in Villisca—before the bodies had even been discovered. He confessed to the murder in 1917 while awaiting trial, but later recanted and was acquitted by a jury. No one else has ever been tried for the horrific slayings.

In the 120+ years since the crime, numerous documentaries have been made about it, and you can even take daytime and overnight tours of the Villisca Axe Murder House.

The Murder of Edward Kriz

9 Iowa Cold Cases to Send Chills Up Your Spine
Photo courtesy of The Gazette

While many cases on this list had few leads, the murder of Edward Kriz came very close to getting solved—and may have if not for a grave error made by an FBI lab.

It all began on Nov. 10, 1962, when Edward Kriz closed his restaurant, George’s Buffet, a bit early. As was their custom, he, his wife, and the bartender walked to a nearby diner for coffee and sandwiches. As the trio left the building, they saw a purported robber wearing a Halloween mask. Shots were fired as Kriz lunged at the man. The killer ran from the scene, and 43-year-old Kriz died within minutes.

While searching the crime scene, police found a button they believed was torn from the killer’s coat lapel. Paired with that piece of evidence, a tip led to the arrest of 18-year-old Joseph Schneider that same year.

“At that home, in his bedroom and in his closet, I located a tan-colored trench coat with a lapel that had been torn,” Iowa City investigator Paul Hoffey later said. “The button was gone, but the threads were still there.”

Hoffey hand-delivered the button to an FBI crime lab, which somehow lost it. With no button to match to the jacket, the murder charges against Schneider were dropped the following year. In 2012, Hoffey claimed he was still upset about the mishap: “It’s been bothering me for a long, long time.”

Any tips regarding Edward Kriz’s unsolved murder can be given to the Iowa City Police Department at 319-356-5275 or to the Investigations Division at investigations@iowa-city.org.

The Disappearance of Lynn Schuller

9 Iowa Cold Cases to Send Chills Up Your Spine
Photo courtesy of The Gazette

Cedar Rapids resident Keith Schuller reported his 25-year-old wife missing on August 7, 1972. Schuller told officials that just the day before, he had taken their toddler for a long bike ride and returned to find Lynn and her bike missing. After taking his son swimming, he said the bike had returned, but Lynn had not.

There was no sign of forced entry, and Keith refused to help the investigation—making him a suspect from the get-go. In addition, law enforcement found out that he had asked Lynn for a divorce a year prior and she had refused.

According to Iowa Cold Cases, Lynn had written a letter to her mother stating that Keith kept pressing for a divorce and had even threatened to kill her. “You never believe anything like that is going to happen in your own family,” Eloise Tickner told the Gazette. “So I threw the letter away.”

The 31-year-old Keith was arrested pretty much on the spot, but the charges were later dropped. In 1978, he convinced the judge to declare Lynn deceased so that he could finally get a divorce. To this day, Lynn’s family members believe Keith is responsible for her death. There is even a theory that he fed her remains to his 6-foot-long pet alligator and snakes.

Anyone with information about Lynn Schuller’s disappearance should contact one of the following individuals or agencies:

The Murder of Rhonda Knutson

9 Iowa Cold Cases to Send Chills Up Your Spine
Photo courtesy of Cedar Rapids Gazette

In the early hours of Sept. 7, 1992, 22-year-old Rhonda Annette Knutson was murdered while working a shift at the Phillips 66 convenience store in Williamstown. According to Iowa Cold Cases, Rhonda’s manager found her body in a back room at 4:45 am, with an autopsy later revealing that someone had bludgeoned her to death with a blunt object. There weren’t any signs of sexual assault, and robbery was not considered a motive.

In the days following the murder, police asked the public to help find two suspects, both truckers who were seen at the store that morning. The investigation also included hundreds of interviews, a private investigator, and psychics. However, the case is still listed on Chickasaw County’s Unsolved Crimes page.

The Disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit

9 Iowa Cold Cases to Send Chills Up Your Spine
Photo courtesy of FindJodi.com

On June 27, 1995, Jodi Huisentruit failed to show up to her job as a news anchor. When colleagues called to check in, she said she had overslept and would be there soon. However, she never arrived. When police found her vehicle, they saw that her belongings were inside and there were signs of a struggle outside. However, no suspects have been named to this day, and Jodi was legally declared dead in 2001.

On the 28th anniversary of Jodi’s disappearance, investigator Steve Ridge, who brought the case back to the forefront, told Iowa’s News Now, “I actually believe that there are people that have been on the edge of their seat to talk for many years and just can’t quite get over the hump … I’m confident that, slowly, this puzzle will come together.”

Her family also released a statement saying, “We never thought a tragedy like this would happen to our family. Please do not make us wait another year for answers. We implore you—if you know something, SAY something.”

Anyone with information about Jodi’s case can call the Mason City Police Department at (641) 421-3636, email Iowa DCI Special Agent Ryan Herman at rherman@dps.state.ia.us, or contact FindJodi.

The Murder of Ashley Okland

9 Iowa Cold Cases to Send Chills Up Your Spine
Photo courtesy of Thomas A. Stanley, Find a Grave

According to the Des Moines Register, 27-year-old realtor Ashley Okland was showing a model townhouse on April 8, 2011, when an employee heard a commotion from inside. When they went in to investigate, they found Okland on the floor with two gunshot wounds. Although medics rushed her to the nearest hospital in Des Moines, she died shortly after being admitted.

Although no suspects have been named in the case, Okland’s legacy lives on in myriad ways. In 2014, an adaptive park for handicapped children opened in her name. Additionally, one of Okland’s friends and colleagues, Jen Stanbrough, has worked to share best realtor safety practices on a local and national scale.

Police ask that the public share any tips with Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa by calling 515-223-1400 or 800-452-1111 or submitting them online at crimestoppersofcentral.com.

The Murders of Lyric Cook-Morrissey & Elizabeth Collins

9 Iowa Cold Cases to Send Chills Up Your Spine
Photo courtesy of WQAD8

On the afternoon of July 13, 2012, cousins Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10, and Elizabeth Collins, 8, rode their bikes around their grandmother’s home in Evansdale and never returned home. Five months later, hunters came across their bodies in the rural Seven Bridges Wildlife Area—about 25 miles from where the pair went missing.

In the more than decade since, no one has been charged for their murders. However, as of July 2022, there had been a whopping 2,000 leads in the investigation.

Because of the similarities between cases—and the fact that the murder dates are anagrams of each other (7-13-12 and 2-13-17)—some true crime enthusiasts believe the Evansdale murders are related to the infamous Delphi murders in Indiana. However, the Indiana State Police don’t think there is a connection.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Safety, any relevant tips can be sent to ourmissingiowagirls@dps.state.ia.us.

4 Comments on "7 of Iowa’s Most Infamous Cold Cases"

  • “One of the more recent cold cases to captivate (and creep out) Iowans was the murder of 27-year-old realtor Ashley Okland.”

    Seriously??? To whomever wrote that bizarre sentence — how would you like to read that the murder of YOUR daughter, sister, wife, mother, or best friend was “captivating”???

    I would be offended even if I hadn’t met one of Ashley Okland’s close relatives. Her murder was a tragedy, not some titillating reason for Iowans to be “creeped out.” I hope any future stories about recent murders on this website will be written with more sensitivity.

  • The obvious choice for #1 is Johnny Gosch. Some of your younger readers may not be familiar with his disappearance /abduction. The original face on a milk carton -not optimistic that case will be solved in my lifetime.

  • Thank you, Amie Rivers. I will add that I really appreciate the political writing here and am grateful for it, so thank you to you and your colleagues.

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