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Iowa cold case proposal in the running for funds

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MASON CITY — Television crime show junkies have been watching for five years now as fictional detectives solved cold cased after intense investigation.

“Cold Case” is a CBS television series focusing on a fictional Philadelphia Police Department division.

Earlier this year, the Iowa Legislature backed a plan to establish a cold case unit for the state.

It would be created through the Iowa Department of Public Safety and operated by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

Information presented to the Legislature showed that there are at least 150 unsolved Iowa murders dating back to 1960.

Several North Iowa deaths  have cold-case potential, but perhaps not the region’s most notorious missing person case.

“Jodi Huisentruit is an unsolved case, but we do have an agent still investigating active leads,” said DCI Agent Kevin Winker.

“So a case like that might not be considered a cold case, compared to one that all the leads have been exhausted.”

“We supported the development of a unit,” said State Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City. “There is a lot of new technology that could be used to help solve some of these cases.”

The Legislature agreed to pursue federal funds to establish the unit and, according to Kevin Winker, assistant director of the Field Operations Bureau at DCI, the process has started.

“We now have a couple of grant applications to the federal government,” Winker said. “We have a plan to implement the unit in place and once we receive funding, will get started.”

Winker said he is optimistic that the unit could be in place by the beginning of next year.

Two grants applications, one for $200,000 and a second for $500,000, are being considered by law enforcement funding programs.

Winker said the plan is to assign two agents to the unit.

“We have had some success  when we dedicate resources to older cases, which haven’t been looked at for a long time. Sometimes with a new set of eyes and the implement of some newer technology, we’ve been able to get results.”

Winker said a priority list of cases has not been developed, but a number have been identified for review.

“A cold case for us would be one where all the leads have been exhausted,” said Winker. “Or one where the file hasn’t been gone through for one reason or another for 5 or 10 years.”

The two investigators will systematically review case files and take a fresh look at the evidence. There will be a particular focus on DNA evidence and other approaches based on today’s sophisticated forensic technology.

“In addition to getting two agents on the first assignments, we’d also like to get a third member of the unit from the DCI Laboratory,” said Winker.

Jody Ewing launched the Iowa Cold Cases Web site in December 2005 after working on a cold case series for the Sioux City Weekender, according to the Iowa Cold Cases Web site.

“Her first in the series — the 1974 triple slaying of two young men and a pregnant woman shot execution style in the home they shared — would pose a new kind of challenge for the Iowa author and set the stage for what Ewing now calls one of her greatest passions and commitments,” according to the Web site.

“After the series ran the cases just kept coming in,” said Ewing, who lives in Onawa. “I decided to start the  Web site after I realized that there were cold cases all over the state. I think it’s a great idea for the state to start the unit.”

Ewing said the Web site gets between 8,000 and 10,000 visits a week. She has compiled evidence for an estimated 50 cases.

“I’ve been in contact with the state and will be more than happy to provide them with information,” she said.

Ewing later became close to a cold case when a homicide involving her stepfather went unsolved.

“A cold case unit will give people hope,” she said. “After a while they get the feeling that the police aren’t doing anything and there is great frustration. There is more trust in an organization, like the DCI, to do a more specific investigation.”

Some North Iowa cold cases:

Gerald Best, 50, was found stabbed to death on Dec. 30, 1999, in his apartment at 4 N. Madison Ave. in Mason City.

His throat had been slashed.

Roberta “Bobbi” Crawford, 53, was found murdered Nov. 17, 1999, in her Hampton home.

Authorities said she died of blunt trauma to the head.

Crawford’s body was found after co-workers at Ellsworth Community College Iowa Falls, reported her missing.

Lowell Stumo, 48, was found shot to death near his farmhouse southwest of Northwood on Monday, Dec. 8, 1997.

The Stumo farm borders Elk Creek Marsh, a state-owned property where hunting is allowed. Authorities initially questioned whether the death was a murder or a hunting accident.

According to Worth County Sheriff David Gentz the case has never been closed.

Grace Esquivel, 25, the mother of a 6-year-old daughter, Angie, was reported missing in June 1983. She lived at 1619 N. Pennsylvania Ave. in Mason City.

Her daughter spent the night of June 10 with her grandparents while Grace said she was going out with friends.

According to reports, her bed was found turned down as if someone was ready to go to bed and her wallet and driver’s license were left behind. Her Social Security number has never been used since her disappearance, according to the Mason City Police Department.

Rodney J. Olsen, a rural Mason City farmer, was 32 when he was reported missing on Oct. 18, 1986. Olsen was the father of a young son and farmed northeast of Mason City. He had moved from his native Britt area not too long before he disappeared.

He reportedly left his rural home at 1 a.m. to visit someone and has not been seen since.

Several months later, Olsen’s car, a black 1978 Pontiac Sunbird, was found in a Forest City trailer park. No clues were found to indicate what happened to Olsen, according to reports at that time.


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