Iowa Cold Case: my sister Julie’s Diary spills clues

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   Julie Ann Benning Last seen   November 28, 1975  – March 18, 1976     Case # 7600382

Julie was last seen Friday afternoon, walking on Bremer Avenue on her way to work as a waitress at the Sir Lounge in Waverly’s downtown business district. Chief Wickham later heard reports that Benning had been spotted in a shoe repair shop Friday at 5:05 p.m. to get a pair of shoes she’d left there.

One eyewitness saw her at the Sir Lounge at 9 p.m. but she supposedly never made it to work on November 28 — the media, however, reported whatever the police told them.

DIARY of Case Number: 76-00382  Julie Benning  is a 3-ring binder with loose-leaf, lined notebook paper, starting in 1972, ending early October 1975—nothing for all of November.15380827_10211487294367925_1923196893127619949_n  15439898_10211487313808411_5052247154378035075_n

As a senior at Plainfield High School, Julie had sharply criticized the taking of human life and life imprisonment. In a May 8, 1975 school newspaper editorial, she wrote:

“Murder is a horrible crime to commit and, of course the offender must be punished, but does that mean he should rot in prison until he dies? I don’t think so . . . nor do I think any person has the right to say someone should never be let out of prison, or give them the death penalty.” She urged her readers to “Put yourself in their shoes — the convicts are still humans, too. I hope people will be willing to help them and lend support in convicts’ efforts to rehabilitate themselves.”

Six months later, she was raped, strangled, and stuffed into a culvert under a gravel road, where she lay hidden until spring rains washed her nude body into a muddy ditch.

Her diary was held for months in the home of a Waverly police officer, and Julie’s mom had to knock on his door to get it back. His wife handed it off after a 45-minute wait. A copy of the diary is now in the hands of a private investigator. Despite the entire month of November being missing, names and clues still remain.If the police took statements from  people Julie mentioned, many never made it into, or they disappeared from, the Case File.

Case summary by Jody Ewing (iowacoldcases.org) – my thanks to Jody for her countless hours of time and volunteer work, creating the Iowa Cold Case website, writing about Julie and keeping her alive in our thoughts, with hopes that her killer(s) will be apprehended and brought to justice after all these years.  Jody writes:

She had a quick smile, a zany laugh. She was bright, beautiful, spunky and ambitious. She loved getting out to meet people and making things happen.

She loved live music and the weekly Top 100 Countdown.

Her creativity spilled over into every aspect of her life; she not only designed and sewed her own dresses, but painted landscapes and portraits of all things closest to her heart.

She also was an avid reader — Nancy Drew mysteries were a favorite — was already writing her own stories and had an interest in investigative journalism.

But the day after Thanksgiving on Friday, November 28, 1975, 18-year-old Julie Benning suddenly vanished without a trace while on her way to work in Waverly, Iowa.

Her father, Lowell Benning of rural Clarksville, drove to Waverly and reported her missing to Police Chief Clarence Wickham. Mr. Benning knew that Julie — the eldest of his five daughters — would never just disappear without a word, and asked police to contact area media about his missing child. Wickham, perhaps not fully convinced foul play was involved, suggested Benning make the media contacts.

The distraught father went to newspapers and radio stations in person, asking they alert the public about his daughter’s disappearance. KWWL Radio reported on the story, and a Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent was sent to work with the family.

On December 12, Julie’s 19th birthday arrived, but there would be no celebration without her.

A missing person search that sometimes extended to other states produced no clues to Julie’s whereabouts until March 18, 1976, when a Butler County road maintenance worker found her nude and decomposed body in a roadside ditch along a quiet country road about a mile northeast of Shell Rock, Iowa. The teen had been raped and strangled.

An autopsy report established cause of death as “homicidal violence, caused by injury to the throat area.”

A 1975 graduate of Plainfield High School, Julie Benning lived on a farm near Clarksville with her parents and four younger sisters, but had been staying with her aunt and grandmother, Malita Benning and Mrs. Emil (Frieda) Benning, in northwest Waverly while employed in Waverly.

377971_217753854967197_77418885_n[1] 387589_217754378300478_433096294_n[1]Every summer, Julie  and her four sisters helped their father clear rocks from the field before he planted.  In addition to designing and sewing her own clothes, Julie’s creative talents  included writing and painting. 15541194_10211488873167394_3473157321747107157_n

15384550_10211492738904035_7681313029894244553_o 15380702_10211492738944036_7244561099580154308_n Feb-1975 Grandpa Benning died. “I don’t care what anybody says – death is not a natural part of life. What’s natural about seeing someone you love sick and miserable, and then seeing them dead? Nothing! It’s not a natural life process. It’s cold, it’s cruel, it’s so final, and it’s not fair. … Funerals are awful. They’re no consolation. They only make you cry.”

On Saturday, March 29, 1976 at about 8 p.m., Butler County Attorney Gene Shepard received an anonymous letter postmarked March 27 from Oelwein, Iowa. Authorities didn’t say how or where the note was found, but said officers wanted to look further into information contained in the note.

Three Young Women, Three Similar Deaths

On Tuesday morning, Sept. 7, 1976 — less than six months after Benning’s body was discovered — the nude, beaten body of 20-year-old Marie “Lisa” Peak was found in a ditch a quarter mile north of Waverly’s city limits six miles from where Benning’s body was found.

Peak had been sexually assaulted, and, according to autopsy findings, died of suffocation and a broken neck. None of Peak’s clothes were found at the scene.

Lisa Peak

Peak, the daughter of Knoxville veterinarian and former city councilman Dr. Frank Peak and Mary Peak, had just returned to the Wartburg College campus in Waverly the day before to begin her sophomore year with plans to major in journalism. Peak had told friends she was going shopping Monday afternoon but never returned to the campus that night.

Investigators cited a number of similarities in the Benning and Peak slayings, and FBI criminologists were consulted to determine if the same person murdered both young women.

Both Benning and Peak were attractive and described as “outgoing” or “popular.” Both disappeared in broad daylight. Miss Benning was purported to have last been seen in a shoe store, and Peak reportedly was going to pick up a pair of shoes. Both women’s bodies were found nude and both had been sexually assaulted. Both women also had interests in journalism and enjoyed reading about and writing mysteries.

Some have tried to connect the Benning and Peak murders  to another area homicide four years earlier. On June 15, 1971, the partially clad body of 14-year-old Valerie Lynn Klossowsky of Waverly was found on a creek bank under a bridge three miles west of Denver, Iowa. The Waverly-Shell Rock Junior High School student also had been strangled. However, her killer has no apparent connection to Julie’s and Lisa’s.

All three homicides remain unsolved.

Julie Benning was born December 12, 1956. Survivors included her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lowell Benning of rural Clarksville; four sisters, Lori, Kelly, Carol and Linda, all at home; an aunt, Malita Benning, and a grandmother, Mrs. Emil Benning, of Waverly.

If you have any information regarding the murder of Julie Ann Benning, please click here to send your information to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s Cold Case Unit.

At age 15 as a high school freshman Julie wrote a short story about a girl diagnosed with leukemia who becomes cop and takes down drug dealers. The dying girl tells her weeping mother and father on her death bed that she’s going to heaven, “and I will be waiting for you.”

“Brave as They Come,” First and only draft, Literature 9 | Mrs. Tucker | March 2, 1972 15073331_10211207317488678_8552780541089342823_n  15123112_10211207312768560_1026475373765415856_o

 

222895_1927515181741_3251896_n[1] Our mom, married at 18, had Julie one  year later at 19, the age Julie didn’t live to see. 522350_3587514840695_1358685662_n[1] Sister Lori at 19

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About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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16 Responses to Iowa Cold Case: my sister Julie’s Diary spills clues

  1. John L. Monk says:

    Very sorry for your loss Carol. Whoever did this was evil. Evil exists in the world, and it doesn’t need to be “understood” or anything as gentle as that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. carolkean says:

    Thanks, John. I wish Daniel Jenkins would travel outside your novel KICK and kick my sister’s killer into Kingdom Come.

    Like

  3. rasanaatreya says:

    What a terrible thing to have to live with! I’m so sorry for your loss!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. carolkean says:

    Thanks, Rasana and Lindy, for the kind words. Others have suffered far greater losses, especially in war-torn countries. The older I get, the more I find myself being snarky or intolerant of little things, and only later making the connection to Julie. E.g., I was pretty hard on Libby McGugan’s novel which explores Robert Lanza’s idea of death being a state of mind, or an illusion, or dead people aren’t really dead but alive in another dimension. Whatever it is he’s saying, I’m not convinced, but I’d like to be! Lindy, Hyperlink touched the same triggers. If the dead aren’t really *dead* it’d be nice if they had some way to show it. Ghosts? I’ll believe it when I see it!

    Like

  5. Lindy Moone says:

    Carol, I understand your point of view — even though Hyperlink is all about the tricks a man’s mind will play to keep him from remembering, and having to accept, a horrific reality. Since I published Hyperlink from Hell, two people close to me have had family members murdered, and you have revealed this about your sister. I’m amazed you toughed out Hyperlink.

    Imagine the horrors my grandfather had to delve into as a member of the NY State Lunacy Board. They were the psychiatrists who had to determine whether death row inmates were sane enough to be executed for their crimes. There were several serial killers amongst the men he examined — before coming home to hug his grandkids, to treat our skinned knees and wipe away our little girl tears…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. carolkean says:

    Your grandfather is a saint! Reminds me of the world’s most cheerful priest. I asked him how he could hear//witness so much horror and remain so hopeful and positive. “Evil doesn’t get the last word,” he said. So firm is his belief in justice in a next life! Or all things working toward our own greater good in this life.

    Lindy, I was in denial while reading Hyperlink. Of course the parallel universe thing was happening for real! No way was it imagined by a tormented soul putting up mental self-defense mechanisms! You leave the door wide open for Jimmy to be alive – and everyone else too! (Don’t try talking me out of that one.)

    Like

  7. bless you, Carol, praying for you and your family. very sad, but what a loving tribute.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. lindarigsbee says:

    So sorry this happened – to anyone – but especially to your sister and her family. It’s amazing how many times this kind of murder goes into the cold files. I hope they find the person and give you all some closure.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: 40 Years Later: the Julia Benning Story | Kate Rohde's Blog

    • carolkean says:

      Thank you for your interest in this, Kate, but the murder of Valerie (age 14) is not connected to Julies and Lisa’s (ages 18 and 19). Any “enemies” Julie and Lisa made were likely connected to what they knew about drug trafficking in Waverly and covers-up within LE. Julie’s penpals in Michigan, Scotland and North Carolina were innocent girls connected via TEEN magazine. Civil Rights, free spirits, nonconformity – none of this should have put Julie or anyone else on the radar of a hitman or a serial killer. Author Katherine Dykstra is filming a documentary about women’s issues and the lack of a safety net for girls who “trespass” by thinking for themselves. As for where Julie got her ideas, who can say? She read a lot of books, listened to the radio, formed her own judgments, and just didn’t fit the small-town expectations of girls in the mid-1900s. In our rural community, women’s lib was still a radical and mostly unwelcome concept.

      Like

      • carolkean says:

        Also, the “shoe store” angle pertains only to Julie. Lisa went to Schultz’s and Valerie was not seen in a shoe store before she was murdered. Also, “they were all found naked in culverts” is incorrect: Julie was well-hidden all winter until spring rains washed her out of the culver; Lisa was mostly out in the open; not much effort was made to cover Val up. The one common element: all these girls were killed and disposed of like roadside litter.

        Like

  10. ron877 says:

    I read stories with keywords like this (Cold case) because, as an ex-cop, my interest in some type of justice endures. But I get really sad. And that is why I am an ex-cop. So much potential never to be realized.

    Like

  11. Elina says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. I wish I knew how to help or how to get people to care more.

    Like

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