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.
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.
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.
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.
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