5 Infamous Serial Killers with Connections to Iowa
Iowa is a state known for its serene landscapes and that Midwestern nice charm. However, it has also witnessed its share of chilling and infamous events, especially when it comes to the realm of serial killers. Over the years, several individuals have left a haunting mark on Iowa's history through their heinous acts, sending shockwaves through communities and prompting a closer examination of criminal psychology. The stories of these notorious serial killers in Iowa serve as a dark undercurrent beneath the state's outward tranquility and beauty, revealing the unsettling reality that even in the heartland, darkness will, and does, lurk.
5) Gayno Smith 1938 - 2005
Gayno Gilbert Smith was facing difficulties in Denver, so he moved to Martinsburg, Iowa, seeking refuge with his stepmother. However, conflicts arose, prompting him to relocate to the home of his uncle, Andrew McBeth. The murders that occurred targeted Smith's own family members in rural Iowa, including the McBeth family, with whom he had been residing. The brutal slaying by shotgun of Andrew, Dora, Amos, Anna, and Donna Jean McBeth shook the quiet community near Martinsburg, leaving a lasting impact on the small town.
The legal aftermath of the murders shows Iowa's historical approach to justice, as the state still had capital punishment at the time. Despite the severity of Smith's crimes and the prosecution's push for a death sentence, the judge opted to spare Smith's life, sentencing him instead to six life terms of hard labor. This decision reflected Iowa's stance on capital punishment and its commitment to a justice system that, in this case, prioritized life imprisonment over the death penalty.
4) Jake Bird 1901-1949
Jake Bird spent part of his life in Iowa and committed various crimes. Bird's transient lifestyle, working as a manual laborer and railroad gandy dancer, kept him on the move, and Iowa was one of the states where he had been incarcerated. His presence in Iowa added to the list of locations where he left a trail of criminal activities, including burglary and attempted murder. In fact, Bird's lifestyle challenged the early notion that serial killers were often confined to a specific region or profile. He claimed to have murdered over 50 people, with 13 of those confirmed.
Bird's criminal record and subsequent investigations and interviews revealed he had committed murders across the United States, leading to the solving of several unsolved murders. In addition to Washington, the transient Bird killed people in Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. He mostly preyed on Caucasian women and dispatched his victims with an axe or hatchet. In an interesting twist, Bird was said to have put a hex on those who would see him punished, saying they would die before he did. Allegedly 6 individuals involved in the law process all died before he was hanged in the state of Washington in 1949 and was buried in an unmarked grave at the prison cemetery.
3) Robert Ben Rhoades 1945-Present
Robert Ben Rhoades, also known as the Truck Stop Killer, has a significant connection to Iowa. Born in Council Bluffs on November 22nd, 1945, Rhoades' formative experiences in Iowa played a role in shaping his troubled path. Raised by his mother during his father's military service in West Germany, Rhoades attended Thomas Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs, where he engaged in various extracurricular activities, including sports, choir, and the French club. Despite his initial involvement in normal school activities, Rhoades faced social problems during his high school years, marked by early encounters with the law, including an arrest at age 16 for tampering with a vehicle.
Following his graduation from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1964, Rhoades joined the Marine Corps, marking the beginning of a tumultuous period in his life. His dishonorable discharge from the military for involvement in a robbery further added to the complexity of his background. Rhoades committed murders in multiple states, including Illinois, Texas, and Utah. The confirmed cases involve torturing and killing at least two couples in Illinois and Texas in 1989 and 1990. Additionally, he is suspected of engaging in a series of crimes across a broader timeframe, spanning from 1975 to 1990. The victims' profiles and his truck routes during those years suggest that Rhoades may have been involved in torturing, raping, and killing more than fifty women. Rhoades is currently serving his life-without-parole sentence at the maximum-security Menard Correctional Center in Chester, IL.
2) Charles Ray Hatcher 1929-1984
Charles Ray Hatcher left a chilling trail of crimes that extended beyond state borders, with notable connections to Iowa. Born in Mound City, Missouri, Hatcher's criminal history began in the late 1940s, marked by convictions for auto theft and repeated incarcerations. His criminal tendencies escalated over the years, leading to a series of abductions, assaults, and murders across multiple states, including California, Nebraska, and Iowa.
In the late 1960s, Hatcher's criminal activities took an even darker turn with the abduction and murder of a 12-year-old named William Freeman in Antioch, California. However, his connection to Iowa became evident in later years. In 1983, Hatcher confessed to the murder of 28-year-old James Churchill, whose remains were located on the grounds of the Rock Island Army Arsenal near Davenport, Iowa. Charles Ray Hatcher confessed to a total of 16 murders between the years 1969 and 1982. After requesting the death sentence and being denied, Hatcher hanged himself in his cell at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. This man's life was also said to inspire the horror film character "Chucky."
1) John Wayne Gacy 1942-1994
John Wayne Gacy was a notorious American serial killer who gained infamy for his heinous crimes as the "killer clown". Born on March 17th, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, Gacy had a seemingly ordinary life as a successful contractor and active member of his community. Gacy's connection to Iowa stems from his time spent there during his youth. In the 1960s, he worked as a chef in Waterloo, Iowa. His violent and sexually deviant behavior began here. Gacy opened a "club" in his basement where his KFC employees could drink alcohol and play pool. Gacy targeted young men and gave many of them alcohol before he made sexual advances. Additionally, He and other active Waterloo Jaycees members were involved in drug abuse, pornography, prostitution, and wife swapping.
This led to his initial assault on the 15-year-old son of a fellow Jaycees member. He underwent psychiatric evaluation at the University of Iowa where doctors concluded he had an antisocial personality disorder and was unlikely to benefit from treatment. The doctors also concluded he was mentally competent to stand trial. Gacy was convicted of sodomy on December 3rd, 1968, and was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. He served his sentence at the Anamosa State Penitentiary for just 18 months of the 10-year sentence and was released on a 12-month probation.
Gacy's crimes continued to unfold between 1972 and 1978, during which he sexually assaulted and murdered at least 33 young men and boys. His modus operandi involved luring victims with promises of employment or money, after which he would brutally assault and murder them. The majority of his victims were buried in the crawl space beneath his house in Illinois. He was eventually arrested in 1978. The case brought attention to the importance of identifying and addressing the warning signs of potential serial offenders. Gacy was convicted of multiple counts of murder and was executed by lethal injection in 1994, leaving behind a chilling legacy that continues to be remembered as one of the darkest chapters in American criminal history.
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Gallery Credit: Isabel Sepulveda