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Cold Cases: Woman’s body found in Tama County in 1973

Unsolved - Termed a suspicious Marshalltown death

July 29, 2015
By John Speer - Editor ( , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Gone Cold: Exploring Iowa's unsolved murdersa statewide newspaper project

Gone Cold: Exploring Iowa's unsolved murders is a year-long collaborative effort by Iowa news organizations to revisit some of the most brutal and mystifying homicides in Iowa's history.

Beginning today and in the weeks following, we'll share information about many of the state's 438 unsolved homicides.

Article Photos

Tama County Sheriff’s Officers, County Attorney Jared Bauch and Medical Examiner Dr. C.W. Maplethorpe with Marshall County authorities and state DCI?agents check the scene of the discovery of body of Helen Mae Bown, 61, north of Montour along the Iowa River on Oct. 31. 1973.Bown was reported missing on Oct. 7 from her home in Marshalltown and believed murdered. No one was ever charged in the death.
Toledo Chronicle / Marshalltown Times Republican photo/John Speer

It is our hope that by sharing these stories with a broad audience, justice will come for some of these victims.

Editor's note: Victims like Brown University graduate Adam Lack, who was murdered on the night of July 13, 2008 in Nora Springs, his family's second casualty in their fight for clean water. And realtor Dorothy Miller, who on Aug. 18, 1969, was raped and stabbed while showing an unoccupied house in Burlington.

Each week for the next year, Iowa news organizations will explore cold cases those that law enforcement no longer has any clues on which to follow up. A case can go cold weeks, months or even years after the death.

Fact Box

Gone Cold: Exploring Iowa's unsolved murders is a year-long collaborative effort by Iowa news organizations to revisit some of the most brutal and mystifying homicides in Iowa's history.

And it can be reopened if new evidence is introduced. There is no statute of limitations on murder.

Halloween day, Oct. 31, 1973, was typical of many in late fall in Iowa cold, overcast and threatening rain. It included the discovery of the body of Helen Mae Bown, 61, of Marshalltown, on the bank of the Iowa River northwest of Montour in Tama County. Her body was found that day by Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agents. Bown, a widow, had been reported missing to Marshalltown Police on Oct. 7.

Those on the scene of the discovery included Tama and Marshall county sheriff's officers, Marshalltown Police, the DCI agents, Tama County Medical Examiner Dr. C.W. Maplethorpe, as was Tama County Attorney Jared Bauch.

Bauch, of Traer, said recently in an email response for this article, "I remember the case and the scene. Ms. Bown had been in the water several days.

"As I recall there was an idea that she had been drinking quite a bit at the time she disappeared and her companions were rough customers. The DCI was on the case from the outset. I think we concluded she got in the Iowa River near Marshalltown and that it was likely a Marshall County case.

"Her appearance in Tama County was probably due to the vagaries of the Iowa River currents. We had nothing to tie her to a Tama County location at the time of her death.

"We did consider hers to be a suspicious death."

And it was suspicious to Marshall County authorities. Then-Marshall County Attorney Ron Kaiser convened a Grand Jury on Nov. 7, 1973, according to a news report in The Marshalltown Times-Republican. He told the TR the reason for impaneling the Grand Jury "was to present evidence that has been uncovered."

However, no indictment was handed down and the newspaper report said Kaiser "would not comment" on whether he thought "foul play may have taken place or the nature of the evidence."

The state medical examiner had ruled the death due to "probable drowning."

Tama County Sheriff Dennis Kucera and Deputy Bruce Rhoads both said they have no direct knowledge of the case as neither were serving with the sheriff's office then.

Present Marshall County Attorney Jennifer Miller replied to an information request: "My office doesn't have any records or information on this sorry!"

The Marshalltown Police Department nor the Marshall County Sheriff's Office responded to email requests for information for this story.

Helen Bown's obituary in the Nov. 7, 1973, Times Republican said her husband, William, had died in 1972. The couple had always lived in Marshalltown.

She was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Marshalltown.

A native of Red Cloud, Neb., she had married William in 1964. She had previously married Orville Berger in 1926 when she was 14 years old.

The Bergers had two sons.

The website - - includes this information about the case:

"In a Des Moines Register article dated Nov. 2, 1973, one official not directly connected with the case said the manner in which the investigation was being handled would lead one to believe "the Watergate tapes or the atomic bomb secrets" were involved.

"Additionally, the paper also reported that no one in an official capacity would say why the search for the woman was concentrated in the area northeast of Le Grand."

If you believe you have information about this case contact the Marshall County Sheriff's Office or Marshalltown Police or local law enforcement.

2nd Marshalltown Murder

The year 1973 would include a second Marshalltown case in which the body of the victim ended up in Tama County.

The body of Rochelle Lass, Marshalltown, was found on a rural Tama County road north of Montour on Feb. 22, 1973.

That case was solved with the arrest and subsequent conviction of her husband, Dennis Lass for 1st degree murder.

Lass, who had been employed as an insurance adjuster, died in prison in April, 2014, at age 73, while serving a life term.

The couple had lived in Toledo for a period of time before moving to Marshalltown.



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