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Courier wins 9 awards at Iowa newspaper contest

SAUL SHAPIRO, Courier Editor | Posted: Saturday, February 3, 2007 12:00 am

DES MOINES – The Courier took first place Friday night among large Iowa dailies for best news story, one of nine awards in the annual Iowa Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contests.

The Courier also won three second places and three third places in the news contest, a second place for best Web site and a first place in the advertising category.

The first place went to former Courier staff writers Brian Spannagel and Jessica Miller for “Innocence Lost,” an in-depth look at the short and tragic life of 5-year-old murder victim Evelyn Miller of Charles City.

The judges stated, “Compelling storytelling that hooks the reader from moment one and strings them through this unsolved mystery. Great reporting and research.”

The second place awards went to staff writer Matt Wilde for coverage of agriculture, Wilde and Regional Editor Dennis Magee and to graphic artist Jordan Hansen for best use of graphics.

For the farm-writing award, Wilde was praised for “covering a range of issues, from a column raising questions about a farmer’s methods to in-depth pieces on major farm issues.

Wilde and Magee were applauded for their series on Iraqi War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. This judges wrote, “This strong series told compelling stories of the toll of war with excellent historic perspective and examination of the government’s role.”

Hansen was lauded for her “strong series of work and loads of detail.”

Third places were for coverage of education, best front page and best features pages.

The Courier’s second-place finish for best Web site was part of a Lee Enterprises sweep. First place went to the Sioux City Journal and the Quad City Times took third.

The Courier had the best advertisement for Classic Kitchen in the category featuring furniture, furnishings, appliances or hardware. Judges said, “Great ad! Excellent touch incorporating a child into the ad, it’s a unique approach for a business of this type.”

Nearly 4,000 entries in dozens of categories were judged by class, based on circulation


February 3, 2007 Posted by | Waterloo Courier | Leave a comment

Courier wins 10 AP awards

Posted: Sunday, June 11, 2006 12:00 am

DAVENPORT – The Courier received 10 awards at the Iowa Associated Press Manager Editors annual meeting Saturday.

The Courier staff garnered two first place awards, four second places and four third places among newspapers of 10,000 to 50,000 circulation.

Both first place awards were cooperative efforts. In the investigative reporting category regional editor Dennis Magee teamed with former Courier reporters Jessica Miller and Brian Spannagel on “Innocence Lost,” the story of Evelyn Miller, the Floyd County girl who was murdered.

“Lots of leg work and face time with sources makes this piece an easy winner in that category,” said contest judges. “Innocence Lost paints a clear picture of what Evelyn Miller’s life was like before she disappeared. It then goes on to reveal disturbing occurrences after police began searching for her. Finally, it raises serious questions about how state agencies respond when suspected abuse or neglect is reported.”

Spannagel also took third place in the Interpretive Story category for his article “Degree of Debt” looking at the larger amounts of money students have to borrow.

In business news, Tim Jamison, Pat Kinney, Jeff Wilford, Emily Christensen and Luke Jennett teamed for “Waterloo ready to gamble,” which included stories when the group supporting a casino site near the Lost Island Water Park won out over two other competitors.

“I was most impressed that the top two stories didn’t use the standard, dry lead,” said a judge. “The first story gave a sense of what it was like to be in the room with the winners and losers while still providing the essential news.”

Kinney is the Courier’s business editor and Wilford is an assistant city editor. Jamison and Christensen are Courier reporters, and Jennett is a former Courier intern.

Courier Editor Saul Shapiro praised the work that went into the first place awards.

“They were major stores and this shows we handled them extremely well,” he said. “The Evelyn Miller story broke new ground and gave the public a new understanding. In regard to the casino story, it was a comprehensive effort involving a spirited effort of three Waterloo groups trying to get the license and I thought we covered all the bases on that.”

Reporter RC Balaban took second place for “Closings Shock Tyson Workers,” also in the business category.

“He focuses on humans rather than numbers and did so without being melodramatic or without painting the company as a bad actor. We need more of this type of business reporting.”

Brandon Pollock, the Courier’s photo editor took a second place in the business photo category, with “BlackBerry Jam” a business cover illustration that accompanied a story about the technology used by BlackBerry devices.

Photographer Matthew Putney took a third place for his photo “Running Blind.” The photo showed a young boy running the bases during a promotion at a Waterloo Bucks game – his hat covering his eyes.

Former Courier sports editor Kevin Evans, now retired, teamed with sports reporters Jim Sullivan, Sean Hylton, and Matt Coss for a second place award for their …. “Blowing the Whistle,” a series on the lives of referees.

Sullivan also took third place in that category with “moment to remember” look back on UNI fieldhouse

Matt Wilde’s “Still Thinking Big,” took second place in the business feature category. The story featured Bruce Rastetter, founder of Heartland Pork who is now in the renewable energy business.

“It read like a news feature not a mundane business feature,” the judges commented.

Jordan Hansen took second place in news graphics for her work creating “The Jim Miller Coaching Tree” an illustration showing the mentoring success of the Wartburg wrestling coach.

June 11, 2006 Posted by | Waterloo Courier | Leave a comment

Father, stepmother question DHS role in Evelyn Miller’s death

JESSICA MILLER, Courier Staff Writer | Posted: Monday, October 10, 2005 12:00 am

Second of two parts

WATERLOO – Evelyn Miller’s father and stepmother worried about the 5-year-old’s safety throughout her short life.

Andrew Christie and his wife, Lindsey, of Waterloo, contacted the Department of Human Services numerous times about Evelyn’s living conditions, primarily concerning alleged neglect. They and other members of the Christie family say Evelyn was the subject of at least a dozen reports.

The DHS made one cursory investigation, they say.

Andrew was 19 when his daughter was born in 1999. He was in the delivery room, although her mother, Noel Miller, then 16, was already dating Casey Frederiksen, 20 at the time.

Evelyn would live with her mother and Frederiksen, and later the couple’s two sons. Evelyn visited Andrew on alternating weekends and holidays. Frederiksen was reportedly at home with Evelyn when she disappeared July 1.

“We never thought something as drastically bad as this would happen,” Andrew Christie said.

Evelyn may have been exposed to marijuana and other drugs, according to Andrew and Lindsey. They said they saw drug paraphernalia in the residence and snapped photos while building a case in a possible attempt to get custody of Evelyn. The couple said they reported what they saw to the DHS.

But it wasn’t enough.

Only one call to the state agency made in the last four years prompted a DHS employee to conduct an investigation, Gov. Tom Vilsack said in mid-July. In that case, the agency found no evidence of abuse or neglect.

Lindsey said the investigation was prompted by an elementary school teacher who reported bruises on Evelyn’s back. The report summary, according to Andrew and Lindsey, states Miller told a case worker Evelyn liked scooting down stairs on her back, which may have caused the bruises.

The Christies added Evelyn never showed signs of physical abuse.

Lindsey said she called to report suspected neglect, drug exposure and filthy living conditions six times.

They made the first call following an early visitation with Evelyn. Lindsey saw what she believed was a cigarette burn on Evelyn, who was still an infant. The DHS contacted Miller. Upset, Miller called Lindsey and Andrew.

The “burn” turned out to be a skin rash called impetigo, Lindsey said.

Miller has declined to talk to the Courier. The Courier was unable to contact Frederiksen, who is in the Linn County Correctional Center, charged with possession of child pornography.

How the Department of Human Services responded to the Christies’ other calls is unclear.

DHS reports are kept confidential to protect children involved, said Roger Munns, an agency spokesman.

According to a state handbook on assessments of reported child abuse, if the reporting person cannot provide specific information other than the caretaker uses illegal drugs around a child, DHS cannot accept the report to make an assessment for the presence of drugs in the child’s system.

However, drug use is a crime, Munns said.

“We would very likely contact police” to investigate such allegations, he said.

Miller and Frederiksen have not been charged with possession of drugs, but federal court documents assert Frederiksen used and sold marijuana.

Whenever abuse is alleged, department officials decide whether to open a case by assuming what the caller says is true and then determining if what was reported constitutes child abuse, Munns said.

For example, if a caller reports seeing a mother spank a child in a store – and that is all they saw – the incident isn’t considered abuse. The reasoning is the caller didn’t say they saw a mark left behind, Munns said.

When the department does investigate, an employee contacts the caretaker. If no one answers the door, the worker leaves a note. If a child answers, policy directs DHS investigators not to enter the home or even ask much, Munns said.

“You don’t want to have a situation where there is suspicion about what was asked of the child,” Munns said.

The point of the investigation is to assess the caretaker.

DHS receives 36,000 complaints a year, mostly from mandatory reporters, such as doctors, nurses and teachers. But anyone can call with concerns. Intake operators – the people who answer the phone – weed out one in four calls immediately.

In a recent example, a person called complaining DHS should do something about loud music at the Iowa State Fair. Declining to investigate that call was simple, Munns said: The Iowa State Fair is not a caretaker.

DHS also handles many calls from estranged parents trying to cause trouble for the other parent.

“It’s so discouraging. (They) call us with completely fictitious, or 85 percent fictitious, complaints,” Munns said.

Those calls take time away from serious reports, but the department must consider every call. Annually, about 25,000 reports receive further inspection and two-thirds of those are unfounded.

Most people assume that in founded abuse and neglect cases children are removed from the home, Munns said.

“Usually children remain in the home while the (caretakers) receive counseling,” he said.

State child protection agencies must meet national standards: They must prevent an additional instance of child abuse within six months of involvement in 93 percent of cases. Iowa falls short of the national standard at 90 percent.

The Christies say they have requested copies of the other reports made during Evelyn’s life. In July, a judge removed Miller’s two sons from her and Frederiksen’s care following Evelyn’s death.

Andrew Christie wonders why workers didn’t remove the children – including his daughter – sooner.

Contact Jessica Miller at (319) 291-1581 or e-mail

October 10, 2005 Posted by | Waterloo Courier | Leave a comment

Couple continue to grieve for 5-year-old girl

JESSICA MILLER, Courier Staff Writer | Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2005 12:00 am

WATERLOO — One second, the little girl was standing next to the shopping cart. The next, she was missing.

Lindsey Christie, Evelyn Miller’s stepmother, practically screamed when she became an unwitting player in a game of hide-and-seek at Target. Adrenaline surged as dreadful possibilities played out in Lindsey’s mind.

Finally, the 5-year-old girl stepped from under a clothing rack.

“It was 10 seconds, but when it happens, it’s the worst feeling in the world,” Lindsey said.

“Now imagine six days of that.”

Early July 1, Evelyn was reported missing from her rural Floyd apartment by her mother, Noel Miller, and Casey Frederiksen, Noel’s fiance. On the evening of July 6, law enforcement found a body in the Cedar River, just a few miles from the home.

The cause of death hasn’t been released, but authorities say the girl was killed.

Learning the news, Andrew Christie, Evelyn’s father and Lindsey’s husband, felt anger. Lindsey went into shock and required sedation. Two months after the girl’s disappearance and death, the Christies, Evelyn’s noncustodial parents, say feelings of confusion, loss — and anger — return often.

Andrew and Noel met in high school. When Noel gave birth to Evelyn, at age 16, the couple had already split. Eventually, without a court arrangement, Noel and Andrew agreed to share Evelyn every other weekend and holiday.

Lindsey and Andrew married June 11. The live in Waterloo.

“What was supposed to be the happiest day of our lives, was the last day we saw her,” Andrew said.

An empty bed

Upstairs the bed waits for Evelyn. Her favorite toys cover the room. A slice of cake sits on a paper plate for the sixth birthday never celebrated.

Wesley, Evelyn’s 3-year-old stepbrother, isn’t allowed to play in the room anymore. He understands why.

“Evey angel,” he says.

“Evey is my sister. Evey died,” he says, throwing himself over his mother’s lap.

A trace of suspicion passes Wesley’s eyes.

The boy knows someone killed Evelyn. He also knows no one knows who, Andrew and Lindsey say. The couple hopes Evelyn’s assailant was a stranger — because they haven’t begun to think about how to explain anything else.

Lindsey warned Wesley and Evelyn about stranger danger, told them not to talk to people they didn’t know. If the children got lost in the trees or corn, they were instructed to just keep walking straight. If left on the side of a road, stay on the shoulder until someone finds you.

But Lindsey surmises the girl was sleeping when she was taken from her mother’s home. Evelyn and her stepbrothers, Casey’s and Noel’s children, regularly slept in the living room in the second-story apartment.

” … You can’t tell someone to wake up from a dead sleep and scream,” Lindsey said.

The girl slept heavily. And witnesses say they saw Evelyn at 2 a.m. July 1. Noel told investigators she returned from work that morning to find her daughter missing.

Noel called Andrew and Lindsey, who raced to Floyd. They hung fliers. And waited.

They thanked volunteers who searched for Evelyn but couldn’t help feeling paranoid. Every stranger they met, they wondered.

“Did they take Evelyn? Were they in on it?”

No peace

The Christies still wait for the answers to their questions.

Andrew says he is unable to bring himself to work. He tried but found himself thinking about Evelyn, about what happened, about what might have happened — and about what milestones will never happen. His employer, John Deere, and fellow employees have supported him since Evelyn went missing.

Recent searches through Noel and Casey’s property are, the Christies hope, just for missed evidence. They pray neither Casey nor Noel were involved in Evelyn’s disappearance.

The relationship between Noel and the Christies, who live in Waterloo, was difficult at best even when Evelyn was alive. Andrew and Lindsey said Noel and Casey’s lifestyle made them fear for Evelyn’s safety.

The Christies say they began saving money, hoping to take custody of Evelyn. But saving money for a $1,300 retainer fee, when living paycheck to paycheck, was taking time.

They enlisted the help of the Iowa Department of Human Services. The couple said they were among those reporting suspected home conditions before Evelyn turned 2 years old.

DHS officials never took action to remove Evelyn or Noel and Casey’s two boys. Gov. Tom Vilsack reviewed the files and said the department acted appropriately.

But the Christies say their suspicions have been validated: A judge removed the two boys from Noel and Casey’s home after Evelyn’s death.

The couple’s faith in the DHS is lacking, but the Christies believe law enforcement officers are doing their best. And they thank them.

Going through photos to make a collage of Evelyn for his living room wall, Andrew’s emotions surface.

“It’s a cheated feeling,” he says.

Not only have they been robbed of life with Evelyn, but Evelyn was also barred from everything she might have attained.

“She had her whole life ahead of her. She was innocent. There was nothing bad about her.”

Contact Jessica Miller at (319) 291-1581 or

September 20, 2005 Posted by | Waterloo Courier | Leave a comment

Arrests possible on Election Day, despite Iowa Constitution

JESSICA MILLER, Courier Staff Writer | Posted: Tuesday, November 2, 2004 12:00 am

WATERLOO – Registered voters caught in the act of a minor crime today could tell police they were on their way to a polling place and perhaps – at least temporarily – avoid handcuffs.

According to a little-known section of the Iowa Constitution, voters are privileged from arrest on Election Day unless the crime is considered treason, a felony or a breach of the peace. This temporary immunity applies during the act of voting or when going to or leaving election activities.

But this constitutional right most likely won’t excuse petty crimes.

“If anybody (does) something that warrants arrest they will get arrested, regardless,” said Sgt. Mark Langenwalter of the Waterloo Police Department.

Langenwalter said he couldn’t think of a minor offense worth ignoring, but said it would be up to individual officers to give voters a break. And he had already issued one ticket this morning.

Area law enforcement officers said they follow a similar course.

“(Election Day) doesn’t change our policies,” Grundy County Sheriff Rick Penning said.

If speeding drivers say they are hurrying to the polls, they will still receive a ticket, Penning said.

Floyd County Sheriff Rick Lynch said people going to jail today would likely remain until Wednesday morning when a magistrate arrives and his deputies won’t overlook arrest warrants either.

“If someone wanted to fight it, they would have the constitutional right to fight it, but that would come down the road days after the election,” Lynch said.

An Oregon man’s attempt to use the immunity of arrest defense for an infraction during the 1992 election was unsuccessful. In the case, which was discussed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, David Picray tried to enter a polling place wearing political buttons. That was illegal under Oregon law. Picray refused to remove the pins and tried to force his way inside. He was arrested for criminal trespass and remained in jail for five hours.

In his appeal, Picray argued trespassing did not count as a breach of peace. Judges thought differently. They ruled officers “could reasonably have concluded that Picray’s physical resistance to their commands constituted either a breach of the peace or ‘acts disorderly or violent.'”

In Iowa it appears no one has attempted a similar defense. The Iowa Attorney General’s office said the constitutional provision exists, but apparently have never been asked to interpret the passage under Article II, which discusses the right of suffrage.

The Iowa Constitution reads, “Electors shall, in all cases except treason, felony, or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest on the days of election, during their attendance at such election, going to and returning therefrom.”

The constitution goes on to say, “No idiot, or insane person, or person convicted of any infamous crime, shall be entitled to the privilege of an elector.”

Jessica Miller can be contacted at (319) 291-1581 or

November 2, 2004 Posted by | Waterloo Courier | Leave a comment

Depleting small town police forces

JESSICA MILLER, Courier Staff Writer | Posted: Sunday, October 17, 2004 12:00 am

FAIRBANK — Stray dogs kept walking. Burglarized homes went unchecked, sometimes as long as a day.

And Fairbank residents quit bothering the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office with calls, and phoned Mayor Maurice Welsh.

“We had the feeling that they (sheriff deputies) were involved in other things and just didn’t bother. Very few things were ever solved,” Welsh said.

In the 1990s, as in many rural communities, Fairbank City Council members struggled to find dollars for their own police force. So they decided to pay Buchanan County for protection from its sheriff’s deputies.

In rural Northeast Iowa , 89 communities have chosen to go without police departments and let the county take over since the late 1980s. Some sheriff’s departments add deputies to the force, but those numbers have not corresponded with the number of police lost. Since 1990, rural Northeast Iowa counties added 26 deputies to 14 county departments. That leaves residents in the counties’ farthest corners feeling overlooked and often unprotected.

Buchanan County did not add another officer when taking over services for Fairbank in 1997.

Fairbank residents felt sheriff deputies failed to find the time to serve the town near the northwest county line, Welsh said.

The Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office provided drive-through service for the town for about $24,000 a year from 1997 to 2001.

“It was my personal feeling, we got the people when they didn’t need to be anyplace else,” Welsh said.

Residents saw deputies on usually quiet Sunday afternoons, instead of the busier Friday and Saturday evenings.

Contracting with deputies saved the city money, but cost peace of mind.

Three years ago, the city switched back to implementing its own police force, thanks in part to the Department of Justice’s COPS grant. The grant pays a portion of an officer’s salary for three years. When funds run out, Welsh said the city will spend additional dollars to keep police officers on Fairbank streets.

It won’t come without challenges.

The town is on its third police chief, William B.J. Sackett. Jesup’s Rick Dietrich, acting interim chief, also provides police protection to Fairbank until Sackett returns from police training.

The city paid training costs and Sackett signed a contract saying if he leaves before three years ends he would have to reimburse the city for a portion of his training. Small towns typically make those agreements in efforts to retain their officers.

Officers feel burned out because they are overworked and sometimes bored, said Butler County Sheriff Tim Junker.

Which is better?

In order to provide ’round-the-clock protection, towns need at least four officers, said Buchanan County Sheriff Leonard Davis. Area smaller towns such as Clarksville and Parkersburg suffice with only two.

Davis said figuring most officers will not be working more than 40 hours a week That leaves 128 hours open.

“If they (officers) are at home or in bed, who is watching the door?” Davis asked.

When towns contract with boards of supervisors for county coverage, no one knows when an officer will pull through as opposed to knowing the whereabouts of a town cop.

“If (police) are home in bed it’s easy enough to figure out. The car is parked in front of the house,” Davis said.

In Nashua, three officers take turns patroling the town. They work six days on and have three days off putting in 10-hour per day shifts. Most times, one man is on duty.

In addition to checking traffic they may also look in on football games.

“Small towns have a real problem with hiring people. They get bored or can’t pay very much. They become a training ground where (officers) get their certificate and move on,” Junker said.

In 1997 small towns began signing contracts with new recruits stating that they stay a period of time. In return cities pay the costs of officer training. Officers leaving before the agreed time have to return costs to the town. Fairbank uses a similar contracts. In one case the chief was near the time limit so the city agreed to let him leave without paying anything.

Smaller towns offer smaller salaries and less variety than a county sheriff’s office can, county officers said. And politics plays less a role in sheriff’s offices, Grundy County Sheriff Rick Penning said.

City Councils appoint police chiefs who have to work under council directives. Penning said as a sheriff he answers to the people, although boards of supervisors do set the sheriff’s budget and approve all hirings.

Penning started as a deputy on the force in 1975. At that time he worked with two other officers including the sheriff acting as an assistant to police officers. Today his office serves as the sole law enforcement agency in the county with the exception of Grundy Center Police Department.

With 12 deputies, Penning designates officers to cover quadrants of the county throughout their shifts ensuring a deputy is only minutes away from each call.

A computer program in his office logs time each deputy spends in area towns and Penning said usually all contracted hours are exceeded on a monthly basis.

He goes by the standard rule of thumb that five of his deputies’ positions were created specifically for contracts with cities. And he strives to ensure that the county’s eight police-less communities cover the cost of those deputies.

“We probably fall a little short on that but I can use those deputies in the county, too,” Penning said.

They answer all calls for service in addition to performing regular patrol.

When the last town to close its police department contracted with Grundy County, Penning hired two more deputies. Some of the law enforcement contracts require that deputies live in the respective communities. Others require hours of dedicated service.

It’s becoming an easy way to (provide coverage.) We can have one guy cover multiple towns during the day when there is less activity,” Junker said.

Drops in Iowa State Patrolmen minimize additions made to law putting furthering stress on officers, Penning said.

Other times scheduling seems to be a problem.

John Fowler, a Tama County deputy, of 16 years said he sometimes serves as the sole deputy on night shifts.

In case of emergency a dispatcher rouses a deputies from their bed, said Fowler, who is running for county sheriff.

Tama County Sheriff Dennis Kucera, said between family emergencies, illness and vacations there are nights that one deputy is out.

Other deputies are on standby to cover calls, but more often than those one-man nights have been calm and quiet, Kucera said. Normally five deputies patrol the county during night hours.

Seven years ago gaps in coverage extended from 2 to 8 a.m. or 3 to 8 a.m. Kucera said he has cinched that gap and makes himself available to answer calls should there be any.

Fowler claims, though, that some hours are still without coverage.

Just 11 deputies work patrol. Those same deputies must also handle jail duties, prisoner transports and emergency committals.

“I think any law enforcement agency feels they have a shortage of manpower,” Kucera said.

Tama County is also charged with the responsibility of covering calls at the Meskwaki Casino-Bingo-Hotel and on the settlement. The state once helped pay for protection but cut those funds. The Meskwaki Tribal Council increased payments for coverage in the past. The latest contract expired June 30. Kucera said that hasn’t stopped his deputies from responding to calls averaging 90 to 100 a month.

Looking at his schedule, Kucera said his county has adequate coverage.

“On any given day an unknown comes in there and that can change,” he said.

In Fayette County, smaller towns have dropped police departments without paying the county for additional services. The Board of Supervisors chose not to offer contracts for law enforcement, said Sheriff Marty Fisher.

Hawkeye has a contract. West Union, Fayette and Clermont have their own police departments.

“My office will continue to serve all of Fayette County,” Fisher said.

Fisher’s department operates with nine deputies in a county 720 square miles 24 hours a day.

“We are stretched very thin. With budget cuts in the last three years it’s kind of hard to add on,” Fisher said.

Back in Fairbank, Welsh said residents and visitors fill the town on weekends. A new acquatic center, and the local ball diamond attract activity.

The latest census shows 1,041 people live in Fairbank. Welsh believes that number to be more than 1,100 today.

Welsh doubts his town would return to strictly to county protection.

“Out town is growing we need more protection,” Welsh said.

Jessica Miller can be contacted at (319) 291-1581 or

October 17, 2004 Posted by | Waterloo Courier | Leave a comment

Autopsy shows Cresco mother and daughter were strangled

REBECCA KLINE and JESSICA MILLER Courier Staff Writers | Posted: Thursday, August 9, 2001 12:00 am


Preliminary autopsy reports for a Cresco mother and daughter murdered last month indicate their murderer strangled them.

Angela Hyke, 25, and Ashley Lucas, 8, were strangled in their Cresco home in the same fashion according to Atchison County Sheriff John Calhoon.

A piece of clothing was knotted around the necks of both Hyke and Lucas, according to reports by forensic pathologists Erik Mitchell and Donald Pojman, of Topeka, Kan. The piece of clothing was in a loop consistent with ligature, Lucas’s report said.

Clayton Irwin Thomas, 24, of Atchison, Kan., has been arrested for two counts of first-degree murder. He is in the Black Hawk County Jail on a $1 million bond. He is expected to enter a plea next Monday.

Hyke and Lucas went missing July 8. Calhoon said the exact time of death is undetermined, but authorities believe they died late July 8 or early July 9. Law enforcement officials found the pair’s bodies July 19, buried in a shallow grave in a wooded area north of the Atchison State Fishing Lake.

Authorities found Thomas in Wichita, Kan., at an older brother’s home. Hyke’s car was outside the home, police said. Officers arrested Thomas an outstanding warrant for a Kansas parole violation.

Investigators have not said what led them to the bodies of Hyke and Lucas. The bodies were located on a farm trail about 150 yards from a gravel road.

Thomas came through Cresco June 24 for the Howard County Fair, where he reportedly met Hyke. He came back through Cresco again July 8, after he and wife Bobbi left the carnival. Bobbi Thomas allegedly drove to Kansas with her husband in Hyke’s stolen car, authorities said. Hyke’s and Lucas’s bodies were in the trunk, authorities alleged.

Calhoon could not say whether Thomas acted alone, but Thomas Henry Miller, assistant Iowa attorney general, said Bobbi Thomas will not be charged in the double homicide.

Kansas and Iowa authorities worked together on the case.

“From the law enforcement community down here, our hearts go out to the family. It was a very unfortunate and tragic occurrence. We worked with what I consider to be a professional team of investigators from Iowa for a few days,” Calhoon said.

Authorities are awaiting toxicology reports and other test results from a lab in Missouri, he said.

Clayton Thomas had a criminal record, including charges of selling marijuana, sexual battery, disorderly conduct, burglary and assault and battery against his mother, brother and stepfather. Later arrests included charges of assaulting a corrections officer and drug offenses

August 9, 2001 Posted by | Waterloo Courier | Leave a comment

Cresco community mourns for mother and daughter

JESSICA MILLER Courier Staff Writer | Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2001 12:00 am


The walls of Assumption Worship Center were not wide enough Friday to hold all the people who wanted to say good-bye to Angela Hyke and her daughter, Ashley Lucas.

After the church pews filled, mourners lined up in the narrow spaces between the pews and the walls. Others stood in doorways, found space in the basement or spilled out onto the church steps.

Perhaps 800 people attended the service to mark the deaths.

Hyke, 25, and Ashley, 8, were killed in an act of violence possibly on July 8. The manner of their deaths has not been released, but investigators have arrested Clayton Irwin Thomas, 24, of Atchison, Kan., in connection with their murders.

The community of Cresco waited 11 days, wrapping yellow ribbons around trees and hoping for their safe return. Authorities announced July 19 that the pair had been found, and Thomas had been arrested for their murders.

Their bodies had been buried in a shallow grave near Atchison, not far from where Thomas, a former carnival worker, had lived.

The Rev. Henry Charipar told hundreds of mourners Friday not to dwell on their deaths, but to remember their lives. During the service, 35 of Ashley’s classmates performed “God’s Circle of Love” as a farewell.

Charipar said in the secular world the yardstick of success is power and influence.

“You and I know there are far greater measures than that, and that is our faith,” he said.

The pastor wiped tears from his eyes as he described how Hyke and her daughter brought joy to everyone. That was especially true for Ashley’s father, Bert Lucas.

“She and her mom always had that smile, and that’s really what I will remember,” Lucas said after the funeral. Lucas, of Cresco, didn’t live with Ashley, but saw her daily.

Hyke and Ashley were familiar faces in Cresco. Hyke worked as a cashier at Fareway grocery store. People said she had a smile and a hello for everyone coming through the line. Ashley was the bubbly girl with the adult vocabulary seen riding down the sidewalk on her bicycle, most often with bandages on her knees.

“Both of them were very, very happy people. They brought joy to other people’s lives just by how they were,” said Wendy Schatz, who played piano at the service.

Schatz is also principal of Notre Dame Catholic School, where Ashley would have been a third-grader this fall.

“If anyone on the playground got hurt, Ashley was ‘the mother’ who would bring them in,” she said.

Schatz said Ashley was smart beyond her years. She recalled once asking Ashley how she was doing.

“Not so well today,” Ashley replied. “I think I need to eat a banana. I just feel like I am low on potassium.”

Schatz said, “Not too many second-graders talk about potassium.”

Bert Lucas is appreciative of how community members have supported the family. He said many neighbors have come by with food and offers to help out.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “You don’t realize how many friends you have until something tragic happens.”

Despite that, Lucas said he won’t feel full closure until Thomas is sentenced to life in prison.

“This hit the whole community,” he said.

Joe Bruns, who lived next door to the victims, said they were a friendly pair.

“Everyone really did like Angie. She was always a real outgoing person and happy and whatnot,” Bruns said.

Since authorities found the bodies, a memorial of teddy bears, roses and flowers has accumulated on the steps of the family’s two-story home.

“It was just so heartbreaking,” said Colleen Busta, of Lawler, who sang at the service but had never met the family.

“Everybody I talked to that knew them said that the little girl was a little sparkle.”

Bert Lucas told everyone at the funeral to make sure they hugged their children. Ashley, his only child, knew what a hug meant, he said.

His last memory will be of putting sunscreen on his daughter before she and Hyke left for a canoe trip July 8.

“She gave me a big hug and said, ‘See you later, Dad.’ ” he said. “You just never realize that that could be the last time.”


July 29, 2001 Posted by | Waterloo Courier | Leave a comment

Jury’s still out on safe haven laws

JESSICA MILLER Courier Staff Writer | Posted: Sunday, May 6, 2001 12:00 am

Iowa’s newborn safe haven legislation that took effect April 24 is likely to do little to reduce the number of infant deaths, judging from the experience of other states with similar laws.

Under Iowa’s law, a parent can leave a baby up to 14 days old in the care of staff at a health-care facility. The parents’ identity would remain confidential, with no charges filed unless the baby is abused.

Some feel the law was a waste of time, while others contend that if one baby’s life is saved the law is worthwhile.

Jon’a Meyer, a criminologist at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J., said the Iowa law would do little to prevent newborn murders.

It’s typically not that the teen mothers were planning to kill their babies, Meyer said, just that they were procrastinating telling their parents. Once the baby comes, it is too late for the girls to start making rational decisions, she said.

“The girls that are doing it are not necessarily going to use the services,” she said. “They are not thinking too clearly at this point.”

In 1999, Texas became the first state to adopt such a law. There, parents can leave unharmed newborns up to 30 days old with emergency medical technicians.

But in the law’s first year, not a single baby was turned in at Houston infant drop-off sites, while seven abandoned babies were found in Houston that same year. New mothers have used the Houston service only twice since it took effect, said Judy Hay, of Child Protective Services in Houston. Three more babies in Texas have been dropped off in this manner, since the law passed.

Since December 1998, 18 babies were left in dangerous situations, such as curbs and flower beds in the Houston area. Three of the babies died, two were stillborn. In the whole state, 16 babies were abandoned last year and 10 were abandoned and left in dangerous situations the year before.

In Florida, at least 11 babies have been discarded despite a similar newborn safe haven act, according to an article

And in Iowa, a dead newborn was found in a closet of a Bettendorf home last Sunday, just days after Iowa’s safe haven act became effective. The Scott County authorities were investigated the death as a homicide. Although the safe haven act has been signed into law, the law is not well known.

Dr. Neil Kaye, a forensic psychiatrist from Delaware, who is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on the murders of newborns and infants, said the mothers instead need to hear that they will not be abandoned by their parents just because they are pregnant.

“It’s a community issue and a family issue; it’s not just these girls,” he said. “You have got to get the message out there that there are people you can go to,” Kaye said.

“Shame is the most potent emotion that one can experience. People would do almost anything to avoid being shamed and humiliated,” Kaye said.

While states have approved laws aimed at reducing abandoned infants, the incidence of child abuse may have received less attention. Reports of certain forms of child abuse have tripled from 1986 to 1993, according to the most recent U.S. National Incident Study in 1993.

While newborn murders occurs rarely, maybe once a day in the United States, child abuse occurs more than once a minute, Kaye said.

And John Knutson, a professor of psychology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, said the state Legislature has done little to try to increase spending to prevent child abuse and maltreatment. The National Incident Study also showed that reports of maltreatment and abuse increased, while the number of cases investigated decreased.

Some critics consider safe haven laws a waste of effort because it sanctions abandoning babies and violates the newborn’s right to know who their parents are.

Katherine van Wormer, professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa, said Iowa’s safe haven law might save some babies.

“It would certainly help in some cases. If it saves just one life it’s enough,” van Wormer said.

May 6, 2001 Posted by | Waterloo Courier | Leave a comment

Crime and punishment

JESSICA MILLER Courier Staff Writer | Posted: Sunday, May 6, 2001 12:00 am

Some experts who have studied infant murders say a Chelsea girl accused of killing her baby should have never been charged with first-degree murder.

If Nicole Plum, 17, is found guilty, she should not be imprisoned, said Dr. Neil S. Kaye of Delaware, a forensic psychiatrist recognized among the world’s leading experts on infanticide.

It does no good to lock the mothers up in cases where the mothers kill their unwanted newborns, he said.

“The mothers have already sentenced themselves,” he said, meaning they have to live with what they’ve done the rest of their lives. “There is no evidence they cannot become appropriate mothers later in life,” Kaye said.

In England, manslaughter is the severest charge given to mothers who killed their babies.

Plum faces first-degree murder and child endangerment charges for allegedly killing her newborn baby in December.

On Feb. 4, a baby girl was found near the Chelsea water tower, across the street from Plum’s home.

Fellow students at South Tama High School wondered if Plum was pregnant. She had been wearing baggy clothes to school during the fall semester, they said at the time Plum was arrested. When she returned from Christmas break, she was wearing tight T-shirts, students said.

Complicated psychology

Criminologists and psychologists who have studied such cases say the mothers are typically not thinking clearly when they commit the murders.

Jon’a Meyer, a professor at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J., is collecting data on mothers who kill their newborns, including the high-profile 1997 case of Melissa Drexler, who delivered and killed her newborn in the bathroom at her prom.

Such mothers do not see the baby as a living thing, but a part of their body that they do not want, criminologists say. The girl has denied the pregnancy to herself – as the people around her also deny the pregnancies, Kaye said.

After a neighbor in Chelsea found the newborn, residents wondered why anyone would kill a newborn rather than put the child up for adoption or have an abortion.

“It’s a complicated bit of psychology,” answered Keith Crew, a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Northern Iowa.

The mothers wait too long to have an abortion or set up an adoption because of the denial, he said.

Mothers don’t give up their children for adoption because of their cultural ideas of motherhood, Crew said, according to research. The idea that the child can thrive without the mother disturbs the girls.

But the girls are so fearful their pregnancy will be discovered, they don’t want to risk being traced through an adoption. And seeking an adoption or abortion requires them to take responsibility, Crews said.

As bizarre as it sounds, he said, killing the baby is a way for the mothers to shirk responsibility. The mothers convince themselves their actions are no different from an abortion.

“They think what happened is actually more like a miscarriage,” Crew said.

In court testimony, Tama County Assistant Attorney Richard Vander May said that Plum told police she had given birth.

“I kind of knew she was pregnant, but then she’d tell some people she was and others she wasn’t,” Courtney Draisey, a 10th-grader at South Tama, said at the time.

Her stepfather, Doug Horne, also denied knowledge after the baby was found.

In a similar newborn murder case in 1996, Shyeaka Robinson of Des Moines, stabbed her baby to death and threw it out with the trash, Her parents said they thought she was pregnant, but that she had denied it when asked.

Experts call such situations “a conspiracy of silence.”

“We all bury our heads in the sand,” Kaye said. “Parents do not want to believe it. They find it shaming in some way which so does the girl.”


Some unwanted baby cases have caught the public’s eye, including the Drexler case and that of college sweethearts Brian Peterson and Amy Grossberg, who killed their newborn in a Delaware hotel room in 1996.

While the hightened attention can lead to the belief that such incidents are increasing in frequency, it is more likely just a greater public awareness, said John Knutson, a psychologist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

“Sadly, there are plenty of psychologists who are more than willing to speculate on the ’causes’ of neonaticide with remarkably little data,” Knutson said.

Katherine van Wormer, a professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa, said the crime has not been well studied.

“You can’t find much on this topic. There just hasn’t been enough research,” said van Wormer, who has studied women in the criminal justice system.

But Kaye, who receives at least one call a week on the newborn murders, sees similarities between the cases he deals with.

Kaye said most of the unwanted baby infanticides involve a single mother 25 years old or younger. The girls are almost never depressed or psychotic; they almost never try to commit suicide; and they conceal evidence of the delivery.

Often, they have had no prenatal care.

Most of the mothers in these cases kill the babies manually, he said.

“Most of them suffocate the child, not necessarily to kill the child, but to silence it,” Meyer said. A number of babies die from exposure.

The medical examiner said the baby found near the Chelsea water tower child died from ligature strangulation and exposure. A blue towel was wrapped around the baby girl’s neck.

When mothers deliver their babies alone, Meyers said, sometimes the babies have what appear to be strangulation marks around the neck when actually the marks could have occurred during birth.


Plum is scheduled to go to trial on the first-degree murder and child endangerment charge in October. But Kaye said the case is unlikely to go to trial.

Most cases are resolved without any charges, Kaye said. “The ones that get charged plea,” Kaye said, as in the cases of Drexler, Grossberg and Peterson.

In Scott County, near Davenport, one Le Claire mother may have killed two of her newborns.

Scott County Attorney Bill Davis charged the mother, Carol Bowe, with two counts of murder of a fetus aborted alive, a Class “B” felony, instead of first-degree murder.

Authorities found a dead baby in the Mississippi River in 1992 and another in buried in a Le Claire yard in 1997. Davis charged Bowe with killing her babies in 1997, after gathering DNA evidence.

Bowe is now serving a 50-year sentence, but will be up for parole much sooner.

Plea agreements are accepted, because it’s hard to prove that the babies were born alive, said Davis, Scott County attorney.

In order to prove that it was a homicide, prosecutors must prove the baby took a breath of air separate from their mothers.

But in most newborn murder cases, Kaye said, the mothers rarely spend time in jail, even in the United States.

“They have to live with what they have done forever. … There’s not a lot of benefit in vengeance,” Kaye said.

The college sweethearts, Grossberg and Peterson, were initially charged with first-degree murder and threatened with the death penalty. But now both have already been released from jail, serving only part of an eight-year sentence for manslaughter.

Drexler pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and is serving a 15-year term.

Kaye said if Plum is found guilty, she should not spend her life in prison.

“If (Plum) got convicted, you have to ask yourself, ‘What good have we done as a society?’ ” he said. “If you give her a life sentence, she will never be productive, (she will) never give back to society.”

May 6, 2001 Posted by | Waterloo Courier | Leave a comment