Lisbon leaders hope to shed light on unsolved case of Marlene Padfield
March 18, 2010 · Dave Morris
There always have been more questions than answers in the murder of 17-year-old Marlene Padfield back in February 1959, and Beryl O'Connor and Bob Hill of Lisbon are determined to get to the bottom of the unsolved case.
Padfield and her family lived in Lisbon for only a few years and apparently weren't close to many, if any, of the local folks.
With more than 50 years passing since the crime occurred, it has become one of those cold cases that falls from law enforcement's priority list. O'Connor, head of the Lisbon History Center, and Hill would like to change that.
"Justice hasn't been served," said Hill, a local businessman and volunteer.
"I have a real interest," O'Connor said. Indeed, she's assembled a small notebook full of newspaper clippings about the case. That goes along with her role at the History Center, which is filled with hundreds of notebooks of information about area families, companies, farms, events and other bits of town history.
Hill and O'Connor figure there are still some people around who might have memories of Marlene Padfield, who now would be close to 70 if she were still alive today.
"We want the case reopened and justice to be done," O'Connor said. "We need new evidence."
If new evidence is discovered, O'Connor and Hill think modern investigative techniques, such as DNA testing, might help solve the case.
The Linn County Sheriff's Office has been contacted, but there hasn't been word back yet as to that office's interest in the case. O'Connor and Hill hope by spreading the word about the case that new information could surface.
The team at the non-profit Iowa Cold Cases has put together a summary of information available about the case. According to its website (www.iowacoldcases.com), the group is committed to "providing case summaries, articles and updates for all Iowa open homicides and missing persons cases where foul play is suspected. Our mission is to educate the public about these open cases, share and exchange resources in efforts to publicize these unsolved crimes, and ensure every victim's story is told and kept alive until those responsible are held accountable."
Iowa Cold Cases' website also has a form for anyone interested in submitting relevant information about a cold case, such as the Padfield murder. That information is then shared with relevant authorities.
"We're hoping we hit somebody's conscience out there, hoping they want to get something off their chest," Hill said. "At a minimum, we want to develop a profile of her and her family."
Once people get exposed to the case, the theories start flying, O'Connor noted. She has her own opinions, but added, "There are many ways it could have played out. I think there are people in town who know some things - even something small would help."
Added Hill, "We'd just like to try to honor her memory."
1959 death remains a mystery
What's known about the death of Marlene Ruth "Mickey" Padfield:
(Much of the following information is summarized from facts collected from old newspaper stories and through the non-profit Iowa Cold Cases.)
• Marlene Padfield, a 17-year-old budding actress, had dropped out of Lisbon High School after having trouble fitting in. According to Iowa Cold Cases, Marlene "exuded a maturity that allowed her to pass for much older." She had starred in the 1958 junior play at Lisbon and after dropping out and finishing her education with correspondence courses, began acting in community theater in Cedar Rapids.
• She was employed - often reporting her age as 21 - as an elevator operator, department store clerk and receptionist.
• Her father, Hammond Padfield, was employed at the Wilson packing plant, and her mother worked at a Cedar Rapids furniture store. Marlene had three siblings.
• On the night of Feb. 18, 1959, and into the early hours of the 19th, after a late night meet at Cedar Rapids' Kozy Inn, located on First Avenue at 10th Street, she left with a young man who was a local actor. Here, the story becomes unclear. Purportedly, the young man was to drop her off at the old Armar Ballroom, located on the edge of Cedar Rapids and Marion. Whether she actually arrived there or not is anybody's guess. No one came forward to say one way or the other.
• Marlene was reported missing shortly thereafter when her employer telephoned her parents to say she hadn't reported for work.
• On Feb. 22, 1959, according to Iowa Cold Cases, "three young boys playing along Mount Vernon Road (Old Highway 30) near the Big Creek Bridge found a woman's coat and sweater, which Marlene's mother identified as her daughter's.
"Authorities organized a search party of 100 to comb the area around the bridge and near the entrance to Camp Good Health (now Camp Tanager). Nothing was found.
"Despite the discovery of her clothing, local law enforcement and the community seemed to tacitly agree that Marlene had a shady reputation, was likely to act on whimsy and probably ran away on her own. The story of her disappearance quickly faded."
• When local farmer Roy White was traveling on a dirt road south of old Hwy. 30 between Mount Vernon and Cedar Rapids on April 29, 1959, he saw a group of dogs carrying bones, including a human hand. After stopping, he found a skeleton along the road that had been dragged from a nearby woods. It was later identified as Marlene Padfield's remains.
• A funeral for Marlene Padfield, with arrangements by Baxter Mortuary, was held the afternoon of Saturday, May 2, 1959, at the Lisbon Methodist Church. The Rev. Eugene Miller led the service, and is reported to have told the small group attending: "In a community we share some degree of responsibility for each other. I hope we learn well that the spreading of unfounded rumor can have further reaching consequences than we desire."
• Marlene Padfield was laid to rest in a grave at Cedar Memorial Park cemetery in Cedar Rapids.