Cold case: More details found, more sought in 1959 death of young woman
April 01, 2010 · Dave Morris
The unexplained death in 1959 of 17-year-old Marlene "Mickey" Padfield of Lisbon is drawing renewed interest following publication of a story in the Sun on March 18.
Beryl O'Connor and Bob Hill of Lisbon have led the push to encourage anyone with any knowledge of the case to step forward, both to preserve and honor the budding actress' memory and to help solve the cold case.
Col. John Stuelke, chief deputy with the Linn County Sheriff's Department told The Sun this week that it would just take the right piece of new evidence to revive the department's investigation.
"It's always open," he said. "If there is something new, we'll move on it."
At the time of Padfield's death, it was investigated as a murder, but in technical terms, it is considered a "suspicious death."
An autopsy was done on Padfield's body, but the results have never been released, because they are part of the files of what is considered an ongoing investigation. Stuelke referred to the files on the case as "voluminous."
"They were not able to ascertain a cause of death at the time," Stuelke said.
Stuelke is supportive of the renewed interest in the case and encourages anyone with any information to come forward.
"Fifty years is a long time to have memories," said Stuelke, who's not yet 50 himself. "But we'd be more than happy to follow up on it."
Padfield, who left Lisbon High School before graduating to work and pursue acting roles in Cedar Rapids, was reported missing around Feb. 18, 1959. Her partially clothed, decomposing body was found about three miles west of Mount Vernon in late April that year. Foul play was suspected, and there were several suspects, but the case remains unsolved.
Following the Sun's March 18 story, the wife, daughter and son of the late Harry Ackerman, a Linn County Sheriff's Department detective who investigated the 17-year-old's death, spoke with O'Connor and Hill to share their recollections.
Hill contacted Stuelke for advice on what it takes to reopen a cold case. Stuelke visited with Hill for a couple hours last week in Lisbon.
"He said murder cases are never closed," Hill said. "It's on the sheriff's radar."
Hill said he was told to continue seeking publicity, both local and wider, to try to shake loose someone who can provide a crucial memory or bit of evidence that would provide a basis for further investigation.
"We don't know if a suspect's alive or not," Hill said.
O'Connor noted that a Facebook page will be set up for anyone interested in the case.
"It bothers me that there might be people in town who haven't come forward," she said.
"We hope someone cares," Hill added. "If we can find where (Marlene Padfield's) mother went, where the siblings went ... We're wondering why they left town." (Marlene's father died in 1961; information about her mother is unknown.)
"There was a lack of compassion," said O'Connor, who hopes the passage of more than 50 years might be enough to prompt someone who was either responsible for Padfield's death or who knew key details to come forward.
Regardless, Hill and O'Connor know that as time passes, the odds of finding a person still alive with a clear memory of the events are getting slimmer.
"It would be interesting to know how the dad died (just two years after Marlene died)" and obtain more information about the family, Hill said. "We don't know if it was a blended family or not."
With the case unsolved, it technically is still open, with information from investigative files not open to the public, Hill noted.
"They did their work. They just didn't have enough (evidence)," Hill said.
Added O'Connor: "Whoever it is ... we may never know. There could be 15 endings to this."
Wrapped into the larger mystery of Padfield's death are many smaller ones, such as how the young men who served as pallbearers were selected, why the family left town and Padfield's apparently rocky relationship with her classmates. Plus, there are the mysteries of the current whereabouts of many of those young people she associated with in Cedar Rapids after dropping out of Lisbon High School to work and pursue acting roles.
For now, O'Connor and Hill are considering how an official law enforcement investigation could proceed if there were fresh evidence. Their thoughts range from utilizing the resources of a college criminology class to what could be learned if the victim's body were exhumed.
When meeting with the family of Detective Ackerman, Hill and O'Connor, who is the director of the Lisbon History Center, were given a copy of Dell's Front Page Detective magazine from February 1960. It offers a detailed, sometimes setsationalized re-telling of the case. Titled "Where Suspicion Walks The Streets," it tells of suspects taking and refusing lie detector tests, a dubious confession by an already jailed rapist in Davenport and it re-creates dialogue from when Marlene Padfield's body was found.
Mysteries, details and developments
A short article from the front page of the Mount Vernon Hawkeye Record/Lisbon Herald in May 1959 reads:
Funeral services for Marlene Ruth Padfield were conducted at the Lisbon Methodist church on Saturday, May 2, at 2 p.m. with the Rev. Eugene Miller, the pastor, in charge. Mrs. Frank Rhoads was organist.
Casket bearers were Marlin Fisher, Peter Radl, Ralph Zahorik, Francis Bolton, Robert Lang and Robert Short. Interment was in Cedar Memorial Park. Arrangements were by Baxter Mortuary.
She was born in Madison, Wis., where she lived until 6. After a year in Tucson the family came to Cedar Rapids and have since resided in this area. The family lived in the house at the Midway on the Marion road for two years while she attended her freshman and sophomore years at Mount Vernon High. Purchasing the Bob Dotzauer house in Lisbon, the family moved there in 1957 and Marlene attended Lisbon high for a year. She dropped out of school last fall and enrolled for a correspondence course to complete high school. Surviving are her parents, an older brother and two sisters.
(The Sun's March 18, 2010 story on Marlene Padfield is now included on the website of the National Center for Cold Cases at www.coldcasecenter.com.)