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Passion for justice drives Cold Case volunteers
June 10, 2010 · Dave Morris


A passion for justice keeps the people at Iowa Cold Cases going.

The organization, which operates the website www.iowacoldcases.org, has taken an interest in the suspicious death of Marlene "Mickey" Padfield, a former Lisbon High School student who died in 1959.

Marlene, who left Lisbon High School amid a variety of rumors and gossip before her senior year 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 and theories, but the case remains unsolved.

Iowa Cold Cases was created in 2005 by Jody Ewing of Onawa after she worked on a series of cold cases for the publication Sioux City Weekender. This past January, Dr. Nancy Bowers of Ames, a former university teacher and Ames Police Department employee, joined Ewing as co-administrator. The two volunteer their time.

Bowers recently spent a few minutes talking about the organization with the Sun and how she and Ewing work together.

"It's clear we were like twins separated at birth," she said.

The two women share a mission, yet live 140 miles apart and have never met each other. They communicate by e-mail and phone.

"I have a hunger for justice," Bowers said.

As a girl, she read the Nancy Drew series of books, but couldn't really identify with the well-to-do young crime solver. When she discovered the Judy Bolton mystery series by Margaret Sutton, she was hooked.

"I always wanted to be a girl sleuth," Bowers said. "She was more like me, more of a sensible, down-to-earth girl. I like puzzles. I like narrative, telling stories."

A sense of justice came forth when Bowers added, "I just don't like it when people get away with things. The old truism that you can't get away with murder isn't true. You can."

Through all of their work, Bowers and Ewing keep the victim at the forefront, even if the victim isn't an entirely wholesome character.

"We tell the victim's story," Bowers said. "Even if you can't find justice, at least they'll be remembered."

Bowers was easily drawn to the Marlene Padfield case and compiled a lengthy and informative case summary for the site. Much of it is based on newspaper accounts of the time. It also includes links to more recent Sun stories.

"I kind of sensed that there's a real lacking of fair play about this girl at the time that was brushed off, was minimized," Bowers said, noting that it's not unusual in sensational cases such as Padfield's death for the victim to be blamed in part for her own death.

Bowers discovered the Padfield case while researching another cold case. About the same time, she began receiving tips about the case from locals.

Here's how the organization describes itself: "Iowa Cold Cases is an independent, non-profit organization 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 kep alive until those responsible are held accountable."

Bowers noted that with ongoing improvements in police techniques and testing, such as with DNA samples, some of these cold cases can be solved. Attention from the media helps, too.

"The more publicity you get on something, the more things you shake loose. You can shake loose a memory or jar a conscience," she said.

Ewing and Bowers are assisted by lawyer Eileen Meyer, who is Iowa Cold Cases' director of advocacy affairs and is involved in human rights work all over the world. Meyer's only sister, Valerie Peterson, was killed 39 years ago at the age of 8. Ewing's father-in-law, Earl Thelander of Onawa, died in a 2007 propane explosion that occurred after thieves stripped copper propane lines from a residence he was owned and was preparing to rent out. Both are now considered cold cases.

(Editor's Note: This story is part of an occasional series highlighting the Marlene Padfield case.)

Linn Co. Sheriff's Office reviewing evidence

Three senior investigators with the Linn County Sheriff's Department are reviewing the evidence in the 1959 suspicious death of Marlene "Mickey" Padfield of Lisbon.

"We continue to review it," said Col. John Stuelke, chief deputy with the department.

The investigators will make a recommendation on where to go with the case, he said.

Marlene, who left Lisbon High School amid a variety of rumors and gossip before her senior year 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 and theories, but the case remains unsolved.

- Dave Morris

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