Suspect arrested in 1985 Coralville murder case
Father of victim confirms authorities told him they have made arrest
CORALVILLE — Even after more than three decades, Carl DeWoody never gave up hope he’d someday see an arrest in his son’s murder.
“They kept telling me ... they have a suspect, they’ve got to get some more information on it,” DeWoody said Thursday. “I kept thinking, maybe someday someone will talk and we’ll find out.”
He finally found out.
During a news conference Thursday at Coralville City Hall, authorities announced the arrest of Anthony W. Burtch, now 57, in the August 1985 murder of 22-year-old Lance DeWoody. Burtch, who had been living in Iowa City and gained police attention for the crime from the very start, was booked at the Johnson County Jail on a first-degree murder charge.
Although it was not clear exactly what led to his arrest after all these years, officials said he recently changed his story and under court order gave a DNA sample. His arrest marks the closing of one of more than 400 unsolved murder cases in the state, according to the authoritative Iowa Cold Cases non-profit organization’s website.
“I’m really happy about it,” Carl DeWoody said. “We’ve wondered for 31 years.”
Lance DeWoody’s body was found in a picnic shelter on the north side of the University of Iowa’s Oakdale campus on Aug. 13, 1985. Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said Thursday DeWoody had been shot in the head and face.
During the news conference, Lyness said the investigation into the case revealed Lance DeWoody had been seeing Burtch’s wife. He and Burtch’s wife were together the night of Aug. 12, 1985, and then she went home to her then-husband.
“Shortly after her return, Burtch left for approximately an hour-and-a-half,” Lyness said, reading from a statement. “Investigators believe that Burtch killed DeWoody during this time.”
Lyness said Burtch and his wife are no longer together. She has cooperated with the investigation, Lyness said. And other witnesses told investigators Burtch had said he was going to kill DeWoody, Lyness said.
Lyness said Burtch initially offered investigators a story about him and DeWoody being harassed “for months” prior to the shooting by a trio of men. A witness told investigators Burtch gave DeWoody a piece of paper with the names of those men on it. But police recovered that paper and determined those men do not exist.
In a January interview with an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent, Burtch recanted his story. Using a court order, authorities obtained a sample of his DNA. Lyness would not say if that DNA evidence matched any DNA found at the scene.
But Burtch stated during the January interrogation that he would “get buried by the sciences of this thing,” Lyness said.
Coralville Police Chief Barry Bedford said officers focused on Burtch early on.
“He’s been a person of interest from the very beginning,” Bedford said.
DeWoody said his son didn’t have any enemies, calling him a prank-loving “gentle giant.”
“He was such an outgoing type person,” DeWoody said. “He would stop and help anyone that’s in trouble. That’s the kind of person he was.”
DeWoody said he was contacted Wednesday by the DCI and authorities asked to speak with him on Thursday.
“I did not sleep well last night, let’s put it that way,” he said. “I kept thinking all night about it, wondering what’s going to happen.”
Two men present during Thursday’s news conference had close connections to the case: DCI Assistant Director for Field Operations Mitch Mortvedt – who grew up in Olin and knew the DeWoody family – and retired Coralville police Lt. Terry Koehn, the case’s original investigator.
Carl DeWoody was one of Mortvedt’s school teachers. Mortvedt’s father was the principal at DeWoody’s school and later worked with Lance DeWoody’s mother at a bank in Olin.
Mortvedt said Thursday Lance DeWoody’s case is one of the reasons he got into law enforcement and chose a career with the DCI.
“I’ve always kept the DeWoody family in my mind,” he said. “I know what they’ve gone through the last 30 years.”
Koehn retired from the Coralville Police Department in 2003 but said the DeWoody case was one that continued to eat at him even in retirement.
In February 2013, Koehn approached Bedford and offered to take another look at the case to “see if there was anything I missed.” He was joined by Coralville Lt. Shane Kron, head of the department’s investigations unit.
“It’s in your DNA when you’ve done the job that long,” Koehn said of investigating the case again. “It’s kind of nice to get back in the saddle.”
Both Koehn and Mortvedt, along with a DCI investigator and an assistant Johnson County attorney, were able to give Carl DeWoody and his daughter – the only surviving members of the
DeWoody family – the news of Burtch’s arrest.
“It’s pretty gratifying, even emotional,” Koehn said.
DeWoody said he had his daughter close by when he was given the news.
“I just sort of gasped,” he said. “I asked, ‘Is this true? Are you really going to arrest someone?’ My daughter ... had her hand over her mouth and tears were in her eyes.”
First-degree murder is a Class A felony punishable by a life sentence.