Cruel end to quiet life

Murder victim from Iowa City had 'big heart,' say friends

NOTE: This story was published Sept. 26, 1997.

As news of her murder trickled north to her former hometown of Minneapolis, Frances Bloomfield's friends and former co-workers mourned the Iowa City woman found strangled in an Illinois roadside ditch.

"She was a classy lady, ... a bright, bubbly person who enjoyed life," said Gary Christopherson, operations manager at the Courage Center in Minneapolis, where Bloomfield had worked as art and production manager for 15 years before moving to Iowa City two years ago.

"We're pretty devastated," Christopherson said.

Illinois authorities announced Wednesday that they had found Bloomfield's body in a shallow ditch near Rockford.

Bloomfield, 57, of 38 Wakefield Ct., had been reported missing Monday morning by her husband, John, when he returned home from a business trip to Paris, France.

John Bloomfield, who formerly worked for Honeywell Inc. in Minneapolis, moved to Iowa City two years ago after accepting a job as a researcher with the Center for Computer-Aided Design at the University of Iowa. His wife joined him a short time later, saying the 250-mile commute was too difficult to handle, her friends said.

Friends and co-workers in the Twin Cities described Frances Bloomfield as a woman who carefully guarded her privacy but who was charming when she opened up.

Rachel Schwandt, who ran the neighborhood watch in the Bloomfields' neighborhood in Minneapolis and lived directly across the street from them, took the news of her friend's death hard.

"She was a great gal," Schwandt said. "She had a big heart."

Frances Bloomfield was a dedicated mother who stayed at home with her two sons, Stuart and James, when they were growing up, Schwandt said. She took the job at Courage Center when the boys left home, Schwandt said.

Both of the Bloomfields are from England - John received his bachelor's degree and doctorate in psychology from the University of Hull and the University of Nottingham. Frances was very close to her mother, who still lives in England, Schwandt said.

Though their English heritage gave both the Bloomfields wonderfully dry senses of humor, Schwandt said, it probably also contributed to their tendency to keep to themselves.

"They were very private," she said. "Americans tend to talk over the fence, but they were more private."

The family has maintained its desire for privacy during the investigation of Frances Bloomfield's disappearance. Family members have told police they do not want to speak with the media.

Christopherson said Frances Bloomfield worked at fund raising for the Courage Center, helping coordinate production of Christmas cards designed by disabled artists and sold to benefit the center.

The Courage Center helps rehabilitate people - with activities like aquatics and physical therapy - who have been seriously injured in accidents.

Christopherson said Frances Bloomfield had a degree in art and attended art shows with her husband. The couple also enjoyed theater, he said.

Colleagues honored Frances Bloomfield with a party when she switched from full-time to part-time work in January 1993. Christopherson shared some toasts made at that celebration.

"You, Fran, are the glue that holds us all together. You've been a great supervisor and friend. ... You're a beautiful person in every sense of the word. Need I say more?"said one colleague.

Said another: "I appreciate your wisdom, quick solutions, answers that make sense, and the fact you're always ready to listen. You have the grandest, loveliest sense of humor, and you personally really care about other people."

Friends said leaving the Courage Center and moving to Iowa was difficult for Frances Bloomfield. Christopherson said Bloomfield visited Minneapolis often and that friends kept rooms made up for her.

Schwandt said Frances Bloomfield had told her she relied on her children and their activities to meet people. She was going to look for a job in Iowa City to meet people, she added.

Police have said Bloomfield didn't work outside the home in Iowa City. Comments from neighbors indicate she hadn't gotten to know many people in her neighborhood.

"I didn't know her very well at all," said Andy Accetola, of 47 Wakefield Ct., adding that the murder came as a real shock. "This neighborhood is so safe. You see kids outside all the time, and you don't ever think to lock your doors."

Doors that aren't usually locked were locked in his house last night, Accetola said.

Helen Gjovig, of 50 Wakefield Ct., said she and her husband feel very sad about the events that have happened over the last few days.

"We want the family to know we feel compassion and sorrow along with them," she said.

Frances Bloomfield's murder brings to three the number of unsolved cases of women slain in Iowa City in the last two years. On Sept. 24, 1995, Susan Kersten, 38, was found south of town in her burned car. She died of blows to the head before the fire.

On Jan. 8, 1996, Donna Lee Marshall, 37, was found in her southeast side mobile home with a gunshot wound to the head. She died the next day.

The murder of Laura Van Wyhe, 21, of Iowa City, also is unsolved. She was found barely alive along a northeast Missouri highway last Oct. 26 and died a few hours later in an Illinois hospital.

The murder of Frances Bloomfield

  • Sept. 18: Iowa City police respond to a burglar alarm at John and Frances Bloomfield's home at 38 Wakefield Ct. They find nothing after entering the home with a key provided by a neighbor. Sept. 20: Neighbors see Frances Bloomfield in the late afternoon.
  • Sept. 22: John Bloomfield returns from a France business trip and contacts police about his wife's disappearance. The condition of the home leads police to suspect foul play.
  • Sept. 22: A motorist finds a woman's body in a ditch about a half-mile south of Rockford, Ill. The body is wrapped in plastic. An autopsy indicates she died two days earlier.
  • Sept. 24: Officials confirm Frances Bloomfield, 57, as the homicide victim.

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