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Cold case murder of Cedar Rapids man 30 years ago closed by police
CEDAR RAPIDS - After 30 years of investigation, police finally are closing the murder case of 22-year-old Coe College senior Brian Schappert, who was stabbed to death Sept. 8, 1989, while working the overnight shift alone at a gas station convenience store.
But it's not the conclusion everyone wanted.
Instead of pointing to one or more individuals as the definite killers, authorities were able to narrow the suspect pool to two men they are only confident committed the slaying, Cedar Rapids police Investigator Matt Denlinger said. And they are dead, he said, never to face criminal charges.
'We've done all we can do on this case,” he said. 'We've really put our best effort into reaching a conclusion and helping the family get some answers, and this is as close as we are able to come.”
Both the suspected killers were living in Cedar Rapids at the time Brian was slain while working at a Kum & Go on Mount Vernon Road SE, Denlinger said.
One man was in his 50s and the other was maybe in his 30s, and investigators believe the two men worked together to kill Brian and rob the store.
Denlinger declined to release their names.
Though investigators are nearly certain about the two men's involvement, there is not enough evidence against them to say for sure.
'I'm quite pleased with the work that we've done … and I'm excited that I get to tell his parents while they are still alive that we've come to a conclusion,” he said. 'I hope that it gives them a little peace. And I'm quite happy to say that 30 years after the fact, we did not give up and we did not settle on suspects that were frankly not the right guys.”
The body of Brian Lee Schappert was found by the store's open, emptied safe, about 3:15 a.m. by a cabdriver who had stopped to buy gas and notified police. Brian had been stabbed numerous times and his throat slit.
His father, Arnold Schappert, now 85, remembers driving to work that morning - his route took him past the Kum & Go where his son worked, at 2743 Mount Vernon Road SE.
'I would drive by in the mornings and look over to see if I could see him working,” he told The Gazette on Thursday, his voice heavy with tears. 'And that morning I looked over and knew that something was very, very wrong.”
Police were in the parking lot and the area had been cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape. Arnold said he thought about stopping to see what happened, but police were everywhere and he figured they would stop him. So he went on to work, thinking he'd call his son when he got there.
'When I called, an officer answered the phone and at first he'd only tell me that we should go to Mercy hospital, but I kept prodding him and he eventually told me that something had happened to Brian,” the father said.
'We didn't know how serious it really was until we got to the hospital,” said Laura Schappert, now 81, Brian's mother. 'They told us there was nothing they could do; he was gone.”
'I cried all day, the tears wouldn't stop,” she said. 'It was very hard. It still is.”
The day before, the couple celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary - Sept. 7. That night, when her son was leaving for work, Laura recalled he was nervous about getting his schoolwork done. It had been the first day of his senior year at Coe College and he was studying history and political science.
'I remember I put my hand on his back and told him to have good night, and that was the last time I talked to him,” she said. 'I'll never forget that.”
Police investigated multiple leads - more than 50 in just the past three years alone, Denlinger said - and had interviewed more than 100 people, including persons of interest, witnesses, friends and family.
A sketch of a possible suspect was later released and investigators also tried to track a van that had been seen in the area. But ultimately the case went cold.
'There were a lot of challenges when it came to investigating this case then and now,” Denlinger said. 'There was no DNA evidence other than the victim's - so we couldn't send anything out like we did in the Michelle Martinko case, though we did try. There was a lack of witnesses - not many people were out and about on Mount Vernon Road at 3 in the morning at that time. There was no real physical evidence that pointed to a perpetrator and there was no video. There just wasn't enough to go on.”
'I think if there had been video, it really would have expedited things,” the detective added. 'I think it really would have helped investigators narrow their search immediately and maybe the case would not have gone cold. With a camera, there's a time and date stamp so you know exactly when something occurred, you could see if there was a vehicle involved and get the make and model, you could likely tell how many suspects were involved … and even if you couldn't identify the suspects you could at least determine some identifying characteristics such as sex, height and possibly race.”
And that lack of surveillance evidence was something city leaders at the time zeroed in on.
Schappert's murder had come on the heels of a string of late night robberies involving convenience stores like the one he worked in, Laura said.
'We had talked to him about working the graveyard shift a couple weeks before he was killed,” Arnold recalled. 'I remember he said he liked working late because there was less traffic and he could sometimes get some schoolwork done. He was responsible in that way.”
After Brian was killed, discussion among city leaders turned to requiring businesses like the one he worked at to install and operate surveillance cameras. An ordinance was adopted two years later.
'It's sort of bittersweet in a way because that was the one good thing that came from Brian's death,” Laura said.
There were no cameras to record her son's last moments or help investigators bring the perpetrators to justice, but Brian's death brought change that would help businesses protect their employees and investigators solve future cases.
But still, a partial answer is better than no answer at all, the Schapperts said.
'I just smiled all over when they first told me they had an answer,” Laura told The Gazette.
'We're happy the detectives got this far,” Arnold said. 'We'd like a bit more of a concrete answer, but we know they've worked hard and done what they can.”
Nothing will take away the pain of losing their son in such a brutal way. But 'hearing that we finally had an answer was like a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Laura said.
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