Public Safety

20-year-old murder investigation yields arrest

Former boyfriend held in 1995 killing of Susan Kersten

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IOWA CITY — A man investigators talked with two decades ago in the killing of an Iowa City mother of four was arrested Friday on a murder charge after authorities took another look at the 1995 cold case.

Steven J. Klein. now 54, was arrested in the slaying of Susan Kersten, 38. Her body was found in her car in a farm field southeast of Iowa City on Sept. 24, 1995. It was severely burned, but authorities said she had died from several blows to her head.

Klein, described as Kersten’s former boyfriend, most recently lived in Mount Pleasant and worked in Muscatine. He was taken into custody at his workplace Friday and faces a count of first-degree murder.

Kersten’s son said he called authorities throughout the years to keep the case going.

“It’s extremely joyful,” said Jason Kersten, 37 of Williamsburg, after the arrest was made. “It’s one of those things you hope and wish for.”

He and one of his sisters, Sandra Rohrer, 39 of Ankeny, remembered their mother as creative and artistic, kind and helpful to others.

“I’m so happy someone will be held accountable for what he did to her,” Rohrer said.

Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Doug Gwinn said Klein had been a person of interest in the case all along. But he would not say what led to the arrest now.

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In a statement on behalf of the family, a survivor’s program gave credit to several including “the producers and crew of the television show, Cold Justice, for being a catalyst in bringing things that were hidden into the light.”

A spokeswoman for the TV show did not return a request for comment Friday to elaborate.

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said recent witness interviews yielded additional information and helped detectives fill in gaps.

Age and health issues with a few made time a factor, she said.

“Just recently, we tried to pull it out one more time and look at the case and re-interviewed most of the witnesses that were still alive,” she said. “I think we did get a little bit more information from a witness that helped us with the timeline, and that was what kind of confirmed that we could really believe that Steven Klein should be charged.”

Lyness said she could not comment on any motives. A criminal complaint does not offer additional details.

“Detectives determined the defendant killed the victim by blunt force trauma to the head then staged an accident with the victim’s car making it appear the victim left the roadway and ended up in a field,” the complaint reads. “The defendant then set the car on fire with the victim’s body inside.”

According to previous coverage in The Gazette, Klein and Kersten had two children together — twin daughters a year old when she was killed.

At the time, authorities searched Klein’s mobile home and two vehicles. An affidavit said investigators were looking for blood, hair and other body specimens, a tire iron or other potential murder weapon.

Gwinn said he took another look at the case in December when it was assigned to him. Authorities had not spoken to Klein since 1995, he said.

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Joining him in the investigation was retired Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Kevin Kinney, now a state senator.

Kinney previously worked the case. And last month, he was appointed a reserve deputy sheriff by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors with specific intentions of putting him back on the case, Lyness said.

“It’s one he‘s always wanted to get resolved and actually bring a charge on it,” she said. “He has so much knowledge on this case that we really wanted him to work on it.”

While Klein was a person of interest early on, former Johnson County Attorney J. Patrick White said that didn’t amount to enough evidence to charge him.

“If there had been enough evidence to charge him at that time, we would have charged him,” White said.

Lyness said Klein’s arrest shows that no matter how much time has passed, law enforcement remain dedicated to finding those responsible.

“We feel very strongly that Susan Kersten and her family deserved to find out what happened to her, give them a chance to feel like we have not forgotten about her and that we’ll do what we can to hold the person who killed her accountable,” she said.

Mitchell Schmidt of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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