Public Safety

FBI digging in Cedar Rapids yard likely connected to James Booher disappearance

Booher went missing in 2014

Backyard of a residence on Cherry Hill Road NW on Feb. 13, 2020, where federal, state and local authorities had been inv
Backyard of a residence on Cherry Hill Road NW on Feb. 13, 2020, where federal, state and local authorities had been investigating since the day before. (Kat Russell/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A federal investigation at a northwest Cedar Rapids home — where authorities spent roughly 18 hours digging in the backyard — appears connected to the case of James Booher, a Marion man who went missing in 2014 and is presumed dead, records indicate.

The address, 300 Cherry Hill Road NW, is linked to William L. Yancey, one of three people facing charges in connection with the Booher death investigation.

In a financial affidavit that Yancey filled out in July 2016 when requesting a public defender for a traffic case, he listed the Cherry Hill Road NW address as his residence.

Last May, Yancey was indicted — along with Matthew Robbins, 46, of Ely, and Danielle Busch, 29, of Cedar Rapids — in the robbery and death of the 51-year-old Booher.

Starting about 7 p.m. Wednesday until roughly 2 p.m. Thursday, investigators with multiple local, state and federal agencies were seen searching the yard behind the Cherry Hill Road NW home. Excavation equipment was brought in and neighbors reported seeing extensive digging in the yard.

The agencies involved included the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, the Cedar Rapids Police Department, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and several out-of-state departments.

Tony Morfitt, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa, confirmed to The Gazette that law enforcement officers were searching the property, but declined to say why.

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“All I can say is that what’s happening on that property is connected to an ongoing criminal investigation,” he said.

Morfitt declined to comment on any link between Yancey and the property and said he could neither confirm nor deny if the ongoing criminal investigation had anything to do with the Booher case.

Calls to the homeowner Thursday went unanswered.

Booher was last seen alive May 31, 2014. His sister, Susanne Reynolds, reported him missing three days later on June 3, 2014.

Marion police in 2015 considered Booher a homicide victim but no charges were filed in connection with his death until last year. Federal prosecutors wouldn’t say what new evidence led to the charges, and authorities have not announced they ever found his body.

All three defendants face federal charges of robbery affecting interstate commerce, conspiracy to commit robbery affecting interstate commerce and using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in murder, according to an indictment.

Investigators believe Robbins and another man robbed Booher on June 1, 2014 — the day after police say he was last seen alive — according to court documents in Robbins’ firearms case. Robbins and a friend identified as Busch purchased meth from Booher on May 31, 2014.

Robbins and Busch used the meth and later contacted Booher to set up time to buy a larger quantity, according to court documents.

Booher went to Robbins’ home later that night and wasn’t seen again after that visit, according to court documents. His truck was found abandoned June 9, 2014.

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In May 2015, during the investigation into Robbins, a forensics team that specializes in identifying human remains set up a dig site at a rural Ely farmhouse where Robbins once lived to search for evidence in Booher’s death.

The Gazette reached out to Booher’s brother, Richard Booher, but was unable to contact him. Booher’s sister, Susanne Reynolds, told The Gazette the family had not been given any information about the search of the Cherry Hill property.

“I know nothing,” she told The Gazette Thursday. “They haven’t told us anything. We know nothing.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

John McGlothlen of The Gazette contributed.

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