Public Safety

'We're not giving up' on cold cases

Retired investigators continue work on Cedar Rapids cases

Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette 

Retired Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent J.D. Smith (left) and retired Cedar Rapids police Capt. Jeff Mellgren make up the department’s cold case unit.
Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette Retired Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent J.D. Smith (left) and retired Cedar Rapids police Capt. Jeff Mellgren make up the department’s cold case unit.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — It has been 44 years since Maureen Brubaker Farley’s body was found in a ravine on Ely Road SW. But the memory of her still is vivid in the mind of Lisa Schenzel, Farley’s younger sister.

“I know it’s been 44 years, but it’s still fresh in our minds,” Schenzel said. “We always have hope somebody will do the right thing or it will get solved.”

For more than four decades, Schenzel and her family have been left with questions: Why was Farley, only 17 years old, killed? Who did it? Will an arrest ever be made or a suspect positively identified?

Farley’s body was found on the trunk lid of a car by two boys who had gone hunting that day. At first, they assumed the woman was asleep.

The cause of death was determined to be a blow to her head.

From Sioux City, Farley had moved to Cedar Rapids in 1971 to be closer to her husband, David Farley, who was serving time in the Anamosa State Penitentiary. She was last seen alive on Sept. 17.

Police said she borrowed money that day to buy a pack of cigarettes, but never showed up to collect her paycheck from the restaurant where she worked. Part of the pack of cigarettes was found in her room.

Police said when Farley’s body was found, her shoes were missing, and there was evidence she had been placed on the car. Her purse also was missing.

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Schenzel — who has worked as a deputy sheriff, police officer and U.S. marshal and lives in South Dakota — said people have come forward with various theories and suspects in her sister’s death. However, none of those have resulted in an arrest.

After 44 years, Schenzel said she just wants some closure.

“We may never know the whys of what happened,” she said. “We’d just like to know who did it.”

Poring over details

Fortunately for Schenzel and others like her who have lost loved ones to a murder gone cold, two retired law officers continue to investigate such cases for the Cedar Rapids Police Department. Jeff Mellgren was with the department for 28 years, retiring in 2008 as the captain in charge of investigations. J.D. Smith served for 30 years with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and six years as the safety commissioner for the city. He retired in 2005.

In 2011, then-Cedar Rapids Police Chief Greg Graham asked the men whether they would be willing to take a look at some of the department’s cold cases.

“It’s giving back to the community,” Smith said. Victims’ friends and family “need answers to some of the questions regarding the cases.”

The Cedar Rapids Police Department has cold cases dating to the 1950s. Mellgren and Smith typically work their way through the case files alone at home, but get together on Thursdays to discuss their work.

They’ll meet to go over a case other times when necessary, they said.

Much of their work involves combing through the decades-old cases and poring over every detail.

“There is a tremendous amount of minutia involving a cold case,” Mellgren said. “You have to look for anything that’s missed. You have to try to get into the head of the (initial) investigators.”

Mellgren and Smith said they also look for opportunities to apply newer investigative techniques, such as searching for DNA samples.

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“It’s a question of whether someone can take the time ... see if the suspect still is alive, check for evidence, check for witnesses,” Mellgren said. “It’s a lot different than if a homicide happened yesterday. Ours is a much slower-paced investigation.”

Mellgren and Smith wouldn’t discuss the specifics of the cases they’re investigating, and no arrests have resulted so far. However, Smith said the Farley investigation is one he’s looking at.

“We’re trying to do the best we can,” Mellgren said. “I hope it provides comfort to a grieving family. We want the suspects who may have committed a murder ... to know we’re still out there, and we’re not giving up.”

While they’re not getting paid, Smith said they get support from the police department. The department has provided transportation and other resources, including a backhoe on occasion.

“They’ve been behind us the whole time,” Smith said.

And the department benefits from their work as well, freeing up active-duty investigators to work on current cases.

“There is a wealth of knowledge, experience here that is hard to replace,” said Capt. Brent Long, head of the department’s investigations unit.

For Schenzel, knowing police still are examining her sister’s case means there’s always a chance she’ll get closure.

“There’s always hope,” she said. “I never lose hope. I always hope that someday they will solve it.”

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