Five Infamous Serial Killers That Have Ties to Iowa
These past few years, I've definitely become a bit of a true crime junkie. I have watched countless documentaries and really gotten into true crime podcasts like My Favorite Murder.
After listening to an older episode of the podcast this week and hearing about a serial killer with an Iowa connection, that got me wondering... are there other serial killers with ties to Iowa? The answer was obviously YES.
Using a 2021 article from the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier and information on Wikipedia, here are five U.S. serial killers that have spent time in the state of Iowa:
John Wayne Gacy
One of the most well-known serial killers with Iowa ties is John Wayne Gacy. He spent several years here in Eastern Iowa and even served time in the Anamosa State Penitentiary!
In September of 1964, John Wayne Gacy married Marlynn Myers, who he met while working in Springfield, Illinois. Marlynn's father purchased three KFC restaurants in Waterloo, Iowa, so the couple moved to the area so that John could manage them. John eventually joined the Waterloo Jaycees, and was even named "outstanding vice-president" in 1967.
That same year, John sexually assaulted Donald Voorhees, the 15-year-old son of a fellow Jaycee, among other teenagers. Donald reported the incident to his dad in 1968, and John was indicted, and later convicted, on a sodomy charge. He underwent a 17-day psychiatric evaluation at the University of Iowa Psychiatric Hospital, where, according to Wikipedia, it was determined that he had "antisocial personality disorder (the clinical term for sociopathy and/or psychopathy), was unlikely to benefit from any therapy or medical treatment, and that his behavior pattern was likely to bring him into repeated conflict with society."
John was sentenced to ten years at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, and was later described as a "model prisoner." He was granted probation in 1970, after serving only eighteen months. He quickly relocated to Chicago, where he ended up committing many more crimes, including murdering at least 33 boys and young men. He was executed in 1994.
Another serial killer to spend some time here in Iowa was Robert Hansen, better known as the "Butcher Baker." Robert was actually born here in Iowa over in Estherville in 1939.
After serving one year in the Army Reserve before being discharged in 1958, Robert became an assistant drill instructor at a police academy in Pocahontas, Iowa. In 1960, he was arrested for burning down a school bus garage in the city, which landed him in the Anamosa State Penitentiary. He served only 20 months of his three-year sentence. According to Wikipedia, "he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (at that time called “manic depression”) with periodic schizophrenic episodes. The psychiatrist who made the diagnosis noted that Hansen had an 'infantile personality' and was obsessed with getting back at people he felt had wronged him."
Robert eventually moved to Alaska, where he ended up abducting, raping, and murdering at least 17 women, many of them he "hunted" in the wilderness. He died of natural causes in 2014 while serving a life sentence.
Charles Ray Hatcher
Between the years of 1969 and 1982, Missouri-native Charles Ray Hatcher murdered 16 people throughout the U.S. He committed many crimes, and spent a lot of time in court, jails, and hospitals. He was described as a "mentally disordered sexual offender" and a "manipulative institutionalized sociopath."
After years of arrests, Charles was arrested after a knife fight in Des Moines under the name Richard Clark in January of 1981. Wikipedia reports that he "spent time in several mental health facilities and was released to a Davenport Salvation Army shelter in April."
In 1982, Charles confessed to 16 murders, including a man named James Churchill. The 28-year-old was buried near Davenport near the Rock Island Army Arsenal, near Davenport, Iowa. He drew a map to lead investigators to the body. He was later given a life sentence, but hanged himself four days later.
Robert Ben Rhoades
Robert Ben Rhodes, also known as the Truck Stop Killer, was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1945. He joined the Marines after graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs in 1964. After being dishonorably discharged for being involved in a robbery, Robert eventually became a long-haul trucker.
During his career as a trucker, Robert committed many crimes, specifically targeting sex workers and hitchhikers. According to Wikipedia, "he was convicted for three murders, and was slated to be tried for two more before charges were dropped due to the wishes of victims' families. Rhoades is additionally suspected of torturing, raping, and killing more than fifty women between 1975 and 1990." He is currently serving life in prison in Illinois.
Although Robert Spangler never committed any murders here in Iowa, he was raised over in Ames. Wikipedia reports that his father was a civil engineer, and there is actually a laboratory named after him at Iowa State University.
Robert met his first wife Nancy in high school, and they ended up moving to Littleton, Colorado. In 1978, Robert murdered Nancy and his two teenage children, making it appear that Nancy had committed the crimes and then killed herself. He went on to kill his third wife Donna by pushing her off a cliff at the Grand Canyon in 1993, which he claimed was an accident. He eventually confessed to the murders and died of cancer in federal prison in 2001.