Dorothy H. Miller
Cause of Death: Bludgeoned and Stabbed
Motive: Sexual Psychopathy
Murder Scene and Date
118 Grand Street
Des Moines County
August 18, 1969
By Nancy Bowers
Written July 2010
On Wednesday evening, August 18, 1969, 48-year-old Bolick Realty saleswoman Dorothy Miller was brutally assaulted and killed in an unoccupied, two-story frame house at 118 Grand Street in Burlington.
Dorothy’s body was found on August 19 lying face-down in a large upstairs bedroom closet. Her dress was pulled up over her chest; her underpants, hose, and shoes were removed, and her bra was loosened and pushed up.
Just after she entered the house, Dorothy was knocked out with a blunt object — possibly a brick. Her hands were bound in front of her with nylon rope, and she was stabbed once in the throat and 21 times in the back.
Police said she was the victim of “an unnatural sexual act,” likely after she was unconscious.
A brick and a rope similar to that used to bind her were found on the first floor of the house. Every door was locked except the back one, and there were no signs of a struggle.
☛ Easy Target ☚
Dorothy Miller was petite — only 110 pounds — and attractive; she wore her hair “frosted” in the fashion of the times.
As the only female realtor in Burlington, she was an early professional pioneer. However, this singularity may have allowed her killer to easily find and target her in his plan to lure a victim to an isolated place.
☛ Friday, August 15, 1969 ☚
On Friday, August 15, Dorothy received a call from “Robert Clark” asking to see a house at 118 Grand Street that evening. Because she was uneasy showing properties alone at night, Dorothy brought along her husband Fred.
The Millers picked Clark up at the Riepe Pharmacy at 918 Maple Street — on the corner of Tenth and Maple — near the Maple Leaf Tavern and drove him to 118 Grand Street.
After a tour of the property, the Millers let Clark out where they picked him up. Fred Miller had a chance to study Robert Clark, who he said was a “nice looking” 5-feet-11, 175-pound young man with short, dark hair cut in a “normal” way.
Although Clark told the Millers he was from Des Moines and looking to move his young family to Burlington, he was vague about where he worked.
☛ Saturday, August 16, 1969 ☚
Robert Clark phoned Dorothy again on Saturday, August 16 and said he wanted to take pictures of the Grand Street house to show his wife. He asked to meet Dorothy there Saturday night, but she had a conflict and offered to get together at 7:30 on Monday night instead.
He provided Dorothy with the Maple Leaf Tavern phone number; she was to call there and ask for him.
That night, Dorothy went to show an acreage to an unknown man; her daughter Patricia later said this was very unusual because Dorothy was not in the habit of making evening appointments, especially in isolated, rural areas. The man did not show up.
☛ Monday, August 18, 1969 ☚
Dorothy Miller went about her regular day on Monday, August 18. At 6:30 p.m., she showed a home to a married couple.
Between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m., the phone rang at the Maple Leaf Tavern at 904 Maple Street and a woman asked to speak to Robert Clark.
Clark talked, hung up, left the bar, took something out of a black pickup, and walked east on Maple Street. Dorothy picked him up in her car outside Riepe Pharmacy at 918 Maple Street and they drove away.
At 8:00 p.m., neighbors to the house at 118 Grand Street were sitting on the front porch enjoying the warm summer night when they saw Dorothy Clark and a man fitting the description of Robert Clark pull up in her light-colored car, park, and enter the house.
They did not see anyone leave, although they noticed later that Dorothy’s car was no longer there. They heard no cries for help, screams, or sounds of a scuffle.
At 8:30 p.m., Fred Miller went to bed in the Miller home at 2323 Herman Avenue, as was his custom because he got up early to oversee the operation of three dump trucks.
☛ Tuesday, August 19, 1969 ☚
When Fred Miller was awakened by his alarm at 5:00 a.m., he realized Dorothy did not come home. He called their daughter Patricia Craven, who had not heard from her either.
The two went to the location where Fred knew Dorothy picked up Robert Clark the night before. They found Dorothy’s car in the 900 block of Elm Street; it was parked near both the Maple Leaf Tavern, where Dorothy phoned Robert Clark, and Riepe Pharmacy, where she picked him up.
The keys were in the ignition (something Dorothy never did) and a camera flashcube was on the front seat.
Fred and Patricia went to the Burlington Police and reported Dorothy missing.
Police Inspectors Wendall Patton and Gene Loose checked out the last place Dorothy was known to be — the house at 118 Grand Street — and found her body.
☛ Aftermath ☚
An intense investigation followed, with the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) Harolassisting the Burlington Police, whose Chief at the time was Robert Dunham.
House-to-house canvassing was done on Grand, Maple, and Elm streets. More than 200 interviews were conducted, and evidence was sent to the FBI Lab for examination.
The BCI released a composite sketch of the suspect drawn by Harold B. Lee of the Southeast Iowa Mental Health Center.
It was based on descriptions from Fred Miller, Maple Leaf Tavern patrons, and neighbors who saw the suspect enter the murder house with Dorothy.
Early on, the investigators assumed that “Robert Clark” was not the suspect’s real name.
☛ Psychopathic Serial Killer? ☚
The Dorothy Miller homicide was not a random case of murder; it was a well-thought-out crime showing sophistication of planning and execution. Police called it “sadistic.”
The suspect located Dorothy through ads or the phone book, knowing as a realtor she was often alone in vacant properties with potential buyers.
He may have planned to kill her on Friday night, but Dorothy was wary and brought her husband along.
Although the killer could not carry through with his plan then, he was able to create a narrative and a persona that would make him appear to be a genuine prospective buyer, a family man, and a nice person.
That allowed him to gain Dorothy’s trust to meet him alone on the night of the murder. Getting a tour of the house also helped him plan where he would attack and kill her and hide her body.
He may have unlocked the back door at that time, giving himself an opportunity over the weekend to return to the house and leave behind the brick and nylon rope he planned to use.
The night of the murder, he walked away from his own vehicle, got into Dorothy’s, rode to the property with her, killed her, likely left by the back door, drove her car and then abandoned it near where his vehicle was, and disappeared.
“Clark” seemed to relish the narrative of the crime, taking great pains to create a “story” he could live out. He concealed his identify by using a false name and claiming to be from Des Moines.
He could not risk revealing where he was staying, so he provided Dorothy the number of the Maple Leaf Tavern where she could call him. Neither she nor her husband saw his vehicle.
It’s likely that what tavern patrons saw him retrieve from his vehicle was a camera, which he needed to keep Dorothy from becoming suspicious because he told her he wanted to take photos of the house.
Leaving a flashcube in Dorothy’s car, however, was highly risky, as it would’ve been an excellent source of thumb and index fingerprints.
Mental health care professional Harold B. Lee performed an early form of profiling and concluded the man was a serial killer — a rare situation in murders because 80 percent of victims are killed by someone they know.
That would mean Dorothy Miller was likely not this man’s first or last victim.
In an August 27, 1969 editorial, the Burlington Hawk-Eye wrote:
“The enormity of the crime is matched only by the cunning of the killer. He is obviously a very sick man. But also a very methodical, clever, persistent one. He left virtually no clues. But he did leave enough so that he will be found; but only by work as clever and methodical and painstaking — time consuming — as his own.”
☛ Case Not Forgotten ☚
Dorothy Miller’s homicide was worked thoroughly in 1969. In a 2004 interview with the Burlington Hawk-Eye, Wendall Patton — who later became Chief of Police and retired in 1994 — said:
“That [case was] all we lived and worked.”
The case is still under active investigation by current Burlington Police officers.
☛ Dorothy Miller’s Life ☚
Dorothy Hardin was born in Iowa on January 10, 1921. She married Fred Benjamin Miller on April 4, 1940, in Scotland County, Missouri, and had one daughter, Patricia Miller Craven, and two grandsons.
Before she became a realtor, Dorothy worked at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant and was a proofreader for the Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette newspaper, which joined with the Burlington Board of Realtors to offer a $1,000 reward in the case.
Dorothy’s funeral was held at 2:00 p.m. Friday, August 22, 1969 at Prugh’s Chapel, and she was buried in Aspen Grove Cemetery.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “Burlington Killer Sought,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 20, 1969.
- ☛ “Burlington woman stabbed 23 [sic] times,” Oelwein Daily Register, August 20, 1969.
- ☛ “Calls Burlington murder ‘sadistic,’ Oskaloosa Daily Herald, August 21, 1969.
- ☛ “Cases Unsolved: Decades-old murder cases remain open for local investigators,” Dorothy de Souza Guedes,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, July 25, 2004.
- ☛ “Editorial: Patience Will Pay, Burlington Hawk-Eye, August 27, 1969.
- ☛ “Hint psychopath-killer is plotting his next attack, Burlington Hawk-Eye, August 24, 1969.
- ☛ Iowa Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Investigation Cold Case Unit.
- ☛ Jan McCallister, Personal Correspondence and Photo.
- ☛ Miller Family Member, Personal Correspondence, 2011.
- ☛ “Nationwide Appeal For Aid In Miller Mystery, Burlington Hawk-Eye, September 12, 1969.
- ☛ “No Breaks Yet In Hunt For Burlington Saleswoman’s Slayer, Burlington Hawk-Eye, November 19, 1969.
- ☛ Obituary, Burlington Hawk-Eye, August 21, 1969.
- ☛ “Police Seek Last Client Of Slain Saleswoman, Burlington Hawk-Eye, August 20, 1969.
- ☛ “Probes Of Murders Now In Detail State, Burlington Hawk-Eye, September 7, 1969.
- ☛ “Seek Man Seen In Burlington Tavern Monday,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 21, 1969.
- ☛ “Sex Slaying At Burlington: Find Body Of Woman Lying Inside Closet,” Nick Lamberto, Des Moines Register, August 20, 1969.
- ☛ “Woman Dies of Multiple Stab Wounds, Burlington Hawk-Eye, August 19, 1969.
- ☛ “Woman real estate agent slain, Ames Daily Tribune, August 20, 1969.