Crossing the Line: Murder of Arlene Adler 1967 Written by David Jindrich

Murder Victim

Arlene Grace Adler
Cause of Death: Slashed with Knife
Motive: Sexual Psychopathy

Murder Scene and Date

Last Seen Clinton, Iowa
Body Found In Mississippi River
Behind Agrico Plant
Fulton, Illinois
Whiteside County
November 11, 1967


By David Jindrich
Written October 2012

Arlene Grace Adler (courtesy of Tina Holdgrafer)

On Veterans Day of 1967 — November 10 — Lyndon Baines Johnson was President of the United States; the Battle of Dak was raging in Viet Nam; and Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower announced their engagement.

It was also the last day of Arlene Grace Adler’s life.

Arlene lived at 1319 South 3rd Street in Clinton. She looked younger than her 39 years and was of average height and weight. She wore her dark-brown, shoulder-length hair in a stylish 1960s bouffant. Her smile and sense of humor attracted a wide circle of friends; mostly from the local taverns she patronized such as the 620 Club, Les’s, and the Hi-Life.

Arlene’s life had not been easy. At a young age, she married John Conroy and they divorced within a year. She then met Robert Adler and their cyclical relationship produced three marriages and two divorces.

Arlene struggled with alcohol and her choices in men were questionable; many of her male companions had criminal records.

But she was a devoted daughter to her parents and loving mother to her daughter Leanna Paulsen, born in 1955 out of wedlock.

Typically, Arlene spent Friday evenings visiting and playing cards with her mother Leona A. Leopold. On November 10, the two parted company about 6:30 p.m. at the 620 Club.

After leaving her mother, Arlene stopped by Les’s Tavern in downtown Clinton to drink and socialize. Friends saw her interacting with a man and then leaving with him.

Arlene Adler crossed the line for the final time on the Gateway Bridge over the Mississippi River (photo from

Arlene was last seen on the U.S. Highway 30 Gateway Bridge between Iowa and Illinois — crossing the line for the last time.

At 9:30 a.m. the next day, Harold Zeeryp of Fulton, Illinois, pulled up behind the Agrico Plant near the Mississippi River. He was anticipating a morning of fishing, but things took a macabre turn. He later told investigators:

“I got out of my car, walked over to the top of the bank and looked down. I saw something that looked like a human body. I went down to investigate and saw that it was a human body.”

In the water near the bank lay the nude body of Arlene Adler.

☛ Investigation and Inquest ☚

from the Clinton Herald

Harold Zeeryp summoned Fulton Police, and Sgt. Ray Haley quickly arrived at the water’s edge. Initially, Haley incorrectly believed the body was submerged in the water a long time because of its mutilated condition.

Because the Agrico Plant was within the jurisdiction of Whiteside County, Illinois, Sgt. Haley reported the body to County Sheriff Lyle Landis, who informed County Coroner John Ardapple.

Landis and Ardapple arrived about 10:15 a.m. and viewed the body and the surrounding area. They summoned the Illinois State Police Crime Lab and the Clinton Police Department to help with the crime scene investigation.

On Monday morning, Arlene’s mother and husband confirmed identification of her body at Bosma Funeral Home in Morrison, Illinois.

On November 14, Coroner Ardapple convened a jury of six Fulton men: William Considine, Joe G. Sikkema, James Bennett, Vernon D. Sikkema, Harold Swanson, and Robert Decker.

The men heard testimony from Sgt. Haley, Harold Zeeryp, and Sterling pathologist and Coroner’s Physician Dr. Maurice Perou.

The testimony and evidence established that Arlene Adler was murdered in the early morning hours of November 11, 1967.

The autopsy report was grim. Dr. Perou determined the cause of death was cardiac arrest from blood loss as a result of “homicidal” wounds.

Adler’s throat was cut from ear to ear; a long, deep incision – starting at her pubic area — ran the length of her torso, where there were also multiple stab wounds. Her legs were nearly severed. The wounds suggested a psycho-sexual crime, but preliminary tests failed to indicate sexual assault.

The inquest verdict was “homicide by unknown person or persons.”

Despite the precision and horror of the wounds inflicted on Arlene Adler, Coroner Ardapple dismissed any question of deliberate or ritualistic mutilation, saying only:

“There were cuts on the throat and other parts of the body.”

☛ Similar Case, Possible Connection? ☚

Clarence William Liston was identified by a rape victim as her attacker.

On October 14, 1967, a 19-year-old Clinton woman came into Les’s Tavern looking for her husband. A man she knew only by the nickname “Ducky Graham” said her husband was throwing a river bank party south of Fulton and volunteered to drive her over the Mississippi to find him.

The woman accepted the ride from the man and they pulled up behind the Agrico Plant. However, there was no party.

Suddenly, the man pulled a hunting knife from under the car seat and forced the woman to take off her clothes. She screamed and protested while he sexually assaulted her for several hours. At one point, she got out of the car to throw up.

When he forced the victim to take the knife and asked, “Would you like to kill me?” she threw the weapon onto the dashboard.

The man allowed her to put back on only her dress and then started the car to return to Clinton. At the toll both on the U.S. Highway 30 Gateway Bridge, the woman jumped out and summoned help from a toll booth worker while the assailant drove off.

from the Clinton Herald

The woman reported the assault and an arrest warrant was sworn out of Whiteside County, Illinois, for the attacker — by then identified as Clarence Liston, although he was using his brother’s nickname “Ducky Graham” at the bar where he encountered the rape victim.

Just after 4:00 p.m. on November 16, 1967, Illinois Highway Patrol Agents Purcell, Bales and Galendo arrested 36-year-old Liston at a Cummings Coal storage shed near the intersection of 3rd Avenue North and 2nd Street in Clinton, where he was preparing to deliver coal.

That same day, Clinton Police Officers – headed up by Detective Donald D. Flood — served a warrant at Clarence Liston’s residence at 141½ 3rd Avenue S.

They seized five pairs of pants, a light blue work shirt, a gray sweatshirt, a pair of worn underwear, a pair of soiled white socks, an olive drab dirty clothes bag, and two hunting knives.

On November 17, 1967, officers used another warrant to search Clarence Liston’s 1956 Buick bearing Illinois License FW 2718. Inside the car, they found traces of blood in six places; fingerprints – some smeared in blood — on the windows; and a gold earring on the carpet.

The right door, front and rear seat, and all four tires were removed and turned over to Illinois State Police Agent Robert Bales for processing at the State Crime Lab.

Liston waived extradition and was held in the Whiteside County jail without bond. On January 27, 1968, a grand jury issued a bill of indictment against him for rape and he was placed in the Whiteside County Jail by Sheriff Lyle Landis.

Whiteside County State’s Attorney L.E. Ellison refused to comment when asked if Clarence Liston was a suspect in Arlene Adler’s murder.

☛ The Rape Trial ☚

The rape trial began on February 13, 1968 in front of Judge John R. Erhart. Prosecutor L.E. Ellison’s most important witnesses were the victim and Clarence Liston’s former wife, Alice, a Clinton resident.

Alice Liston said that she visited her ex-husband in the Whiteside County Jail, where he asked her to obtain bond for him. He swore he did not kill Arlene Adler but admitted he raped the 19-year-old woman, using a hunting knife which he later disposed of.

Alice Liston also stated that her ex-husband owned a hunting knife with a two-colored handle like the one the rape victim testified her attacker used.

Defense Attorney Ronald Coplan called no witnesses on behalf of Liston.

The jury deliberated only 45 minutes before finding Clarence Liston “not guilty” of rape. The reason jurors gave for their verdict was that the victim left the bar with Clarence Liston knowing sexual intercourse would be expected.

☛ Charged With Murder In Open Court ☚

Clinton Herald headline

That verdict, however, was not the end of Clarence Liston’s problems.

In open court, State’s Attorney L.E. Ellison submitted to Judge L.L. Winn a Complaint and Arrest Warrant charging that on November 11, 1967, Clarence Liston killed Arlene Adler in Whiteside County, Illinois.

On February 13, 1968, Clarence Liston was formally charged with murder by States Attorney L.E. Ellison, and a murder warrant was sworn out in the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit in Whiteside County, Illinois. Liston was arrested by Sheriff Lyle W. Landis and held without bail.

On February 27, 1968, a Preliminary Hearing was held before Judge John R. Erhart. Ellison presented strong evidence concerning Liston’s involvement in the murder from witnesses and from analyses of the evidence seized from Liston’s Buick during the November 17, 1967 search.

from the Clinton Herald

On the night of November 10, 1967, Clarence Liston was seen drinking with Arlene Adler at Les’s Tavern in Clinton and the two were observed leaving together.

Toll Collector Jack Jensen of Fulton, Illinois, testified that he knew Clarence Liston personally and in the early morning hours of November 11, 1967 saw him pay a toll at the U.S. 30 Gateway Bridge. Liston was accompanied by a woman and another man in the car, but Jensen didn’t see the passengers’ face.

Illinois State Police Agent Robert Bales testified about evidence found in Liston’s Buick: Type O blood was consistent with Adler’s, a gold earring belonged to the victim, fingerprints matched those of Liston and Adler, one of the tires seized from Liston’s car matched a casting of an impression at the murder scene, and sand found in the carpet and seats was similar to that found behind the Agrico Plant.

These assertions caused the judge to hold Clarence Liston for a grand jury hearing, which convened on May 21, 1968 in the Whiteside County Courthouse.

Despite the large amount of evidence, the grand jury did not return a Bill of Indictment against Clarence Liston for the murder of Arlene Adler. Because grand juries are confidential and no records are kept, the reasons for failing to indict Liston are unknown.

County Attorney L.E. Ellison then filed and was granted a motion to dismiss the charges and Clarence Liston was released from the Whiteside County Jail after being detained in custody approximately six months.

☛ Clarence William Liston ☚

Clarence Liston under arrest, from the Whiteside County Sentinel.

Clarence Liston was born April 9, 1931, in Fulton, Illinois, to Ralph J. and Clara G. Liston. Ralph and Clara separated and divorced in 1935, and both had remarried by 1957. Clarence had a younger brother Graham, who had the nickname “Ducky Graham.” Liston attended Fulton public schools.

From his early life, Clarence Liston was plagued with failure and trouble. He was repeatedly truant, moved from school to school, earned mostly Ds and Fs, and flunked eighth grade.

On November 19, 1948, Liston enlisted in the U.S. Army to avoid criminal prosecution for a larceny charge in Whiteside County.

He saw battlefield action in Korea. However, he was often AWOL, and his DD #214 shows 968 days of lost time. In spite of his record, however, on June 25, 1955, Liston received an Honorable Discharge, which made him eligible for veteran’s benefits.

In December 1954, while stationed with the Army in Denver, Colorado, Clarence Liston married a woman named Alice and the couple had two children — William Eugene Liston in 1954 and Clarence Eugene Liston in 1957 – before divorcing on April 27, 1966.

Liston had a long record of arrests for Public Intoxication and Operating While Intoxicated, resulting from chronic alcohol problems which began while he served in the Army. In 1957, Whiteside County Court Services Officer S. Kreider Woods wrote in a Report to the Court:

“Drinking in excess has been one of his weaknesses. Last year [1956], he spent a week in County Jail [and] paid a fine of $100.00 and costs after a Drunk and Disorderly conviction.”

On August 5, 1957, Liston pled guilty and was sentenced to prison for the rape of an eight year-old child. He claimed he was drinking all day on the day of the sexual assault.

On November 15, 1967, Alice Liston told authorities who were investigating the Arlene Adler homicide:

“Clarence carries a hunting knife sharpened on both sides. About two months ago he held the knife to my throat and choked me. He’s a sex maniac and has molested in the past. He was residing about 2 or 3 blocks from the Agrico Plant in Fulton, and regularly has gone fishing behind the Plant.”

On August 12, 1971 – five years after her divorce from Clarence Liston and remarried with the last name Schumacher — Alice was found unconscious in the parking lot behind the 620 Club. She told authorities:

“Clarence Liston, my ex-husband, approached me in the parking lot as I was getting into my car, and wanted to talk to me. I don’t know what direction he came from. He knocked me down and I was unconscious for a time. I am afraid of him as he threatened to kill me the last time I testified against him.”

Liston returned to prison in 1971 after being convicted of receiving stolen property in Ottumwa, Iowa.

After release from the Whiteside County Jail in 1968, Clarence Liston resided in Sioux City, Iowa, and in Saint Louis, Missouri, earning money as a construction laborer. When unemployed, Liston returned to the Clinton-Fulton area.

On September 19, 1975, Clarence Liston married Joyce Eleen Oleson in Monticello, Lewis County, Missouri. It is unknown if they had children or if they were still married when Joyce Oleson Liston died in Preston, Iowa, on January 15, 1994.

On May 20, 2005, Clarence William Liston died of natural causes at the age of 74. He is buried at Clinton Lawn Cemetery.

Although Liston lived a long life, Arlene Grace Adler never even celebrated her 40th birthday!

☛ Epilogue ☚

As I researched this case, the evidence seemed to scream for a conviction.

The Clinton Police Department interviewed the witnesses and obtained evidence in a professional manner following the law. The Whiteside County Sheriff and Illinois State Police collected evidence and sent it to the Police Lab for examination and testing.

And that evidence linked Clarence Liston to Arlene Adler, and linked both of them to the crime scene behind the Agrico Plant.

What happened? How did this brutal murder escape justice? In 1967, American culture and thought had changed as drug use increased. Popular music encouraged young people to question everything, protest, and use civil disobedience to make a point.

However, these changes did not sit well with all members of society, some of whom used less lenient standards to measure individual behavior.

It’s possible that the conservative Dutch community of Whiteside County, Illinois, passed judgment on Arlene Adler instead of the evidence presented at the grand jury proceeding!

Yet, I can’t believe a juror would willfully disregard evidence in a homicide simply because they disliked the victim. I believe they did their jobs and made a decision based on the facts presented to them.

L.E. Ellison had to prosecute a case that could stand “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But, that is very different from ANY doubt!

Did Whiteside County States Attorney L.E. Ellison fail to properly communicate the evidence to the grand jury? Unfortunately, there are no records of the proceedings to answer these questions.

After the grand jury failed to act, why didn’t Ellison continue to prepare the case for trial and present it to another grand jury in six months or a year? A grand jury serves at the liberty of the States Attorney to hear evidence!

Ellison’s conviction rate for homicides in 1967 and 1968 was poor:

    • ☛ After a jury found William Johnson guilty of murder on November 28, 1967, Circuit Court Judge Dan McNeal set aside the conviction for prosecutorial misconduct regarding closing arguments. The case was retried on a change of venue to Rock Island County in the spring of 1968, and William Johnson was found “not guilty.”
    • ☛ In another case, Glenn Honn was found “not guilty” of shooting his father, John F. Honn on January 25, 1968.
    • ☛ In yet another in the summer of 1968, a jury found Jack Fisher “not guilty” of murder in the shooting death of Warren Frank.

The murder of Arlene Adler is considered a cold case when in fact it is a frozen case — frozen in time. It will soon be almost 50 years since the brutal murder, and many questions remain about why the Whiteside County States Attorney Office failed to prosecute Clarence William Liston.

Arlene Adler’s parents, Alfred and Leona Paulsen (courtesy Tina Holdgrafer)

Many of those involved in the case have passed away or are of advanced years and have forgotten Arlene Grace Adler.

But Arlene’s family has not forgotten. As soon after the murder as September 22, 1973, Arlene Adler’s daughter Leanna Paulsen contacted authorities and pleaded that the case be reopened.

Leanna Paulsen claimed Clarence Liston made a statement to several witnesses that Abe “Tex” Flood and he “carved up” Arlene Adler. He also bragged in area bars that he killed Arlene Adler and got away with it.

Nothing came of Leanna Paulsen’s efforts to find justice for her mother and the case remains unsolved.

☛ The Life of Arlene Grace Adler ☚

Arlene Grace Adler’s tombstone, photo by Michael Kearney

Arlene Grace [Paulsen] Adler was born May 9, 1928, in Clinton, Iowa, the daughter of Leona Haack and Alfred Paulsen. On March 16, 1948, in Morrison, Illinois, she married Robert Adler. She gave birth to her daughter Leanna in 1955.

Arlene had three brothers — Donald Paulsen, John Paulsen, and Thomas Paulsen – as well as two sisters: Mary Jane Paulsen Wentworth, and Joyce Paulsen Eye.

Arlene Adler’s funeral was held at the Snell-Smith Funeral Home by Rev. James Riegal of the Evangelical United Brethren Church. She is laid to rest at Clinton Lawn Cemetery next to her husband Robert Alder. It should be noted that although the date November 13, 1967 appears on her tombstone, the official murder reports state she died on November 11, 1967.

Please note: Use of information in this article should credit David Jindrich as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.



  • ☛ “Clinton Woman Was Murdered — Jury Finds,” Whiteside County Sentinel, November 14, 1967.
  • ☛ “Deaths: Clinton, Mrs. Robert Adler,” Clinton Herald, November 14, 1967.
  • ☛ “Eight Indicted by Whiteside Jury,” Clinton Herald, January 27, 1968.
  • ☛ “Held On Murder Charge,” Whiteside County Sentinel, February 27, 1968.
  • ☛ “Grand Jury Here Monday,” Whiteside County Sentinel, March 26, 1968.
  • ☛ “Held On Murder Charge,” Whiteside County Sentinel, February 29, 1968.
  • ☛ “Hold Liston In Adler Murder,” Clinton Herald, February 14, 1968.
  • ☛ “Honn Is Found Innocent,” Whiteside County Sentinel, November 25, 1967.
  • ☛ “Identify Body Found In River As Clinton Woman,” Clinton Herald, November 13, 1967.
  • ☛ Missouri Marriage Record, Clarence William Liston & Joyce Eleen Oleson,
  • ☛ “Murder Trial On Monday,” Whiteside County Sentinel, November 16, 1967.
  • ☛ “Murder Verdict Is Set Aside,” Whiteside County Sentinel, November 28, 1967.
  • ☛ “Rape Suspect Held In Jail In Morrison,” Clinton Herald, November 18, 1967.
  • ☛ “Rape Suspect Held; Quizzed In Connection With Slaying,” Clinton Herald, November 17, 1967.
  • ☛ “Rule Clinton Woman Slain,” Clinton Herald, November 14, 1967.
  • ☛ “Rock Falls Man Charged With Murder,” Whiteside County Sentinel, February 29, 1968.
  • ☛ Social Security Death Index.
  • ☛ Tina Holdgrafer, Personal Correspondence, October 2012.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ Whiteside County Case #57-C-18 filed on 3 September, 1957/Rape.
  • ☛ Whiteside County Case #67-Y filed on November 16, 1967/Rape.
  • ☛ Whiteside County Case #68-Y-23 filed on February 13, 1968/Murder.

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