Death at the Chamberlain: Murder of Judy Ann Corbin 1967

Murder Victim

Judy Ann Corbin
17-year-old Waitress, Clerk, & Go-Go Dancer
Cause of Death: Slashed
Motive: Unknown

Murder Scene and Date

Chamberlain Hotel
7th and Locust Streets
Des Moines, Iowa
Polk County
April 17, 1967


By Nancy Bowers
Written May 2010

Chamberlain Hotel in Des Moines

Chamberlain Hotel in Des Moines

During the early hours of Wednesday, April 17, 1967, someone slashed the throat of 17-year-old Judy Ann Corbin and left her to bleed to death in room 322 of the Chamberlain Hotel at the corner of 7th and Locust streets in Des Moines, Iowa.

Judy Corbin, aged 13

Judy Corbin, aged 13

Sixty-year-old hotel maid Loera Frederickson discovered the body — propped up in a corner in the bathroom — shortly before noon when she went in to clean the room.

The petite blonde teenager was fully clothed in a blouse, black stretch pants, and go-go boots. The bed was disturbed, but there were no signs of any struggle.

The room was registered to Curtis Chittenden, 21, of Des Moines. Daniel Chittenden, of 1714 Des Moines Street, told the Des Moines Register that his older brother Curtis had dated Judy but had broken up with her.

Judy herself was registered in room 401.

from the Carroll Daily Times Herald

from the Carroll Daily Times Herald

About 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday night, an argument was heard by other people in the hotel between “a girl and a youth” in yet a third room. Judy Corbin then left that room and went outside.

Judy worked as a Younkers Tea Room waitress and a clerk in a men’s clothing shop; she was also a part-time Go-Go dancer.

She spent time at the Mitchellville, Iowa, Training School for Girls because of a parole violation related to a juvenile arrest in National City, California. Judy and her family had recently moved back to their native Des Moines from California, where her father served in the Navy.

☛ Suspect With a Long Record ☚

Suspect Ralph Ben Reynolds

Suspect Ralph Ben Reynolds

The murder investigation focused on three suspects. However, authorities singled out 42-year-old Ralph Ben Reynolds—a 5-foot-7, 188-pound African-American man with a fifth grade education. At the time of the murder, he was serving six months in Polk County Jail for receiving and concealing stolen property.

However, a work-release program allowed him to work between 6:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. six days a week as a boiler fireman at the Chamberlain Hotel. Reynolds earned 180 dollars a month and paid Polk County two dollars a day for his room and board at the jail.

from the Oelwien Register

from the Oelwien Register

Reynolds had been in trouble with the law since 1937, when he was sent to the Juvenile Home in Toledo, Iowa, for larceny. In 1938, he was sentenced to the State Training School at Eldora, Iowa, for breaking and entering.

From 1941 to 1951, Reynolds served time on a rape charge in the Men’s Reformatory at Anamosa, Iowa, and was paroled early on the 25-year sentence, despite an escape attempt.

Three years later, he was convicted of aggravated robbery and sent to the Fort Madison, Iowa, prison. He escaped in 1958 while working on a state prison farm but was captured and sent back to Fort Madison before being transferred to a mental ward at the Anamosa facility, from which he also escaped. After yet another capture, he was sentenced for escape and vehicle theft and incarcerated for a year.

In 1963, he spent 180 days in jail for bootlegging and then was convicted in December of 1966 on the stolen property charge.

When he was arrested for Judy Corbin’s murder and taken to court for arraignment, Reynolds refused to be arraigned without a lawyer representing him and repeatedly denied any connection to the homicide.

☛ Attempted Escape ☚

As he was being taken back to Polk County Jail in handcuffs, he broke free from 75-year-old Deputy Sheriff Howard Allgood, ran several blocks, and hid under a car in a parking lot. Allgood fired a shot into the air and yelled, “We got an escape!” Passersby pointed out Reynolds’s hiding place to authorities, and he was taken back to jail.

☛ Trail and Acquittal ☚

from the Muscatine Journal

from the Muscatine Journal

The trial of Ralph Ben Reynolds for the murder of Judy Corbin began on December 12, 1967. Serving as his lawyers were William Kutmus, who was on leave from Polk County Legal Services for the case, and Robert A. Wright, a Des Moines lawyer and President of the NAACP Iowa Chapter.

On Monday, December 19, 1967, a jury of six men and six women deliberated for over four hours before finding Reynolds innocent of murdering Judy Corbin. When the verdict was read by District Judge Waldo F. Wheeler, Reynolds put his head in his hands and sobbed aloud.

That was the beginning of a long career in criminal defense for William Kutmus.

☛ Judy Corbin’s Life ☚

Judy Ann Corbin was born July 22, 1949 in Des Moines, Iowa, to Helen Louise Sample and Norman Lee Corbin. She was survived by her parents, brothers Bruce and Allen, and a sister Nona — who herself died in 1971 at the age of 19. Judy was preceded in death by two brothers, Robert Lee Corbin and Norman Lee Corbin, Jr.

Please note: Use of information from this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.



  • ☛ “Acquaintances of Slain Iowa Girl Are Quizzed,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 20, 1967.
  • ☛ “Charged with Slaying Girl, Tries Escape,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 1, 1967.
  • ☛ “Charges Filed in Girl’s Slaying,” Carroll Daily Times Herald, June 1, 1967.
  • ☛ “D.M. Man Is Found Innocent in Slaying,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, December 19, 1967.
  • ☛ “Found Innocent Of Murdering Girl in Hotel,” Waterloo Daily Courier, December 19, 1967.
  • ☛ “Girl, 17, Stabbed to Death,” by Nick Lamberto, Des Moines Register April 20, 1967.
  • ☛ “Girl Found Slain In Hotel,” Carroll Daily Times Herald, April 20, 1967.
  • ☛ “The Growing List of Iowa’s Unsolved Murder Cases,” Des Moines Register, November 24, 1968.
  • ☛ “Man Found Innocent,” Muscatine Journal, December 19, 1967.
  • ☛ “Murder Case Fee In Dispute,” Des Moines Register, January 27, 1968.
  • ☛ “Murder Suspect in Escape Attempt Here,” by Nick Lamberto, Des Moines Register, June 1, 1967.
  • ☛ “Prisoner Accused of Killing Girl,” Waterloo Daily Courier, June 1, 1967.
  • ☛ “Quiz Jurors In Murder Trial,” Des Moines Register, December 12, 1967.
  • ☛ “Select Jury in Murder Trial,” Estherville Daily News, December 12, 1967.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “Work Release Prisoner Charged With DM Murder,” Oelwein Daily Register, June 1, 1967.

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