Destination Unknown: Murder of Geraldine Maggert 1968

Murder Victim

Geraldine Evelyn Florence Maggert
25-year-old Secretary
Urban Renewal Relocations, Cedar Rapids Office
Single Mother of a Daughter
Cause of Death: Beaten and Strangled
Motive: Sexual Psychopathy

Murder and Date

Last Seen: Downtown Cedar Rapids
Linn County, Iowa
March 22, 1968
Body Found: Coralville Reservoir
Johnson County, Iowa
April 6, 1968


By Nancy Bowers
Written August 2009

location of Cedar Rapids, Iowa

location of Cedar Rapids, Iowa

In the summer of 2009, I began working with the Story County Sheriff’s Office on the unsolved January 1968 murder of Iowa State University coed Sheila Collins.

During my research, I came upon information about another murdered young woman — Geraldine Maggert — who disappeared from Cedar Rapids only a few months after the Collins homicide and was then found dead in Linn County.

Both Geraldine and Sheila lived in college towns, were likeable and respectable young woman, were attractive brunettes with long hair, were last seen wearing green coats and carrying suitcases, and had arranged to travel under unusual circumstances on the days they disappeared. Their bodies were left in rural areas, strangulation was an element in both deaths, and similarities existed in the crime scenes.

I then determined I would collect information on Geraldine Maggert’s case and tell her story, too; in 2009, both cases had been largely forgotten.

My hope is that one day both crimes will be solved, perhaps even by the arrest of a single individual, although that is an unlikely outcome given the passage of years and the differences — despite many similarities — in the circumstances of the homicides.

☛ Geraldine’s Story ☚

Geraldine Maggert

Geraldine Maggert

Geraldine Lempke Maggert was 25-years old in April of 1968. She was a farm girl, the only child born to Roslyn L. Ihde and Lester Philip Lempke in Elkader from a line of Germans who had lived in Iowa for several generations.

She was a small, attractive young woman with a pleasant face and smile. She was quiet, even shy; and someone described her as so reserved that,

“If you wanted anything out of her, you had to ask the question.”

In 1961, She graduated from Elkader’s Central Community High School, where she fell in love with fellow student, Richard Maggert. The following year, Geraldine graduated from the secretarial training program at American Institute of Business in Des Moines. She married Richard, and their daughter Richine was born in 1964.

The couple first lived in Elkader, Iowa. Richard served in the military during part of that time and then attended classes at Upper Iowa College in Fayette. Geraldine was a secretary in the Clayton County Department of Social Welfare in Elkader.

By February of 1967, the Maggerts had moved eighty miles south to Cedar Rapids, the second largest city in Iowa. Built along the Iowa River, the town is home to numerous employers and industries such as Quaker Oats and a place where jobs could had for the couple.

Richard found employment in construction work at one of Cedar Rapids’s premier companies, Collins Radio; Geraldine took temporary positions through Manpower, Inc. Reports from the offices where she was placed described her as “a good worker” and gave her excellent marks. Then she landed a permanent job as a secretary in the Cedar Rapids Urban Renewal Relocations Office.

But things were not going well personally for the Maggerts, and Geraldine asked for and was granted a divorce in early June of 1967. Richard moved to Ithaca, New York, and took work as an IBM operator.

Geraldine and Richine stayed in Cedar Rapids, living in a second-floor apartment at 3111 1st Avenue SE; they joined the Cedar Rapids First Congregational Church.

Richard and Geraldine continued to have at least some contact, as her co-workers reported that she told them about recent phone calls between the two before she disappeared. Her colleagues also said she was unusually “moody and worried” the last few weeks of her life.

She also might not have felt well, as she was about three months pregnant. Geraldine seems not to have told anyone of the pregnancy, so it is unknown who the father of the child was.

☛ Geraldine Disappears ☚

Geraldine Maggert

Geraldine Maggert

Geraldine made arrangements for her parents Lester and Roslyn Lemke to drive to Cedar Rapids on Friday morning, March 22, 1968 to pick up Richine. The plan was for the little girl to visit their farm near Elkader. When Geraldine’s parents bid their daughter goodbye, there was no indication anything was wrong.

An hour after her parents departed, Geraldine left the apartment and drove away in her car. Neighbors saw no one else coming or going from the building.

Before leaving, she phoned the Urban Renewal Office and said she would not be in that day because she was “feeling ill.”

The last time anyone saw her was about noon, when Geraldine exited a downtown Cedar Rapids bank.

Some accounts said she withdrew a thousand dollars from the bank, half in cash and half in money orders. Later it was revealed that instead she cashed and deposited a check and kept some of the money. According to the Linn County Sheriff, the exact amount was “considerable.”

It was cold that day, the temperatures starting out at 15 and never rising above 26; and there was snow from 8:00 in the morning until about 1:30 in the afternoon.

To protect against the weather, Geraldine wore an olive green coat with a fur collar.

☛  Search For Geraldine

During the week following her withdrawal of money from the bank, Geraldine did not report to work. Her co-workers — worried about the reliable and punctual young woman — stopped by her apartment but found no one there. They then telephoned her parents, who had no information either and whose calls to Geraldine’s phone also went answered.

Remembering Geraldine’s phone calls from her ex-husband, her work colleagues drove to the Cedar Rapids Airport and found her car parked there. They then assumed Geraldine had flown to New York to visit Richard, so they didn’t file a missing person report.

Geraldine’s parents were becoming more worried, however. Mrs. Lempke traveled to Cedar Rapids and notified law enforcement, who accompanied her to Geraldine’s apartment and used a ladder to climb into the second floor apartment. Geraldine was not there, and her suitcase was gone. This was the first time her parents knew that she might have been traveling out of town.

The weather improved quickly over the next week after the snow on March 22, with highs in the 60s and even mid-70s, although the skies were mostly overcast and there were thunderstorms. However, about April 1 it turned cold again; and 40s were the norm with cloudiness and rain and more snow.

☛  Discovery One County Away

location of Coralville, Iowa

location of Coralville, Iowa

The Coralville Reservoir, known now as Coralville Lake, was formed by an Army Corps of Engineers dam on the Iowa River just upstream from the city of Coralville near Iowa City. The area is popular for boating and other recreational activities.

On Saturday, April 6, a troop of Boy Scouts hiking through the Reservoir about four and a half miles northeast of North Liberty found a body face down in a wooded ravine near a popular party and picnic area known as “The Rock.”

It was a Caucasian woman, clothed only in a bra.

☛ Identification ☚

from the Estherville Daily News

from the Estherville Daily News

A death investigation began immediately under the direction of Johnson County Sheriff Maynard Schneider and his chief investigator Francis W. “Bud” Sueppel, Jr.; they coordinated their information with Johnson County Attorney Robert Jansen.

Agent Tom Hopewell of the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) assisted them; and because the Reservoir was on Federal property, the FBI became involved as well.

Investigators did not know the woman’s identity. A sketch artist drew an approximation of her: she was tiny — 5′ 4″ and 105 pounds — and her long, brownish-blonde hair was accented with three subtle frosted platinum strands in front.

After the artist’s sketch was circulated on local television, as many as 20 calls came into the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office from around Iowa and neighboring states.

Geraldine’s co-workers and family recognized the sketch and notified police. The body was then officially identified by friends, family members, and dental records as Geraldine Maggert’s.

☛ Autopsy Results ☚

An autopsy concluded the body may have lain in the reservoir area for about seven days, which prompted speculation that Geraldine did not die immediately after disappearing.

It may be possible, however, that the coolness of the weather during the second week she lay in the wooded area slowed decomposition and that Geraldine was killed closer to the time she was last seen.

The partial decomposition of the body made determining cause of death difficult. She had, one investigator told newspapers, been “roughly treated.” She appeared to be bruised and scratched, perhaps beaten with what was described as “a stick of the whipping type.” She also might have been strangled to the point of unconsciousness and died either from that or from exposure.

The Coroner also discovered her pregnancy.

☛ Investigation ☚

from the Iowa City Press-Citizen

from the Iowa City Press-Citizen

Geraldine’s former husband Richard was located in Ithaca, New York, and he agreed that they had been talking on the phone in recent weeks; but he said he knew nothing about her death.

Authorities in Ithaca cooperated with Iowa investigators to establish his whereabouts during the time of her murder.

Richard Maggert arrived in Iowa after Geraldine’s funeral and willing traveled to Cedar Rapids to take a lie detector test, which he passed.

County and state law enforcement spent 12 full weeks investigating the murder and interviewed more than 200 people. The investigation was not confined to Cedar Rapids or the Iowa City area. There was even a theory that Geraldine might have traveled to Omaha.

One tip to investigators said a woman who looked like Geraldine was seen walking down a gravel road near Marion, Iowa, but this could not be confirmed.

Law enforcement were never able to reconstruct Geraldine’s steps after she was last seen on March 22 leaving the Cedar Rapids bank.

☛ Airport Connection? ☚

Geraldine's car was found at the CR Airport

Geraldine’s car was found at the Cedar Rapids Airport (from a postcard of the time).

An examination of Geraldine’s car, which was found at the airport, revealed nothing to establish she was murdered at the site or that her body had been transported in the vehicle.

Authorities speculated about whether she drove herself to the airport to meet someone or to fly out. Had she been abducted there? Or had her killer abandoned the car at the airport after the murder to make it seem as though she traveled? That action would also have stashed the car out of view of anyone looking for her or her vehicle.

☛ Why Was Geraldine Traveling? ☚

Authorities could find no proof that Geraldine ever boarded a flight out of the airport. However, she  had packed a suitcase as if to travel. So, where was she going?

Was her trip, which seemed carefully planned — arranging for her daughter’s care, calling in sick, obtaining money — to obtain a termination of her pregnancy?

Because abortion was illegal in 1968, it is possible that secretly obtaining one might have been the reason Geraldine had withdrawn money and traveled. Because the fetus was still intact, she obviously did not get an abortion; but that does not preclude her having been lured by the promise of receiving one by someone intent on murdering her.

The pregnancy also necessarily introduced into the investigation a sexual partner. Her co-workers knew of no boyfriends. Did she have a secret lover who promised to go away with her to be married — or to get an abortion — but who instead killed her and the unborn child?

In the preceding years, a Cedar Rapids investigation into illegal abortions had resulted in criminal charges, but officials were unable to connect Geraldine’s murder to that case.

☛ Laid to Rest ☚

Private services were held for Geraldine at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 9 at the Peace United Church of Christ in Elkader. She was born on March 14, 1943 and disappeared only eight days after her 25th birthday.

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


  • ☛ “$1,000 is Hunted,” Muscatine Journal, April 20, 1968.
  • ☛ “$1,000 Missing in Murder Case,” Oelwein Daily Register, April 20, 1968.
  • ☛ “Authorities Push Search for Slayer,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 11, 1968.
  • ☛ “Brutal Murders of 3 Iowans Still Unsolved,” Muscatine Journal, June 28, 1968.
  • ☛ “C.R. Leads in Woman’s Death Being Checked,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 11, 1968.
  • ☛ “Divorce Decrees,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 9, 1967.
  • ☛ “Identify Slain Iowa Woman,” Waterloo Daily Courier, April 8, 1968.
  • ☛ Lester P. Lembke Obituary, Leonard & Leonard-Muller Funeral Homes & Crematory, May 4, 2004.
  • ☛ “Mrs. Maggert Did Not Take $1,000 from Bank,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 23, 1968.
  • ☛ “Murdered Woman Is Identified As a Divorcee,” Muscatine Journal, April 8, 1968.
  • ☛ “New Details Add Mystery to Slaying” by Robert G. Hibbs, Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 19, 1968.
  • ☛ “Reservoir Murder Among 3 Major Unsolved Crimes,” Iowa City Press-Citizen,” June 27, 1968.
  • ☛ “Slain Girl Worked in C.R.,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 8, 1968.
  • ☛ “Slaying Victim Withdrew $1,000 From Her Bank,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 20, 1968.
  • ☛ “Still Seeking Clues in Geraldine Maggert Death,” Cedar Rapids Gazette May 17, 1968.
  • ☛ “Talk with Husband of Slain Girl,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 10, 1968.
  • ☛ “Three Iowa Slayings This Year Remain Unsolved” by Sue Anderson, Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 27, 1968.
  • ☛ “Tracing activities of woman before her death,” Ames Daily Tribune, April 20, 1968.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “Victim is Geraldine Maggert” by Staff Writers, Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 4, 1968.
  • ☛ “Woman Dead; No Suspects” by William Simbro, Des Moines Register, April 9, 1968.
  • ☛ “Woman Identified as C.R. Divorcee,” Oelwein Daily Register, April 4, 1968.

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