Dying For Drugs: Murder of Terry Vanden Hull 1975

Murder Victim

Terry Lee Vanden Hull
Cause of Death: Throat Slashed
Motive: Drug Trade Intrigue

Murder Scene and Date

Colleen Shaffer farm
2 1/2 miles southeast of Maxwell, Iowa
Story County
February 24, 1975


By Nancy Bowers
Written March 2012

location of Maxwell, Iowa

location of Maxwell, Iowa

The winter of 1974-1975 was harsh in central Iowa with considerable snow and cold. So, when the weather began to moderate in April and then temperatures rose to the upper 70s mid-month, farmers started getting their machinery ready for the planting season.

On Thursday, April 17, 1975, John Oxley of RR 2 in Maxwell asked his friends Clyde Martin and Lavern Eiding to help pick up some farm equipment stored in a shed at the Colleen Shaffer farm one mile southeast of the E-63 railroad viaduct.

Oxley worked the farm, which had no house. Only two buildings stood on the property — a machine shed and a corn crib, side by side.

While taking the equipment out of the shed, the men spotted something hidden in a grassy area behind the corn crib. They quickly saw it was a body.

Story County authorities were notified, and Sheriff John Stark and his deputies responded to the scene. In addition, Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) Director Craig Beck assigned three agents to work the case.

Terry Lee Vanden Hull

Terry Lee Vanden Hull

Investigators found no visible vehicle tracks near the corn crib, but discovered a pocketknife 30 to 40 feet from the body.

In the victim’s pockets was a small amount of money — as well as 20 earrings. Items of identification showed the man was 20-year-old Terry Lee Vanden Hull of Archer, Iowa, in O’Brien County.

Vanden Hull’s body was transported to Mary Greeley Hospital in Ames for an autopsy. Although the body was badly decomposed, Story County Medical Examiner Dr. Donald Powers determined that Vanden Hull died of a slashed throat about 60 days earlier. Powers also found several healed bullet wounds on the body.

State agents took the victim’s clothes and the knife to the BCI Lab for examination.

State and county investigators at the Vanden Hull murder scene
(photo by Bill Weaver, Nevada Evening Journal)

Sheriff Stark said authorities were investigating the death as a homicide and told the press:

“I believe the death was drug related.”

The corn crib appeared to be a dump site used by someone who knew the farm was vacant.

☛ The Victim’s Activities ☚

Craig Beek directed the BCI’s investigation
(from the Iowa Department of Public Safety).

Terry Vanden Hull was last seen alive near Collins in Story County on Monday, February 24.

That date corresponded with the account given by the farmers who found the body. They saw nothing behind the corn crib when they stored the farm machinery on February 23.

The Sheriff’s Office traced Terry Vanden Hull’s recent activities and learned he left the drug treatment unit of the Iowa State Mental Health Institute in Cherokee, Iowa, on January 31.

During his treatment, he met patients who lived in the Collins-Maxwell area of Story County. When Vanden Hull got out of the Institute, he phoned the men he met in Cherokee and they drove to Archer and brought him back to central Iowa to stay with them.

Vanden Hull left a note for his parents saying he “was moving to a warmer climate.”

Investigators interviewed about 20 people in the area who knew the victim. These acquaintances claimed Vanden Hull left Story County on February 24 and they had not seen him since.

☛ History of Trouble ☚

from the Waterloo Courier

In addition to his drug problems, Terry Vanden Hull had a history of aggression and violence.

In August of 1973, Vanden Hull — then 18 — began harassing an out-of-state couple camping at Douma Park southwest of Sanborn, Iowa. When the man and woman tried to leave the park for help, he rammed his car into theirs and got out and threatened the woman.

The husband first fired a shot in Vanden Hull’s direction; when he didn’t stop advancing towards the couple’s car, the husband shot him four times.

Vanden Hull was seriously wounded and hospitalized in Sioux City, but eventually recovered from his wounds. The shooting was ruled self-defense. This incident accounted for the healed bullet wounds Story County Medical Examiner Dr. Donald Powers found.

Even though six full-time investigators — three Story County Sheriff Deputies and three BCI agents — thoroughly worked the Vanden Hull murder and had a compelling suspect, the case was not strong enough to prosecute and it went cold.

☛ Terry Vanden Hull’s Life ☚

photo by Audrey Boone Winter

photo by Audrey Boone Winter

Terry Lee Vanden Hull was born August 15, 1954 in Sheldon, Iowa, to Viola Fern Smith and Jacob “Jake” Vanden Hull, a descendant of Dutch settlers in the area. He had two brothers — Todd and Eugene Vanden Hull — and a sister, Bonnie Vanden Hull Frangenberg.

He is buried in East Lawn Cemetery in Archer, Iowa.


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



  • ☛ “Believe Archer man’s death drug related,” by Alan Koonse, Des Moines Register, April 18, 1975.
  • ☛ “Find ‘quite decomposed body’ near Maxwell,” Ames Daily Tribune, October 18, 1975.
  • ☛ “Homicide probe near Maxwell,” by Bill Weaver, Nevada Evening Journal, April 18, 1975.
  • ☛ Jane Page, Administrative Assistant, Story County Sheriff’s Office, March 2012.
  • ☛ “Maxwell man’s death probed; throat was cut,” Ames Waterloo Courier, April 18, 1975.
  • ☛ “Officials Said Man Shot Youth, 19, in Self Defense,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 21, 1973.
  • ☛ Sue Sheeler, March 2012.
  • ☛ Story County Iowa Sheriff’s Office.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “‘Young man’ found dead near Maxwell farm,” Nevada Evening Journal, April 17, 1975.

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