Danny Lee Peters
21-year-old Hotel Security Guard
Law Enforcement Student
Luis A. Trujillo, Jr.
22-year-old Hotel Assistant Night Auditor
Cause of Deaths: Gunshots
Murder Scene and Date
Downtown Holiday Inn
1050 6th Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa
August 22, 1974
By Nancy Bowers
Written August 2010
In 1974, as in every August, the annual Iowa State Fair drew hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city of Des Moines and its businesses.
So it was a hectic time for the Downtown Holiday Inn at 1050 6th Avenue. The 12-story motel — now known as the Downtown-Mercy Campus Holiday Inn — was packed each night of the Fair with guests.
In the early morning hours of Thursday, August 22, 1974, the motel was quieting down for the night. Most guests were asleep, although a few patrons still lingered in the bar just off the lobby. Night shift employees were on duty, making sure everything was going smoothly.
About 2:00 a.m., assistant night auditor and bell captain Luis. A. Trujillo, Jr., 22, stood behind the front desk talking with 28-year-old night auditor Charles Ted Nolte.
Suddenly, a young black man — who entered through a side door — came into the lobby brandishing a .38 caliber pistol and demanding money.
He went behind the front desk and put Luis Trujillo in a choke hold; when Charles Nolte tried to help Trujillo, he was shot in the face and wrist. The robber turned the gun on Trujillo, shooting him in the head, and then scooped $269 dollars out of the cash register.
The bartender heard what he thought were fireworks. As hotel security guard Danny Peters, 21, ran toward the lobby to investigate, the robber shot him twice. Although severely wounded, Peters got to the house phone and called the bartender saying:
“I’ve been shot. Get help.”
A that moment, 23-year-old John Paul Stewart, who had just arrived in Des Moines to take a DJ job at radio station KFMG-FM, entered the hotel to get a room for the night. As the gunman fled the lobby, he fired at Stewart, hitting him in the chest.
The shooter ran into the parking lot, dropping the stolen money behind him — all, in fact, but 61 dollars. Two cars — one believed to be a green mustang and the other an older model white car — were seen leaving the parking lot about that time.
When Des Moines Police arrived, both Trujillo and Peters lay dead in the blood-splattered lobby. Nolte and Stewart, both critically wounded, were taken to separate local hospitals.
The first officer on the scene, Patrolman Steve Morris, told reporters the robber most likely shot the four men to eliminate witnesses.
Des Moines Police termed the killings of Trujillo and Peters “brutal executions.”
☛ Baffling Initial Investigation ☚
Investigators put together a composite drawing of the killer: a black man with a short-to-medium Afro hair style and glasses, who was between 20 and 30, and stood about 5-feet-9. The sketch was circulated statewide and nationwide without results.
Two weeks after the robbery-murders, Assistant Des Moines Police Chief and Chief of Criminal Investigation Thomas Teale told reporters that, despite investigations by 15 full time officers, there was “nothing concrete” on the Holiday Inn case, and that the department was “discouraged.”
Gradually, John Stewart and Charles Nolte recovered from their wounds.
Trujillo’s father — former Keith County, Nebraska, Sheriff Luis Trujillo, Sr. — and his wife Rosie, announced a $1,000 reward, saying:
“Someplace, somewhere, someone in law enforcement is going to find [the shooter].”
The four Des Moines Holiday Inns offered a thousand more and the Ogallala (Nebraska) Holiday Inn, where Trujillo once worked, added another $500. The reward fund eventually reached $6,500.
☛ Suspect Emerges ☚
In the fall of 1974, Des Moines Police began to focus on Terrance Duane “Terry” Hollowell, a Toledo, Ohio, native; they did not, however, release to the media how Hollowell’s name came into the investigation.
At the time of the crime, Hollowell was a resident of Riverview Release Center in Newton, where prisoners were prepared to meet the challenges of life after jail.
On October 23, 1974, Detective Ernest Weatherington and two other officers interviewed Hollowell in the Johnson County Jail, where he was being held on a recent armed robbery charge. Hollowell indicated knowledge of the Holiday Inn crime.
From records in Des Moines, investigators learned Hollowell stayed at the Holiday Inn on July 12, 1974, about five weeks before the robbery-murders.
When they returned to interview Hollowell on October 30, he admitted talking about robbing the motel, but insisted he was not in Des Moines that night. He claimed that fellow Riverview inmate Kenneth Hunter, however, confessed to him of shooting two people in Des Moines.
On January 13, 1975, 25-year-old Kenneth Hunter was arrested in Des Moines. At that time, he was placed in a police lineup and shooting victims Nolte and Stewart were brought in; they could not identify him as the gunman. Nor could they identify Terry Hollowell in a February 26 lineup.
Kenneth Hunter was still in jail in Des Moines on March 3, when he was told he’d been implicated in the Holiday Inn Crime. On March 4, he admitted he and Hollowell slipped away from the Newton Riverview Release Center and he guided officers on a tour of the path near the Holiday Inn he said he and Hollowell took the night of the robbery-murders.
Hunter was given immunity from prosecution in the case on March 8 and then identified Hollowell as the person who went inside the Holiday Inn while he drove the getaway car. He said they used a green Chevrolet station wagon belonging to a girlfriend of Hollowell (the vehicle was later located in Cedar Rapids).
By this time, Hollowell was serving a 25-year term in the State Penitentiary at Fort Madison for the Johnson County armed robbery. He was read his rights, arrested, and told, “We have the 1968 green Chevy.” He refused to talk except to swear he never left the Riverview Release Center on the night of the murder.
☛ The Trial ☚
In mid-September of 1975, more than a year after the robbery-murders, Terry Hollowell went on trial.
The State based its case on the testimony of Kenneth Hunter, who told the jury he and Hollowell sneaked away from Riverview and drove to Des Moines on the night of the murder and that he waited in the car while Hollowell went inside the Holiday Inn.
The jury debated for over 24 hours before finding Hollowell innocent.
The State was left with a dilemma. The two men believed to be involved in the robbery-murders were pointing the finger at each other. One had been found innocent, and the other had been given immunity in the case.
No one has ever been found guilty of the murders of Danny Peters and Luis Trujillo, Jr. and the wounding of John Stewart and Charles Nolte.
☛ Lives of the Victims ☚
Danny Lee Peters was born August 17, 1953 in Sac City, Iowa, to Kandis and Lester Peters. He had four siblings — Linda, Dennis, Ronnie, and Keith Peters. At the time of his death, he was studying law enforcement at Simpson College in Indianola.
His funeral was held August 26, 1974 at the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Carnarvon and he was buried in Wheatland Cemetery near Breda. He was survived by his wife Nancy, his parents and siblings, and a grandmother, Tollie Peters.
Luis A. Trujillo, Jr. was born in Keith County, Nebraska, in 1952 to Rosie and Luis A. Trujillo, Sr. He had a sister, Missy. Before taking the job at the Des Moines Holiday Inn, he worked at Holiday Inns in Oglalla and Omaha, Nebraska. He was buried in the Oglalla Cemetery on August 26 following a funeral mass at St. Luke’s Catholic Church.
On January 17, 1975, Trujillo’s family organized a dance in Oglalla to raise money for the reward fund. Luis Trujillo’s six-month-old registered, purebred Arabian colt — a gift from his father — was given away. The national Holiday Inn Corporation agreed to match the amount of money raised at the benefit dance.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “Danny Lee Peters,” Carroll Daily Times Herald, August 26, 1974.
- ☛ “Holiday Inn murder case testimony clashes,” Ames Daily Tribune, September 23, 1975.
- ☛ “Holiday Inn robber kills two, takes $61,” Ames Daily Tribune, August 23, 1974.
- ☛ “Iowa Man Found Innocent of 2 Holiday Inn Slayings,” Lincoln Evening Journal, October 3, 1975.
- ☛ “Iowa Police Try New Deal In Murder Case,” Lincoln Evening Journal, February 23, 1975.
- ☛ “Lincolnite Wounded in Iowa Holiday Inn Is Reported Fair,” Lincoln Evening Journal, August 23, 1974.
- ☛ “Lincoln man shot in Des Moines,” Columbus (Nebraska) Telegram, August 23, 1974.
- ☛ “Nebraskans Caught in Gunfire,” Lincoln Star, August 23, 1974.
- ☛ “Offers to Match Trujillo Reward,” Lincoln Evening Journal, October 18, 1974.
- ☛ “Officer tells chain of events leading to Hollowell arrest,” Des Moines Register, September 19, 1975.
- ☛ “Ohio Man Charged in Trujillo Death,” Lincoln Evening Journal, March 22, 1975.
- ☛ “Police hope award offers will bring leads in murder case, Ames Daily Tribune, September 4, 1974.
- ☛ “Reward Offered in Slaying,” Waterloo Courier, September 2, 1974.
- ☛ “Trujillo Benefit Planned,” Lincoln Evening Journal, December 17, 1974.
- ☛ “Two Killed in Des Moines Motel Robbery, Estherville Daily News, August 22, 1974.
- ☛ “Two killed, Muscatine Journal, August 22, 1974.
- ☛ “Two killed, two hurt in Des Moines motel robbery, Waterloo Courier, August 22, 1974.
- ☛ “Two men killed at Des Moines Holiday Inn, Ames Daily Tribune, August 22, 1974.
- ☛ U.S. Census.