Mary Berniece Lange
Burlington Municipal Court
Cause of Death: Bludgeoned and Drowned
Motive: Love Triangle
Murder Scene and Date
Long Creek, Agency Road
Near Burlington, Iowa
Des Moines County
December 17, 1970
By Nancy Bowers
Nine days before Christmas in 1970, a complex story unfolded in and near Burlington that ended with the discovery of a murdered 37-year-old mother.
Written June 2010
Mary Berniece Lange — a small and attractive blue-eyed brunette — clerked in the Burlington Municipal Court and lived on Washington Road in West Burlington with her 50-year-old husband Marvin Dale Lange, a prosperous Des Moines County farmer and Navy veteran of WWII.The couple married in January of 1950 and had three children. Connie was 18 and a Burlington Junior College student; Danny, 14, attended Apollo Junior High; and 11-year-old Diane was in sixth grade.
However, things were not going well for the Langes after 20 years of marriage. In June of 1970, Marvin sued for divorce and custody of the children and Mary counter-sued. A large financial settlement hung in the balance.
To keep records on her activities, Marvin had Mary followed and often asked his friends Donald and Ivan “Ike” Gugeler — brothers who farmed in the neighborhood — to come to the Lange house to witness times that Mary returned home late so he could use the information against her in the divorce.
☛ Mary Lange’s Last Day ☚
Wednesday, December 16, 1970 began with clouds and then snow in Burlington, but skies cleared later in the day and then temperatures dropped under 10 degrees by late afternoon.
Mary worked at her job, came home and made supper for her kids, and gave Danny permission to go to the YMCA that night. Between 7:30 and 8:00, Mary left in her 1966 white Impala for the city employee Christmas Party at Memorial Auditorium on Front Street near the Mississippi River in downtown Burlington. She carried a purse and wore a white dress and brown kerchief, two-toned shoes, and a black fur coat.
Marvin Lange said he picked up Danny from the YMCA about 9:00, was back at the family residence by 9:30, and went to bed at 10:30. The two younger children retired at that time, also; but college student Connie Lange stayed up a little longer before turning in. None of the Lange children heard noises or voices during the night.Mary stayed at the employee Christmas party at Memorial Auditorium until about 9 p.m. and then left to meet Charles Robert Hutson, 42, a married man from Galesburg, Illinois, she was romantically involved with.
When questioned later, Hutson said he and Mary drove her car to Fort Madison, Iowa, and had several drinks at the Palms Restaurant on Avenue O, presumably so they would not be seen in Burlington. During the 23-mile trip back, they pulled off onto a gravel road and had sex.
Hutson said Mary dropped him off about 2:45 a.m. in downtown Burlington near Fourth and Washington streets and told him she was going home. He walked a few blocks to his car, drove to the Voyager Motel, and spent the night there.
The Gugeler brothers said that at 2:30 a.m. Marvin called them because Mary was not home yet. The brothers drove separate vehicles, concealed them down the road, and walked to the Lange house. The three men sat quietly in the darkened Lange kitchen until 5:30, when Marvin said Mary probably wasn’t coming home that night and they could leave.
☛ Where Was Mary Lange? ☚
When the children woke up, Marvin told them their mother didn’t come home. They left for school, and he went about his usual activities.
Marvin Lange later told police through his attorney that he did not report Mary missing because she stayed out all night on two other occasions.
Mary’s sister Dorothy Malloy also worked at the Burlington Municipal Courthouse. During the day, one of Mary’s co-workers told Dorothy that the normally punctual Mary had not come in to her job. Dorothy was immediately concerned and reported her sister missing to the Burlington Police.
About 12:30 a.m. on Friday, December 18, Mary’s locked Impala was found on Smith Street just off Plane Street in Burlington. Residents of the area said it was there by 6:00 a.m. There was blood inside, and folded on the back seat was a white shag rug from the Lange’s back porch.
Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents, including Burlington native Tom Hopewell, joined the search for Mary. Police and Explorer Scouts scoured several wooded areas near her abandoned car but found nothing.
☛ Grim Discovery ☚
On Saturday morning, December 19, William Moore, who farmed near Danville, was using his tractor along remote Agency Road — a popular lover’s lane near Long Creek United Methodist Church — to spread out a pile of dirt from the cemetery that gravediggers left on the road.
As Moore drove west towards the church and crossed the one-lane bridge over Long Creek, he saw a coat snagged on a fence in the water and made a mental note to check it going back. When he stopped at the creek on the way home, a hand extending from the water and moving with the current seemed to wave at him. Moore called the Sheriff’s Office because he knew Mary Lange was missing.
What Moore saw was, indeed, Mary Lange’s body, dumped about 14 miles west of where she was last seen. She was fully clothed in the attire she wore the night of her disappearance, except her left shoe and purse were missing.
Mary was struck three times on the head with a blunt object and was unconscious when placed in Long Creek, where she drowned. The autopsy, performed by local pathologist Dr. G.R. Zimmerman on Saturday night, determined she had sexual intercourse shortly before her death, but it was not a sexual assault. Cold water and temperatures masked the exact time of her death.
Tire tracks and shoe prints were frozen into Agency Road, which had been muddy from Wednesday morning’s snow storm.
Some of Mary’s personal effects were found west of Middleton along a blacktop leading to Geode State Park to the northeast of Long Creek. Her purse — containing an uncashed payroll check and money — was discovered along Skunk River Road near the park; and other items were discovered in a ditch along Iowa 79 north of the creek.
Mary’s personal items appeared to have been discarded randomly in a trail leading west from the creek, then turning north and then east on Iowa 79, which leads back to the Lange farm.
☛ Investigation ☚Des Moines County Sheriff Meritt Quick had no detectives on his staff, so the Burlington Police Department and the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) helped work the case.
Thirty-one items of evidence were collected and sent to the FBI Lab in Washington for testing: four sets of fingerprints, blood samples, mud, and the shag rug from the Lange house found in Mary’s car. The results of FBI Lab tests were not released to the public.
Investigators initially focused on Mary’s lover Charles Robert Hutson, a resident of Galesburg, Illinois, a town 50 miles northeast of Burlington. Hutson insisted he knew nothing about the disappearance or murder and passed a polygraphed administered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, by a BCI agent.
Before Marvin Lange’s attorney, T.K. Ford, advised his client not to be questioned or polygraphed, Marvin Lange allowed authorities to search his farm without a warrant. He told investigators he was aware of Hutson and spoke with Hutson’s wife concerning the affair between their spouses.
Newspapers said that Lange was also questioned about $2,000 taken out of an Illinois bank account around the time of Mary’s death; but law enforcement did not release the name of the account holder or how the information was related to the murder.
The active investigation into Mary Lange’s murder continued through 1972, with more than 175 people questioned. The case has been re-examined several times since then without results.
Aftermath and Odd Clue
Marvin Lange continued to live in the house he and Mary shared, and in February of 1972 he married Emily P. Tiemann.
In July 2005, when asked by a newspaper reporter for a comment on his first wife’s murder, he put an odd twist on the old adage about sleeping dogs, saying:
“I’m content to let dead dogs lay.”
Marvin Lange died January 21, 2009 at 87, survived by his second wife and his children Danny, Diane, and Connie Lange Ketchum. Memorials for him were established with the Alzheimer’s Association and the Long Creek United Methodist Church Cemetery close to where Mary’s body was found.
Near that same church in the spring of 1971 — several months after the murder — William Moore stopped to look at the spot where he had located Mary’s body. He found there a mystery book opened to a page titled “Murder Against My Will.”
☛ Mary Lange’s Life ☚
Mary Berniece Lange was born January 23, 1933 in Burlington, Iowa, to Rose T. Bocian and Wilbur Allen Grinnell, a furniture maker with Northwest Cabinet Company. She had two brothers — Raymond A. and Robert Grinnell — as well as a sister, Dorothy Grinnell Malloy. On March 10, 1951 in Wapello, Iowa, she married Marvin Dale Lange and they had three children, Connie, Diane, and Danny Lange.
She was a member of First United Methodist Church, Burlington Women’s Bowling Association, and the Eagles Auxiliary.
Mary’s funeral was held on Tuesday, December 22, 1970 by Dr G. Dempster Yinger at Prugh’s Funeral Home and she was buried in Memorial Park Cemetery.
Don and Ivan Gugeler — witnesses to Mary’s activities on behalf of Marvin Lange’s divorce actions — served as pallbearers.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “Autopsy Inconclusive,” Muscatine Journal, December 21, 1970.
- ☛ Bob Wilson, Burlington Hawk-Eye, August 11, 1989.
- ☛ “Burlington Woman Sought by BCI,” Waterloo Daily Courier, December 18, 1970.
- ☛ “Burlington Woman’s Autopsy Inconclusive,” Waterloo Daily Courier, December 21, 1970.
- ☛ “Cases Unsolved: Decades-old murder cases remain open for local investigators,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, July 25, 2004.
- ☛ “Find body of murder victim,” by Dave Collogan, Burlington Hawk-Eye, December 20, 1970.
- ☛ “Investigators probe Lange divorce records,” by Don Henry, Burlington Hawk-Eye, December 29, 1970.
- ☛ Iowa Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Investigation Cold Case Unit.
- ☛ “Judge would disqualify himself in Lange case,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, December 28, 1970.
- ☛ “Lange death still a mystery,” by Dave Collogan, Burlington Hawk-Eye, February 17, 1971.
- ☛ “Marvin Lange Obituary,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, January 22, 2008.
- ☛ “Missing Burlington Woman Sought by BCI,” Waterloo Daily Courier, December 18, 1970.
- ☛ “Mrs. Lange Drowned, Burlington Hawk-Eye,” December 24, 1970.
- ☛ “No sign of major break in murder investigation,” by Dave Collogan, Burlington Hawk-Eye, December 23, 1970.
- ☛ “Raymond L. Grinnell Obituary,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, September 12, 1995.
- ☛ “Requiem near a country churchyard,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, December 20, 1970.
- ☛ “Try to fill gaps in Mrs. Lange’s acts,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, December 27, 1970.
- ☛ “Victim of slaying laid to rest here,” Dave Collogan, Burlington Hawk-Eye, December 22, 1970.
- ☛ “Wilbur Grinnell Obituary,” Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette, March 7, 1947.