By David Jindrich
My wife and I are avid genealogy researchers, auditing cemeteries and researching the history of our own genealogy and of those who settled the Midwest.
We have walked many cemeteries in eastern Iowa and western Illinois.
In November 2010, we went to Grove Hill Cemetery in Morrison, Illinois, and began to honor findagrave.com photo requests for that cemetery.
While walking a section in the northeast corner on a sunny fall day, I found myself standing in front of a family headstone marked “OTTENS”; directly in front was a marker that read “SARAH ANN, 1953 – 1973.”
I paused and realized that I had first encountered Sarah Ann four decades earlier in Iowa City. I introduced myself, took her cemetery photos, and said a short prayer.
I have come full circle, now residing in the community where Sarah Ann grew up and several blocks from where her elderly parents reside today.
In March 1973, I was a 16-year-old Iowa City teenager enjoying high school, sports, and pizza on Friday nights with my friends. The only worry I had was delivery of the Des Moines Register in the mornings, and earning enough pocket change for a pizza at Pagliai’s Pizza.
Iowa City was a small university community where kids could ride their bikes to the City Park and play without much concern. It was not uncommon to walk from South Dodge Street to Morningside Drive, where City High School is located, during the day or past dark.
On March 14, 1973, I started the cool spring morning by picking up my newspapers at Bowery Street Grocery and being greeted with the headline: “U OF I COED DIED FROM NECK INJURIES, SUFFOCATION.”
I sat down and began reading the article that would lead me four decades!
Sarah Ann Ottens, a 20-year-old University of Iowa Student, was murdered in her dorm room at Rienow Hall on March 13, 1973.
The case is well documented through years of Court proceedings leading to a conviction that was set aside by the Iowa Supreme Court in 1983.
On June 14, 1977, after serving two years in the U.S. Army, I began working at the Anamosa Men’s Reformatory as a Correctional Officer; for training purposes I was assigned to Classification.
A young male had been returned to the prison after an appeal and was present for Classification. He was of slim build with short hair and well-spoken because of his education.
Immediately, I recognized his name from the 1973 slaying of Sarah Ann Ottens. I began reading the case file and found myself shocked by the violent crime.
Sarah Ann was an attractive young woman, daughter, granddaughter, and big sister who grew up in a small Midwestern town located near the Mississippi River.
She was intelligent and received excellent grades in school and worked to earn extra money while attending the University.
After the conviction of her killer was overturned in 1983, I began thinking about the meaning of justice relating to Sarah Ann.
I concluded that justice is a word used in legal terminology to form a conception of benevolence, charity, mercy, generosity, or compassion.
But, justice can’t comfort the victim or hold the hand of loved ones when they’re facing the emotions of a senseless act.
Justice can’t replace a daughter, sister, and friend like Sarah Ann.
click here to read “Spring Break Killer: Murder of Sarah Ann Ottens 1973.”