Thrown Away: Murder of Sandra Jo Pittman 1980

Murder Victim

Sandra Jo “Sandy” Pittman
17-year-old Runaway
Bettendorf High School Dropout
Cause of Death: Bludgeoned
Motive: Sociopathy, General

Murder Scene and Date

Highway 30 Roadside Park
Near Clarence, Iowa
Cedar County
September 17, 1980


By Nancy Bowers
Written May 2010

location of Clarence, Iowa

location of Clarence, Iowa

At 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 17, 1980, the body of a teenaged girl was discovered at a Highway 30 roadside park one mile east of Clarence in Cedar County, Iowa.

She was dressed in yellow slacks and a white blouse, which was unbuttoned.

An autopsy revealed the victim had been strangled but died from a blow to the head with a pipe or tire iron sometime between midnight and 7:00 a.m. on September 17. Authorities said the victim was not sexually assaulted.

Sandra Jo Pittman: 1962-1980

Sandra Jo Pittman: 1962-1980

Investigators believed the young woman was killed elsewhere and dumped at the rest area.

There was no identification found with the body, so a sketch artist rendered a likeness of the young woman for law enforcement to circulate.

When Max E. Pittman, Sr. of 2407 Maplecrest in Bettendorf — 50 miles southeast of Clarence — saw the sketch in the September 19 Quad City Times, he recognized a similarity to his 17-year-old daughter Sandra Jo “Sandy” Pittman.

Sandy, a Bettendorf High School dropout, had not lived with her family since she was 15; they thought she might be sharing an apartment with a man in Davenport. Because Sandy did not attend school and had no job from which she would be noted as absent, no one knew she was missing.

The body was officially identified as Sandy’s at Chapman’s Funeral Home in Clarence by Max Pittman and his wife Donna  — Sandy’s stepmother — and two uncles.

☛ Frustrating Investigation ☚

Artist's sketch of body

Police sketch of the young woman found dead at a Highway 30 roadside park.

Agent Tim McDonald of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and Cedar County Sheriff Keith Whitlatch worked the murder investigation together.

The men could not determine who Sandy was with Tuesday evening before her death, although they reported to the media they were looking for a “35-year-old Davenport area man” believed to be one of the last persons to see her.

Her grandmother Lona Pittman of Buffalo, Iowa, told newspapers she thought Sandy was planning to attend a party the night she disappeared but didn’t know if she arrived there. Mrs. Pittman also said her granddaughter was known to hitchhike and might have been killed by someone she accepted a ride from.

After interviewing Sandy’s friends in Davenport, investigators determined Sandy was at the Catholic Worker House on Tuesday, September 16; other residents said she had a date with an unknown male on the night she disappeared.

Catholic Worker House spokesperson Betsy Keenan told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that Sandy left there early Tuesday, although no one actually remembered seeing her depart. Keenan said:

“As far as we know, she was going job hunting. She was looking for about any job she could get.”

Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Director Gerald Shanahan told reporters he had assigned five agents to the case and that they had “tons of leads.” But Agent Tim McDonald, who took the lead, was less optimistic about finding Sandy’s killer and said:

“I am afraid we are in for a long investigation. “

☛ Links to a Double Homicide? ☚

Rose Z. Burkert

Rose Z. Burkert

Because of the time frame and the blows to Sandy’s head, law enforcement was interested in possible links to the September 12, 1980 double homicide of Rose Z. Burkert and Roger E. Atkison at the Amana Holiday Inn on Interstate 80 about 70 miles southeast of Clarence, where Sandy’s body was found.

Roger E. Atkison

Roger E. Atkison

The illicit lovers — on a romantic getaway from St. Joseph, Missouri — were bludgeoned in what was termed “over-kill,” apparently by someone they knew or felt comfortable with.

The Burkert-Atkison murders, which are also unsolved, were at one time thought to be the work of 53-year-old Richard Martin Clark, the husband of Roger Atkison’s aunt.

Clark was a drifter who confessed to having knowledge of 16 murders throughout the Midwest. No link was ever established between him and the double homicide, however, or Sandra Pittman’s murder.

☛ Laid to Rest ☚

photo by Charles

photo by Charles

Sandra Jo Pittman was born November 20, 1962, the daughter of Max E. Pittman, Sr. She had two sisters — Karol Pittman and Rita Pittman Almanza —  and a brother, Max E. Pittman, Jr.

Sandy was tragically deemed a “runaway throwaway” by a 1992 newspaper article about Iowa murders. Her short life was troubled and her murder is still unsolved.

She rests near her father and paternal grandparents in Rose Hill Cemetery in Buffalo, Scott County, 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.


  • ☛ “Answers elusive in many murders, disappearances,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 22, 1992.
  • ☛ “Authorities look for man who dated murder victim,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 22, 1980.
  • ☛ “Drifter, Amana killings tied?” Cedar Rapids Gazette, May 7, 1983.
  • ☛ “Little optimism in Eastern Iowa murder probes,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, December 21, 1980.
  • ☛ “Man sought in girl’s slaying,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 25, 1980.
  • ☛ Max E. Pittman, Sr. Obituary, Quad City Times, July 2010.
  • ☛ “No Progress noted in 2 murder probes,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 9, 1980.
  • ☛ “Relatives identify slain 17-year-old,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 21, 1980.
  • ☛ “Slain Bettendorf teen was to attend a party,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 24, 1980.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

Comments are closed.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,