“A Real Nice Girl”: Murder of Janice Snow 1965

Murder Victim

Janice “Jan” Marie Snow
17-year-old Technical High School Junior
Cause of Death: Stabbed
Motive: Sexual Psychopathy


Murder Scene and Date

Disappeared: April 12, 1965
6th and Walnut, Downtown Shopping Area
Body Found: April 15, 1965
2000 block of S.E. Park Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa
Polk County


By Nancy Bowers
Written May 2010

Janice Snow, school photo

At 17, Janice “Jan” Marie Snow was a typical teenage girl. She was a junior at Technical High School in Des Moines, where she made good grades and had many friends. Jan was regarded as “cute” and as having a “good personality.” She didn’t smoke or drink or cause her parents any worry.

In 1965, the Snow family lived in a new subdivision at 3843 Leyden Avenue in northeast Des Moines. Her father Bill — a mail carrier in the suburb of Urbandale, Iowa — and her mother Betty moved to Des Moines from Fort Dodge, Iowa, about 1957. Jan, born in 1948, had a younger brother, Kenny, who was 8 years old.

Jan attended Tech High School

Jan attended Tech High School

Her best friend was Tech High School sophomore Sally South. Jan was “going steady” with Sally’s 18-year-old brother Jack, although their dates were mostly just going to the movies. Jack was expelled from Tech High School for cutting class but was working at a downtown car wash and planning on finishing up his senior year. Sally and Jack’s mother later said of Jan:

“A real, real nice girl — the kind you want your children to know.”

Jan and Sally were both petite at 5-foot-1 and 100 pounds and, like teenage girls do, often swapped clothes. Janice left home for school on Monday, April 12, 1965 wearing Sally’s black and white shift dress with a sailor collar and bow in front. Over the dress, she slipped on a black raincoat.

After school about 3:30, Janice, Sally, and schoolmate Judy Young went to the Capitol Lanes at 419 Sixteenth Street. The bowling alley was a meeting place for high school kids to “have a coke.” Despite the cloudy, cool, and windy weather, the girls were in high spirits.

Downtown bustled with buses, traffic, and pedestrians (from Behind the Badge).

Downtown bustled with buses, traffic, and pedestrians (from Behind the Badge).

About 4:45, Sally South’s father, an inspector at Fawn Engineering, picked his wife up from Meredith Publishing Company downtown where she worked and then the three girls at 17th and Locust. The Souths let Jan, Sally, and Judy out of the car at the intersection of 12th and Locust streets in the heart of the downtown commercial district.

The three friends walked around “the loop” area, window-shopping and trying on clothes at various stores in preparation for Easter, which was the following Sunday. When they stopped to have French fries and cokes at a lunch counter, Jan saw a 23-year-old acquaintance having a cup of coffee there and visited with him for awhile.

By 9:00 p.m., the three girls knew it was time to take the bus home. Jan would be going a different direction from Sally and Judy — on the route called the Fairgrounds Bus.

Sally later told authorities:

“We talked about Jan going home while we were walking east on Walnut Street. Jan said she better go home, although staying with me overnight was mentioned.”

Crowds like this shopped downtown at holidays like Christmas and Easter (from Lost Des Moines)

Shoppers crossing 6th Street in downtown Des Moines, where Jan was last seen (from Lost Des Moines Facebook Page).

Jan asked Sally to borrow a dime to phone her dad when the bus got to the turnaround at E. 33rd Street and Easton Avenue because she would still be almost a mile from home and didn’t want to walk alone at that time of night.

Meanwhile, Bill Snow was getting worried and called the South home to ask if Sally and Janice had arrived there. When told they hadn’t yet, he assumed that Jan would be there later and spend the night, as she often did.

About 10 minutes past 9:00, the three girls parted company in front of King Prescription Pharmacy at Sixth and Locust streets. Sally and Judy got on a northbound bus and thought that Jan boarded the Fairgrounds Bus going east. Sally believed she saw Jan in the bus window and tried to point her out to Judy, but the bus had already driven past.

The next morning, Sally phoned Jan’s home to remind her to bring a red purse to school that she wanted to borrow. Betty Snow answered and it was then she learned Jan had not spent the night at the South residence. Betty Snow phoned another of Jan’s friend, who had not seen her since the Sunday before.

Panic set in for Jan’s parents and her father reported her missing to the police.

In September of 2013, I was contacted by Brenda Baird Magee. The Baird and Snow families were friends. Brenda recalled the anxious searching for Jan:

“I was 11 years-old when Janice was murdered. Our two families attended the same church and were [together] at a church picnic just before she disappeared. And I can still remember when her father, Bill, stopped by our house to see if we had heard from or seen Janice since Sunday. The anguish on his face is ingrained in my memory.”

☛ Janice is Found ☚

Janice Snow’s body was discovered in the 2000 block of SE Park Avenue, current location (Google Street View).

At 8:00 a.m. on Thursday morning, April 15, Des Moines Street Department workers in the 2000 block of S.E. Park Avenue came upon Jan’s body a little over three miles from where she was last seen.

She was lying eight feet down a bank in a cluster of bushes in a wooded area about 25 feet north of the road. Her right arm was curved around a small sapling.

Her shoes were missing, but otherwise Jan was fully clothed. Her black raincoat was torn and soaked from rain that fell almost all day on Wednesday and her nylon stockings were a bit disarrayed but still hooked to her garters.

Jan was stabbed 14 times through her clothing with a long, slender knife — sharp on one side and dull on the other — and died from wounds to the chest, back, liver, and lungs. She also had a cut on top of her head. Her body was not bruised and she was not sexually molested.

from the Mason City Globe-Gazette

Polk County Coroner Dr. Leo Luka concluded that Jan died Wednesday night at some other spot and was dumped where she was found. Fifty hours passed between the time she parted with her friends and when her body was found.

The missing hours made headlines in Des Moines and authorities pleaded with the public to remember if they saw Janice between 9:15 p.m. Monday and the time of her death on Wednesday night. She had to be somewhere it was believed.

Some investigators had different thoughts, however, and believed that because Jan’s arm was around the small tree she struggled there with her attacker.

The weather during those missing hours was consistently cloudy, foggy, and rainy with temperatures averaging in the low to mid 40s, which may have slowed decomposition and made time of death appear later.

Also, the steady rain could have washed away blood that would indicate she was murdered where she was found or caused the blood to soak into her clothing and become less visible.

A search was made from the site where the body was found for three miles east to S.E. 14th Street. No weapon or Jan’s shoes were found, however.

Des Moines Police believed Jan never got on the bus home and that she encountered her killer downtown where she was last seen.

Authorities checked out a tip that Jan got into a car with California license plates, but they quickly dismissed that possibility, according to Chief Detective E. Dale Allen.

Four juveniles were booked for questioning but released. The 23-year-old man who talked to Jan at the downtown lunch counter was taken back to the restaurant by investigators. He told them he thought he talked to her there on Wednesday night, but employees said it was Monday — the day Janice was last seen. He was interrogated, polygraphed, and released.

A total of 50 persons were questioned about the murder by Des Moines detectives — who publicly called the murder “heinous.” The case was publicized statewide, but it eventually went unsolved and Janice Snow has never received justice.

☛ Sad Good-Bye ☚

photo by Katie Lou

Funeral services for Janice Marie Snow were held Saturday, April 17, 1965 — the day before Easter — at the First Presbyterian Church and she was laid to rest in Laurel Hill Cemetery near other family members.

Jan was survived by her parents, Bill and Betty Jeanne Stark Snow; her brother, Kenneth; her paternal grandmother, Edith Moberg Snow; and her maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. J.E. Stark. After Jan’s death, Bill and Betty had another daughter, Cynthia Snow (Ball).

Bill Snow passed away in 2009 followed in late 2010 by Betty Jean Snow — two loving parents who never learned what had happened to their daughter.


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



  • ☛ Acquaintance of Janice Snow, personal emails and phone calls, 2011.
  • ☛ “Bill M. Snow,” Des Moines Register Obituary, September 23, 2009.
  • ☛ Brenda Baird Magee, Personal Correspondence, September 2013.
  • ☛ “Dead End In Search For Girl’s Slayer,” Oelwein Daily Register, April 17, 1965.
  • ☛ “Des Moines Girl’s Body Discovered,” Estherville Daily News, April 15, 1965.
  • ☛ “Discover Body of Girl, 17,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, April 15, 1965.
  • ☛ “Find Girl’s Body,” Oelwein Daily Register, April 15, 1965.
  • ☛ “Find Slain Girl at Des Moines,” Waterloo Daily Courier, April 15, 1965.
  • ☛ “The Growing List of Iowa’s Unsolved Murder Cases,” Des Moines Register, November 24, 1968.
  • ☛ “Hunt for Killer Hits Blank Wall,” Muscatine Journal, April 16, 1965.
  • ☛ “Iowa Girl, 17, Victim of Stabbing,” Muscatine Journal, April 15, 1965.
  • ☛ “Killings Go Unsolved,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, May 26, 1965.
  • ☛ “No Progress In Hunt for Girl’s Killer,” Waterloo Daily Courier, April 18, 1965.
  • ☛ “Police Search Continues,” Estherville Daily News,” April 16, 1965.
  • ☛ “Police Still Seek Clues On Slaying,” Estherville Daily News, April 17, 1965.
  • ☛ “Probe slaying of Des Moines girl: Clues lacking in hunt for slayer,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, April 16, 1965.
  • ☛ “Question 50 In Slaying of D.M. Girl: Man Tells of Seeing Her Monday Night,” Des Moines Register, April 17, 1965.
  • ☛ “Rites today for slain teenager,” Ames Daily Tribune, April 17, 1965.
  • ☛ “Seeking Clues in Stabbing,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, April 16, 1965.
  • ☛ “These Iowa Murders Still Defy Experts,” Waterloo Daily Courier, May 27, 1965.
  • ☛ “Trace Girl’s Last 50 Hours: Police Quiz Friends, Seek Slaying Clue,” Des Moines Register, April 16, 1965.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “Work Continues On Murder Case,” The Guthrian, May 17, 1965.

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