Brothel Double Homicide: Murders of Willard Woodring and Richard Buchanan 1960

Murder Victims

Willard Charles “Bill” Woodring
42-year-old Hawkeye Hotel Proprietor
1917-1960

Richard B. Buchanan
49-year-old Resident of Colona, Illinois
Moline, Illinois, Service Station Owner
1911-1960

Cause of Deaths: Gunshots
Motive: Mob Hit

Murder Scene and Date

Hawkeye Hotel
100 Johnson Street
Keokuk, Iowa
Lee County
October 9, 1960

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By Nancy Bowers
Written February 2010

Willard "Bill" Woodring (courtesy Wanda Rhodes)

Willard “Bill” Woodring
(courtesy Wanda Rhodes)

In 1960, 42-year-old Willard Charles “Bill” Woodring owned a “rooming house” in seedy downtown Keokuk — formerly the Hawkeye Hotel — which was widely known as a place of gambling and prostitution.

location of Keokuk, Iowa

location of Keokuk, Iowa

Local authorities were aware that Woodring had a record of brushes with the law, particularly in Illinois. He was charged with disorderly conduct at least once in that state and was acquitted at a 1951 coroner’s inquest in the death of a Peoria, Illinois, man. In 1957, Woodring was fined 200 dollars for “keeping a disorderly house” in Quincy.

On Sunday night, October 9, 1960, Woodring was in the two-story house with four women who “resided” there. They were entertaining a customer — 49-year-old Richard B. Buchanan, a Colona, Illinois, resident who owned a service station in Moline.

One of the women was St. Louis resident Betty Andrews, 22, described by the Ames Daily Tribune as a “young and shapely” 5-foot 2, blue-eyed brunette who claimed to be Woodring’s “fiancée.” She told Keokuk Police a colorful tale of what happened that night.

Richard B. Buchanan (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Andrews said that a black-haired male in his 20s wearing a black leather jacket knocked on the door. With him was a young red-head in a lavender dress. The male asked to see Woodring; Betty Andrews told police:

“It didn’t sound funny. It sounded as if he really knew him.”

Andrews let them into the house and took them to Woodring’s apartment in the back, where he and Buchanan were talking. Woodring invited the couple in.

Then the male pulled out a .38 caliber automatic pistol and forced Woodring, Buchanan, and Betty Andrews into the kitchen where he bound and gagged them.

The robbers seemed to know that Woodring had large amounts of cash. The male asked repeatedly:

“Where do you keep the money?”

Police pose with money found in Woodring’s Cadillac (AP photo from the Cedar Rapids Gazette)

The couple then went to the front of the house looking for money. While they were gone, Woodring freed himself and attacked the male when he returned to the kitchen. While the two men struggled, Andrews stripped the tape off her wrists and ran from the room. Buchanan, too, had gotten free and tried to flee.

The male robber shot both men in the back of the head at close range. The couple fled the house just before a call to police reported the shootings.

The robbery yielded only $200 from a cigar box on the kitchen table. However, Woodring still had $600 in his pockets, while a strong box in another room contained $1,600.

Law enforcement speculated that the male panicked and fired the shots and the two then fled without looking for more money.

Acting on information from Betty Andrews, Keokuk Police also discovered $45,000 in 50- and 100-dollar bills in a strongbox stashed in the trunk of Woodring’s pink Cadillac.

☛ Investigation ☚

Rumors circulated around the community that the murders were related to organized crime; however, Keokuk Police Chief George Jones dismissed these, telling the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

“It doesn’t follow the pattern of a syndicate killing.”

Jones asked the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) to assist in the investigation of the double homicide.

from the Burlington Hawk-Eye

No fingerprints of the couple were found inside the house and there were few signs of a struggle in the kitchen. Authorities said the man and woman “seemed to know what they were doing.”

The other three women living in the house in addition to Andrews were identified as Dorothy Madison, 27, of Peoria, Illinois; Barbara Sullivan, 31, of Phoenix, Arizona; and Jean Lee, 21, of Bloomington, Illinois. They were charged with “inhabiting a disorderly house,” waived preliminary hearings, and were bound over to the grand jury. Each was placed under $2,000 bond.

Betty Andrews and the other women were shown photographs of Michael Walton Layton, 21, and Nancy Fordyce, 19, of Indianapolis, who committed a murder while robbing a service station in their home town and were early suspects in the Keokuk murders. However, the four women said Layton was not the man who shot Woodring and Buchanan.

A three-state search for the “bandits” was undertaken. However, on October 14 — only five days after the double homicide — Keokuk Police Chief George Jones told the Mason City Globe-Gazette that the trail of the two had grown “as cold as any I’ve ever seen.”

☛ 52nd Anniversary Stirs Eye-Witness’s Memories ☚

from the Ames Daily Tribune

As the 52nd anniversary of the Woodring-Buchanan double homicide approached in 2012, it seemed unlikely that anyone would be thinking about the long-ago event, in spite of its violence and sensationalism.

Then came an unexpected phone call from someone who not only remembers the murders of Willard Woodring and Richard Buchanan but was an eye witness to the unfolding events — a person interviewed multiple times in 1960 by the FBI, although not by the Keokuk Police Department.

This person asked to remain anonymous, and I honor that confidentiality. I will refer to him as “Michael,” although that is not his real name.

The details told me by Michael were very different from those presented in 1960 media accounts, which were presumably provided by authorities.

Following are the discrepancies as reported to me.

The 1960 newspaper accounts said the young male shooter was dressed in a black jacket and that the woman with him was a redhead in a lavender dress. Michael — who stood within 30 feet of the pair — agrees with the account of the male’s appearance but says the young female wore blue jeans, a white blouse, bobby socks, and saddle shoes and that she had her blonde hair in a ponytail. She was said to look “like the girl down the street,” dressed in the popular style for teenagers of the times.

The 1960 accounts claimed that Woodring and Buchanan freed themselves from restraints and were shot while trying to escape. However, Michael states that following intense “screaming and yelling,” the victims were tied up and made to kneel. The robber cursed them and demanded to know where the money was. When one of the victims cursed back and refused to cooperate, both were pistol-whipped. Then the robber shot them “execution style” in the back of the head while they knelt — their hands were still bound behind them and they were blindfolded.

The eye witness saw a Louisiana license plate similar to this one issued in 1959.

The 1960 accounts contain no mention of the young couple’s car, but Michael says it was a two-toned green 1955 or 1956 Dodge with a license bearing the depiction of a “pelican,” which would make it a Louisiana plate. The couple ran from the crime scene to their car parked near Union Station close to the river and not far from the brothel — and drove down Johnson Street and then to a bridge that led over the Mississippi into Illinois.

The 1960 accounts state that $45,000 was found in the trunk of Woodring’s pink Cadillac, but Michael believes the amount was instead $125,000 — a discrepancy of $80,000. Ironically, the robber-murderer ran right past the car without knowing it contained the money he was seeking when he killed Woodring and Buchanan.

The 1960 accounts mention the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s involvement in the case but not the FBI’s. Michael believes Federal investigators worked the case not only because the brothel engaged in interstate trafficking of the women who worked there but also because it was linked to organized crime.

Michael Sees the Killer Again

Gerald Mason (courtesy City of El Segundo)

Gerald F. Mason
(courtesy City of El Segundo)

In early 2014, Michael phoned me to say he was reeling from having seen on television a photo of the man he witnessed executing Keokuk victims Richard Buchanan and Willard Woodring in 1960.

Michael was watching one of the many late-night unsolved homicides and mystery programs that populate cable television when he suddenly realized he was staring into a familiar face.

The program presented a long-cold 1957 California case, which was solved in 2003; the photo which startled Michael and brought instant recognition was that of Gerald F. Mason, called by some “The Ghost of El Segundo.”

Murdered officers' car (courtesy City of El Segundo, California)

Murdered officers’ car
(courtesy City of El Segundo)

In 1957 — three years before the Keokuk double murder observed by Michael — Gerald F. Mason robbed four El Segundo, California, teenagers and raped one of them. He then shot to death two police officers who stopped the car he was driving (stolen from the teenagers) after he ran a red light while fleeing.

Gerald F. Mason escaped to his native South Carolina and for 45 years lived a normal, crime-free life, as far as investigators know. In 2003, he was identified through fingerprints and other evidence as the El Segundo cop killer and sentenced to life in prison in California.

Michael has no doubt that Gerald F. Mason is the killer in the Keokuk case. Most convincing to him is that mug shots and an artist’s sketch based on eye-witness descriptions of Mason depict the man he saw shoot and kill Buchanan and Woodring.

His indelible memory of the killer’s face is similar to that which the four California teenagers reported — a cold, arrogant, unforgettable face.

Composite sketch of the "Ghost of El Segundo" (courtesy City of El Segundo)

Composite sketch of the “Ghost of El Segundo” (courtesy City of El Segundo)

An officer at the scene of the cop killings got a sustained look at Mason and described him as 6 foot and 200 pounds; he had short dark hair and a way of holding his head that was both “arrogant” and “frightened.”

Michael also points to the fact that investigators know Mason bought the gun used in the cop killings in Shreveport, Louisiana. He saw the Keokuk killer drive away from the scene of the Buchanan-Woodring murders in a car with a Louisiana license plate.

Another detail that intrigues and convinces Michael is that Gerald Mason — while living his secret life after the California murders — operated service stations. Knowing that victim Willard Woodring owned gas stations in Illinois causes Michael to speculate that Mason may have worked at one of them.

Gerald Mason, 2003 (courtesy City of El Segundo)

Gerald F. Mason, 2003 (courtesy City of El Segundo)

Michael says that Woodring had a side business in addition to his service stations; he helped Richard Buchanan run women across the Illinois/Iowa state lines and transported money from the card games that took place at the house where the murders occurred.

As Michael sees it, Gerald F. Mason could have become aware of the large amounts of money kept on the premises of the gambling and prostitution house and decided to rob it.

When asked why he shot the El Segundo officers, Mason said he did so because he knew they would kill him if given a chance, a cold and calculating assessment that may have been similar to one he made when he executed Woodring and Buchanan if, in fact, he did so.

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

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References

  • ☛ “2 Sought in Iowa Slayings,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 10, 1960.
  • ☛ “4 women may hold key to 2 slayings,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, October 13, 1960.
  • ☛ Anonymous Source (“Michael”), Personal Correspondence and Telephone Conversations, October 8, 2012 and March 2014.
  • ☛ “Car of slain Keokuk man yields $44,000,” Ames Daily Tribune, October 11, 1960.
  • ☛ “Keokuk,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, October 14, 1960.
  • ☛ “Linked to 2 Deaths at Keokuk,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 19, 1960.
  • ☛ “Police Turn Up Clues,” Estherville Daily News, October 11, 1960.
  • ☛ “Seek Couple in Slayings at Keokuk,” Estherville Daily News, October 10, 1960.
  • ☛ “Seek two in Keokuk murder,” Estherville Daily News, October 10, 1960.
  • ☛ “Slayer Knew One Victim, Police Think,” Carroll Daily Times Herald, October 12, 1960.
  • ☛ “Slayer of Keokuk Men Still at Large,” Estherville Daily News,” October 12, 1960.
  • ☛ “Suspect in Keokuk killings is eliminated,” Ames Daily Tribune, October 14, 1960.
  • ☛ “Two Clues Turn Up in Slaying Case,” Oelwein Daily Register, October 11, 1960.
  • ☛ Wanda Rhodes, Personal Correspondence, April and June 2014.
  • ☛ “Was Slayer Acquaintance of Victim?” Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 12, 1960.
  • ☛ “Woman tells of Keokuk murders,” Ames Daily Tribune, October 12, 1960.

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