“Cold-Blooded Sadistic Type”: Murder of Ramona Jean Cox 1962

Murder Victim

Ramona Jean Cox
25-year-old Secretary, C.D. Wilcox Company
Part-time Cashier, Ardan
1937-1962
Cause of Death: Slashed
Motive: Sexual Psychopathy

Murder Scene and Date

1526 Woodland Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa
Polk County
April 29, 1962

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By Nancy Bowers
Written March 2010

location of Des Moines, Iowa

location of Des Moines, Iowa

The April 29, 1962, murder of Ramona Jean Cox in Des Moines, Iowa, garnered nationwide attention.

Because it had all the elements of a salacious murder mystery — an attractive young woman raped and brutally killed by a sadist — her death was reduced to stark headlines like “Slasher Slays Woman in Iowa,” in the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Post.

Despite the attention the case drew and a round-the-clock investigation by a beefed-up team of 18 detectives who questioned 3,000 individuals, no one was brought to justice and the murder of the young woman quickly went cold.

☛ In the Big City ☚

(from the Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Ramona Cox
(from the Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Ramona Cox was 25 years-old, a farm girl from Moravia in Appanoose County on the border with Missouri. In 1956, she moved to Des Moines to share an apartment with a high school friend; the two had aspirations of making it in “the big city.” Newspapers described Ramona as “pretty,” “pert,” and “a blue-eyed blonde who tinted her hair auburn.”

She easily found jobs, working first as a secretary at Commercial Credit Corporation and then at Iowa Guaranty.

When she turned 21 and could legally drink, Ramona frequented local bars, where men bought her drinks and she laughed and socialized until closing time.

Then through a new job at the Orville Lowe car dealership, she met a man in the wholesale auto trade who gave her money and let her drive his car. When that relationship ended, she found someone else, a Des Moines businessman with a more substantial job whose identity was not made public.

By the spring of 1962, Ramona had moved on to a secretarial job at the C.D. Wilcox Company and took a part-time position as a cashier at Ardan at 12th and Locust. She lived alone in an unpretentious three-room apartment at 1526 Woodland Avenue near downtown.

She was said to have “numerous men friends” and to “frequent taverns” in her neighborhood like Tommie’s and the Woodland Tap, where there was always a “big game” going on and out-of-towners with shady connections and murky intents drifted in and out.

☛ The Murder ☚

Back of Ramona Cox's apartment building (from Behind the Badge)

Rear of Ramona Cox’s building
(from Behind the Badge)

Des Moines Police pieced together the night of the murder. It was a Sunday — a week after Easter — and Ramona had worked till 5:30 p.m. at Ardan that day. The weekend was over and she was preparing to return to her full-time job the next morning.

Between 7:30 and 7:45 p.m., a witness saw through the window a “well-dressed man” seated in Ramona’s apartment. He wore trousers and a light-colored shirt with rolled-up sleeves.

At 11:00 p.m., Ramona’s neighbors Sharon Catlett and her roommate Jackie Prosser, both 18, were standing on the sidewalk in front of the house talking to their friend Charles Russell.

When they heard screams and the sound of “knocking stuff around” coming from Ramona’s apartment, Charles Russell went to find a policemen but had no luck and returned to the area.

The young people then heard sounds of someone rattling the front door, then more noises from inside the apartment. A window shade was pulled down and then flung back up.

Just then, a stocky male about 5 feet 9 and wearing dark trousers and a white shirt leapt from the bathroom window of Ramona’s apartment, hit the ground six feet below, and ran down the dark alley next to the house. He dragged the white curtains behind him and they trailed out the window.

The teenage witnesses rushed into Sharon Catlett’s  apartment and phoned authorities.

When Des Moines Police reported to the scene, they found Ramona — still warm to the touch — lying naked on the living room floor of her apartment. A bedspread was wrapped around her head, but blood from a five-inch gash across her throat had pooled on the floor. She had been raped.

from Behind the Badge

Bloody bathroom scene
(from Behind the Badge)

The blood-splattered bathroom showed signs of a fierce struggle. The sink was partially pulled from the wall and objects were strewn about. In the bathtub was the murder weapon — a hook-billed linoleum knife belonging to Ramona’s landlord which been missing since he installed linoleum in an empty basement apartment the week before.

It appeared that Ramona was getting ready for bed — standing in her pajamas in front of the mirror above the sink putting rollers in her hair. The  assailant attacked her from behind, and a furious struggle ensued. As her life drained away, Ramona was dragged into the living room and raped.

The killer washed the linoleum knife and left it in the bathtub. He also sponged up blood around the body and tried to wash blood off other objects.

The witnesses on the street said the male fleeing the scene had no blood on his light-colored shirt, so police believe he killed Ramona while naked or partially clothed and then washed up in her bathroom and put on his unsoiled pants and shirt, leaving behind only a bloody undershirt.

There was blood on the inside front door handle, as though the killer started to leave that way and changed his mind and fled out the window instead. The door was locked when police arrived.

The bathroom curtains
(from the Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Daytime temperatures reached 70 degrees that day but fell below 60 by 10:00 p.m. It was a cloudy and humid spring night. Police said the bathroom window was difficult to open from both the inside and outside. If Ramona had left it open since the mild afternoon, the killer could have heaved himself through the window and surprised her in the bathroom while she was getting ready for bed.

If the window was not open, Ramona let her assailant in the front door. This suggested she knew the man. However she could not have known, according to Chief of Detectives Edward J. McCarthy, that he was “a cold-blooded sadistic type.”

The disarray of the apartment showed a struggle — blinds were torn down and furniture overturned — and it looked like Ramona fought back, possibly scratching her assailant. Police sought information on men with tell-tale marks on their faces and bodies or who had disposed of clothing.

☛ Investigation and Suspects ☚

Weapon used to kill Ramona Jean Cox (from the Cedar Rapids Gazette)

The killer might have been stalking Ramona. Mrs. Pete Carpino, a neighbor, said a man called their residence the week before and asked her husband for the name “of that woman next door.” Pete Carpino told the caller he didn’t know.

Police questioned about a dozen men known to be friends or acquaintances of Ramona but could not find a suspect among them. Two men were cleared through lie detector tests and the others by investigation and alibis.

A few days after the murder, police said a 14-year-old boy — termed “a husky youth” — was questioned and polygraphed at the State Bureau of Criminal Investigation. He was reportedly familiar with the house and admitted being in the vacant basement apartment where the linoleum knife was taken. He was also questioned about stealing women’s clothes off nearby clotheslines and peeping into Ramona’s windows.

His parents consented to lie detector tests and to examination of his clothing for blood stains. Although he was released in connection to Ramona’s death, psychiatric tests were ordered for what Detective Chief McCarthy said was “his own good.”

A parole violator who moved out of an apartment near the murder scene and left his job the Friday before was also ruled out.

A connection was sought between the Cox slaying and a knife murder in Kansas City, but police determined the circumstances were dissimilar.

Des Moines Chief of Police Vear V. Douglas

Des Moines Chief of Police
Vear V. Douglas

In mid-June of 1962, Captain McCarthy announced that the FBI Lab analyzed hair from the man’s undershirt and Ramona’s hands and found it had “Negroid or mixed Caucasian and Negroid characteristics.” Newspaper accounts did not specify the race of the man seen fleeing.

A self-professed hater of white people, Frederick Leon “Fritz” Jackson a 25-year-old local man of mixed race, “confessed” to Ramona’s murder but many of his details — such as her being killed in the bedroom — were incorrect. Police didn’t take him seriously and he later bragged that he had deliberately tried to confuse them with his confession.

On October 26, 1962, Frank J. Evans of Chicago — who fit the physical description of Ramona’s killer — forced Henrietta Kagin at gunpoint to undress in her West Des Moines home. He bound her with nylons and gagged her with gloves and left the house with a suitcase containing a radio, diamond ring, two antique firearms, and a valuable stamp collection.

Mrs. Kagin got free and called her husband Arthur Kagin at work in Des Moines. Going to his car, Arthur Kagin saw Evans with the suitcase and he and a passerby disarmed him and wrestled him to the ground until police arrived. Frank J. Evans was also ruled out as a suspect in the Ramona Cox murder.

Polk County Attorney Harry Perkins, Jr. and Des Moines Chief of Police Vear V. Douglas appealed to the public for information, “no matter how insignificant it might seem.”

Although the city of Des Moines was abuzz with rumors and accusations, no one was ever charged with Ramona’s murder

☛ Ramona Jean Cox’s Life ☚

Ramona Jean Cox (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Ramona Jean Cox was born in Unionville, Iowa, December on 7, 1937, the oldest child of Hazel E. Harper and Harold Burdett “Jocky” Cox. She had three siblings — Dale A., Rowena, and Nyle, who was only 8 years old at the time of his sister’s death.

She grew up in Moravia and graduated from high school there in 1956. She was a popular student; participated he plays; and was active in Future Homemakers of America, Student Council, the newspaper and yearbook staff.

In the “Class Will,” a popular graduating senior tradition, she wrote:

“I, Ramona Cox, will my ability to keep on living to anyone who is lucky, and all my orneriness to Doug Morris.”

The light-hearted comment looked ominous with the passage of time; Doug Morris died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his car at home, and Ramona lost her life a few years later to a murderer.

photo Donald Bitner

Ramona’s family members were proud that she had the courage and gumption to leave Moravia, her small rural hometown, to live alone and make her fortunes in the “big city” of Des Moines. When she came home for visits, she brought presents for everyone and was especially fond of her young nephew.

Rev. Weldon Whitenack conducted funeral services for Ramona on Wednesday afternoon, May 2 at the Moravia Methodist Church and she was buried at Hillcrest Cemetery where she shares a stone with her parents.

Her obituary in the Moravia Union read:

“She was a very kind and loving daughter and sister, whose untimely death leaves many broken hearts, among her family and relatives, which can only be healed by God Himself.”

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

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References

  • ☛ “6 More In Search For Murderer,” Oelwein Daily Register, May 3, 1962.
  • ☛ “Boy Quizzed in Slaying of Iowan,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, May 7, 1962.
  • ☛ “Cox Killer May Have Been Negro,” Oelwein Daily Register, June 14, 1962.
  • ☛ Des Moines Police Department (photo of Vear V. Douglas).
  • ☛ “Get New Report in Ramona Cox Slaying,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 14, 1962.
  • ☛ “The Girl From Soap Creek,” Behind the Badge. Des Moines: The Des Moines Police Burial Association, 1999.
  • ☛ “Hair analyzed in murder case,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, June 14, 1962.
  • ☛ “Hair clue in Search for D.M. Slayer,” Carroll Daily Times Herald, June 14, 1962.
  • ☛ “Lad questioned in DM slaying takes lie test,” Ames Daily Tribune, May 9, 1962.
  • ☛ “More Cops Hunt Killer,” Waterloo Daily Courier, May 3, 1962.
  • ☛ “New Witness in Cox Murder Case,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, May 8, 1962.
  • ☛ “No progress in finding DM Slayer,” Ames Daily Tribune, May 3, 1962.
  • ☛ “Pieces Still Missing In Death Puzzle,” Oelwein Daily Register, May 2, 1962.
  • ☛ “Pieces Still Missing in Girl’s Slaying,” Estherville Daily News, May 5, 1962.
  • ☛ “Police Checking Boy Friends of Slain Woman,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, May 1, 1962.
  • ☛ “Police Sift Slaying Clues,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, May 2, 1962.
  • ☛ “Prowler Is Quizzed in Death Probe,” Muscatine Journal, October 20, 1962.
  • ☛ “Quiz Prowler In Murder,” Estherville News, October 30, 1962.
  • ☛“Services Wednesday for Ramona Cox Following Tragic Fatality in Des Moines,” Moravia Union, May 3, 1962.
  • ☛ “Slasher Slays Woman In Iowa,” Bridgeport (Connecticut) Post, April 30, 1962.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.
  • ☛ “Youth cleared in Iowa slaying, but exam is ordered,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, May 5, 1962.

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