Lillian Elizabeth Randolph
56-year-old Former Teacher
Homemaker, Mother of Four
Cause of Death: Stabbed
Motive: Spousal Elimination to Avoid Alimony
Murder Scene and Date
Last Seen Mother’s Day, May 2, 1965
Guthrie County, Iowa
Found May 11, 1965
Polk County Municipal Airport
Des Moines, Iowa
By Nancy Bowers
Written May 2010
It was a heartless and calculated murder-for-hire. Lillian Elizabeth Randolph, 56, was kidnapped from her rural home near Guthrie Center, Iowa, on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 2, 1965. On May 11, state authorities found her body in the trunk of her car at the Polk County Municipal Airport in Des Moines. She was stabbed 13 times.
☛ Challenging Life ☚
Born August 5, 1908 in West Duluth, Minnesota, Lillian grew up in a close and loving, although poor, family. Her parents — Anna Christina Magnusson and Gustaf Hans Hedman, both Swedish immigrants — worked hard to provide for their six children.
Lillian trained as a teacher, married Bob O’Hara, and had two children — Henry (“Hank”) and Ann — before Bob died in an accidental fall at home.
Lillian hoped life would get easier for all of them when she married Roy Chalman, with whom she had two more children, Wendy and Vicki. But the Navy recalled Roy for the Korean War and he came back changed — angry and abusive with a tendency to drink too much. In the best interests of the children, Lillian divorced Roy.
Roy Chalman’s business failures cost Lillian the house from her first marriage. Soon, the life insurance from Bob O’Hara was gone, too. Lillian did substitute teaching in and around Duluth to support her children and worried about their education and future financial security.
☛ Promise of Security ☚Howard Fitz Randolph was born in southern Missouri in 1907 into a hardscrabble existence. His widowed mother moved her family to Guthrie Center, Iowa, and through sheer will power — along with legal shenanigans, double-dealings, and penny-pinching — he created a poultry, butter, egg, and cream empire with distribution points and stores throughout central Iowa. He built a large and spacious home outside of Guthrie Center and always drove a late-model Buick.
But, Howard was known in the county as “mean” and cruel and “cut-throat” and seemed to enjoy nothing more than a good legal fight in court, which he almost always won. His first wife had taken their child — which he claimed was not his because he was sterile from the mumps — and left him early in their marriage. After that, he had a long series of girlfriends and female companions scattered all over the state.
Lillian knew Howard Randolph casually for nearly 20 years because of his yearly fishing trips to Minnesota. In the summer of 1957, he began lavishing her with attention, gifts, and fancy dinners, and begged her to become his wife. He promised Hawaiian vacations, a fur coat, and a car.
What appealed most to Lillian, however, was that Randolph said he was desperate for a family of his own and he promised college educations for her older children and only the best for the two young daughters, whom he wanted to make his “little princesses.”
Despite her misgivings and with hopes for a better future — especially for her children — Lillian moved to Guthrie Center, Iowa, and married Howard Randolph in January of 1958. He adopted her four children.
Barely a month passed before Lillian and the children knew things were not going well. Randolph isolated Lillian to achieve control. He would not provide her a car, so she depended on others for transportation to church and for grocery shopping or walked from their remote home.
He was stingy and denied her even the most basic necessities, all the while giving expensive presents to other women he saw on the side. Almost everything he did was dominating and cruel. He became abusive to her and the two younger girls.
Every time Lillian tried to break away, Howard proclaimed that all he wanted was a family and, especially, for the little girls to love him. The older children left home and married; but they, too, still fell under Randolph’s control in other ways.
☛ Breaking Away ☚
After seven years of deprivation, degradation, and abuse — both emotional and physical — Lillian found a Des Moines lawyer to work out a plan for her freedom and the safety of her young daughters, on whom she felt Randolph was unhealthily fixated.
She was granted separate maintenance (Randolph did not want townspeople gossiping about a divorce). The couple was still legally married, but Randolph was banned from the home and Lillian received $800 a month from him.
Lillian blossomed on her own. She bought a car — a medium-blue 1965 Dodge Coronet — and learned to drive. She went to church and the grocery. She drove to Urbandale, Iowa, to visit her son and grandchildren and made trips to Minnesota to be with her siblings. She began making plans to move to another city — perhaps Boone or Ames where her girls would be farther away from Randolph — and to get a job.
On Sunday, May 2, 1965 — Mother’s Day and her son Hank’s birthday — Lillian attended church with her daughters and went home for a few hours before she was to return to the church to set up for a Mother-Daughter banquet.
Randolph took the two girls to the Ice Follies in Des Moines; and when they came home, the house was empty, although a coffee pot still simmered on the stove. Lillian’s Coronet and her purse were missing.
There was no disturbance in the house, and the only thing which seemed unusual were two scuffs on the rug that looked like drag marks.
☛ White Cadillac, Dark Strangers ☚
In the preceding days, residents of Guthrie Center and the surrounding county had seen a white Cadillac at various locations, most particularly the golf course which overlooked the Randolph home. Howard Randolph was seen talking to two men in the car.
Uniformly, its two male occupants were described by those who saw them as “swarthy,” “Fernando Lamas-like,” “dark-skinned with black hair,” and “out of place.”
As Lillian’s daughters were being driven away in Randolph’s car to the Ice Follies, they looked back from a nearby road and saw a white car pull into the driveway of their home.
On Tuesday morning, May 11, 1965, Lillian’s Dodge Coronet was found parked at the Des Moines Airport 62 miles southeast of the Randolph home. The doors were unlocked and the keys were in the ignition, which was turned off. Her purse — containing 11 dollars — was under the driver’s seat.
Stuffed inside the trunk, authorities found Lillian’s body, dressed in the same clothes she’d last been seen wearing: a white, sleeveless floral-design blouse; black capri pants; and black flats.
Polk County Medical Examiner Dr. Leo Luka determined Lillian Randolph was stabbed 12 times in the chest and once in the back, and had been dead since May 2.
When investigators removed the trunk liner, they discovered a .25 caliber slug and cartridge casing.
☛ Theory of the Crime ☚
Authorities possessed a great deal of circumstantial evidence based on Howard Randolph’s behavior, phone calls, and eye-witness reports. They also felt he had substantial motive — financial greed — based on his desires to get his house back and to stop paying Lillian $800 each month.
Authorities speculated that the two strange men in the white Cadillac checked out the scene in the days preceding the murder. They sat on a golf course bench from which they could see the Randolph house and knew when Howard Randolph and the girls left for Des Moines to attend the Ice Follies. It was presumed that they then drove to the home, went inside, and either forced Lillian out or tricked her into going with them.
It also was believed that Lillian was killed elsewhere and then put into the trunk of her car before it was driven to the airport and abandoned.
Most significantly, investigators believed the men had been paid to kill Lillian by Howard Randolph. That suspicion only increased when authorities identified a suspect in the homicide: someone who once worked for Randolph’s poultry business.
☛ Afterward ☚
Lillian’s funeral was held May 13, 1965 in the Guthrie City Immanuel Lutheran Church, and she was buried in Duluth, Minnesota — but not with the name “Randolph.”
Wendy and Vicki went to live with their sister Ann O’Hara Shackleford’s family after their mother’s death. All of Lillian’s children took back their birth surnames.
Lillian was survived by her children Henry “Hank” O’Hara and his wife Peg; Ann Elizabeth O’Hara Shackleford and her husband Harold; Wendy Chalman; Vicki Chalman; and several grandchildren. She was also survived by her siblings: Helen Hedman Erickson, Amy Hedman Johnson, Clifford Hedman, Loraine Hedman Belluci, and Leonard Hedman.
Her children and grandchildren still remember and mourn this beautiful and caring woman who sacrificed her all for her children.
Howard Randolph died in 1994. He was never legally charged with Lillian’s murder but was found guilty in the hearts and minds of her family and the Guthrie County community. Law enforcement, too, believed he was culpable but felt lack of solid evidence beyond the circumstantial would hinder a conviction.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “2 Girls’ Custody Hearing Dec. 8,” Des Moines Register, December 1, 1965.
- ☛ “All About Iowa,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, February 17, 1961.
- ☛ “Body of Woman Found in Trunk,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, May 12, 1965.
- ☛ “Clues Sought In Slaying of Iowa Woman,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, May 12, 1965.
- ☛ Des Moines Police Department.
- ☛ “District Court News,” The Guthrian, June 28, 1965.
- ☛ “Identify Body Found in Trunk of Auto,” Muscatine Journal, May 11, 1965.
- ☛ Iowa Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Investigation Cold Case Unit.
- ☛ “Iowa Murder Mystery,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, May 12, 1965.
- ☛ “Killings Go Unsolved,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, May 26, 1965.
- ☛ Lillian’s Legacy: Marriage and Murder in Rural Iowa, Carroll R. McKibbin, Bloomington, Indiana, 2003.
- ☛ Lillian Randolph Family Members, Personal Correspondence, 2010-2012.
- ☛ “Murder in a Small Town: Retired Cal Poly Professor Tries to Solve a Mystery in Guthrie Center, Iowa,” San Luis Obispo Tribune, July 20, 2003.
- ☛ “News,” Mason City Globe-Gazette,” May 26, 1965.
- ☛ “Off The Record, The Guthrian, June 26, 1965.
- ☛ “Pick judge to listen to custody suit,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, December 1, 1965.
- ☛ “Probe mystery death at Des Moines: Body of woman found in trunk,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, May 12, 1965.
- ☛ “These Iowa Murders Still Defy Experts,” Waterloo Daily Courier, May 27, 1965.
- ☛ “Six Unsolved Murders Here,” Des Moines Register, July 11, 1967.
- ☛ “Stab Wounds Add to Mystery Of Body in Trunk,” Waterloo Daily Courier, May 12, 1965.
- ☛ U.S. Census.
- ☛ “Woman Stabbed To Death,” by Nick Lamberto, Des Moines Register, May 12, 1965,
- ☛ “Work Continues On Murder Case,” The Guthrian, May 17, 1965.