Rose Danato Grandanette
Mother of Three
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Robbery Gone Wrong
Murder Scene and Date
Sunrise Boulevard and 73rd Street
Des Moines, Iowa
September 14, 1958
By Nancy Bowers
Written June 2010
In the fall of 1958, life was good for 33-year-old Rose Grandanette. She and her 36-year-old husband Bernard — known as “Bernie” — seemed to have it all.
Bernie Grandanette was a successful business man. The family lived in a fashionable brick house at the corner of Sunrise Boulevard and 73rd Street in Windsor Heights, a recently-built suburb in then westernmost Des Moines. And Rose and Bernie had three healthy and happy children under the age of eight — Roslynne Marie, Joseph, and Victoria Ann.
Rose was born in 1925 in Des Moines to Italian immigrants Joseph and Angelina Donato. She had two older brothers, Ralph and Anthony.
Bernard — sometimes called “Bruno” — was born in 1922, the next to last child of Des Moines residents Joseph and Rose Grandanette. His mother was a native of Italy, as were his paternal grandparents, who modified the family name from “Grandanetti.”
Joseph Grandanette died at the age of 35 and Bernie’s older brother Ross helped raise Bernie and his other siblings — Rosie, Mary, Francis, and Lucy.
Ross worked hard to learn the fruit and vegetable trade and raised six children with his wife Linda in a home at the corner of 46th Street and Ingersoll Road. He opened the successful Town and Country Market at the intersection of Merle Hay Road and Douglas Avenue in Des Moines.
His brother Bernie became a partner in the grocery, which was open seven days a week. The brothers took turns working on Sundays.
☛ Startling Murder ☚
September 14, 1958 was Bernie’s Sunday to work. After closing the market late in the evening, Bernie drove three miles home to Windsor Heights and pulled into his driveway. His second car was parked in the garage. After he turned off the headlights and the ignition, he saw three men outside his car. He was able to lock the driver’s door, but the armed men got in on the passenger side.
One of them — a man Bernie described as “tall, thin, red-eyed and in shirt-sleeves” — did all the talking. He yelled:
“Give us the money. We want the money!”
Bernie Grandanette tried to reason with the robbers by saying he had no money with him but would take them to his grocery store to get some. The man refused the offer and ordered Bernie:
“Get in the house. Get in the house or we’ll shoot.”
At the coroner’s inquest, Bernie said all the men had guns and held handkerchiefs to their faces with their free hands. He said the men “half pushed” him towards the front door of the house. He was ordered to keep his hands down and go inside.
One newspaper reported the men ordered Bernie to ring the doorbell; but at the inquest, Grandanette said he rang the bell “to give my wife some kind of warning.”
Hearing the bell — and perhaps the scuffle outside — Rose turned on the porch light and opened the door. When she saw the men holding guns on her husband, she screamed and tried to run into the house.
The tall man bolted after her, a shot rang out, and Rose fell forward through the door and onto the porch. Family members remember being told that a bullet ricocheted off the door and struck Rose.
As the men ran away, one slugged Bernie on the head with his gun. The three fled to a car where a fourth man waited.
Grandanette ran after the car, begging for help and trying unsuccessfully to read the license plate as it drove away. He described it as a tan 1949 or 1950 model which “rattled” nosily going over bumps.
Bernie ran into the house and called Windsor Heights Police and then his brother Ross. Police Chief Vern Akey and town Fire Marshall C.D. Millsap described him as “groggy” on the phone. When the two arrived at the scene, they found Rose on the front porch — still alive — but critically injured.
While neighbors took charge of the three Grandanette children, Millsap drove Rose and Bernie to Methodist Hospital, where she underwent emergency surgery to remove the .38 caliber slug lodged in her head. The bullet — which came from one-and-a-half inches away — entered the top of her head and lodged behind the right eye. She died Monday night, September 15.
☛ Investigation ☚
Roadblocks set up by the Iowa Highway Patrol failed to locate the robbers’ car as it was described by Grandanette.
State, county, and city authorities checked out many leads, which they described as containing “a lot of unusual circumstances” and conflicting reports. Polk County Sheriff Wilbur Hildreth told the newspapers:
“A lot of pieces just don’t fit together in this.”
Polk County Coroner R. Corwin Johnson conferred with County Attorney Ray Hanrahan and members of the Sheriff’s Office. All agreed that “the nature of the crime” and the “vagueness” of answers by witnesses warranted an official inquest. If evidence against anyone was found, then the matter would be brought before a grand jury.
In the meantime, Bernie Grandanette petitioned authorities for a permit to carry a gun.
Rose’s funeral was held Thursday, September 19 at Holy Trinity Catholic Church and she was buried in the Grandanette family plot at Glendale Cemetery.
Out of deference to the Grandanette family, the coroner’s inquest began on Wednesday, September 24, the week after Rose’s funeral.
At the inquest, investigators reported they found blood spots on the front hall light switch, a living room stool, and a kitchen telephone.
A neighbor claimed he saw a light-colored car in the area but then retracted that statement. Other neighbors testified they heard noises, shouts, and cries for help at the Grandanette home around the time of the shooting. Two nearby residents saw Bernie in his front yard.
When quizzed by the coroner, neither Ross nor Bernie could provide any motive for the crime other than robbery, even though no money was taken from Bernard’s person or the home.
Grandanette said that in the past he brought home his grocery receipts but had stopped the practice.
The Grandanettes’ grocery was broken into six months earlier, but nothing was taken. Three years before, robbers chopped a hole in the roof of the market and stole a safe containing $6,000.
Sheriff’s deputies said they believed the shooting incident was grudge-related, rather than robbery. When asked about supposed arguments with fruit salesmen and “trucking” connections, the Grandanette brothers denied these things were related to the murder.
Clarence Milsap, Windsor Heights Fire Commissioner, and Police Chief Vern Akey testified that when they asked Bernie if he could identify his wife’s killers — should they be found — that Bernie answered:
“My God, I don’t dare – if I do, they’ll get me.”
When quizzed by reporters about this statement, County Attorney Hanrahan said Grandanette denied making that statement to Akey or Milsap and that it was possible in the chaos and excitement after the slaying that the men misunderstood.
Three nights of testimony lead to the verdict that Rose Donato Grandanette “was feloniously shot by person or persons unknown.”
In early October of 1958, law enforcement again interviewed Bernie and Ross Grandanette, asking them to take lie detector tests to help in the investigation. The Grandanettes’ attorney said the brothers had cooperated fully and there was no need for the tests.
In all, more than 500 persons were questioned by state and local authorities. The Des Moines Tribune offered a thousand dollar reward for information.
Joseph Grandanette, Ross’s son, remembers being told that his father and Uncle Bernie spent “a great deal of money” trying to find the men responsible for Rose’s death, even hiring Pinkerton detectives.
However, neither law enforcement nor private detectives could solve the murder and Rose Grandanette never received justice.
☛ Afterwards ☚
In the early 1960s, Bernie Grandanette married Ila B. Simon, a widow with a daughter, Diana. Ila helped raise the Grandanette children.
Ross and Bernie Grandanette ran Bernie’s Lounge at East Sixth Street and Grand Avenue, as well as Bernie’s Deli at the location of the Town and Country Market. In the 1960s, they owned the franchise for the Henry’s Hamburgers chain in the state of Iowa.
Bernie Grandanette’s second wife Ila died in 2002 and he passed away in Des Moines on Valentine’s Day of 2006.
☛ Second Family Tragedy ☚
In early February 1977, tragedy struck the family again when Rose’s and Bernie’s 25-year-old son Joseph Grandanette died of smoke inhalation and suffocation in a fire which started in a basement workroom at his father’s 3124 Beaver Avenue home.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “Continue to Probe Death of Woman, Mason City Globe-Gazette, September 17, 1958.
- ☛ “D.M. man dies in fire at his home,” Des Moines Register, February 5, 1977.
- ☛ “DM Woman ‘Critical,’ Husband Slugged in Attempted Theft,” Ames Daily Tribune, September 15, 1958.
- ☛ “Des Moines Woman Shot, Husband Clubbed,” Waterloo Daily Courier, September 15, 1958.
- ☛ “Finds No New Evidence In DM Sept. 14 Slaying,” Ames Daily Tribune, September 30, 1958.
- ☛ “Inquest Slated In Iowa Slaying,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 18, 1958.
- ☛ “Grandanette Slaying Done By ‘Unknowns,’” Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 20, 1958.
- ☛ “Grandanettes To be Quizzed,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 3, 1958.
- ☛ “Grocer Fear For His Life,” Waterloo Daily Courier, September 17, 1958.
- ☛ “The Growing List of Iowa’s Unsolved Murder Cases,” Des Moines Register, November 24, 1968.
- ☛ Personal Correspondence, Joseph Grandanette, June 2009.
- ☛ “Probe Grudge in Des Moines Fatal Shooting,” Waterloo Daily Courier, September 16, 1958.
- ☛ “Say Grandanette Told Police He Could Identify Slayer,” Ames Daily Tribune, September 25, 1958.
- ☛ “Schedule Inquest in DM Slaying,” Ames Daily Tribune, September 19, 1958.
- ☛ “Slaying Scene Described by Grandanette,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 24, 1958.
- ☛ U.S. Census.
- ☛ “Where are killers? Sleuths never quit,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, August 1, 1961.
- ☛ “Wife Killed, Husband Fears For His Life,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 17, 1958.
- ☛ “Woman Shot, Husband Struck Down by Bandit,” Carroll Daily Times Herald, September 15, 1958.
- ☛ “Woman Wounded in Robbery Try,” Mason City Globe-Gazette, September 15, 1958.