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With motive still a mystery, . . . .


Posted By: Volunteer: Sherri
Date: 12/24/2021 at 14:40:54

**Handwritten: Des Moines Reg

With motive still a mystery, resident feel area's triple killer 'could be anywhere'

Register Staff Writer

DRAKESVILLE, IA. - A dilapidated wooden door placed by law officers in the middle of a dirt driveway north of town marks the spot where the body of murder victim Justin Hook Jr. was found Friday, April 13, about 80 feet from the fire-blackened, waist-high rubble that once was his house trailer.

Fifteen miles to the northeast, what appear to be two sets of footprints begin near a gravel road and lead for 100 yards across an open field and then 50 yards up a narrow logging trail into a wooded area and then to a small pile of brush splotched with dried blood. The body of Hook's mother, Sarah Link, 41, of Farmington, was found there three days later by farmer William Hancock and his border collie, Lad. Hancock had been checking the field out for spring planting when Lad sensed something nearby.

Hancock says it looks to him like the woman had been trying to run from her killer, she lost both shoes along the way.

More Footprints

On another piece of Hancock's property on the opposite side of the gravel road, officers have placed tiny marker flags to trace the path of other footprints - perhaps only one set this time - that lead across another field, and then down into a huge gully through brush and undergrowth. Investigators using trained dogs found the body of Hook's fiancee, Tina Marie Lade, 19, of Ottumwa, near the bottom of that gully Wednesday, five days after Hook's body was found.

Residents are uneasy after a grisly week in this area just south of Ottumwa.

"Police say murders over," a headline in Saturday's Ottumwa Courier reported reassuringly. In a second story, Wapello County Sheriff Bud Erwin squelched a rumor that Hook's brother, James, also was missing.

Earlier in the week, Drakesville Postmaster William Bassett observed that the killer could be anywhere, even "sitting at the restaurant next to you drinking a cup of coffee."

But Bassett said residents did not feel that some "maniac murderer was running through the countryside," waiting to strike again at random.

Killings Not Random

Investigators agree. Officers were working on the assumption that the slayings were related and that the killer or killers either knew the victims or came upon them when they were together. All three died of blows to the head from a similar type of blunt instrument, officials say.

But authorities were seeking the answers to other puzzling questions: Why was Link dressed in a jacket and nightgown, while her son and his fiancee were in street clothes? Why was the man's body found 15 miles from the area where the two women were discovered? Was Hook's trailer deliberately set afire? How did the young couple and the older woman get caught up in the same violent crime?

And finally: Who did it and why?

Authorities indicated in court papers that they think Hook's brother, James, could help them find some answers. In a paper filed in Wapello County District Associate Court, special agent Gary Marker of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation asked that Hook be held in jail because he "state that if he left, we would not be able to find him. He could hide for months.

"James Hook lived with victim Justin Hook until three weeks ago. It is my belief that James Hook is a material witness," said Marker. A material witness is anyone authorities believe might have some type of information about a crime. Hook was released from custody Monday on recommendation of the DCI. Hook's "statement has been taken and [he] promises to be available for further questioning," court papers state.

Who were the victims in this triple-murder?

Justin Hook Jr. Unemployed. Good-looking. Married at 16, after dropping out of school. Divorced in February. Father of a small son who lives with Hook's ex-wife in Illinois. Minor scrapes with the law in Illinois over a couple of small thefts a few years ago. Known by the nickname "Alfie" in the town where he spent much of his life, LaHarpe, Ill., about 20 miles east of Fort Madison.

Tina Marie Lade. Quiet. Dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. Unemployed. Had earned money at times from baby-sitting and odd jobs.

Sarah Lee Link. Hard-working. Married three times. Mother of three grown children and one son still at home.

In Area Two Years

She and her third husband, Rex Link, moved from LaHarpe, Ill., to Farmington about two years ago and lived in an older two-story home. Neighbor Gilford Gilbert described the family as outdoor people who liked to spend their free time in a small cabin that they had near the Des Moines River at Bonaparte. They both worked at the Sheaffer-Eaton plant in Fort Madison, until she was laid off recently.

The Links' Farmington place was 40 miles from Hook's Drakesville home. Thursday night, April 12, Rex Link left for work at his third-shift job in Fort Madison. He would not see his wife alive again. Friday morning, he would call authorities to report that his wife was not home when he returned from work. The contents of her purse had been dumped on her bed, and Rex Link, who has not talked to reporters, told authorities $50 in cash was missing.

Wapello County Sheriff Erwin has said investigators figure "this all" started on April 12. But it is unclear whether investigators have been able to determine exactly how the crimes were committed.

The yard surrounding Hook's trailer provides an odd setting for the deadly mystery that began unfolding there. The trailer sits about 100 feet off a well-traveled gravel road. One afternoon last week, horses and buggies were passing by, carrying Amish children home from their school not far away.

The trailer had been owned by Hook's grandfather, described by a local official as a "collector and a tinkerer." The small piece of ground around the trailer had become the final resting place for about 40 junked cars and countless hulks of old refrigerators, washing machines, television sets, bicycles, lawn mowers and much more.

Source: "Scrapbook 1981 - 1985", Pg. 185,
Keosauqua Public Library, Keosauqua, Van Buren Co., IA


Van Buren Documents maintained by Rich Lowe.
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