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'Loner' killed himself...1988


Posted By: Volunteer: Sherri
Date: 2/3/2024 at 00:58:58

Dem R
1988 JN 20

'Loner' killed himself to avoid arrest
Register Staff Writer

Few people came to know Merrill Junior Stanton well during the year he lived in a rented house just outside town of Selma.

"They were pretty much loners. Quiet people who kept to themselves. You didn't notice them around town much," said Lila Richardson, a Selma resident. "I just thought they came from the city and retired to the peace and quiet. I don't think anybody gave it a thought."

the facade was shattered Monday night when Stanton, 68, known to area residents as Michael Johnson, shot himself rather than surrender to law officers seeking to arrest him on charges he fled California to escape facing charges of sexually abusing a girl for eight years.

Federal, state and county law officers surrounded Stanton's house and used a public address system in an unsuccessful effort to persuade him to surrender. They did not enter the house because they believed he was armed and because he threatened to resist.

About a half hour after police arrived, Annie R. Strong, 47, who had lived with Stanton since he moved to Selma, came out of the house. She gave officers the phone number, but calls to the home went unanswered.

Heard Gunshot
At about 5:50 p.m., officers heard what they thought was a gunshot, but they waited another hour before firing tear gas and entering the house. They found Stanton dead from a shot to the head.

Gene Meyer of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said the death has been ruled a suicide.

Neither Richardson nor any of the other nearly 100 people in Selma suspected Stanton, known to them as Johnson, had repeated sexual encounters with a girl, starting when she was 8 years old, from 1978 to 1985.

In December 1987, county officials in San Luis Obispo, Calif., issued a warrant charging Stanton with 21 counts of lewd conduct with a girl under age 14. Rather than face criminal prosecution, Stanton fled California, adopted a new name and tried to live in anonymity.

"He seemed like a real calm, quiet gentleman," Richardson said.

Federal agents had been searching for Stanton since February. Court documents from the San Luis Obispo County Municiple Court charge that Stanton repeatedly forced the girl to perform sexual acts, taking her to motels, secluded spots on his family's 26-acre ranch or to other isolated locations.

The girl later told her parents that Stanton warned her not to tell anybody about their relationship and bought her expensive gifts as bribes for her participation. When the girl tried to end the encounters, Stanton allegedly threatened to tell her father, who he said would beat her for what she had done, court documents state.

The girl finally told Stanton's relatives about the incidents in 1985. Court documents say Stanton confessed when confronted, but police were not notified.

Charges Filed

Charges were filed two years later when the girl's mother learned the story from a friend the girl had confided in.

Selma residents were buzzing Tuesday about the violent end to the seemingly quiet, peaceful man who lived among them for nearly year.

"There's a million different stories out, from murder to drugs. Everybody has solved the crime in different ways," said Mike Crane, who owns the land adjacent to the house Stanton rented . "We read about this stuff happening in the big cities and you think, "Heck, it could never happen this close." When it comes down to this it's unbelievable."

Source: "Scrapbook 1986 - 1988", Pg. 491,
Keosauqua Public Library, Keosauqua, Van Buren Co., IA


Van Buren Documents maintained by Rich Lowe.
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