Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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Iowa Cold Case: Lucille Elaine DeVries
607 3rd Street NE, Mason City, Mason Township, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Tuesday, October 9th of 1962

Lucille Elaine DeVRIES, of Dutch descent, was a twenty-two-year-old hard-working and happy young woman. Lucille and Judy SISKOW, a school friend from Thornton where they both grew up, sharied an apartment in a two-story house at 607 3rd Street NE in Mason City.

Tuesday, October 9th of 1962 was just another ordinary day. Lucille arrived at Iowa Company, an insurance agency where she was employed as a full-time secretary, at 8:00 a.m. Lucile completed a full day of work and left the agency at 5:00 p.m. She started her shift at her second job as a part-time waitress at the Frontier Ballroom at 6:00 p.m. Her shift ended when the ballroom closed at 1:30 a.m. She went unaccompanied to the Wheel-In Restaurant and enjoyed a meal by herself. Alone, She left the Wheel-In approximately at 2:45 a.m and drove to her apartment where she parked in the driveway beside the house.

A man who was on his way to his early morning job noticed Lucille's car parked in the driveway. The driver's door was ajar and the dome light was on. He did not see anyone inside the vehicle.

Two other witnesses also observed the car but reported seeing it at different locateions on the sloping driveway.

None of the three witnesses reported seeing a fire.

Judy SISKOW, Lucille's roommate, was awakened by the smell of smoke around 3:30 a.m. Not finding a source of the smoke, Judy went back to bed. She was awakened again around 4:10 a.m. She looked out the window to find Lucille's two-door car in the driveway and engulfed in flames. Judy and two neighbors called for help.

By the time the fire department arrived, the car's windows had shattered from the heat and the metal roof was sagging from the intensity of the fire. The car's dashboard had been melted and the flames had blazed high enough to blacken the edges of the house roof.

Lucille's body was found in the back seat of the burning vehicle, burned so severely that she was unidentifiable. The fire had consumed the seat down to the springs except for the portion directly underneath Lucille's body.

An autopsy was preformed that day. Cerro Gordo Medcial Examiner J. E. CHRISTOPHERSON concluded that Lucille had burned to death. He found evidence of smoke inhalation but there was not enough carbon monoxide in Lucille's blood stream to kill her. CHRISTOPHERSON speculated that fatigued from her 17 1/2-hour work day, Lucille discovered a fire from the newspapers in the back seat of the car and when she tried to put it out she was overcome by smoke and heat.

Immediately questions arose about whether or not Lucile was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the fire.

On the night of December 19, 1961, Lucille and Judy SISKOW were traveling along Highway 18, about two and one-half miles east of Clear Lake when Lucille struck another car from behind, knocking it 300 yars. Both cars were extensively damaged and the two women were taking to Mercy Hospital in Mason City. Lucille was charged with drunk driving and her drivers license was suspended for 60 days.

However, CHRISTOPHERSON determined at autopsy that Lucille's blook alcohol level was not high enough to cause intoxication or disorientation at the time of her death.

The local police and fire department worked with the State Fire Marshal's office in the investigation. Local and state agencies put in 16-hour days examining the evidence. The Mason City Fire Department, along, spent 244 man hours working the case. At least 100 people were interviews with lie detector tests voluntarily taken by some of the witnesses to verify their accounts and establish a time line for the fire.

Lucille's finances were examined and investigators created a victim profile based upon their interviews with her friends and co-workers.

Lucille was seemingly a normal "reasonably attractive" young woman. She didn't have any enemies nor was she depressed. She did date but didn't have a steady boyfriend. Her employers stated that Lucille was highly competent and hard-working. Authorities admitted that during their interviews with Lucille's contacts established any motive or likely suspects nor placed her with any particular individual on the night of her death. There were no red flags in Lucille's personal life.

Firemen believed that the fire illuminated the car from within to create the impression of the dome light being on inside the car. The darkness of the night obscured any smoke.

From the burn patterns, the fire investigators concluded that the driver's door was ajar, although the firement found it closed when they arrived. Speculation was that the fire created a draft and when the door spring was weakened by the heat, the door shut on its own.

Authorities concluded that Lucille got into the backseat of the two-door car on her own. There would be no reasonable way to move an incapacitated or dead body to the back seat when it would be easier to leave the body on the front seat and start a fire from there.

The engine and its fuel source were not involved. Gasoline and other petroleum-based products were ruled out as possible accelerants, although chemicals contained in Lucille's clothing and car seat materials could have caused the fire to spread. Tests could not identify the agent any more specifically than to rule out unvulcanized rubber used in elastic.

The only question that investigators could not answer to their satisfaction what what had created the fire and then build up so rapidly. The car was observed in the driveway, not on fire, from 20 to 30 minutes before it was called in. Relying upon their car fire experiences and car body experiments, firemen concluded that the blaze had developed too fast for any "normal circumstances."

The details of a four-month investigation into Lucille's death was made public in mid-February of 1963.

Mason City Fire Chief A. Boyd ARNOLD reported that the investigation found no evidence to contradict the Medical Examinier's conclusions that a smoldering cigarette or something similar started the fire in the back seat of Lucille's car. Foul play was not ruled out entirely. The report questioned how a suspect could have disabled Lucille so that she was unable to escape from the fire, but to do so without killing or injuring her. There was no evidence of a concussion, skull fracture, choking, broken bones or smothering to cause lung collapse. The report did concede, however, that injuries might have been obscured by the extensive burning.

Investigators told the Mason City Globe Gazette that any "criminal involved" would have "had extremely good luck, excellent planning or both."

Pending further investigation, Lucille's death was ruled as accidental.

Skeptical of the official conclusion of an accidental death, the citizens of Mason City wanted questions answered:

  • What kind of person was this young woman?

  • What happened during the time she left the restaurant at 2:45 and the call to the Fire Department at 4:15?

  • Because she was still breathing when the fire began, was she unconscious or incapacitated?

  • Why was her body in the backseat of the two-door car?

  • How did a witness — his time estimate validated by his work sign-in card — see no fire in the car but notice the dome light on and the driver’s door ajar?

  • And why did a fire rage so ferociously on a mild, clear, humid night with winds of only 5 miles an hour?

    A prayer service for Lucille was held on Friday, October 13 at the Wartnaby-Grarup Chapel in Thornton with funeral services afterwards at St. John’s Methodist Church.

    She was buried in Pleasant View Cemetery.

    Lucille was survived by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gerald R. DeVRIES, her four sisters — Rose SPRINGER, Mildred JENSEN, Mary DeVRIES, and Mrs. MUHLENBRUCK — as well as four brothers, Don, Richard, John, and Robert DeVRIES.

    Lucille's murder remains unsolved and still puzzles Mason City authorities to this day.

    Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, October of 2011



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