Julie Ann Benning
Waverly, IA (Bremer County)
Jurisdiction: Butler County
November 28, 1975
Julie Ann Benning (also referred to as Julia Benning), 19, disappeared from Waverly, IA the day after Thanksgiving on November 28, 1975. A missing person search that sometimes extended to other states produced no clues to her whereabouts until a Butler County road maintenance worker found her nude and decomposed body in a roadside ditch along a quiet country road about a mile northeast of Shell Rock on March 18, 1976.
Benning had been strangled. An autopsy report established her death was due to "homicidal violence, caused by injury to the throat area."
Benning was last seen the afternoon of Nov. 28, 1975. Initial reports stated Benning was walking on Bremer Avenue on her way to work as a cocktail waitress at the Sir Lounge in Waverly's downtown business district, but on December 17 just before noon, Waverly Police Chief Clarence Wickham announced that further developments established Benning had been in a shoe repair shop at 5:05 p.m. to get a pair of shoes she had left there.
A 1975 graduate of Plainfield High School, Benning lived on a farm near Clarksville but had been staying with her aunt and grandmother, Malita Benning and Mrs. Emil (Frieda) Benning, in northwest Waverly while employed at the Waverly lounge.
While a senior at Plainfield High School, Benning had sharply criticized the taking of human life and life imprisonment. In a May 8, 1975 school newspaper editorial, Benning wrote: "Murder is a horrible crime to commit and, of course the offender must be punished, but does that mean he should rot in prison until he dies? I don't think so . . . nor do I think any person has the right to say someone should never be let out of prison, or give them the death penalty." She urged her readers to "Put yourself in their shoes -- the convicts are still humans, too. I hope people will be willing to help them and lend support in convicts' efforts to rehabilitate themselves."
Six months later, the outspoken teen was dead.
On Saturday, March 29, 1976 at about 8 p.m., Butler County Attorney Gene Shepard received an anonymous letter postmarked March 27 from Oelwein. Authorities didn't say how or where the note was found, but said officers wanted to look further into the information contained in the note.
FBI criminologists were later consulted to determine if the same person murdered both Benning and Lisa Peak, a 20-year-old Wartburg College journalism student whose body was found almost five months later about six miles from where Benning's body was discovered. Peak, too, had been strangled and had a broken neck.
Investigators cited a number of similarities in the Benning and Peak slayings.
Both Benning and Peak were attractive and described as "outgoing" or "popular." Both disappeared in broad daylight -- Miss Benning on Friday, Nov. 28, and Miss Peak on Monday, Sept. 6. Miss Benning was last seen in a shoe store, and Peak was reportedly going to pick up a pair of shoes. When found, both were nude. Peak had been sexually molested. Benning's body was badly decomposed when found, but authorities never said whether they were able to determine if she had also been molested.
Like Lisa Peak, Miss Benning was also interested in journalism. She enjoyed writing stories -- including mysteries -- and particularly loved Nancy Drew mysteries.
Questions also remained as to whether the Benning and Peak murders were related to another area homicide four years earlier. On June 15, 1971, the partially clad body of 14-year-old Valerie Lynn Klossowsky of Waverly was found on a creek bank under a bridge on a country road three miles west of Denver, IA. The Waverly-Shell Rock Junior High School student also had been strangled.
Miss Benning's survivors included her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lowell Benning of rural Clarksville; four sisters, Lori, Kelly, Carol, and Linda, all at home; and a grandmother, Mrs. Emil Benning of Waverly.
Sources and References:
The Plainfield News, Wednesday, December 17, 1975
The Waterloo Courier, Sunday, March 21, 1976
The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Friday, March 26, 1976
The Oelwein Daily Register, Tuesday, March 30, 1976
The Waterloo Courier, Tuesday, April 13, 1976
The Des Moines Register, Friday, September 10, 1976
The Waterloo Courier, Sunday, September 12, 1976