The Evansdale Murders
On July 13th, 2012, two cousins disappeared from the small town of Evansdale, Iowa. Six months later, their bodies were discovered in a wooded area about 20 miles away, but their killer has eluded police in the years since...
Evansdale, Iowa, is a small city in Black Hawk County - about 10 miles southwest of Waterloo.
Evansdale and Waterloo tend to bleed into one another, as well as the city of Cedar Falls, which rests on the opposite side of Waterloo as Evansdale. The three cities rest along the Cedar River and seem to have grown into one another, which has created a larger metropolitan area.
Despite Evansdale having a population of just under 5,000, more than 100,000 people live in the immediate vicinity; giving it a small-town feel but having all the benefits of a much-larger suburbia.
For years, Evansdale enjoyed a reputation of being a rather-obscure town, hidden in the middle of the Midwest. About an hour away from Cedar Rapids and close to two hours away from Des Moines, it's really wedged in the middle of nowhere, Iowa - in a sleepy section of the state that doesn't receive much attention outside of election season.
However, for the past few years, a singular story has engulfed the small town of Evansdale. It's a story that has become synonymous with the town itself, being named after the locale of this particular incident. It's a story that continues to plague discussions in Evansdale, to the point that a simple Google search involving the town will undoubtedly pull up at least an article describing this town's darkest hour.
This is the story of the Evansdale Murders.
Lyric Ray Lynn Cook-Morrissey was born on October 2nd, 2001, in Waterloo, Iowa.
Her parents, Dan Morrissey and Misty Cook-Morrissey, had one child prior to Lyric: an older son, named Dillin (with whom Lyric would be close). However - despite her family living in the neighboring town, Waterloo - Lyric would grow up primarily in Evansdale, being raised by her grandmother and her aunts. Both of her parents would struggle with drug abuse through Lyric's early life, so Lyric was primarily raised by her grandmother, Wylma.
Despite her troubled home life, Lyric grew up to be as normal a girl as possible. She was involved in all kinds of activities commonly associated with girls her age - such as cheerleading and gymnastics - and she also loved to spend time at the bowling alley. When she wasn't spending time outside, of course; no matter the weather - rain, snow, or shine - Lyric loved being outdoors.
Lyric attended Kingsley Elementary School, over in Waterloo, where she was also active in her local church. And, like most girls growing up in the early 2010's, she was obsessed with the boy-band One Direction. Along with two of her cousins, they had nicknamed themselves the "Bradford Badboys" after their current obsession, Zayn Malik.
Lyric's cousin - Elizabeth Collins - was born a little under two years later, on July 31st, 2003.
Elizabeth was one of four children born to Drew and Heather Collins. She had one brother, named Kelly, as well as two sisters named Amber and Callie. She was close with all of her siblings, even though she was known to boss them around constantly.
Like Lyric, Elizabeth also grew up in Evansdale. However, her family life was much stabler than her cousin's, and she was incredibly close with both of her parents. She attended Poyner Elementary School in Evansdale, and became a bit of a girly girl, who loved makeup and nail polish and all of that stuff, in addition to singing with her friends and taking care of animals. She had a dog named Gus that she loved to baby, and the two had grown inseparable.
Elizabeth also had a tougher side, which really came out when she played hockey. That was where she got to show off her more rambunctious personality, which also came out when she hung out with her friends at school. According to her third-grade teacher, Elizabeth was:
"... always the last one to finish her lunch because she was always talking."
Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins were cousins related by blood through their mothers, who were sisters. They spent a lot of time together at family functions - especially since Lyric ended up spending a lot of time in the care of her grandmother and aunts. The cousins were close enough in age that they had many similar interests, and often hung out together during family get-togethers.
When school had let out for the summer, the two ended up spending a lot of time together at their grandmother Wylma's house, where they often played cards with Wylma or rode their bikes around outside - weather, permitting. That was actually what they were doing in the early afternoon of July 13th, 2012.
That Friday morning, the girls had been dropped off at their grandmother Wylma's house, along Brovan Boulevard in downtown Evansdale. They had been there for a short while before deciding to go on a bike ride together a little after noon: at around 12:15 PM. At least, that's when their grandmother, Wylma Cook, recalls the two heading out to the front yard and setting off down the road on their bikes together.
Sometime between 12:30 PM and 1:00 PM, the cousins were spotted riding their bikes on Gilbert Drive - which is about a mile-and-a-half away from their grandmother's house. This is not too far away from Meyers Lake, a local fishing and recreational hot-spot. They were then spotted heading down the 1000 block of Lake Avenue, still on their bikes and together.
More than an hour had passed since the girls had left their grandmother's house, and they had not yet returned. Wylma Cook was growing concerned for her granddaughters' safety, but it wasn't until Lyric's mother, Misty, returned home that the family began to panic. This is when they began calling around to friends and family in an effort to locate the girls, and began to do some preliminary searches of their own.
After being unable to find Lyric and Elizabeth in the region around their grandmother's home, their family made the decision to report them as missing to the local Evansdale Police Department at around 2:48 PM. By now, roughly two-and-a-half hours had lapsed since the girls had set out on their bike ride, and a search was launched in earnest to locate the two young girls.
The search effort began at Wylma's home and spread outwards - towards local parks, school, and other areas where the girls might have gone. Within an hour, Evansdale police had been joined by deputies from the Black Hawk Sheriff's Department, as well as members of the local fire department (who began searching bike trails for the missing cousins).
A find later that day inspired hope, but immediately raised some alarming questions.
On a trail located near the southeast corner of Meyers Lake, the bikes belonging to Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins were found. Local firefighters had made the discovery at around 4:00 PM, and forwarded the information to police. Also located at the scene was 8-year old Elizabeth's purse, but the two girls were nowhere to be found. There seemed to be no trace of them near the location their bikes had been abandoned... nor was there any kind of clue pointing in a single direction.
Police began combing through the immediate area around Meyers Lake, moving outwards in the hopes of locating any kind of clue. They began trekking through the entire stretch of land that the girls had traveled: between where they had disappeared (downtown Evansdale) to the location that their bikes were found (Meyers Lake).
Soon enough, police were joined by hundreds of volunteers, who came out in droves to show support for this small town family. Not only did these volunteers help physically search for the girls over the next several days, but they began organizing candlelight vigils and press events to raise awareness and keep the story in the news for as long as possible.
In the days after the disappearance of Lyric and Elizabeth, security footage was obtained from an auction house located a short distance away from the grandmother's home. This footage was brief, and the cousins only appeared in the footage for a second or two, but showed them (surprisingly) riding away from Meyers Lake at around 12:11 PM - a time period that fit in with the established time-frame
Investigators hoped that they could pinpoint more of the girls' bike trip with similar footage from other establishments, but seemed to have had little luck in that venture. They would have to rely upon less efficient methods of tracking the girls, such as scent dogs and witness statements.
The FBI agreed to cooperate in the search for the two girls, sending some of their specially-trained divers to look through Meyers Lake (where the girls' bikes had been found). Eventually, after a few days of setbacks, local officials decided to partially drain the lake to assist in the effort, but were ultimately fruitless in finding anything of value.
Meyers Lake quickly became the primary setting for the investigation. After all, it was the location that the only real evidence had been found - the girls' bikes - and where their known path had seemed to come to an end. It was believed that if anything had happened to Lyric and Elizabeth, it had likely happened there.
Investigators had yet to determine whether the cousin's disappearance was related to foul-play or could have been something accidental, so cadaver dogs, infrared-equipped aircraft, and dozens of volunteers scoped the area around the lake for any sign of the girls. But following this exhaustive search around the lake - and its subsequent draining - Meyers Lake proved to be a dead-end for investigators.
Evansdale Police and Black Hawk County Sheriffs officials spearheaded the investigation, but were assisted by numerous officials with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation as well as the FBI (who contributed more than 30 investigators to help search for the missing girls).
While exhaustive searches were being conducted at and around Meyers Lake, investigators began hitting up known sex offenders - especially those that had a history of targeting underage victims. These were not only known sexual predators, but those that had expressed any kind of interest in underage girls in the past, be it child porn or anything similar.
Many of these known sex offenders were interviewed numerous times by different investigators, and several were brought in to take polygraph tests. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like any of these individuals were involved, as police cleared all of them through a rigorous vetting process.
Also vetted through this process were known acquaintances of the two missing girls, Lyric and Elizabeth. Their parents, family members, and family friends were interviewed by detectives, who looked for any sign of deception in not only physical interviews, but written statements and outside correspondence. The family members of the two girls agreed to have their phones and other electronic devices searched for any concerning communication, but nothing was found.
To police, it seemed like this might have been the worst possible outcome: as it was becoming clearer and clearer that the girls had likely been taken by a complete stranger - someone that was not familiar to them prior to their disappearance. As I'll get into in a bit, this happens in an incredibly small fraction of cases and is incredibly rare.
For an extended period of time, local police continued to receive tips from the public. For the first few weeks, at least, police officials estimate that they received roughly 20 tips per hour, but by the end of the summer, that number had decreased to roughly 40 a day.
By July 20th - a week after Lyric and Elizabeth disappeared - police seemed to have ruled out any accidental causes (such as drowning, etc.). This development allowed them to move the scope of the investigation fully to an abduction, with them believing that foul-play was undoubtedly involved in this case. However, everyone involved continued to hope that the girls were alive - and that they could be brought home safely.
Sandy Breault, a spokeswoman for the FBI, stated later that month:
"We believe these girls are alive, and we are not discouraged by the passage of time since their disappearance. We are urging anyone with information to come forward. Any information, as insignificant as it may seem, could be vital to this investigation."
As journalists and media personalities began to focus in on the missing girls from Evansdale, those that were close to them - in particular, their family members - found themselves facing some intense public scrutiny. And none were more vilified in the press than the father of 10-year old Lyric Cook, Dan Morrissey.
At the time, Dan Morrissey was a 36-year old father of two, who had already divorced Lyric's mother, Misty. As interested parties began to look into Dan's past, they discovered that he was involved in several ongoing criminal cases; in fact, he had been let out of police custody to be with his family following Lyric's disappearance.
The crimes that Dan was alleged to have been involved in included everything from assaulting his ex-wife to multiple drug felonies (including manufacturing, possessing, and dealing methamphetamine in large quantities). He was actually looking at decades behind bars, if convicted; which he actually was, the following year (2013).
Morrissey expressed his innocence - both to law enforcement and the press - and stated that he was just an addict spiraling out-of-control following the disappearance of his daughter. He would state in his court case that he began consuming significant amounts of methamphetamine after Lyric disappeared, but that was disputed by the Black Hawk County Attorney's Office - who stated that Dan was involved in the production of meth both before and after his daughter disappeared. In fact, he was making meth in his home while his 17-year old son (Lyric's brother) was living there.
In 2013, Dan Morrissey was convicted to more than 90 years in prison, with Judge David Staudt stating during his sentencing:
"Since you were released from custody after your daughter's unfortunate event, you were utilizing other women you knew to go to stores to buy or steal pseudophredrine so you could manufacture methamphetamine. The fact that your child was in your home when you were arrested on these events shows that you don't use very good judgment concerning yourself as a parent, to subject them to those conditions, to those situations, to those individuals and to that behavior is certainly not good parenting."
Despite being found guilty of numerous drug charges - and facing a bid of at least 30 years in prison - Dan Morrissey continues to assert that he had nothing to do with his daughter's or his niece's disappearance. He claims that the belief they might have been taken due to some drug debt held by someone in the region - or as retribution for criminal activity - does not seem to hold water.
Speaking to local news station KWWL in 2018, Dan stated:
"Yeah, it doesn't even make sense if you think about it and play it out. You know, why would this happen? If I had any idea of somebody that was in my life, that I owed money to or had threatened me or anything, you'd think I wouldn't know who that person is? ...So I mean that would be the number one suspect on the case and this thing would have been solved a long time ago. But there is absolutely nobody in my life that I owe money to or that I have told on or anything like that. That has nothing to do with my daughter... And why would they abduct Elizabeth and my daughter at the same time in another town that my daughter's not even from on a random bike ride that nobody knew they were going to take. It doesn't make sense."
Over the next several months, the other three parents became notable figures in their own right, as they fought for answers regarding their still-missing daughters.
Misty Cook, Lyric's mom and Dan Morrissey's ex-wife, struggled significantly in the aftermath of her daughter's disappearance. She stayed active in the search for Lyric, constantly appearing on television programs and news broadcasts alongside her sisters and other family friends. She even began reaching out for media figures like John Walsh to step in and help, at one point even sending Walsh a public message through Facebook that included the line:
"I am in my darkest hour and close to the edge!"
The following day - Monday, August 20th - Misty was rushed to Allen Hospital after being found unresponsive at her home. She had mixed her medication with alcohol, resulting in her losing consciousness and being rushed to the hospital. She would recover, but continued spiraling in the following months - slipping down the treacherous path of drug abuse that she had struggled to dig herself out of for years.
In 2014, Misty was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug-related offenses, but would be released from prison about a year later. Thankfully, when she was released, she was on the straight-and-narrow and looked to get her life back together.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth's parents - Drew and Heather Collins - struggled to make sense of their daughter's tragic disappearance. Heather became a regular at the Hall of Law, giving out flyers and posters with the girls' images to anyone that seemed interested. She even began collecting signatures for a petition to change the Amber Alert Laws; believing that the system waited too long to report the disappearance of the two girls.
Both of Elizabeth's parents would appear on television whenever possible to plead for their daughter's safe return, but - unfortunately - their marriage would not be able to last. Shortly after Elizabeth's disappearance, the two began to drift apart, eventually deciding that divorce was the best step for them. They would remain cordial and friendly for their family, of course, always hoping that Elizabeth would return to them - even though days, weeks, and months continued to pass.
It wasn't until the end of 2012 that the families of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins received any kind of update.
Seven Bridges Wildlife Park is about 20 miles northeast of Evansdale, in Bremer County. Known primarily as a hunting ground, Seven Bridges is no stranger to illicit or unsavory behavior.
Once upon a time ago, this had been the scene for underage parties. For decades - dating back to the 1970's - Seven Bridges Park had been a place for high school students to meet up with other teenagers to engage in underage drinking, bonfires, and other kinds of rebellious activities away from prying eyes. But over time, it had lost that luster, and instead became as a park and dumping ground that only locals seemed to know about.
That didn't mean that it wasn't a haven for trouble, though. Starting in the mid-2000's, Seven Bridges Park had seen dozens of visits from Bremer County Sheriff's deputies, who were called to respond to everything from the dumping of a roving meth lab to hooligans tearing up the park's dirt and grass with ATV's. It was usually minor stuff like that, which was more annoying than actually troubling. But close to six months after the disappearance of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins, deputies were called out to a scene unlike anything they had previously seen at Seven Bridges.
Early in the day - on Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 - a group of hunters had been moving through Seven Bridges Park when they came upon two sets of human remains. The remains had been somewhat shrouded in an isolated area of the park, where foot traffic wasn't a huge concern; in fact, investigators stated that the remains were placed in a location that someone would have had to have almost been on top of to notice. If anyone was walking a few feet away from the remains, they likely would have missed them.
These two sets of human remains appeared to be smaller-in-stature, and - by all accounts - appeared female. That's what police reported later in the day, after receiving a call from the hunters at around 12:45 that afternoon.
Soon, the area around Seven Bridges Park - which was primarily known for raccoon hunting - was overrun with police officers, investigators, and journalists. The remains were sent off to the State Medical Examiner's office in Ankeny for identification, but... most believed that these were the two missing girls from Evansdale, Lyric and Elizabeth.
The following day - Thursday, December 6th, 2012 - Chief Deputy Rick Abben of the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office held a press conference. During this conference, he announced that officials were confident that the two bodies found at the Seven Bridges Wildlife Park were, indeed, Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins.
Despite investigators not yet receiving test results back from the State Medical Examiner's Office, there were no other missing persons cases from the region - at least, none with two similar victims - and the smaller stature of remains hinted at them being children.
This announcement seemed to provide the loved ones of the cousins an answer for what had happened to them, but it was anything but conclusive. Details of the girls' deaths have never been publicly released - such as their cause or means of death - and detectives did not release any detail that inspired confidence in justice being found anytime soon.
This public announcement of the girls being found - but their case remaining as unsolved as ever - led to an ominous haze that began to settle over the region of Evansdale... a dark cloud that has yet to lift, several years later.
The next Monday - December 10th, 2012 - the Iowa State Medical Examiner's Officer publicly confirmed that the bodies found were Lyric and Elizabeth. They provided information to the local police chief, Kent Smock, who then informed the families before the press obtained the news.
That evening, Heather Collins (Elizabeth's mother) posted a public message on her Facebook page, which read:
"We have been so blessed by the [outpouring] of all the (prayers) and support tonight with the gut wrenching news that my beautiful daughter and my niece's bodies were found by hunters... This was [not] the outcome we wanted but we know that they are up in heaven with our Savior and [our] nightmare of where they are and what is happening to them has been answered."
Local ceremonies were arranged for the two girls, with Lyric Cook's taking place on December 29th at the Heartland Vineyard Church in Cedar Falls. Elizabeth Collin's ceremony took place on December 13th, but a graveside ceremony was held months later, in May of 2013, which featured more than 200 people - as well as Elizabeth's pet dog, Gus, who was able to say goodbye to his best friend; wearing a rose on his collar in honor of Elizabeth, who was finally put to rest.
Both of the cousins were memorialized at the location where their bikes had been found, Meyers Lake. The trail that goes around the lake was renamed the "Trail of Angels," and memorials for both Lyric and Elizabeth were added throughout the park, which had been renamed Angel's Park. People in the region - and supporters of their family - had set aside thousands of dollars to renovate the park in their honor, and even arranged for a mural of the girls to face the nearby highway.
In addition, July 13th would forever be known as "Lyric and Elizabeth Day" in Evansdale, which refused to forget the two girls - whose name had become synonymous with the small town itself. Their deaths would even inspire legislation in Iowa, as state legislators moved to bring back the death penalty for child murderers, and changes were proposed to the Amber Alert laws. Despite the appropriately named "Cousins Act" ultimately not passing, this did lead to changes in the system, which allowed more instantaneous alerts to hit regions that children had gone missing - which the Cook and Collins family believe might have made a difference in their abduction.
To this day, Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins have not been forgotten, and their unsolved murders continue to haunt those in and around Evansdale.
While those that knew and loved Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins had to put the girls to rest and mourn their two lives - which had both been lost far too soon - the investigation continued on. Now, it was expanding from a missing persons investigation to a much more nefarious double-murder, which changed things significantly.
You see, the double murder of two children at the same time is a rare offense for even violent crime standards. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children - commonly abbreviated as NCMEC - states that abductions of random children are already rare. Most of these offenses take place over the internet, and are arranged ahead of time by the culprits. But the actual snatching of children off of the streets is incredibly rare. Two children being abducted at once - in the middle of the day - is even more rare. It happens in a very small fraction of disappearances, with most cases involving a family member or family friend of some kind.
The abduction of two children at once - in broad daylight - was such a rare offense that the FBI had only recorded roughly 15 similar incidents between 1974 and the date that the cousins went missing in July of 2012. Yet, after spending so long investigating the parents and known acquaintances of the two girls, investigators had reasonably ruled out anyone in their social circle.
So it seemed like this was one of those extremely rare circumstances, where an opportunistic predator had managed to corner or lure both of the girls into a vehicle, and had likely driven them elsewhere. Possibly to Seven Bridges Park, but... details are pretty scarce when it comes to the actual police investigation.
Investigators have concealed many of the intimate details of this case: details such as how the girls had been killed, where they had been killed, whether they had obtained DNA from the scene, etc. These are details that they have chosen to keep private, likely in an attempt to weed out false confessions. In fact, in the immediate aftermath of the discovery of the girls' bodies in December of 2012, police would receive two separate confessions (men claiming to be the killer). In both of these cases, police were able to eliminate these men as viable suspects because they did not know these intimate details, and got inherent facts incorrect.
These details continue to be closely-guarded more than five years later, as the case continues to be looked at by local, county, state, and federal officials.
Approximately six months after the bodies of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins were found in Seven Bridges Park, another troubling case began to play out in Dayton, Iowa.
On May 20th, 2013, 15-year old Kathlynn Shepard was walking home from school with a 12-year old friend of hers. While walking home, the two girls were abducted by a man that was able to lure them into his vehicle under threat of violence. After getting into the man's truck, their abductor drove them around for a bit, crisscrossing through the immediate area: which was mainly rural farmland. He then drove the two girls to a pig farm that he worked at, which was quiet and isolated.
There, the abductor zip-tied the girls' hands and began separating them. He led away 15-year old Kathlynn Shepard, but left the other girl unsupervised in his truck. This girl, a 12-year old, was left alone, and managed to escape the truck just moments later. She ran off in an effort to get help, which she found minutes later.
When police arrived at the scene, they discovered a troubling sight. The abductor's truck was still at the location, but his body was inside the truck. He had taken his own life in an effort to escape culpability, but 15-year old Kathlynn Shepard was nowhere to be found. Her body would later be discovered in the Des Moines river several weeks later, about 20 miles downriver from the pig farm. She had been stabbed and beaten to death, the victim of a senseless abduction and murder.
The abductor was later identified as Michael Klunder, a registered sex offender from Stratford, Iowa that had spent the better part of two decades in prison for kidnapping and assaulting a woman, in addition to kidnapping two 3-year-olds. Thankfully, all of those victims survived, but Klunder would return to violent crime in 2013, abducting Kathlynn and her friend - and likely planning to kill and/or sexually assault both. Instead of face any consequences for his actions, this piece of shit had decided to take his own life at the crime scene, leaving the family of Kathlynn Shepard with little in the ways of justice or resolution.
This abduction came less than a year after the disappearance of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins, and had unfolded about 100 miles west of Evansdale, in Dayton, Iowa. From the very beginning, the similarities between the two cases intrigued investigators, who began digging into the history of Michael Klunder - looking for any possibility that he had been involved in the Evansdale murders.
In addition to the troubling circumstances of the abductions - with two girls being abducted at the same time, after being incentivized by violence - it was learned that Klunder had been released from prison in 2011, just months before Lyric and Elizabeth had gone missing.
However, by 2014, it seems like investigators had effectively ruled out Michael Klunder as a suspect in the Evansdale case. Special agents with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation had spent months comparing the cases, and were pretty confident that Klunder was not involved in the Evansdale case; not only because of forensic differences in the crimes, but due to Klunder potentially having an alibi.
It is believed that Klunder was not near Evansdale when the two girls went missing, having been in or around his home in Stratford, Iowa at the time the cousins were abducted. However, despite police ruling him out as a suspect, some continue to have suspicions about Klunder - and with him no longer being here to answer for himself, many of those questions remain unanswered.
Kent Smock, the Evansdale Police Chief, stated a short time later:
"I think people were kind of hoping this would be the end of it. Ruling him out, that means the person is still out there."
On June 24th, 2013 - close to a year after the two girls had gone missing - Evansdale police announced that a tip had led to a new lead in the investigation. This was now inspiring some hope for resolution in the case, and investigators believed that this tip might eventually lead them to their culprit.
Ths tip revolved around a description of a large, white, full-sized, old-model SUV - possibly a Chevy Suburban or a Ford Bronco - which had been spotted by multiple witnesses near the crime scene between 11:30 AM and 12:30 PM on July 13th, 2012. This would fit in with the established time frame, and more than one witness had even placed this vehicle in the vicinity of the abduction.
Three separate witnesses, in fact, had seen this vehicle on Arbutus Avenue at around the time the girls went missing - which is located just next to Lake Avenue (where the girls had last been seen) as well as next to Meyers Lake (where their bikes were found). Two of the witnesses had reported seeing this white SUV to police during their initial canvas, claiming to have seen it parked between bike trail signs. However, it wasn't until the third witness reported seeing the same SUV close to a year later that police went back over their notes, and noticed the potential significance in this lead.
The third witness, who came forward in June of 2013, reported seeing the white SUV near the woods on the east side of the lake - which was incredibly close to where the girls' bikes would be found later that afternoon.
Police forwarded this tip to the media, and asked for anyone with information to come forward. They continue to believe that this information could be vital for the investigation, and think that any additional information could get the ball rolling on the case once again. If this sounds familiar to any of you: please don't be shy. Your information could make a world of difference.
In 2014, Evansdale police announced that they were dedicating a portion of their website to be specifically aimed at releasing news and information about the ongoing investigation: the murder of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins, which had become their biggest and most infuriating unsolved case by far.
This page can be found at https://evansdalepolice.org/latestonlyricandelizabeth.php, and includes information about the investigation - as well as a suspect profile, which was made public for the first time.
This profile was created with help from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit, and concluded that the alleged culprit of Lyric and Elizabeth was:
- A local that blended in with the Evansdale or Black Hawk County community, who acted upon an opportunity to abduct the two girls.
- Someone that was undoubtedly familiar with the Meyers Lake/Angel Park area, as well as Seven Bridges Park - meaning that they are unlikely to have been a transient or a wanderer. Police insist that the location where the bodies were found - Seven Bridges Park - was without a doubt familiar to the killer, as it is still relatively isolated and not well-known outside of those from the region, indicating that the killer is - or was - a local.
- Someone who would use "quiet coercion" to convince the two girls to go with him or her: either a trick or ruse of sorts, or some kind of threat of violence.
- Someone who was likely facing significant stress in their life (legal issues, mental health problems, issues with a spouse, etc.), who decided to lash out at two strangers instead of those close to them.
- Either someone who followed along closely with the investigation - or someone that tried to distance themselves as much as possible.
- Someone that had likely attempted abductions in the past, and had likely expressed interest in underage girls.
- And, finally, they were likely someone that may have attempted to alter their own physical appearance as well as the appearance of their vehicle in the immediate aftermath, which - again - was in July of 2012.
In November of 2016 - in the small town of Onawa, Iowa, a little over 200 miles to the west of Evansdale - two elementary school girls returned home in a hurry. They told their family that a man had attempted to lure them into a vehicle just moments prior.
Two of their older relatives and a neighbor decided to jump into a vehicle and chase after the vehicle that had attempted to lure the two girls, which was just now leaving their neighborhood. The car, a silver-gray 2004 Ford Focus, was easy to catch up to, but the driver tried to distance himself from the pursuing vehicle when he realized that he had been caught.
The car of young adults was able to keep pace with the man in the Ford Focus: a middle-aged white man with dark hair and a goatee, who appeared a little heavyset. When the vehicles pulled alongside one another, the man behind the wheel of the Ford Focus claimed that he was an undercover police officer, and threatened violence against his pursuers. Yet they stayed on him for several miles, pursuing him out-of-town until police were able to show up and arrest the man.
The man's identity was revealed as 58-year old Jeff Altmayer, who lived in Ankeny, Iowa. He had served in the National Guard between 1977 and 1983, and was - by all accounts - a pretty regular guy. He had been married for over thirty years, and now had two adult children that had moved out of his house. He had spent decades working for security companies, before becoming an independent security consultant. At the time of his arrest in 2014, Altmeyer was working as a traveling auto damage field inspector, which allowed him to travel through Iowa and the Midwest pretty regularly.
Jeff Altmeyer was arrested and charged with trying to entice children - a crime that he had apparently been committing all over Iowa. Not only in Onawa - which resides in Monona County - but also in Jasper and Grundy counties. In fact, between May and December of 2016, Altmeyer had attempted to lure dozens of underage girls into his car; at times, actually succeeding. Some of these girls were let go a block or two away, but on at least two occasions, Altmeyer had sexually assaulted these victims, who ranged in age from 6 to 13 years old.
Eventually, Altmeyer was sentenced to life in prison for his offenses, but investigators continue to believe that he might have been responsible for other crimes. Their rationale is that criminals generally don't start at the age of 58, and that him having successfully gotten away with a crime might have emboldened him to lash out in a spree of sorts - which is what he was eventually convicted of.
Mitch Mortvedt, the Head of Field Operations for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, stated about Altmeyer:
"It's very concerning to us when you have an individual like that that has the access that he does through his employment at the time to basically roam the state or roam the Midwest."
Following his conviction for numerous abductions and abduction attempts, Jeff Altmeyer has been investigated as a potential lead in the Evansdale case. However, nothing definitive has linked him to the crimes as of yet - at least, nothing that officials feel confident in releasing to the public, keeping themselves pretty tight-lipped about their ongoing investigation.
Mike Roehrkasse, a Special Agent with the Iowa D.C.I., addressed Altmeyer's possible connection to the Evansdale case in no certain terms just a couple of years ago, in 2017:
"The most I would say is that he is one of our leads and I will leave it at that."
Belle Plaine, Iowa is a small town roughly 40 miles south of Evansdale, which is really in the middle of nowhere. Built as a railroad town in the middle of the Civil War, the population has languished between 2,000 and 3,000 in the decades since, and the town itself hasn't changed much over the past half-century or so.
On May 4th, 2018, Belle Plaine would make national headlines for perhaps the worst of reasons. That day, a Union Pacific train was heading from Chicago, Illinois to Nebraska along one of the region's dedicated coal rails, and everything was going along swimmingly until shortly before 5:00 AM. That is when it was reported that an incident had occurred involving two people - a mother and a son - both of whom had lost their lives in a tragic accident along the railroad.
The casualties were later identified as 35-year old Teresa Gerleman and her 8-year old son, Henry Fields, both of whom were locals. The incident was initially reported as a tragic accident, but as police began to learn more, they realized that this was no accident.
Due to interviews with Teresa's friends and family - which gave them context for her deteriorated mental state - as well as footage obtained from the train, police labeled this ordeal as a murder-suicide; with Teresa having killed herself and her son by pulling him onto the tracks at the last moment, ending both of their lives in an instant.
This incident led to a weeks-long investigation which aimed to understand why this woman had decided to end both her son's life as well as her own.
Police were able to learn that 35-year old Teresa Gerleman had been struggling through numerous mental health issues, and had been going through counselling - in addition to being put on a number of medications.
During meetings with support specialists in the months prior to the incident, Teresa had reportedly told them that she felt like "standing in front of a train," and had even made mention of knowledge she possessed, pertaining to a high-profile double-murder from the region.
As you can already imagine, this was the unsolved double-murder from Evansdale, which was just 40 or so miles away from Belle Plaine. Teresa had spoken to her counselors about supposed evidence she held in her possession: a 6-page letter she claims had been written by the killer(s) of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins. These were apparently men that Teresa had hung around in the months and years prior, and according to her - in this letter - these men had confessed to the double-murder in explicit detail.
Following the death of Teresa and her son, a search warrant was executed on her home. In the search warrant, police used specific details obtained from Teresa's specialists, including a tidbit about this supposed letter from one of her counselors, named Julie Croft.
"When asked to be more specific, Julie stated that it has to do with the two girls in the woods near Evansdale."
During the subsequent search of Teresa's property, several of her belongings were taken away by investigators: including notebooks, sealed envelopes, and multiple cell phones. However, it seems like whatever information police were able to obtain from Teresa's belongings - including, presumably, from this letter - was irrelevant (or simply outdated).
Police claim that they were unable to learn anything new from Teresa Gerleman's belongings, adding that her deteriorated mental state had likely made it hard for her to differentiate between what was real and what was fiction. The referred to the letter in her possession as containing "old information" that they had received in the past - nothing new or revelatory.
It is unknown if the death of Teresa Gerleman or her son, Henry Fields, was linked in any way to the unsolved double-murder in Evansdale. However, it led to a brief resurgence of interest in the case, and remains an bizarre incident that many believe might share some connection - no matter how tentative.
In the nearly-seven years since the murder of Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins, Evansdale has yet to shake the memory of their murder. In fact, most discussions about Evansdale eventually turn to a discussion of the case itself, which continues to shock those in the region close to a decade after the fact.
The current state of the investigation is open, with police having interviewed more than 1,000 people in their search for answers. This includes more than 300 sex offenders from the region, and investigators continue to stockpile tips from the public - having obtained thousands of them in the years since Lyric and Elizabeth disappeared.
This case has been linked to a number of similar cases throughout the Midwest, including some I've already mentioned in this episode. Many think that the case bears many similarities to the spree perpetrated by Jeff Altmeyer, while others continue to believe that Michael Klunder remains a more likely culprit. Others even point to the high-profile murders of Abigail Williams and Liberty German from 2017 - over in Delphi, Indiana - as possibly being related. I haven't covered that case on the podcast yet, but I will very soon, and I'll explore this possible connection in more detail then.
However, police continue to look for answers, and are quick to state that this will never become a "cold case."
Evansdale Police Chief Jeff Jensen stated just a short time ago:
"I don't want to consider this a cold case because we are still actively working on it. Nobody has put it on a shelf and said we're done with this... We're still scratching for every little lead we can get."
A reward of $170,000 exists for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person - or persons - responsible. This was a reward raised primarily by private interests, with more than $100,000 being contributed by an anonymous donor and $20,000 being added to the fund by the FBI.
The loved ones of Lyric and Elizabeth continue to hope for some kind of resolution in this case, remaining as active as possible in the community and the hunt for their loved ones' killer.
In October of this year, 2019, Lyric would have been celebrating her 18th birthday. Perhaps she would be moving onto college - or whatever the next chapter of her life would have been. The same goes for Elizabeth Collins, who would be turning 16 - perhaps obtaining her driver's license and entering the thick of her high school career. This unknown killer has taken that away from these two cousins, in addition to a lifetime of memories that could have been shared with their loved ones.
I hope to bring you an update in this case in the near-future, but until such a time... the stories of Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins remain unresolved.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Published on April 14th, 2019
Graham Bole - "Sunset At Goat Fell"
A.A. Aalto - "Balloons Rising"
Rest You Sleeping Giant - "Disconnect"
Noiseonport - "Spectre"
Sergey Cheremisinov - "Sleepwalker IV"
Kai Engel - "Wake Up"
ROZKOL - "All the Little Pieces"
The Gateless Gate - "Endless Grey"
Graham Bole - "Lurking"
Koen Daigaku - "Part3"
Other music created and composed by Ailsa Traves