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The Killing Season - Websleuths

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  1. #1
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    IA - Laura Van Wyhe, 21, Cedar Rapids, October 1996 - staged hit-and-run

    I couldn't seem to locate this case anywhere in Websleuths, and stumbled upon it on the wonderful Iowa Cold Case website.
    It's just SO bizarre, and there seems to be clues collected, the part that drives me insane, is there doesn't appear to be any interviews, at least that I can locate with my crappy searching ability, with the folks she was to be staying with. The whole story, that I can find (please, if anyone can find or knows more, add?) is here:
    http://iowacoldcases.org/laura_van_wyhe.html
    In a nutshell, a woman ended up dead on the side of the road after going to spend the night at her son's father's families house.

    from link :
    In a Cedar Rapids Gazette interview, Clemonds detailed "suspicious" and bizarre elements surrounding Van Wyhe's death, including his theory that she was in the process of fleeing; that she was found barefoot carrying baby items, with cockleburs stuck to her body; and that her tote bag was discovered in a nearby tree.
    It's so weird, after all the cases I read, this one made me raise my eyebrows and say, WTF?? The worst is that she was still alive when found, and if she could have just uttered one sentence, just one sentence about who had done this to her, they wouldn't have gotten away with it all these years.
    Last edited by Cubby; 10-27-2010 at 07:45 PM. Reason: add date

  2. #2
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    This story has so many twists and turns! Laura's Mom got temporary, then permanent custody of Laura's son, then they both disappeared. I wonder what happend to make her leave?

    snip:

    In December 1996, a judge awarded temporary custody of Laura Van Wyhe's and Donald Knight's son to Van Wyhe's mother, Leanne Thomas of Iowa City, and in January 1997 she was awarded permanent custody with weekly visitation rights granted to Knight.

    When Samson was three years old, Leanne Thomas abruptly left the state with him. Birthday cards and gifts, Christmas presents and other items Knight sent his son were soon returned with the postmark "Return to Sender."


    I also can't believe that Laura left her 'brother in laws' house without shoes, her purse or her son, but was carrying baby food on a paper plate?

    snip:

    Clemonds said that when Van Wyhe was found, she had several items with her including baby food on a paper plate, a baby bottle and a blanket, and that the number of items suggested she'd had to leave in a hurry. Her purse and the diaper bag, however, had been left behind in Bonaparte.

    A cocklebur branch was found lying next to Van Wyhe's body, and cockleburs were stuck to her body. Clemonds said there was a cocklebur bush in the cornfield across the highway from where she was found, indicating a struggle may have occurred there. The Bergmans lived about one-tenth of a mile east and two-tenths of a mile north of the cornfield. One footprint found in the cornfield matched Van Wyhe's shoes, though she was not wearing any shoes when found.

    In a Cedar Rapids Gazette interview, Clemonds detailed "suspicious" and bizarre elements surrounding Van Wyhe's death, including his theory that she was in the process of fleeing; that she was found barefoot carrying baby items, with cockleburs stuck to her body; and that her tote bag was discovered in a nearby tree.


    Also, when LE went to the house, the baby was found naked?


    This is totally strange! I wonder what in the heck the families story was, or if her babies daddys Mom, Rep. Reynolds-Knight, interceded and prevented their questioning?

  3. #3
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    If you go to Google News Archive and search under Laura's name, there are several articles on the case from the Cedar Rapids - Iowa City Gazette. The results said they were pay-for-view - but when I clicked on the links the articles showed up freely.

    Some interesting information from these articles...

    Dec. 31/96 - "A judge has awarded temporary custody of Laura Van Wyhe's 16-month-old son to Van Wyhe's mother, rather than the child's father. In his ruling released Monday, Judge David Remley stated that long-term alcohol and drug abuse, among other factors, prevents Donald Knight III from being a suitable guardian for his son, Samson." According to the article, Donald and Laura's relationship ended in July '96, after Donald had been physically abusive toward her. However, Donald continued to work for Laura's mother's catering business until Nov. '96.
    "After Van Wyhe's death, Knight helped care for Samson at Thomas' residence. When Thomas confronted Knight on Nov. 11 about a bag of marijuana she'd found in the baby's room, Knight took Samson to Bonaparte. Samson has been living in Bonaparte since that time."

    Jan. 4/97 - Donald appealed the above ruling.

    Apr. 27/97 - "Van Wyhe had visited Reynolds-Knight's home for a birthday party Oct. 25, the night before she died. She said Van Wyhe went to spend the night with Tony and Sarah Bergman in nearby Kahoka because there weren't enough beds for everyone in Bonaparte. Sarah Bergman is Reynolds-Knight's daughter.
    'It was a family affair - Molly (Tony and Sarah Bergman's daughter), Laura and Sam were camping out in the living room," she said. "That's the last time anyone saw her.'"

    According to the article, a Missouri State Police detective "expressed frustration" that the Bergmans had refused to submit to polygraph tests.

    Feb. 1/99 - "Sgt. Randy King of the Missouri Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control reports that the people who were with Van Wyhe the night she died have retained lawyers and are no longer talking with the police."

    Police have said they did not believe Laura was struck by a vehicle in the spot where where she was found, and do not know whether she was struck intentionally or accidentally.

    She could have decided to flee from the house for some reason like an argument (is the house fairly close to town?), and taken the baby and some important items (but yes, why baby food on a paper plate?). I believe that in one of the articles someone speculated whether someone could have brought the baby back to the house. Or had Laura ever made it to the Bergmans' house at all?

    Interestingly, according to this page, Rebecca Reynolds-Knight served as State Representative from Jan. '97 to Jan '03, so presumably she would have been campaigning for office at the time of Laura's death.

  4. #4
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    That is unfortunate that there seems to have been little physical evidence at the scene to help solve the case (perhaps that is typical of a hit-and-run), and therefore that the police have to depend on someone telling them something.

  5. #5
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    KnightRN

    Is there anything you can tell us about that night, that might help solve this mystery?

    I am wondering if the family she was staying with heard, or saw anything? What caused her to run out of the house? Was her ex boyfriend, Samsons's Dad there?

    Was there a fight or physical altercation of some kind?

    Why didn't the family answer LE questions?

    Any theories as to why Grandma left with Samson? She must have had a reason. Did she receive threats from someone in the family? Did she maybe have a theory of who killed Laura and was fearful of her own or Samson's life being taken also?

    I hope and pray that this case will be solved and the guilty party made to pay for the crime!

    Being a family member, someone close to the case, I think you need to contact Tricia, Websleuths owner.
    Last edited by Cubby; 10-27-2010 at 05:06 PM. Reason: remove quoted unapproved post

  6. #6
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    I am curious why the Grandmother disappeared with the child. If it is true that the father, Donald had a history of long term drug and alcohol abuse, why did Laura's Mom employ him? Why did she allow him to live in her house?
    Where is a police record that substantiates her claims?

  7. #7
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    Certainly doesn't seem like the family was eager to help law enforcement based on what that article says. Resisting a polygraph etc. and the grandmother taking the child and moving away not to be heard from again?

  8. #8
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    IMHO the grandmothers actions are odd, to say the least. She left with Samson, but no one knows why? I hope Samson had a safe home with his Grandma.

  9. #9
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    I just want to add, The last time Donald was in trouble with the law he was 17 years old, He is now 40. He was a troubled teenager who has turned his life around and is a very loving and productive citizen in our society. He has alway cooperated with the investigation and has even contacted the detectives on his own to try to find out any information that they hold tight to their vests. More than anyone Donald wants this case solved.

    Donald loves his son very much and if you could see him with his 9 year old daughter it would break your heart knowing he had his son taken from him. Samson deserves to know his father. He lost his mother tragically and his father too. When you read all the articles about the child custody cases, just remember there are not facts to back up all the accusations and statements made about Donald.

    Thank you for your consideration.
    T. Knight

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by KnightRN View Post
    I just want to add, The last time Donald was in trouble with the law he was 17 years old, He is now 40. He was a troubled teenager who has turned his life around and is a very loving and productive citizen in our society. He has alway cooperated with the investigation and has even contacted the detectives on his own to try to find out any information that they hold tight to their vests. More than anyone Donald wants this case solved.

    Donald loves his son very much and if you could see him with his 9 year old daughter it would break your heart knowing he had his son taken from him. Samson deserves to know his father. He lost his mother tragically and his father too. When you read all the articles about the child custody cases, just remember there are not facts to back up all the accusations and statements made about Donald.

    Thank you for your consideration.
    There is a reason juvenile records are sealed. It sounds as if in Donald's case things worked the way they should! Sounds like his life has become very stable! Kudos to him!


  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by SunnieRN View Post
    IMHO the grandmothers actions are odd, to say the least. She left with Samson, but no one knows why? I hope Samson had a safe home with his Grandma.
    I knew Laura back in 1996 - she babysat me (and my siblings) and lived about two blocks away. I remember distinctly her promising to help me train my rabbit how to walk on a leash when she got back from her birthday party.

    My family also had a relationship with Laura's mother and Samson (Laura's son). Leanne won sole custody because Donny was not a fit guardian at the time. He may well have gotten his life together now but at the time of Laura's death he had not i.e. evidence of continued drug use, physical abuse towards Laura and documented irresponsibility concerning the parenting of Samson. Whilst not all accusations made by Leanne may be correct it is clear that a judge felt there was enough evidence that Samson would be better off with his maternal grand-mother. Custody battles can be very difficult and each side is clouded by emotion etc.

    It was very strange how Donny's family acted when LE were investigating and many felt that his family was trying to cover something up.

    I believe that Leanne left Iowa to avoid being threatened, intimidated etc by Donny and his family. Leanne loves Samson and likely wanted to protect him. I'm not sure it was done underhandedly - though I was young at the time I know she was definitely in Iowa in July 1998 and was packing her house and telling friends she was moving.

    Laura's murder was a tragedy - she was a beautiful kind loving person and wonderful mother. I hope that her killer will someday face Justice.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by KnightRN View Post
    I just want to add, The last time Donald was in trouble with the law he was 17 years old, He is now 40. He was a troubled teenager who has turned his life around and is a very loving and productive citizen in our society. He has alway cooperated with the investigation and has even contacted the detectives on his own to try to find out any information that they hold tight to their vests. More than anyone Donald wants this case solved.

    Donald loves his son very much and if you could see him with his 9 year old daughter it would break your heart knowing he had his son taken from him. Samson deserves to know his father. He lost his mother tragically and his father too. When you read all the articles about the child custody cases, just remember there are not facts to back up all the accusations and statements made about Donald.

    Thank you for your consideration.
    KnightRN welcome to websleuths. We are happy you have joined us, and I look forward to reading your posts.


  13. #13
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    "I believe that Leanne left Iowa to avoid being threatened, intimidated etc by Donny and his family. Leanne loves Samson and likely wanted to protect him. I'm not sure it was done underhandedly - though I was young at the time I know she was definitely in Iowa in July 1998 and was packing her house and telling friends she was moving. "



    Leanne was never threatened by anyone. Her Husband John moved to California a year or so before all of this and she moved there to join him. She would have moved there with or without Sam. Don still has parental rights to his son the judge made that clear to her. The judge didn't give her the right to take his son, move to California and then DISAPPEAR.

    I know it's way more exciting and tempting for you to think Leanne was chased out of town by this evil family and she had to grab her grandson and go for fear of their safety. But it didn't happen that way.
    I hope you never ever have to go though anything even close to this, but just for a moment imagine how you would feel if you were Don... I knew Laura too. She didn't babysit me, she was my friend. Laura had a difficult childhood. She struggled. And Donald Was never aggressive with her. That was an allegation that was never proven. I've been with Donald for 10 years now, he has never been aggressive with me either. It's not in his nature. Just because someone calls you something doesn't make it true.
    I'm sorry you lost your babysitter, I'm sure it was very hard to deal with at a young age and probably effected the person you are today. It sucks! For all of us. Most of all Sam.
    I have faith this case will be solved soon. There is a current heavy investigation going on right now. Justice will come soon! And as you can see we want that more then anything. You have no idea!!!
    Last edited by KnightRN; 10-06-2010 at 12:44 PM.
    T. Knight

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by KnightRN View Post

    Leanne was never threatened by anyone. Her Husband John moved to California a year or so before all of this and she moved there to join him. She would have moved there with or without Sam. Don still has parental rights to his son the judge made that clear to her. The judge didn't give her the right to take his son, move to California and then DISAPPEAR.

    I know it's way more exciting and tempting for you to think Leanne was chased out of town by this evil family and she had to grab her grandson and go for fear of their safety. But it didn't happen that way.
    I hope you never ever have to go though anything even close to this, but just for a moment imagine how you would feel if you were Don... I knew Laura too. She didn't babysit me, she was my friend. Laura had a difficult childhood. She struggled. And Donald Was never aggressive with her. That was an allegation that was never proven. I've been with Donald for 10 years now, he has never been aggressive with me either. It's not in his nature. Just because someone calls you something doesn't make it true.
    I'm sorry you lost your babysitter, I'm sure it was very hard to deal with at a young age and probably effected the person you are today. It sucks! For all of us. Most of all Sam.
    I have faith this case will be solved soon. There is a current heavy investigation going on right now. Justice will come soon! And as you can see we want that more then anything. You have no idea!!!
    I'm sorry if my comments upset you - I was trying to provide a different view - the one I grew up with.

    I did say that I was young at the time - but that is what I remember hearing - whether it is true I can't say. Plus obviously people close to either Donny or Leanne would have different polarized views of the events/situations.

    It just seems strange that all these allegations were made - obviously the Judge believed them. I know that people on either side of a custody battle lie and exaggerate still... without basis surely a court would not rule in Leanne's favor.

    Do you know why Donny's family failed to answer LE questions or take polygraphs?

    The case is so strange - Sam left naked at the house (either because Laura had to leave him or because he was brought back from somewhere), evidence that Laura had been moved after being struck in some way, finding Laura's bag up in a tree etc.

    Are the police involved in looking for Sam? If Donny has a legal right they should be involved. I actually do know exactly how it can be with one parent/guardian taking a child and trying to disappear - my uncle has tried to do this with my cousins. My aunt has had to travel OS to get them back.

    I hope that the case is solved soon as well.

  15. #15
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    Websleuths is a crime forum.

    This subforum is for cold cases. We are all here because we do want justice desperately for victims. But the nature of this subforum is that we poke, we prod, we search, we dig, we unearth every stone we can find and look underneath.

    We hypothesize, we theorize and then we look at the result and either alter it or chuck it out and start all over again.

    We hold nothing back from discussion.

    That is the nature of this website. We are here because we each have different motivations to be here, but the bottom line is we care. We refuse to lower our eyes from the plight of victims and refuse to just let things lie.

    There will be times where we will discuss frankly and openly aspects of cases and it will appear as if we are uncaring or insensitive but nothing could be further from the truth. There will be times that if a family member or family friend should visit the threads on this website that they could easily become upset or possibly hurt at what could be perceived as a detached tone. We are not detached here and we can't sucessfully explore a cold case without discussing what we discuss. It's just the cold hard truth.

    I'm very sorry when someone that is associate with a cold case, a missing persons case, a current murder case or any other crime that we have threads started for here is hurt or has their feelings hurt. I am very sorry. However, that is the nature of the crime board and I always softly and in the most kindest way possible to the person that following the thread might not be in the best interest of their spirit or their heart.

    Just my humble opinion. As always my prayers are with the families and friends of the missing, the murdered and other victims of crimes.
    Last edited by Kat; 10-06-2010 at 11:09 PM. Reason: add a sentence

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