Julie Ann Benning
Age: 18 years old
Case #: 76-00382
Date of Crime: November 28, 1975
Age: 18 years old
Case #: 76-00382
Date of Crime: November 28, 1975
She had a quick smile, a zany laugh. She was bright, beautiful, spunky and ambitious. She loved getting out to meet people and making things happen. She loved live music and the weekly Top 100 Countdown. Her creativity spilled over into every aspect of her life; she not only designed and sewed her own dresses, but painted landscapes and portraits of all things closest to her heart. She also was an avid reader – Nancy Drew mysteries were her favorite – and was already writing her own stories and had an interest in investigative journalism.
But the day after Thanksgiving, on Friday, November 28, 1975, 18-year-old Julie Benning suddenly vanished without a trace while on her way to work in Waverly. Her father, Lowell Benning, drove to Waverly and reported her missing to police. Lowell knew that Julie – the eldest of his five daughters – would never just disappear without a word, and asked police to contact area media about his missing child. The police, perhaps not fully convinced foul play was involved, suggested Lowell make the media contacts.
The distraught father went to newspapers and radio stations in person, asking they alert the public about his daughter’s disappearance. KWWL Radio reported on the story, and a Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent was sent to work with the family.
Initial reports stated Julie was last seen that Friday afternoon, walking on Bremer Avenue on her way to work as a waitress at the Sir Lounge in Waverly’s downtown business district. Police also heard reports that Julie had been spotted in a shoe repair shop that Friday at 5:05 PM to get a pair of shoes she’d left there. December 12, Julie’s 19th birthday arrived, but there would be no celebration without her.
A missing person search that sometimes extended to other states produced no clues as to Julie’s whereabouts until Thursday, March 18, 1976, when Roscoe Hulbert – a Butler County road maintenance worker – found her muddy body, nude and decomposed, in a roadside ditch along a quiet country road about a mile northeast of Shell Rock. Julie had been stuffed into a culvert where her body remained all winter long in the cold and dark, until spring rains washed her out and into the ditch. An autopsy report established cause of death as “homicidal violence caused by injury to the throat area.”
As a senior at Plainfield High School, Julie had sharply criticized the taking of human life and life imprisonment. In a May 8, 1975 school newspaper editorial, Julie 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 lend them and lend support in convicts’ efforts to rehabilitee themselves.”
On Tuesday morning, September 7, 1976 – less than six months after Julie’s body was discovered – the nude, beaten body of 19-year-old Marie “Lisa” Peak was found in a ditch a quarter mile north of Waverly’s city limits – six miles from where Julie’s body was found. Lisa had been sexually assaulted and, according to autopsy findings, died of suffocation and a broken neck. None of Lisa’s clothes were found at the scene. Lisa had just returned from Wartburg College in Waverly the day before to begin her sophomore year with plans to major in journalism. Lisa told friends she was going shopping Monday afternoon, but she never returned to the campus that night.
Investigators cited a number of similarities in the Julie and Lisa slayings, and FBI criminologists were consulted to determine if the same person murdered both young women. Both Julie and Lisa were attractive and were described as “outgoing” or “popular.” Both disappeared in broad daylight. Julie was purported to have last been seen in a shoe store, and Lisa reportedly was going to pick up a pair of shoes. Both women’s bodies were found nude, but due to decomposition, authorities never said whether they were able to determine if Julie had been sexually assaulted. Both women held interests in journalism and enjoyed reading about and writing mysteries.
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 three miles west of Denver. The Waverly-Shell Rock Junior High School student had also been strangled.
In the months after discovering Julie’s body, officers in the murder investigation released artist’s sketches portraying the likeness of how Julie may have appeared on the day she went missing. Gloria Aleff and Associates of Waverly prepared the drawings as a public service, and the press released them for distribution along with a story by Assistant City Editor, Lamont Olson, in attempts to refresh the recollections of anyone who may have seen Julie that day.
Some statements in the article, however, directly conflicted with information provided in later years to Iowa Cold Cases. For instance, early in the investigation, Sir Lounge operator, Jean Weston, said she began to feel uneasy when Julie didn’t show up for work that day. “I’d taken her home after work Thanksgiving night, and when she got out of the car, Julie said ‘I’ll see you tomorrow night,’” Jean said. “When she didn’t come the first night, I thought maybe she’d planned to take some time off and I had just forgotten. But when she missed two nights, I talked with my husband and he said ‘call her folks.’” Iowa Cold Cases later learned that Julie had indeed shown up for work at the Sir on November 28th as scheduled, and her presence there witnessed not only by fellow employees but lounge patrons as well.
The article also made one strikingly disturbing comment: “I knew she hitchhiked an awful lot,” it said. The blatantly untrue statement not only contradicted what family and friends knew about Julie, but somehow seemed to infer the teen’s death could have resulted from hitchhiking the night she went missing. Even statements to the press contradicted this comment: “She hardly ever took a night off. I don’t think she had a date in all the time she worked here,” Jean said. “In fact, I said to her: Julie, you’re only young once, get out and have some fun once in a while.” Jean said Julie had shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t have any place to go.”
If you have any information about Julie Benning – or that of Lisa Peak or Valerie Klossowsky – please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at 515.725.6010.
Source: Iowa Cold Cases