Stranger Than Fiction

May 26, 2014

Stranger Than Fiction:

What Really Happens to Marlene Padfield?

This writer is a student at Cornell College when Marlene Padfield is living in Lisbon and disappears in February, 1959.  He remembers seeing her on several occasions as a waitress at the root beer stand. They find her clothes and body parts just west of Mount Vernon.  No one has to this day been arrested. The ensuing articles are also about two Grinnell College students, Camille Njus and Tammy Zywicki, who disappear in 1978 and 1992 respectively and whose bodies are later found – none of the three cases have been solved.

Note: The literary present refers to the custom of using present tense verbs when writing about events that take place in a work of fiction; however, this writer justifies use of the literary present in this blog describing three cold cases in Iowa as he sees the disappearance itself and the ensuing fruitless investigation stranger than fiction.

Marlene Padfield

It is late autumn in November of 1958.  Cornell College students in Mount Vernon, Iowa like to go out for something to eat about 10 in the evening presumably after some studying.  They pile in the available cars and head for the Beacon Café in Lisbon or the A. and W. Root Beer Drive-In on Highway 30 between Lisbon and Mount Vernon. They notice the girls waiting on the cars at the A. and W., of course, and one in particular stands out.  She is kind of cute and energetic and doesn’t pay much attention to any of the wisecracks from the college boys.   Rumors are she’s available, but probably no one from the college really knows.  She goes by Mickey.

Her full name is Marlene Padfield and she lives in Lisbon with her family, drops out of school, finishes her education by correspondence, and takes any job she can find to support her dream of becoming an actress. The Lisbon high school annual shows her active in glee club, drama, girls basketball and other activities.  In addition to the A. and W. job, she works as an elevator operator, and department store salesperson.  Her father is employed at Wilson Packing Plant and her mother also has a job in a department store.

Mickey tells people she is 21 years old and it seems no one questions her.   She rents a room in a private home in CR, but is eventually kicked out because of noise she makes entertaining some actor friends.  Desperate to “find herself”, she seeks the advice of a counseling service which tests her and finds her to be very intelligent, according to reports, smart enough to be a doctor or lawyer.  However, that type of future doesn’t materialize.

On February 18, 1959 she meets 18 year old Coe College student, Arthur Scott, Jr., at the Kozy Inn, a 24 hour restaurant in CR. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss acting opportunities with a CR playhouse and Scott is an actor there and knows some people who might be able to help Mickey get some better acting parts. According to CR Gazette reports Padfield is already known in the acting community. Scott is the son of a Cherry Burrell exec and a socially active mother.   He is vague about their meeting and says later that he dropped Mickey off early in the morning of February 19 at the front door of the Armar Ball Room near Mount Vernon Road in Cedar Rapids.

The temperature hovers below zero that morning as a crowd of people exit the ballroom at 1 a.m. after a dance.  No one comes forward to report seeing Scott or Padfield there. It seems the idea is for her to catch a bus back to Lisbon to stay with her family, yet isn’t it a strange place to leave a friend on a February winter night, but that is the story – she is apparently going to arrange transportation the 16 or 17 miles back to Lisbon.   Scott is the last person to see Mickey Padfield alive. Before the Armar drop off, Scott says the two part company at the Kozy Inn around 12.30 a.m. then changes his story to driving her to the ballroom.  An ensuing interview shows inconsistencies in Scott’s story regarding events after leaving the Kozy Inn.

According to authorities, on February 22, three kids playing on Mount Vernon Road find a women’s sweater and coat.  A search party of about 100 people comb the area, but find nothing.   People and her family know she is very independent and is known to take some risks traveling to and from CR, but no one is thinking that she is dead until on April 29 a farmer finds a human hand and other human bones being jostled around by some dogs close to where the clothing is previously discovered by the three boys a couple of miles west of Mount Vernon on Mount Vernon Road.   They are identified as 18 year old Marlene “Mickey” Padfield’s body parts.  A convicted sex offender,  Johnny Lee Kohn, age 24, admits to the killing, but the confession is later considered bogus due to his inability to substantiate details already learned about the case.  A rural milkman reports that he sees a two-tone Mercury with out-of-state license plates parked on a lover’s lane in the area of and on the morning of the disappearance.

A funeral is held on May 2, 1959 at the Lisbon Methodist Church and only about 15 people attend.   Marlene, born in Madison, Wisconsin, lives there until age 6 when the family moves to Lisbon after a year in Phoenix, Arizona.  Surviving are parents and 3 siblings.   She now lies at rest at Cedar Memorial Park Cemetery.

A private detective, now retired in Florida, but a student at Mount Vernon High School during the Padfield disappearance and an acquaintance of the victim through school days and through skating together at the Lisbon Roller Rink,  makes the following cogent observations:  “There is theory to which I adhere to; there is no perfect crime, but only imperfect investigations.”  The detective further commented:

The Armar Ballroom had a Marion address being on 1st Ave on the border between C.R. and Marion.  Recall that Marlene and her boyfriend, Gary McHugh had spent part of the evening at her employer’s, John Harvey, home.  It was John Harvey who had driven Marlene to the Kozy Inn.  Harvey lived in Moore’s trailer park, which, if not adjacent to Armar, was within easy/quick walking distance from Armar.  According to news reports, Marlene had made arrangements with Harvey that if she missed a ride home to Lisbon she would return to Harvey’s trailer to spend the night.  If she disclosed that arrangement to Arthur Scott Jr., assuming him to be the guilty party, it provided him with a perfect way to misdirect the investigation.  

On the other hand, if Scott was not involved, his explanation was plausible.  According to Scott’s statement to investigators and the press he agreed to drive Marlene home; he drove towards Marion thinking that is where she lived.  The Kozy Inn was on 1st Ave and 10th street, the latter being the most direct route to Mt Vernon Ave which was/is the most direct/quickest route to Lisbon.  I am sure that Marlene would have told Scott that he was going in the wrong direction (towards Marion) way before arriving at Armar.  While I don’t wholly discount the theory that the murderer was a Cornell student, Scott remains my top suspect because: 1) he is the last known person to see her alive and to be seen with her; 2) the trail of Marlene’s clothing from where her remains were found leads in the most direct pathway to Scott’s residence.

I am befuddled by the fact that after 50 years the Linn County Sheriff’s office still refused to open the case file to the public, especially the news media.  The department’s ridiculous excuse is that the case is still open, as if any investigation is actually ongoing.  It is not unusual in such cases that authorities open their case files to investigators and the press.  I know this after having personally reviewed such files.  The last time I checked Arthur Scott Jr. was still alive and living in Illinois. My guess is that the file will never be opened while he is still alive.  I am sure that the cars of every Cornell student were registered with the college.  What do you suppose is the likelihood of any of those records to still be in existence.
Recent events include some press releases about interest in reopening the case of the strange disappearance of this young woman 55 years ago by Iowa Cold Cases which has a web site and provides information on the Padfield and other such probable crimes.   This includes a photo and a summary of the case to date.

Another development is the two night sold out play about the Padfield case, “Some  Who Knew Her”, presented by the Uptown Theatre at the First Street Community Center in Mount Vernon in February of 2014.   The production title may refer to the sparse attendance at Marlene Padfield’s funeral – with only the 15 people present.

Arthur Scott, Jr. does not agree to take a polygraph test. No thanks, he says. His face is reportedly scratched up as he appears the day after the girl’s disappearance. He has some strange alibi about falling down at home to explain away the scratches.  In this day of DNA as admittable evidence in the courts it seems that Cold Case authorities would consider exhumation and reexamination of Marlene Padfield’s body for possible clues.  During the investigation, Scott’s mom is particularly active in hiring a known lawyer to defend her son and then seeing that Arthur Jr. leaves the area as soon as possible.  Initial reports are that Scott, now in his 70’s, lives first in California and later in Illinois.

The area where Marlene Padfield’s clothing and body parts are found is only a couple of miles from the Cornell College’s Olin Hall and Merner Hall men’s dorms and attached parking lots.  There’s a limited number of legally registered student automobiles with the college as in those days students receiving financial aid and all freshman cannot have cars on campus or in town.  However, there are still a number of student cars in use at this time and much of the student body in those days comes out of state, mainly from the Chicago area.   Could it be that the two-tone Mercury that the rural milk carrier sees on the lover’s lane early in the morning on February 19 is owned by a Cornell student and the person in question was a student at the time?  It is a long shot as it is known that Arthur Scott, Jr. is the last person to see Marlene Padfield alive and she is known to be with Scott and in his car that evening.  He is reportedly driving his mother’s Cadillac, yet it is possible that there were other vehicles in the family and Scott switched cars after the Kozy Inn meeting. Word is that the authorities gave little credence or effort to the theory that a Cornell student is involved with the disappearance of Marlene Padfield.

After all of these years, the guilty party is still carrying the burden of guilt in the killing of a young woman in 1959.  Would he or she be ready to make a “death bed (type) confession” in the right circumstances to clear his conscience once and for all?

Camille Njus

Another cold case, only on this occasion a Grinnell, Iowa resident and Grinnell College student, is that of Camille Njus, who was working as an Iowa State Department of Transportation intern in the summer of 1978 as a part of her college degree program.  Her routine is to take the Greyhound from Grinnell to Des Moines on Sundays, stay with a friend of her mother’s in Des Moines during the week of work, then return to Grinnell on the bus on Fridays to spend week-ends at home with her family.  On this occasion, Camille comes up missing apparently while walking to the bus depot and is reported missing by her mother on August 5, 1978. Her body is discovered on October 18 by a city employee near the Des Moines River in an area known as Flint Access.  Identifying the body through dental records, but decomposition preventing a conclusion on the exact cause of death by the Polk County Medical Examiner, the clues are precious few.  Official reports say that Miss Njus is last seen on August 4 after having a hair appointment at a North Side beauty salon and then apparently heading to the Greyhound Depot and last seen in the area of Douglas and Merle Hay.  On not turning up in Grinnell as planned, her parents began calling Camille’s friends trying to figure out where she is.

Cold Case information states that one prominent lead is turned up by the police as the Cedar Rapids Gazette reports on May 22, 1979 that that the home of LeMar C. Toppenberg, a 62 year old WW II vet,  is searched and several items are seized.  However, nothing further materializes.  Toppenberg dies in 1989 and is not ever charged.

How frequently are adults reported as missing in the Iowa capital city during this era?  The senior policy officer in charge of this type of information states that in 1978 some 67 adults are reported as missing, although Camille Njus, the Grinnellian, was the only fatality.  Born in Baltimore in 1958, Camille Njus moves to Grinnell with her family in 1974.  An outstanding student with interest in music, writing, speech and drama, she has attended schools in Cedar Falls, as well as Grinnell and graduated from GHS in 1976.

Njus studies in Germany for one year on a Grinnell Rotary foreign exchange program and plans to transfer from Grinnell College to St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The funeral is held at the Grinnell Methodist Church on October 21, 1978 with Cold Case information listing her pallbearers as Tom Anderson, Wayne Anderson, Ken Bryan, David Ferneau, Frank Ferneau and Gerald Ferneau.  Interment is at Maple Hill Cemetery in Tama County.

Tammy Zywicki

A more recent disappearance is that of a 21 year old Grinnell College student, Tammy Zywicki, who en route from her home in New Jersey to Grinnell, drops off her brother, a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, then disappears mysteriously.  Her 1985 Pontiac is found along Highway 80 by an Illinois Trooper and the car is towed by the State Police on August 24, 1992.  Bundled in a red blanket and wrapped with duct tape, the sexually assaulted and stabbed body of Zywicki turns up on September 1, 1992, in rural Lawrence County, Missouri on I-44.  She shows 8 stab wounds – one in the arm and seven in the chest.

Called a petite blonde female by the Cold Case report, the young Grinnell student is last seen at mile marker 83 in Central Illinois the afternoon of August 23, 1992, between 3 and 4 p.m.  The report further states and the FBI confirms an eye witness report that a semi tractor-trailer and its driver, a white male 35-40 years old with dark bushy hair,  are seen near the girl’s car where she is attempting to repair it.  Her Cannon camera and a wrist watch apparently go missing.

Through the diligence of the eye witness in contacting authorities and a task force investigating the Zywicki death, a trucker named Lonnie Biebodt is questioned, but no arrest is made.  From a layman’s point of view, it would seem that information about Biebolt is convincing.

An active task force member named Martin McCarthy of the Illinois state Police agrees with the layman assessment and says that the trucker should have been arrested and charged with the murder based on the following:  Bierbodt, a convicted violent felon lives close to area where the girl’s body is discovered and is in the general area at the time of her death, also the blanket wrapped around the dead girl has a Kenworth logo, which is the company that Biebodt works for. Although the trucker gives his girl friend a unique watch similar to the one missing from Z’s arm; nevertheless, he is for some reason released while serving concurrent 20 year sentences for armed robbery.  He dies in 2002 at 41 years of age and is never charged with the crime. Large rewards and the questioning of several truck drivers prove futile with no arrests having been made and his DNA apparently, what else could it be, saving Biebolt from arrest and possible conviction.

Stranger than fiction one would call these three Iowa Cold Cases, cold but still open.

By Dave Adkins (Sources:  Iowa Cold Cases, DM Register, CR Gazette)


4 thoughts on “Stranger Than Fiction

  1. Bob Hill

    My name is Bob Hill from Lisbon, IA. I’m one of the local residents who have brought Marlene’s case back to life. Thanks for your writings. We hope with more interest someone might have information that will lead to justice for Marlene.

    1. Kimberli

      There were more people present at the Kozy that night (February 18, 1959). Bob, I have messaged you through Facebook. It may have been filtered out. Also contacted Beryl & Linn co sheriff. I think I can help.

  2. dAdkins Post author

    Bob – Thanks for the message. I attempted to present this article as accurately and objectively as possible with some input by a professional P.I. originally from Mt. Vernon with years of experience in his field out of his Miami, FL office and with references to timely articles from the CR Gazette and other local newspapers. As I see it, all the case needs is an experienced police officer or investigator motivated to connect the dots, as there is still interest locally in finding the truth. It would be a great opportunity for some “young Turk” in the PD to do a great service and to make a name for himself.


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