From John Wayne Gacy to the 'I-65 Killer,' how these 11 serial killers are connected to Iowa

When Lucy Studey McKiddy shared her story in a Newsweek article published online Oct. 22, the horrible scope of her allegations against her father triggered international media attention.

According to McKiddy, Donald Dean Studey murdered "five or six" women a year over several decades and buried them in and around an abandoned well on his property near the small southwest Iowa town of Thurman, Fremont County Sheriff Kevin Aistrope told the Des Moines Register. Authorities are now investigating whether Studey, who died in 2013 at the age of 75, may have killed as many as 70 people and buried their bodies in and around the small Iowa town.

As authorities continue to investigate the allegations against Studey, the Register took a deep dive into the archives to find out which of the most notorious serial killers in the country had ties to Iowa.

More:Alleged Iowa serial killer preyed on women 'who wouldn't be missed,' daughter tells Register

Clark Perry Baldwin: Waterloo man charged in cold case killings

Clark Perry Baldwin, 59, shown in an undated mugshot provided by the attorney general for the 22nd Judicial District in Tennessee.
Clark Perry Baldwin, 59, shown in an undated mugshot provided by the attorney general for the 22nd Judicial District in Tennessee.

New DNA evidence led police to arrest Iowa native Clark Perry Baldwin in 2020 for three murders he allegedly committed in the early 1990s.

Baldwin, who worked as a truck driver, is charged with the 1991 murder of 32-year-old Pamela Rose McCall and her unborn fetus in Tennessee. He is also charged in the 1992 killings of two women in Wyoming, whose bodies were discovered roughly 400 miles apart.

The FBI secretly collected Baldwin’s DNA from his trash and from a shopping cart he used at Walmart one month prior to his arrest. After comparing the samples to an online database, investigators were able to connect Baldwin to the cold cases, Brent Cooper, attorney general of the 22nd Judicial District in Tennessee, told the Register at the time of Baldwin’s arrest.

Following his arrest, investigators said they believed Baldwin may be responsible for “multiple deaths” and that they were continuing to investigate his potential connections to other cold cases from the same time period.

More:Investigation underway into daughter's allegation Iowa man was prolific serial killer

Jake Bird: The complex execution of the 'ax man'

Jake Bird was convicted of the 1947 murder of Bertha Kludt, 53, and her daughter Beverly Kludt, 17, in Tacoma, Washington; but he may have killed as many as 44 people across the country.

The mother and daughter were found bludgeoned to death with an ax, according to officials. Bird was sentenced to death for their killings, but received an 11th-hour stay of execution after confessing to a string of killings committed throughout the country, including in Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Investigators confirmed Bird was responsible for at least 11 of those murders.

Bird’s case stirred particular controversy in Iowa. The convicted killer was previously sentenced to 30 years in Iowa prison for a 1929 ax assault of two people in Carter Lake, but was released on “good behavior” after serving 12 years.

Bird was executed on July 15, 1949.

Caroll Edward Cole: Sioux City native may have killed 35

Sioux City native Caroll Edward Cole was convicted of killing at least five women, though authorities say he may have killed up to 35 people.

Following his arrest for the murders of at least three Dallas women in November 1980, Cole confessed to 13 murders. He was convicted of killing the three women in Dallas, and was later convicted of killing a woman in Las Vegas, the latter conviction condemning him to the death penalty.

Cole said he committed his first murder at just 8 years old, when he said he drowned his friend after the friend made fun of him. Authorities at the time ruled the death to be an accident.

Cole struggled with mental illness and alcoholism throughout his life, and moved between mental facilities up until 1963. In 1960, Cole admitted to police that he had fantasies of strangling women. Doctors concluded Cole held violent views against women and often struggled with “murderous fantasies,” according to Charlotte Greig’s book “Evil Serial Killers: In the Minds Monsters.”

Though he was convicted of five murders, Cole once told a psychiatrist he killed 35 people, all but one a woman.

Cole did not try to appeal his death penalty and instead thanked the judge in court, according to Greig. He was executed in December 1985.

More:What we know about Donald Studey of Thurman, Iowa, accused by his daughter of serial killings

John Wayne Gacy: 'Killer clown' buried bodies under his home

John Wayne Gacy was once regarded as a friendly neighbor, who regularly went to local children’s hospitals as a clown to cheer up sick patients. But in 1980, he was convicted of sexually assaulting, torturing and murdering 33 boys inside his home in Cook County, Illinois, between 1972 and 1978.

Gacy confessed to burying 27 bodies underneath his home northwest of Chicago and throwing five of them into a nearby river. Prior to moving to Illinois, Gacy lived in Waterloo, where he was a restaurant manager. In 1968, Gacy served time in Iowa prison after pleading guilty to sodomy.

Gacy spent 14 years on death row prior to being executed in Illinois on May 10, 1994.

Harry Edward Greenwell: Elusive 'I-65 Killer' identified nine years after his death

Harry Edward Greenwell
Harry Edward Greenwell

Louisville native Harry Edward Greenwell was never charged with murder during his life – though he did spend significant time in prison for crimes varying from burglary to sodomy, according to the Louisville Courier Journal. But nine years after Greenwell died while living in northeast Iowa, DNA evidence identified him to be the elusive “Days Inn Killer” or “I-65 Killer” who assaulted and murdered at least 3 female victims, and sexually assaulted at least one more, in Indiana and Kentucky between 1987 and 1989.

Greenwell’s victims, Vicki Heath, Margaret “Peggy” Gill and Jeanne Gilbert, all worked as motel clerks along the I-65 corridor at the time of their deaths. Greenwell assaulted each of his victims and then shot them to death, according to investigators.

The investigation into Greenwell’s crimes spanned over 30 years.

More:Did a serial killer really live near Thurman, Iowa? Sheriff, townspeople don't count it out

Robert Hansen: 'Butcher Baker' hunted his victims in the Alaskan wilderness

Iowa native Robert Hansen was regarded as a church-going family man when he moved to Anchorage, Alaska, with his wife and two kids in 1967. But in 1984, Hansen pleaded guilty to murdering 17 women in Alaska between 1971 and 1983. He later confessed to raping up to 30 others.

In Anchorage, Hansen ran a successful bakery business and was also well-regarded for his big-game hunting skills; However, he had a history of odd criminal behavior. After graduating from the local high school in Pocahontas in 1957, Hansen served a brief stint in the army and then returned to work as a drill instructor at the police academy in town. A few years later, in 1960, he set the high school’s bus barn on fire. He was later charged and sentenced to three years in Anamosa State Prison in October 1961.

In Anchorage, Hansen became a familiar face around the red light district, picking up prostitutes and nude dancers, who often became his victims. Sometimes, after raping his victims, Hansen admitted to flying them out to remote locations on his plane, letting them flee and hunting them down. He buried his victims across the south-central Alaskan wilderness, and kept notes of their locations on his aviation charts, according to archives from the Daily Sitka Sentinel.

Hansen was sentenced to 461 years without the possibility of parole. He died in 2014.

Charles Ray Hatcher: Drifter outsmarted the system multiple times before getting caught

Investigators said Charles Hatcher knew the system better than the system knew itself, fooling police and psychiatrists time after time as he drifted across the country killing as many as 16 people, Frank Santiago, a Register staff writer, wrote in 1984.

Beginning in 1947, Hatcher committed a variety of crimes, varying from auto theft to crimes against children. In the late 1970s, Hatcher began roaming between Iowa and Nebraska, moving from police station to mental institution and back again. Throughout his travels, Hatcher used 14 aliases, four birth dates and six social security numbers, making it difficult for investigators to track down each of the crimes he might have committed during that time.

In 1984, Hatcher was sentenced to two life sentences for two murders committed in Missouri, the 1982 murder of 11-year-old Michelle Steele and the 1978 murder of four-year-old Eric Christgen. After arrest, Hatcher confessed to at least two other killings.

During sentencing for the murder of Steele, Hatcher pleaded with the jury to recommend a death sentence, which they ultimately decided against. Hatcher committed suicide in his cell a few months after receiving his sentence.

More:Fairfield teen's mother testifies police misled before her son's arrest for teacher's murder

Randy Steven Kraft: 'Scorecard Killer' denies he committed any murders

Randy Steven Kraft was convicted in 1989 of the brutal murder, torture, rape and mutilation of 16 young male victims in California between 1971 and 1983.

By the time Kraft was sentenced to the death penalty in 1989, investigators had connected him with 45 other murders in California, Oregon and Michigan, and believed he likely committed more.

In most cases, prosecutors argued Kraft would pick up young hitchhikers, disable them with drugs or alcohol, and then sexually mutilate their bodies before discarding them off the side of freeways.

Kraft became known as the “Scorecard Killer” after investigators found what they believed to be a list of his victims in his car alongside a series of photographs depicting lifeless, nude men. One of the cryptic entries in his journal simply listed “Iowa.” Investigators believed this to be Oral Alfred Stewart, a marine born in Des Moines, whose body was found naked and beaten to death in Long Beach, California.

Kraft denied he was involved in any of the murders. He is incarcerated in California state prison on death row.

Robert Ben Rhoades: 'The Truck Stop Killer' built his own torture chamber

Council Bluffs native Robert Ben Rhoades may have killed up to 50 people, though he has only been convicted of three murders in court.

Rhoades became known as “The Truck Stop Killer” because police discovered him assaulting a woman who had been handcuffed and chained to bars he had yielded in the sleeper compartment of his truck.

Rhoades was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a 14-year-old Illinois girl, whose skeleton was discovered in a barn in 1990. At the time, he was already serving a six-year prison sentence in Arizona for the attempted kidnapping of the woman police found him torturing. Rhoades was later put on trial for the 1990 kidnapping and murder of a newly-wed couple in Texas, for which he narrowly escaped the death penalty and instead received two further life sentences.

More:Suspect in Des Moines shooting found not competent to stand trial

Gayno Gilbert Smith: Killer murdered his family on their farm

Iowa-born Gayno Gilbert Smith killed six people between 1961 and 1962 – all of whom were his family members.

He murdered his uncle, aunt and cousins in Keokuk County in 1962. Those killed included Andrew and Dora McBeth, their 19-year-old twins Amos and Anna Katherine McBeth and their 17-year-old daughter Donna Jean Kellogg.

Smith had been living with the family at the time and had attended a square dance with the children before committing the brutal crimes. Returning to the house early from the dance, The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that Smith shot and killed the parents, Andrew and Dora McBeth. Smith then returned to the dance and took the children out for a meal before returning to the house, where he shot them. One member of the family, 15-year-old Patsy Lou McBeth, survived the shooting with a wound in her shoulder.

After being arrested for the murder of the McBeth family, Smith admitted to killing his stepmother, Juanita Smith, a year earlier. He was sentenced to five life sentences for killing the McBeth family and one 50-year sentence for the murder of his stepmother.

Robert Spangler: Ames native said killing his wives was easier than divorce

Robert Spangler’s last name still sits on Iowa State University’s Geotechnical Laboratory building in honor of his father, a civil engineer at the university. Born and raised in Ames, the younger Spangler would one day become known for killing multiple members of his family, including his first wife, son, daughter and third wife.

The 1978 murder of Spangler’s first wife, Nancy Spangler, and teenage kids, 17-year-old David and 15-year-old Sue Spangler, was set up to make it look like murder-suicide perpetrated by the mother. Nearly 20 years later in 2000, Robert Spangler, then suffering from terminal lung cancer, confessed to the crimes. He also confessed to killing his third wife, Donna Spangler, by pushing her off a cliff in the Grand Canyon, a death originally ruled an accident.

Spangler’s second wife suspiciously died from a drug overdose, but he has denied any involvement in her death.

Spangler, who was sentenced in 2001 to life in prison, said murdering his wives was easier than divorce.

Information from the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Des Moines Register archives and news services was used in this article. Des Moines Register reporters Lee Rood and Daniel Lathrop also contributed.

Francesca Block is a breaking news reporter at the Des Moines Register. Reach her at or on Twitter at @francescablock3.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: 11 serial killers with Iowa connections in American history