COUNCIL BLUFFS—The body of Lee Rotatori was found in Room 106 at the Best Western Frontier Motor Lodge in Council Bluffs on the afternoon of Friday, June 25, 1982.
The 28-year-old was found wearing pajamas and lying on her back in a pool of blood on the bed. She had been stabbed once in the heart with a knife and likely had been dead 12 hours before her body was found.
Police found no signs of forced entry or any kind of struggle. Investigators said the homicide may have been sexually motivated but had no conclusive evidence to support or disprove that theory.
Despite reports that some of Rotatori’s personal items were missing — including a purse and some jewelry — police were not sure robbery was the motive since the room was not torn apart as if somebody was looking for something.
Rotatori had lived at the motel for about a week while in training for her new job at Jennie Edmundson Hospital in Council Bluffs.
Her husband, Jerry Nemke, remained in Michigan while his wife was in Iowa for the job training, but had planned to move to Council Bluffs once she had become established in the new position.
On Thursday, June 24, Rotatori had spent a few hours boating with other employees from the hospital. That gathering broke up at dusk and Rotatori stopped at McDonald’s to pick up food before returning to the hotel.
McDonald’s employees were the last to see her alive. The food from the restaurant indicated she had made a purchase for only one person and she was not seen by any motel personnel as she entered her ground-floor room.
Council Bluff police considered Rotatori’s murder one of the most perplexing they had ever worked.
A $3,000 reward was offered but the reward went unclaimed and Rotatori’s murder unsolved.
In April 1982, less than three months prior to Rotatori’s murder, 21-year-old Linda Mayfield was stabbed to death at the Starlite Motel in Council Bluffs.
A witness in that case described the offender as a Caucasian male, 26-28 years of age, 5 foot 7 inches to 5-10, clean-shaven, and wearing a blue jean jacket, blue jeans and a light blue pullover shirt with an emblem on it.
The witness also described the offender as having lots of body hair that came up over his shirt collar. The witness told responding officers she remembered the offender’s first name as “Chris.”
Mayfield’s murder also remains unsolved. It is not clear if the murders are related.
Rotatori first married Nemke on Aug. 15, 1978, in Madison, WI. The couple had no children together and divorced in 1979. They remarried Dec. 30, 1981, but Rotatori kept the surname from her first marriage for professional reasons and because she had an 11-year-old son who lived with her first husband in the Chicago area.
On May 2, 1960, Jerry Nemke, then 17, was picked up in Chicago for questioning in the slaying of three Chicago area women and the fatal beating of a young Chicago waitress, Marilyn Duncan.
Police seized Nemke while he was driving a stolen car in the northwest side area where Marilyn Duncan, 17, was fatally beaten on April 29, 1960. Nemke later admitted that he assaulted and beat Duncan to death.
COLD CASE BREAKDOWN:
Who: Lee Rotatori
What happened: The body of the 28-year-old was found in a room at the Best Western Frontier Motor Lodge in Council Bluffs on June 25, 1982. She had been stabbed in the heart
How you can help: Contact the Council Bluffs Police Department Criminal Investigation Division at 712-328-4728, Council Bluffs police detective Steve Andrews at 712-326-2511 or Crime Stoppers at 712-328-7867.
ABOUT THIS SERIES:
“Gone Cold: Exploring Iowa’s unsolved murders” is an ongoing collaborative effort by Iowa news organizations to revisit some of the most brutal and mystifying homicides in the state’s history. The N’West Iowa REVIEW is presenting some of the unsolved homicides in the hope that they will lead to new tips and potentially help solve cases.