WAVERLY—A college student’s death remains among Iowa’s unsolved murder cases and still has authorities pondering if it connected to other, similar fatalities.
On Tuesday, Sept. 7, 1976, the day after Labor Day, Marie “Lisa” Peak of Clarksville was found lying face down in a ditch in rural Bremer County.
The 19-year-old sophomore at Wartburg College in Waverly had been sexually assaulted and, according to autopsy findings, died of suffocation and a broken neck.
None of Peak’s clothing was found at the scene. Her body was located beside a gravel road a quarter-mile north of Waverly’s city limits.
Peak was majoring in journalism at Wartburg and had returned to the campus for a new academic year on Sept. 5.
Friends last saw Peak the next afternoon when she said she was going shopping at the Willow Lawn Shopping Center in Waverly. When she did not return to her dormitory, the friends reported her missing.
Earlier in the year, Peak had provided information to authorities regarding a sensational sex and extortion scheme.
The information led to the arrest of Mason City used car salesman John Joseph Carmody Jr.
Carmody had blackmailed more than a dozen women into having sex with him, using threats of Mafia retaliation if they refused. FBI officials later proved Carmody’s claims to Mafia connections were false.
In May 1976 Carmody pleaded guilty to rape and extortion and was sentenced to 40 years at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.
Peak had spent her May term working as a reporter for The Clarksville Star.
She and Iowa writer Chuck Offenburger had planned to write a book about the blackmail scheme, and on Aug. 23 had written Carmody of their plans.
The week before Peak’s murder, Offenburger received a letter from Ted Enabnit, a Mason City attorney who represented Carmody in the court proceedings, stating “Mr. Carmody and his professional writer associates are and will produce the appropriate literary work to tell Mr. Carmody’s story from the mass of accumulated materials.”
Offenburger said Peak had received threats after Carmody’s imprisonment from women who said they loved Carmody and wanted to marry him.
Many wondered if Peak’s murder might be connected to two other Waverly homicides.
Julie Ann Benning of rural Clarksville disappeared the day after Thanksgiving in 1975. The 18-year-old’s nude and decomposed body was found the following March in a roadside ditch just six miles from where Peak’s body later would be dumped.
A third unsolved murder occurred five years earlier when the partially clad body of Valerie Lynn Klossowsky, 14, was found south of Waverly.
Both Benning and Klossowsky had been strangled.
On May 7, 2010, state and Bremer County officials exhumed Peak’s body with hopes of discovering new DNA evidence. They found that Peak’s coffin was too broken down and her body too deteriorated to preserve her killer’s DNA.
Lisa had four siblings. Just two month’s after Lisa’s death her 12-year-old sister died of head injuries after one of her riding horses fell on her.
Lisa’s father died in 2013 and her mother died in 2014 without ever knowing who killed their daughter.
After Carmody’s release from prison in 2001, he spent time in a civil commitment center for sex offenders in Cherokee but was released from the facility in 2009. Classified as a lifetime sex offender, Carmody, now 77, must verify his current address on a regular basis. He last reported to the Llano County Sheriff’s Department in Texas on June 10, 2016, where he provided a Kingsland, TX, residence.
COLD CASE BREAKDOWN:
Who: Marie “Lisa” Peak
What happened: The body of the 19-year-old was found Sept. 7, 1976, in a rural ditch north of Waverly. She died of suffocation and a broken neck.
How you can help: Contact special agent Jon Moeller at the Federal Bureau of Investigation at 712-258-1920 or contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at 515-725-6010 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.